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National Farmers Union

Volume 982: debated on Wednesday 2 April 1980

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5.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland, when he will next meet the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland.

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when next he will meet the President of the National Farmers Union of Scotland.

I have met the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland on a number of occasions since taking office and I shall be arranging another meeting with him shortly.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the president of the NFU will he discuss with him the disturbing fall in the size of the national dairy herd particularly in the north of Scotland Milk Marketing Board area? Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government, who still retain control over the retail price of liquid milk, will accept their obligations to producers as well as to consumers? Will he take whatever political decisions are necessary to protect the incomes of our dairy farmers?

As my hon. Friend knows, we have increased the retail price of milk by 22 per cent. since last summer but we must be careful that such increases do not reduce the uptake of the product. As my hon. Friend also knows, we have received a report on the position of producers and consumers and we are examining it carefully.

Is it the intention of the Secretary of State to react to the NFU proposals for the Highlands? If so, will he say when he might do so?

We are evaluating the points made by the NFU on this matter. It will be one of the subjects raised the next time I meet the president of the Scottish National Farmers Union.

When next the Secretary of State meets the president of the NFU will he discuss the structural problems of agriculture in Scotland where the larger farms are continuing to expand? Is he aware that they are squeezing out the smaller farms and thereby doing away with the bottom rung of the farming ladder? Is he aware that that means that young people and farm workers find it difficult to make a start on their own account?

The problem of openings for young people in farming is a cause of anxiety in the NFU. I have discussed that problem with the NFU and shall be doing so again. This is a difficult period for everyone involved in farming, but in the past year we have managed to make no less than three devaluations in the green pound, two increases in the milk price and a substantial addition to hill subsidies. That is not at all bad at a time of great economic difficulty.

If the Secretary of State is interested in increasing the consumption of liquid milk in Scotland should he not announce an initiative which will enable all regional education authorities in Scotland to take advantage of the Common Market scheme under which four-fifths of the cost of providing free school milk can be funded out of European funds?

That suggestion is made from time to time. I am not aware that there is any inhibition which prevents local education authorities from taking part in the scheme if they want to.

When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman of the National Farmers Union will he discuss the serious situation which is arising in the agriculture industry, particularly in the smaller farms, where labour is being laid off because of the sharp fall in the price of their products?

I am well aware of the position. The annual discussions on the price-fixing arrangements as part of the common agriculture policy are in train. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister of State, Scottish Office are aware of the problems and are bearing them in mind in the discussions.