Orders of the Day — Agriculture

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th January 1970.

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Photo of Peter Tapsell Peter Tapsell , Horncastle 12:00 am, 26th January 1970

The serious effect of these inadequate incomes and inadequate profits is not only short-term, because it leads to the land being overworked and to a shift away from animal husbandry to excessive cereal production and a generally unbalanced state of agriculture. It also leads to the neglect of capital investment, work on ditches and fencing, the provision of new equipment and so on. This produces a situation which cannot be remedied overnight and this means that we are, in effect, mortgaging the future by allowing this state of affairs to continue.

I am glad to see that the Minister has now returned to the Front Bench because, having made some critical remarks about him in his absence at the outset of my speech, I wish to remind him of what I said. The right hon. Gentleman did not seem in his speech—except in the passage to which I referred—to understand the seriousness of the situation and the fact that his personal honour is now becoming involved.

We think of him as a man of integrity, and he is widely regarded as such in the farming community. But he must remember that at the time of the "little Neddy" report, in the autumn of 1968, he went a long way in public towards endorsing that report. Following a speech which he made at that time the farmers in my constituency expected a much more generous Price Review than they subsequently got.

At that time it was difficult to reconcile the Price Review with what the right hon. Gentleman had previously said when the "little Neddy" report appeared. The only way to explain it—I am prepared to accept what the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) said about the Minister having done his best but having been overruled by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—was the fact that we were in the midst of a major economic crisis, that we were borrowing money from the I.M.F. and that the I.M.F. was making quarterly examinations of our books. No doubt the Treasury told the Minister during that crisis that a good Price Review was out of the question. And, as the right hon. Gentleman was relatively new to his portfolio, it was felt that he had done his best, and we were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I warn the Minister that that will not happen a second time. He has now spent a considerable time in his present office. Now we are continually being told by the Chancellor that the economic situation has greatly improved. The time has come when the farming community not only expects the right hon. Gentleman to stand up and take on the Chancellor in a vigorous way, but to win. If the Minister is unable to produce from the Treasury a really generous Price Review this time—one which will go a long way towards putting right the serious faults which I have outlined—his only honourable course will be to resign.