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Farm Incomes

Volume 114: debated on Thursday 23 April 1987

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how average farm incomes in the United Kingdom for the latest available period compare with those for the other nine member states of the European Community.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

Commission figures show that in 1984–85, the most recent year for which figures are available, farm family income in the United Kingdom was broadly twice the Community average. The United Kingdom was fourth highest in the Community, ahead of both France and Germany.

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, but is he aware that between 1980 and 1986 the net incomes of farmers in Wales dropped by 34 per cent., while the net incomes of farmers in the United Kingdom dropped by 21 per cent.? Does the blame for that lie with the Secretary of State for Wales, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Government, or the EEC?

It is still true that the average incomes of everyone working in agriculture have risen more in Britain over the past three years than in France, Italy or Germany. That must be because of the excellent arguments of this Government, who fight for British farmers within the EC harder than any other Ministry.

Does the Minister agree with Mr. Robin Leigh-Pemberton—as he well knows, a farmer as well as the Governor of the Bank of England — who, in a reported statement last week following an address to an audience of farmers, said that in his view the outlook for farmers' incomes will get worse rather than better?

Farmers have a real future within the Community if they are efficient and sell their goods effectively, and if the Government continue in office, fighting for British farmers within the EC.

What would be the effect on net farm incomes if the scheme proposed by the leader of the Social Democratic party were put into operation — a scheme which the president of the National Farmers Union has described as a disaster, or a potential disaster?

The effect would be to increase the incomes of other countries' farmers relative to those in the United Kingdom and to depress most significantly the income off our largest producerss of grain, as well as the income of the producer of other products. The fact of the matter is that my hon. Friend is a little out of date. There have already been three agricultural policies from the alliance since that one, each worse than the previous one.

Is the Minister aware of the danger of quoting averages and of the fact that in Wales about one third of small farmers are on family income supplement? In view of that, will he state the Government's attitude towards the European Community's plan to top up farmers' incomes? Will he give an assurance that, if the scheme goes ahead, we shall not miss out in competition with France or Germany?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Averages are not always helpful, but if we are to compare countries, it is difficult to find another way to do so. The problem that he put forward is that, because the average size of farms in the rest of the Community is between a quarter and a fifth of what it is in this country, if we go ahead with the kind of scheme that is proposed it is likely that precisely what he wants will not be obtained. In other words, the majority of the money will go to other countries' farmers and not to those in this country. The Government have been seeking to ensure that, in all decisions within the Community, British farmers are dealt with fairly. That is our job and that is what we are working towards.