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Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Volume 19: debated on Sunday 4 April 1982

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Price Increases

1.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is satisfied with progress in the discussions with his European Economic Community colleagues about the next round of agricultural price increases.

I refer my hon. Friend to the statement I made to the House on 18 February 1982.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the whole issue of agricultural prices is a ratchet with which to obtain concessions on other fundamental issues in the Community? Does he envisage, in the end, accepting a price increase of below 9 per cent. in order to obtain concessions on Britain's long-term budgetary contributions?

No, Sir. I have made it clear that the proposals in their present form, which would include a green pound revaluation of 4 per cent. and would mean that British farmers would obtain price increases way below the 9 per cent. proposed by the Commission, are completely unacceptable to the British Government.

When will the Minister announce the conclusions of this year's price review?

I am not in a position to do that, because it depends on the actions and views of nine other Member countries and the Commission. I am not sure when all these views will coincide, but I hope that it will be as soon as possible.

Why has the Minister so enthusiastically welcomed the Commission's action in taking the French to court? Should we not follow something of the French lead in adopting national aids which would, at least, give aid where it is needed in the industry as well as helping the consumer? Should the right hon. Gentleman not now be pressing the Chancellor to reduce interest rates, the cost of which to the farmer has trebled over the past four years?

I am relieved to hear the hon. Member proposing more public expenditure on agriculture, which is in sharp contrast to other Labour proposals, such as agricultural re-rating. In the Community market in which we operate it is completely unfair for a Government to subsidise its farmers and create unfair competition with other farmers.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his remarks concerning the unacceptability of the green pound revaluation will be well received by agriculture? Does he agree that the massive green pound differential engendered by the Labour Government, resulting in enormous negative MCA's, did massive damage to United Kingdom agriculture? Is he aware that the industry needs this respite to make up the difference?

Yes, Sir. There is no doubt that a long period of negative MCA's was very damaging to British agriculture's prospects both in the home and overseas markets. I am glad to say that since we reversed that policy we have improved our self-sufficiency to the extent of an improvement in our balance of payments of £1,000 million a year.

Unfit Meat (Staining)

2.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received from the pet food industry in regard to the staining of unfit meat.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

Representatives of the pet food industry have indicated that they would not be opposed to a requirement to stain material emanating from knackers' yards and unfit carcase meat, but no offals, emanating from slaughterhouses. They have also commented on the type of stain which might be appropriate for this purpose.

The House will be delighted with that positive response from the pet food industry, but does the Minister appreciate that while dogs are colour blind and unable to distinguish between green and violet—the suggested colours for staining purposes—dog owners might object to having to put out violet or green food for their pets? Will the Minister reassure pet owners that, whatever staining takes place, the colour can be removed by the pet food industry and that there will be no difference in the food's appearance?

The Government are still considering what stain should be prescribed. We shall take account of the preference of pet food manufacturers for a stain that disappears when the meat is heat treated and therefore does not give an unacceptable appearance to the pet food. We shall, however, wish to choose a stain that is immediately identifiable on raw meat.

Has the Minister had a chance to see a letter from a worker at Heathrow, which refers to illegal trafficking in uncooked meat by Qantas Airways via Bombay and Bahrain? Is she prepared to take action to see that this illegal trafficking is stopped?

The Government are most anxious that illegal trade in unfit meat should be prevented. We are preparing revised meat sterilisation regulations with the utmost urgency to stop any illegal trade in unfit meat. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are supporting his Bill to increase the penalties for these offences.

Milk

3.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proportion of the recent milk price increase will be paid to the farmer; and how this proportion will change after 31 March 1982.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

Of the extra revenue generated by the increase, the Milk Marketing Board will receive about 73 per cent. I cannot yet say how this proportion will change as a result of the spring review.

I am grateful for that reply. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the profit margins of both the producer and the dairy trades industry are under severe pressure? Will he bear in mind, in any future increase in the price of a pint of milk, that our unique doorstep delivery is vital not only as a social service but to farmers?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We have struck, through the Binder-Hamlyn negotiation, a sensible and objective balance between the different interests. Only if the dairy producer and distributor prosper will the housewife and the consumer be sure of a proper and continuing service.

I am pleased to hear the Minister's remark about a continuing service. Is he aware, however, that the increase in milk prices will affect consumption in my constituency, where there is mass unemployment and where masses more people are on short-time working? They will find difficulty in meeting the price of milk. What is the Minister's view of the effect of the increase on lower-income groups and the unemployed?

I invite the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the fact that the increase in the retail price of milk in January was the first for a year and that it amounted to only 8 per cent., well below the level of inflation. If the hon. Gentleman does not want milk producers and distributors to be able to recover their costs, I hope that he will have the courage to say so.

My right hon. Friend will have heard the European Commission's latest proposals on co-responsibility. Will he make it clear that these proposals are completely unacceptable to the House and to our dairy farmers? Does he agree that the whole question of co-responsibility levies should be re-examined as a matter of urgency?

We have the gravest reservations about what has been proposed by the Commission and supported by other countries on the co-responsibility levy. The effect is to discriminate against more efficient producers in the Community, including our own. It is significant that other countries, notably the Netherlands and Denmark, share our view strongly.

Does the Minister recognise that the objective must be to maximise the consumption of milk in the interests of consumers and producers? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he is doing enough to defend the doorstep delivery side of the industry, which has had a difficult time and is still under long-term threat from possible bulk imports of milk from the Continent? What is the Minister's stance on the doorstep delivery system?

The Government are absolutely resolute in their defence of doorstep deliveries and of the tremendously good service that it provides for consumers. It is significant that the results of the Binder-Hamlyn review were agreed by both sections of the industry. I hope that this underpins the future of doorstep deliveries. The House will be aware of the strong stand that the Government are taking on milk imports in relation to the threats made in the European Court.

Farm Workers (Earnings)

4.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the rate of increase in real terms of farm workers' earnings.

I am satisfied that the level of farm workers' earnings strikes a fair balance between the interests of employers and employees in agriculture.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there have been enormous improvements in productivity in agriculture over recent years, especially in comparison with other industries? Is she aware that farm workers have played a crucial role in co-operating towards that achievement and that, in the process, they have improved substantially their skills and responsibilities? Will she ensure that the efforts of those concerned are fully recognised in future negotiations?

I readily acknowledge that farm workers have made a notable contribution to agriculture's record of increased productivity. The reward for improved productivity is a matter for individual employers and employees.

In view of what the Minister says, is it not a disgrace that the average earnings of farm workers are now £30 a week below the average earnings of industrial workers and that the gap is getting wider? Is it not an absolute scandal that more farm workers receive family income supplement than any other single group of workers, despite their fantastic production record?

I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Lady's figures, but the gap between agricultural and industrial earnings is narrowing. In 1970 farm workers' earnings were about 70 per cent. of industrial earnings. In 1981 they were about 80 per cent. The agriculture and fishing industries contain the second largest group of two-parent families receiving family income supplement. The figures have to be interpreted with care, because they include agriculture and fisheries, and self-employed and part-time agricultural workers.

Is it not correct that both sides of the agricultural wages board have acknowledged that the board is serving the industry well? Does not the harmony in the industry reflect this basic satisfaction?

Yes, indeed. I am satisfied that the board has a wide enough brief to consider all the factors in making its awards. I have complete confidence in the board and its chairman.

Does the Minister not accept that farm workers are skilled workers and that the industry, under successive Governments, has consistently underpaid them? Has she seen a written answer that I received from her right hon. Friend, which shows that, with the exception of the Irish Republic, farm workers in the United Kingdom are the worst paid in the EEC? Will she join me in urging all farm workers to join the Transport and General Workers Union, with which the agricultural workers union has recently decided to merge, so that the TGWU can advance farm workers' interests as effectively as the National Farmers Union advances those of farmers?

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised if I do not support any of his latter remarks. I note his comment about agricultural wages. The Agricultural Wages Board is independent and autonomous. It has a wide representation of employers and employees. I am satisfied that those employers and employees and all the interests in agriculture have ample opportunity to make their cases to the board.

Foreign Fishing Boats

5.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he proposes to take steps to prevent part of the United Kingdom total allowable catch being taken by foreign fishing boats registering in the United Kingdom.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, who is responsible for registration, is seeking to ensure that the owners of certain fishing boats are properly entitled to claim British registration and that their vessels fully comply with the rules that such registration imposes.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that that answer will be warmly welcomed? Will he assure the House that he will continue to press the Department of Trade for something to be done about this practice? Is he aware that the fishing industry is greatly annoyed that foreigners should so abuse our rules and regulations? The British public also do not like foreigners coming in and playing our rules so unfairly.

This is a matter about which I am deeply concerned. The past year saw a growth in this practice, particularly involving former Spanish vessels. In addition to what my right hon. Friend is already doing, a review is taking place of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894. A consultation document has been issued and the fishing industry has been invited to comment on it. I shall be working closely with my right hon. Friend on this matter, which needs to be dealt with resolutely.

Has the Minister taken note of the gross excess of the catches over some of the quotas that were informally agreed last October and of the particular countries whose boats were responsible for the most serious of those excesses?

I have and I regard as thoroughly unsatisfactory the way in which some of the proposed quotas have been exceeded by particular countries. The Government have made their view clear on this to the Commission, and this underlines the fact that if we are to have effective conservation we must have it on a basis that is agreed and enforced internationally.

Crops (Market Support)

6.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which agricultural crops have required market support in the past year.

The information requested is given in table 25 of the annual review of agriculture 1982 White Paper. This gives details, including a breakdown by product, of public expenditure under the common agricultural policy and on national grants and subsidies.

Does the Minister agree that this market support gives farmers confidence to plan ahead and gives a great deal of help with our balance of payments?

Yes. I am glad to say that there has been a substantial improvement in our self-sufficiency in food. In the last few years that has improved our balance of payments by £1,000 million a year.

Is what the Minister has so far been able to do for the horticultural section of the industry sufficient to offset the huge subsidies given by the Dutch for their gas heating? Is the industry yet in a stable position, and has the Minister taken into account the fact that despite these problems the Dutch workers are still paid 50 per cent. more than their British counterparts?

We are expecting an agreement, perhaps this coming week, on the problem of the Dutch gas subsidy. I hope that it will solve this problem permanently. Unless that happens at the meeting on 15 March, legal action will be taken against the Dutch. Unlike a number of competing countries I have given our horticulture industry the full extent of national aid allowed by the Commission.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that many farmers have suffered complete crop losses and that, apart from those in Wales, the South-West and Scotland, who will be fairly compensated, they will get no compensation from Community funds for the severe damage they sustained in December and January? That applies particularly to those who produce vegetables, as do many of the growers in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend lobby Brussels to see whether further Euro funds, over and above those announced by his right hon. Friend on 22 February 1982, can be found for this purpose?

A decision has been taken. No further Euro funds will be available. I am glad to say that over the country as a whole farming losses resulting from the bad weather have proved to be far smaller than were expected at the time. I hope that all parts of the House will be pleased at that. The aid given by the European Community is not confined just to Scotland and Wales.

Does the Minister have any difficulty in reconciling his attitude on agriculture, which is propped up by Government intervention, and what he said about agriculture assisting in maintaining a balance of trade surplus as a result of that Government intervention, with the opposite philosophy put forward by the rest of the Cabinet, who are arguing that Government intervention in industry is bad. There was a balance of trade deficit with the EEC in semi-manufactured and manufactured goods of £2½ billion in the last financial year. How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile those two views?

I am delighted to say that in all the policies I pursue I have the enthusiastic support of all my Cabinet colleagues.

Fishing Industry (Aid)

7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent representations he has received from the fishing industry in England and Wales about financial aid.

My right hon. Friends the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland met representatives of the fishing industry on 17 February. My right hon. Friend has also received written submissions from several bodies, including the main organisations representing fishermen.

Has the Minister and his right hon. Friends had time, since those meetings and the other meetings that many other hon. Members attended on 17 February, to prepare a response to the arguments of the industry? Does he recognise that all the difficulties faced by the industry are not of its making but are the results of such problems as failing to get a satisfactory common fisheries policy? Will he recognise in his response that many of the problems apply just as strongly to vessels of less than 80 ft. as they do to the larger vessels?

Submissions have been received that bring in a variety of information, and it will take a little time to study that information and put it all together. The study has not yet been completed, but I assure the hon. Member and the House that as soon as it has been we shall come to a decision.

The general problems facing the fishing industry are something that must be recognised in our negotiations with Europe, which, in previous years has given us generous support.

Is the Minister aware that in Hull we are in such a desperate plight that we are forced to scour the world to sell our ships? We have been to West Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Has the Minister any plans to alleviate the misery of our fishermen?

We are considering the cases presented to us. The hon. Gentleman knows that in previous aid schemes the particular area fleet that he mentioned was generously treated. For example, during the last two years it received almost £7½ million, which is a substantial amount of public money.

Although Government aid to the fishing industry has been about £58 million a year, does the Minister recognise that there is still a case for further aid, pending restructuring? Does he also recognise that there is a special case for distant-water vessels and vessels under 60 ft. long?

A great variety of cases have been put to us and that is what we are studying. I am not prepared to come to a conclusion until I have analysed all the evidence that was put to me. I assure my hon. Friend that we are analysing this very carefully.

What consultation has the Minister had with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on this issue? Since a cash emergency is facing the industry, can the Minister confirm that he has contingency funds to distribute to the industry at short notice?

My consultations with my right hon. Friend are daily. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall carefully consider the case that he has presented.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the Bridlington fishing fleet the need for financial aid will be much greater if in the fourth quarter of this year we have a repeat of what happened last year, when the fleet was restricted from fishing for cod? If it cannot fish for cod at that time of the year there are no other fish available and the fleet has to tie up.

I understand the problems about certain restrictions that we had to put on, but, equally, I ask my hon. Friend to recognise, as I am sure the fishing industry recognises, that unless we have effective conservation policies there will be no fish for future generations to fish. We must think of our responsibilities in the long-term as well as in the short-term.

Does the Minister accept that the Opposition understand the complexity and we do not ask him to give a blanket assistance to every part of the industry? Will the Minister also accept that this is a matter of urgency and that differential aids for different parts and types of fishing, both in financial and conservation terms, together with opening up of stocks, is the way forward to assist in this difficult position?

Yes, and with the previous aid schemes there was differentiation between the different size of vessels. We certainly take on board the right hon. Gentleman's point.

Agricultural Holdings

8.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has received any representations from the National Farmers Union in Cumbria on the question of agricultural holdings legislation.

Does the Minister accept the need to introduce a new formula for rents and at the same time to reject the Country Landowners Association proposal for an amendment to the 1976 Act? Would not the best way to secure the interest of young farmers who want to rent land be to set up a national public bank of land to provide for their particular needs?

What proposals does the right hon. Gentleman have to reduce the rate of loss of agricultural land for letting in family-sized units? Will he consider the need for new tenancy legislation, including proposals for improved arbitration? Will he also consider introducing tax incentives to encourge the entry of new tenant farmers to the industry?

I am considering representations on those matters. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made some useful and helpful amendments in last year's Budget.

Animal Breeding Research Organisation

9.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, further to his reply to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) Official Report, 22 January, c. 193, if he will undertake to consult all interested farming bodies on the provision of research on animal breeding if the Agricultural Research Council decides to close any part of the Animal Breeding Research Organisation.

Machinery already exists for a continuing consultation of farming interests on the provision of all agricultural research programmes.

Is the Minister aware that the Animal Breeding Research Organisation, which has a world-wide reputation, is the only source of scientific thought on animal breeding in the United Kingdom? May we have an assurance that the Agricultural Research Council will continue a full programme of research into genetic breeding in cattle within the ABRO?

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the various research projects commissioned by the Ministry with the ARC and undertaken at the ABRO are to continue, mainly at the ABRO. Discussions on details are continuing between the Agricultural Departments and the Council.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the Scottish National Farmers Union has bitterly criticised the threatened closure of the ABRO in Scotland. The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) has said that it is one of the finest research organisations in the world. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential that animal research is retained in Scotland, since Scotland is so dependent on agriculture for its livelihood?

I note what my hon. Friend says. I can assure him that the ARC has not made a final decision. A final decision is expected at its meeting on 23 March.

When the Minister has talks about animal breeding will she talk to Mr. Bernard Matthews, the millionaire turkey breeder from Norfolk, who has been paying his workers £72 a week for working in dirty, bloodstained conditions cutting the throats of turkeys, and allowing them three minutes to use the lavatory or fining them 15 minutes' pay if they take longer? How much subsidy does he get?

That question is not even loosely connected with the Agricultural Research Council.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind representations that I have made to her and my right hon. Friend the Minister on behalf of Shrophire farmers, who believe that to close the Animal Breeding Research Organisation would be a great mistake, because of its invaluable contribution to agriculture?

My hon. Friend will have observed that the ARC recently made it clear in its press notice of 19 February that it appreciates the continuing need for scientific support for the livestock breeding industry.

Is the Minister aware that, contrary to press reports, the revised ARC proposal would mean that the expenditure and staff at the ABRO would be cut by more than 50 per cent? We welcome the Ministry of Agriculture's decision to continue commissioning its work, but may I ask the Minister to tell the ARC that it must desist from sabotaging this internationally famous research station and provide the necessary money to support fundamental research?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the ARC comes within the aegis of the Department of Education and Science. The question of redundancies and management is for the ARC.

North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Agency

10.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Agency will move to Edinburgh; and if he will make a statement.

I hope that the convention for the conservation of salmon in the North Atlantic ocean can come into force during the course of the year, but this must depend on the speed at which the prospective parties to the convention ratify it. I am very pleased that the new organisation will have its headquarters in Edinburgh

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House will wish to congratulate the Minister on bringing the agency to Edinburgh? When does the Minister hope that the other participants will sign the convention? Does he hold out any long-term hopes for improved salmon stocks in the United Kingdom?

Edinburgh is an appropriate headquarters for the organisation. I am glad that we had the support of other countries in the negotiations. The convention was opened for signature only on 2 March. It might take a little time before the signatures are completed. I hope that the process will proceed as expeditiously as possible.

Has my right hon. Friend considered the implications of the vote in Greenland to leave the Common Market and the consequences of that for the conservation of North Atlantic salmon? May we have an assurance that in negotiations with Greenland over its leaving the Common Market it will be made clear that if Greenland wishes to seek an advantageous relationship with the Common Market it will have to give categoric assurances that its fishermen will not act as high sea pirates of salmon that rightly belong to countries such as Britain?

As my hon. Friend knows, Denmark has acted on behalf of Greenland in the negotiations. I understand that it continues to do that in relation to external affairs. I share my hon. Friend's concern. If we are to preserve and husband the important salmon resource, it is vital that we have better controls over high sea salmon fishing.

Common Fisheries Policy

11.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what stage has been reached in negotiations for a common fisheries policy.

20.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the current position in respect of the negotiations for a revised European Economic Community common fisheries policy.

Progress has been made on marketing, on conservation and on the Community's reciprocal fishing arrangements with third countries.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although the need for certainty over the future of the fishing industry is urgent, it would be nothing but a hindrance to the successful conclusion of negotiations if a time limit were publicly placed upon the negotiations?

It is extremely important for the negotiations to proceed as expeditiously and constructively as possible. That is important not only to our fishermen but for the proper management of the resources in the sea.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the increasing anxieties of inshore fishermen in the far southwest about the future status of the 6 to 12-mile bands once a common fisheries policy is obtained? Is he aware that local fishermen believe that in future that area should be fished exclusively by United Kingdom fishermen?

I am aware of that. My hon. Friend has been vigorous in the House in expressing that view. Our objective is to obtain a 12-mile exclusive zone. In the negotiations it is necessary to take account of the historic rights of people who have fished in that area. That we have not reached a conclusion to the negotiations yet is a sign that we are not prepared to settle for just any settlement.

Earlier the Minister said that he had met the industry's leaders on 17 February. Is he aware that the leaders met hon. Members in Westminster Hall before he met them, when there was an air of solid, 100 per cent. inspissated gloom? Did the Minister manage to convert them? Were they persuaded by what he said about the common fisheries policy?

Of course the fishing industry is anxious about its future, just as the Government are anxious about its future—[Interruption.]—I share the hon. Gentleman's genuine concern about the opportunities that our fishermen will enjoy. That is why it is important to get the right settlement. The fishing organisations have been represented throughout the negotiations and we shall consult them fully before any conclusion is reached.

I assure the Minister that this Government have a future. During that future will he press on with determined negotiations with the European Community, and, in those negotiations, make sure that we have beam trawling regulations that are no less favourable to our fishermen than they are to those on the other side of the North Sea and the Channel?

The fishing industry would have been perfectly justified in wondering whether it had any future under the Labour Government. From this Government it has received considerable aid and considerable progress has been made in many aspects of the common fisheries policy, such as those that I mentioned, including marketing and conservation. In answer to the specific matter that my hon. Friend raised, we have issued a consultation document, and I am considering the representations that have been made following those consultations.

Does the Minister realise that our only anxiety about the future of this Government is that it should be as short as possible? It has already been pretty nasty and brutish, for a start. May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the future of the British fishing industry, instead? Time is running out. We are moving into dangerous waters and, by the way, we are not leaving ourselves many dangerous waters to get into. Will the Minister assure us that there will be no agreement short of a 12-mile exclusive and a 50-mile dominant preference? Will he follow the excellent example of Greenland and get out of the market so that we may settle our own water limits?

I should have more respect for the hon. Gentleman's comments if he at least acknowledged the progress that has been made and the way in which this Government have helped the industry. Instead of being a prophet of gloom, he should show a constructive, not a destructive, spirit. Then I would more easily appreciate what he says.

Laying Hens

15.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the present number of laying hens kept in battery cages in the United Kingdom.

Precise figures are not available. The 1981 June census indicated that the United Kingdom laying flock totalled 44·5 million birds. It is estimated that 95 per cent. of these are kept in battery cages.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware of the deep concern that is felt by many people about the treatment of animals that are kept in battery conditions? When will the Government introduce new legislation, or is this yet another example of Britain having to follow the rules that are laid down for this country by the EEC?

In many ways this country has led the EEC in matters of animal and poultry welfare. The Council of Agriculture Ministers has already agreed a large part of the draft directive. However, it must await the opinion of the European Parliament before reaching a final decision on stocking densities and implementation dates.

Has the Ministry any information about the number of birds that are kept in cages with four or fewer birds per battery, and the number where there are seven birds per battery? Is it possible to compare the incidence of stress in those cases and the improved yield that is available where fewer birds are kept?

A great deal of research is currently being carried out on the effect on birds that are kept in battery cages, both in other European countries and here. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have proposed the two-tier approach in Europe—450 sq cm per bird at the first stage, and 600 sq cm per bird at the second stage.

Beef Herd

16.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, in view of the decline in the beef herd of 3½ per cent. in each of the last two years, he will take steps to arrest that decline.

Beef producers' returns have recovered during the past year, and there are now signs that the decline in the beef herd is slowing down. Further measures to assist beef producers will be considered in the common agricultural policy price negotiations.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is no reduction in the Buckler cow premium this year?

There is no doubt that the help that is given through that premium and the hill livestock compensatory amounts that the Government have consistently increased are of great importance to our beef producers.

Will the Minister consider extending less-favoured area status, at a lower level of assistance, to those areas where the beef herd, in particular, could be assisted by aid within the rules of the Common Market, without upsetting the susceptibilities of the French or anyone else?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is one of the aspects to be looked at in the marginal land survey, on which this country has moved particularly fast.