Orders of the Day — Agriculture

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th May 1960.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington 12:00 am, 16th May 1960

That may be true. Hon. Members on this side are much less inhibited than hon. Members opposite; we are more spontaneous and say what we think. We are not as dead and monolithic as hon. Members opposite. There is, nevertheless, the noisy exception of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro).

The Government argue that this year's decisions are fair, balanced and in the best interests of British agriculture. Therefore, we must take those standards. After all, the Price Review is an expression of agricultural policy, and, as has been stated today and as was stated in another place by the Parliamentary Secretary, it represents the line which the Government have been following since 1954. I quote the following words: The stress has all the time been on the improvement of the market and the need to make production more economic."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 11th April, 1960; col. 852–6] That was the view of the Government, and it is the view of the Minister today. In other words, the fundamental policy of the Government in considering agriculture is, first, the market and, second, production being more economic.

That has always been the policy of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. That is why I disagree with their main policy, the desire to return to a free economy. That was the argument that hon. Members opposite used when they returned to power after the time of the Labour Government. Their argument was for a return to the price mechanism, a return to the auction market, the price ring and so on. The Price Review reflects that Government policy. Here we are really arguing fundamental political principles. Hon. Members opposite have departed from the main principles of policy which were pursued by the Labour Government, a policy which was enshrined in the 1947 Act.

I have no doubt that the farmers prefer the planning of Mr. Tom Williams, who was the Minister of Agriculture in the Labour Government, to the policies of expediency and restriction which are pursued by the present Minister. I am certain that that is so. I admit that many farmers supported the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends at the last General Election, but agriculture will pay a price for the political folly of those who believe that they have never had it so good. The Price Review is an example.

If we take the three tests which the Minister has put forward—they have been stated by other Government spokesmen—that the decisions are fair, balanced and in the best interests of agriculture, we have only to consider farming opinion. I will not give long quotations, though I have many. We have had the words of the president of the National Farmers' Union, a responsible man. He has stated that the industry is facing a critical point in its history. He argues against the Puke Review. That argument was repeated in a broadcast. The Press, too, have put forward strong criticisms of the Government and have reported resolutions passed by National Farmers' Union branches all over the country. Even the Liberal Guardian admits that the Price Review has a bad psychological effect. That is true of the Observer and also of the Beaverbrook papers, including the Farming Express. All farm opinion in this country is united against Government policy as expressed by the Price Review.

I would go further and argue that the Price Review is only the culmination of a long policy as a result of which faming confidence has been affected. The policy has gone on for a long period, and if we take specific industries we see the uncertainty. The Minister this afternoon praised himself for what he has done about pigs. But who created the crisis in the pig industry? We are now having a moderate increase in pig production—that is the aim of the Price Review, as has been stated in the Government's White Paper—but who created the uncertainty in the pig industry? Responsible farming opinion in the pig industry—hon. Members know this only too well because representations have been made to them—has strongly criticised Government policy over the last two years on this issue. Hon. Members know that, and it is no good staying that we should not be political.