asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the size of the beef herd.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the prospects for the beef sector of the agriculture industry.
The provisional results of the December 1979 sample census give the number of beef cows in the United Kingdom as 1,535,000. I believe that the prospects for the industry are good.
Does the Minister accept the need for confidence in the long term in this industry, and is he mindful of the fact that calves sold abroad under the disastrous conditions of the Labour Government for about £100 a head are now coming back as fattened cattle?
I am very much aware that in an industry such as the beef industry, where production cycles are particularly long in relation to other sectors of agriculture, this factor of confidence is of even greater importance. Over the past 12 months, since this Government came to office, we have seen an increase of 18 per cent. in the target price and this, of itself, indicates the return of confidence which this industry should have.
Nevertheless, will the Minister agree that producers at present are not confident? Will he give them a reassurance that the present system of variable premiums will continue beyond the present marketing year?
My right hon. Friend and I have both made clear on a number of occasions that we shall certainly not give up that system unless a satisfactory alternative is put in its place. I am very happy to repeat that assurance to the House this afternoon.