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Beef Production

Volume 77: debated on Thursday 18 April 1985

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17.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the prospects for the beef sector of the agriculture industry.

There is at present a surplus of beef in the Community, partly due to the increased cow cullings following the introduction of milk quotas, and producers' returns are accordingly relatively low in relation to the Community's guide prices. In view of the market situation, the Community beef management committee recently agreed to augment the existing programme of hindquarter intervention with a short period of private storage aids. The need is to achieve a better balance between supply and demand in the Community.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the longer-term beef production cycle means that there has also to be commensurate longer-term confidence in the United Kingdom beef producing sector? Is he aware that his and his right hon. Friend's robust defence of the scheme is welcome, in that it does lead and will lead to the consumption of beef? Can he seek to sustain it on a longer-term basis instead of a year-by-year negotiation basis?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the scheme, and if we had been able to achieve that we would obviously have gone for it. Unfortunately, we were not responsible for the arrangement, which meant that it was on a one-yearly basis. My hon. Friend is right in the point that he makes about consumption. We estimate that if we had not had the beef variable premium scheme last year beef consumption would have been 8 per cent. or more lower than was the case. That would have led to considerable increases in intervention, which, of course, also creates considerable problems of physical storage.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, against the background of the figures which he has just given, the view of the Commission is so irrational as to border on the lunatic? Did he by any chance hear the representative of the Commission on the farming programme this morning declaring in no uncertain terms that it was going to see the end of the variable beef premium? Is that not absolute nonsense?

We have made it very clear, as my hon. Friend knows, that we shall use every endeavour to retain that scheme this year. One of the arguments is that we estimate that without the premium 75,000 to 80,000 tonnes of beef would have had to go into intervention last year to keep producer prices at roughly the same levels. It seems to me that, with the problems of physical storage, it is very much better to have the beef going on to consumers' plates than into intervention.

Does my hon. Friend accept that small, family-run farms are the backbone of the livestock industry, including the beef industry, and that in recent years the agricultural price reviews have tilted matters in favour of the large producer? This year, is it not time that the balance was tilted in favour of the small, family-run farm?

I think that it is clear from the debate that we had on the price review proposals, and from the Government's response, that we agree that it is important to get a better balance between cereals and livestock. That is our endeavour in negotiations.

Is the Minister aware that we have reached Question 17, and that every Tory Member who has asked a question has called for more Government intervention, more subsidies of one kind or another—

I have not finished yet. We have caught Tory Members at it. Every one of them wants more subsidies. Why does the Minister not—

Order. We are talking about beef. Perhaps the Minister will try to reply to the question as far as it has gone.

Order. I have called the Minister to answer as far as the hon. Gentleman has gone.

Will the Minister convey to his colleagues that if the Cabinet is prepared to intervene in the farming industry on a massive scale, to appease all these Tory Members—

Order. I have reminded the hon. Gentleman that the question is about beef. So far he has not referred to beef. Perhaps the Minister will now reply.

Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman has not been listening, either to what my hon. Friends have been asking or to what Ministers have been saying in reply.