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National Farmers Union

Volume 982: debated on Thursday 17 April 1980

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


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


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has any plans to meet the president of the National Farmers Union.

I hope to meet the president of the National Farmers Union on 14 May.

When my right hon. Friend meets the president of the National Farmers Union, will he discuss with him the president's attitude towards the European Commission's proposals for farm prices? Will my right hon. Friend share with us his own reaction to those proposals? Will he also bear in mind the fact that farm incomes have declined by 17 per cent. since 1978 and that farmers are concerned about this decline?

I do understand that, with the increases taking place in input costs, partly due to energy, partly due to a big wage agreement concluded a few months ago, and partly due to high interest rates, there is considerable concern among the farming community about the relationship between their income and their outgoings. The fact is that we have devalued the green pound. That will increase farm incomes over the coming year. We have granted an improvement in the price of liquid milk to producers and made improvements in returns for sheep farmers. We shall watch the situation carefully. I hope the agricultural community recognises, by the actions the Government have taken, that we wish to see British production maintain its position in the world.

When my right hon. Friend meets the president, will he discuss with him the future of the British apple industry? In those discussions, will my right hon. Friend express his agreement with Lord Selborne that the British apple industry desperately needs to puts its own house in order, through a brief period of reduced imports, particularly EEC imports? What is my right hon. Friend's approach?

We have already had talks with the president of the National Farmers Union and with Lord Selborne and his committee on the apple industry. We shall be making an announcement regarding the apple and pear Development Council in the future. My hon. Friend refers to the pressure of imports. I would be more encouraged if the apple industry would look seriously at the considerable prospects for export.

When the Minister meets the president of the NFU, will he remind him of the statements made at the Government Dispatch Box by the right hon. Gentleman himself and by the Prime Minister on the policies that this Government are pursuing within the EEC on behalf of the people of this nation? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell him of the total failure and the backing-down on policies that the Government should be carrying out on behalf of the people of the nation?

I can confirm the splendid statements made from the Government Dispatch Box. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that there has been no failure.

Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown), will my right hon. Friend give attention to the drop in farmers' income, especially as my right hon. Friend has urged the farming industry to take advantage of the huge export market? How does he match his encouragement for farmers to take advantage of this market with the fact that their incomes are substantially lower than two years ago?

Two years ago, the farmers and agricultural producers of this country had, under the previous Government, a 25 per cent. MCA operating against them on every export that they wished to undertake. Next week, they will have none. This week, they have a positive MCA on some commodities. That is a dramatic change. In a period of inflation affecting energy costs and fertiliser costs, it is difficult to keep pace with those costs. I believe that the action of this Government, in their first 10 months in office, has shown clearly that we recognise the important role of British agriculture.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to seek the views of the president and his colleagues in relation to any unilateral action, direct or otherwise that might be taken against the French on the import of lamb? Will he also now answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes)?

It is right that, in all commodities we, like the French, take advantage of the potentialities of the European market. That is in the interests of the economy of the United Kingdom. I believe that the president of the NFU has not pressed me to adopt unilateral retaliatory measures against the French because he recognises that such action would endanger the whole Community.

Will my right hon. Friend agree that the positive MCAs that he has recently been advocating in the EEC have two main effects; the first to increase the taxes on food coming into this country, and the second to increase the subsidies granted by the EEC to those who export food from this country into the other countries of the EEC?

The EEC has for seven years operated a system, agreed by the previous Labour Government, the previous Conservative Government and this Conservative Government, whereby changes in currency do not affect food prices. The policy we are pursuing is in accordance with the policies that have been in existence in the European Community for seven years. All that I am trying to do is to endeavour to see that the technicalities of that system operate as fairly for Britain as for the rest of the Community.

The Minister knows that these technicalities mean high taxes on food imports. If he is not prepared to accept that the stance he took in Brussels on the last occasion is in flagrant breach of the Government's overall objective of holding down the price of products in structural surplus, such as milk and sugar, will he at least assure the House that he stands by the amendment to the motion that we debated some weeks ago in the House to the effect that the Government will withhold agreement from any package that does not take action to reduce these colossal surpluses of milk and sugar and that he will press for a price freeze on these products?

The Government's position remains what it has always been. We are against increases in the price of goods in surplus. Unlike the previous Government, we succeeded in that policy at the last price fixing when they had failed in five previous price fixings.