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National Farmers Union

Volume 978: debated on Thursday 14 February 1980

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, when next he will meet the president of the National Farmers Union.

I shall be meeting the president of the National Farmers Union on 25 February.

While sympathising with the problems that farmers face arising from inflation, cost increases and high interest rates, will my right hon. Friend nevertheless remind the president of the three green pound devaluations that have been achieved by the Government since they came in power and of the consequent improved ability of farmers to compete on the same level as their counterparts in Europe? Will he also reassure the president, particularly in the light of his speech at the annual meeting this week, that it remains the Government's intention to live up to their manifesto commitments?

Yes. We also came into office on a promise to eliminate the negative MCAs, which discriminated against British farming, within the lifetime of this Parliament. To have achieved that in nine months gives British farming an opportunity which it enjoyed at no time during the period of the previous Government.

When the Secretary of State meets the president of the NFU will he explain why he, and many of his colleagues who represent rural areas, did not follow their courageous colleagues into the Lobby with us last night to protect the interests of children in rural areas, as was suggested to us by the NFU?

What representations has the Minister received from the president of the NFU and the president of the Wales National farmers union regarding the current proposals for beef cow subsidy?

So far as I can remember, I have not received any direct communication. However, I find it extraordinary that the Commission should come forward with a proposal for a beef cow subsidy which will limit the number of cows which will benefit to 15. That proposal would positively discriminate against the benefits which Britain could enjoy. Here was one subsidy through which we could have obtained a net benefit, as Britain has 27 per cent. of the European herd. But, by the nature of the proposals, it will be a net deficit.

My right hon. Friend is also responsible for food. When he next meets the president of the NFU, will he discuss with him questions relating to the impact of agricultural policy upon the nation's food policy, and diatetics in particular?

I am pleased to say that at the present time the relationships that exist between the food manufacturing and processing industries and the NFU, which represents the producers, have become very much closer. They are now working much more closely together.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the EEC Commission's proposal to end the beef slaughter premium will not only lead to more beef in intervention and higher prices for the consumer, but to less security for our own beef producers? Will he make it clear to the president of the NFU that he has no intention of allowing that beef premium to end?

I certainly have no intention of allowing that to end unless there is a better scheme, which meets the principles which the hon. Gentleman has suggested, to put in its place. Certainly, in their present form, the Commission's proposals for a beef cow subsidy would not meet that criterion. Until that scheme meets the criteria, we shall stick to the beef premium scheme.