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Agricultural Production

Volume 21: debated on Thursday 1 April 1982

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the gross value of agricultural production in the United Kingdom in the last year; and at what cost to the Exchequer.

In the "Annual Review of Agriculture 1982" White Paper, Crnnd. 8491, the gross output of agriculture in 1981 was estimated at £9,733 million, while public expenditure under the common agricultural policy and on national grants and subsidies amounted to £1,038·9 million, of which £769·7 million came from FEOGA receipts.

Does not the difference demonstrate clearly the ability of agriculture to show the nationalised industries just how productivity can be achieved by hard work and lack of restrictive practices? Will my right hon. Friend take every opportunity to encourage his colleagues to press the same approach on nationalised industries?

There are two particular records in agriculture. The first is the one to which my hon. Friend refers. The rate of increase in productivity per man is probably greater than in any of our other industries. The second is that in recent years our agriculture industry has increased our self-sufficiency in food, which is not only in the national interest but, most particularly, in the interests of consumers.

Is not much of the success of agriculture due to planning agreements whereby the Egg Marketing Board, the Milk Marketing Board and the Potato Marketing Board were set up? If planning agreements are so successful in agriculture, why is the Conservative Party against them in other industries?

The hon. Gentleman might also acknowledge the fact that agriculture probably has the greatest number of small businesses and self-employed people. That demonstrates that the industry's strength comes from that structure and enterprise.

How much has increased production and productivity benefited our balance of payments over the past 12 months.

I am delighted to say that, because of the increase in self-sufficiency over the past 12 months, through savings on imports and through exports, the saving on our balance of payments is about £1,000 million, which is very much to our benefit.

If the productivity increase has been so marked, why cannot farming give just rewards to its workers who are responsible for the increase and who are among the lowest paid in the country? Has not massive Government intervention, through grants, subsidies, other aids and training schemes developed in the post-war period, produced the success?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the industry has an independent wages board. I hope that he will also acknowledge that in recent years we have seen a marked improvement in agricultural earnings as a percentage of industrial earnings. That is a movement wholly in the right direction.

My right hon. Friend says that farming is made up of small businesses, but does he not agree that the increase in the number of huge farms has been injurious to village life? Will he make sure that small farmers and new entrants to farming are encouraged?

My hon. Friend knows that that matter is examined from time to time. It must be put into perspective. There is concern in particular areas at particular times. I agree that the proportion of large farms in the total amount of land held by agriculture, and the changes that take place, must be watched. I do not believe that one should exaggerate that matter too much.