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Farm Expenditure

Volume 33: debated on Thursday 2 December 1982

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proportion of farm expenditure is attributable to rates paid on domestic hereditaments on farms.

The estimated rates attributable to farm businesses represented one quarter of 1 per cent. of farm expenditure in 1981.

What would be the effect on farm incomes, and ultimately on food prices, if the ill-considered proposal of the Select Committee on the Environment to rate agricultural buildings and the even more ill-considered proposal of NALGO to rate agricultural land were brought into effect?

There would obviously be an impact on prices, and farm incomes would be reduced. There would also be a substantial increase in the bureaucracy required. That is why the Government will have nothing to do with agricultural re-rating.

Conservative Members are so predictable that I presume that the question to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was really directed at the Opposition spokesman on agriculture, fisheries and food. I wish to make it clear—

Order. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) is here to ask questions, not to answer them.

I believed it to be an implied question, Mr. Speaker.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Labour Party's position, which is being criticised at the moment, is that the cost to a local community of the loss of potential rating power should be borne not by the local community but by the community as a whole and therefore should be charged by the local authority and the amount assessed in the annual assessment of farming costs, thus adding it to the equation in that way?

If the Labour Party wishes to go through that process, it is welcome to do so. It would not be popular with the local community, local farmers, British agriculture, or anybody else.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that to change the rating system would be wise, but unfortunate and unwise for the consumer? Will he confirm that the Labour Party's policy is to rate agricultural buildings?

I cannot be responsible for the Labour Party's policy, which, in fairness to the Labour Party. it must be said varies every few months. The Conservative Party will have nothing to do with the re-rating of agricultural land.

Reference has been made to a Select Committee of the House. Has the right hon. Gentleman read a book by his hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body), which points out that farmers have received a considerable amount of public expenditure in the form of subsidies? Since that is the view of Members from both sides of the House, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that farmers should make a contribution by paying rates on agricultural buildings?

I disagree with the premise and argument of my hon. Friend's book. The argument about world prices, irrespective of the volume of purchase, is incorrect. I notice that support for the book has come from elements in the Tory press and the Ulster Unionist Party with who my hon. Friend would not normally agree.

It is based on a distinct, passionate anti-European feeling. I personally applaud an industry which currently has an inflation rate on food prices as low as 4·9 per cent., where increases in farm gate prices have been lower than increases in food prices and retail prices, and where this year our balance of payments will be £1,700 million better than if we did not have such a successful industry.

Order. We have spent five minutes on question No. 1. We shall have to move more quickly.