It is right that I should declare an interest—whether it is a full-time working interest remains to be seen.
The Opposition believe that it is necessary to have another full day's debate on agriculture, the fifth since March, because of the importance of the industry and its present unhappy and uncertain state. It is a very long time since there was unrest in the countryside to a degree that makes the whole nation conscious of it. Yet that is our recent experience.
A more hard-working team of men and women than our farmers and farm workers, or a team more reluctant to interrupt work with demonstrations, it is impossible to imagine. But farming families, especially in the hills and uplands, have been driven to protest because their whole livelihood faces ruin.
After the events of last autumn, 1974 was always going to be a difficult year for every country and every industry. We can agree about that. I have never pretended that the Minister did not have a difficult task. But the way the problems have been tackled, or not tackled, by the present Government leaves British agriculture at the end of this year in a worse state than it was at the beginning. The livestock sector has known its worst depression in memory, and confidence is at a dangerously low ebb.
The worst feature to my mind is the absence of any coherent or considered strategy for the future which accounts for the persistent uncertainty and hesitancy that is a real threat to the production of home-grown food. Even after last week's negotiations, nothing definite has been settled beyond February. Agriculture cannot function effectively and efficiently on that basis. The prospect has to be clear for a long time ahead, but today, however hard one peers, the fog obscures the landscape.
I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will take the opportunity today to spell out the future as he sees it, and will expound his strategy and say how he intends to achieve it. Nobody but the right hon. Gentleman or the Prime Minister has it in his power to lift the clouds that now hang round the farming world.
It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of the situation, because the House realises that the background to this last two years have seen the dramatic debate is the world food situation. The last two years have seen the dramatic reversal of world primary commodity production and, in particular, of agricultural production. A situation of plenty has turned to shortage, and as a consequence the economies of all nations have been affected—none more than the United Kingdom, with our great dependence on food imports.
In the past national agricultural management by individual nations has been dictated by the existence of world surplus production. Land has been left idle purposely to avoid over-supply and low prices to fanners; international commodity agreements were formulated to give the less developed countries higher prices for their products and to protect them from the surplus situation. That age has gone. We see, instead, a world conference in Rome on the subject of shortage and starvation. It is not just a question of world supplies of cheap food being no longer available; it is a question of total supplies in relation to total demand.
Every hon. Member in the House must want the United Kingdom to make its maximum contribution. There are two main ways in which this can be done. First, we can expand home output and rely less on imports, and this in itself will help the economy and our balance of payments, which is, of course, a bonus. Secondly, we can help the situation by our technical expertise and research capability. In many fields we are leaders in agricultural research work, and some of the very best work is done in Cambridgeshire, in my constituency, in plant breeding, animal physiology and other fields.
I wish to ask the Minister today to tell the House specifically about our agricultural research programme and its budget. I noticed last week in the Financial Times a report that the Government had cut the programme by 6 per cent. I do not know whether that report is true, but the House would like to know because it seems to me that this is the time for a renewed effort not only for our own sake but also for overseas producers.
In the last agriculture debate I referred to some proposals put forward by the Conservatives during the year. Our approach throughout has been positive and constructive, and so has our criticism. I wish that it had not fallen on such deaf ears. We have repeated time and again the necessity for restoring a guarantee for beef producers—a guarantee which should never have been taken away.
The National Farmers' Union, as reported in the Press on 20th November, said that its representatives had
… been arguing the case for a firm guarantee since the present Government rejected the system of intervention buying in March this year".
We achieved that last week, and the breakthrough referred to by the farmers' union has been through the Government's resistance to a beef guarantee.
We urged the ending of the transitional period for sugar beet, and we got that in September. In July we asked for a full review of agriculture on a Community basis. That was agreed in September and is now in progress. We also said in July that we would put proposals before the Council of Ministers. We asked for:
a better system of support for perishable commodities … These will include a monetary payment system backed by intervention.
We achieved that last week.
But there are other things for which we have been asking and which we have not yet got. There should be—or should have been by now—a full-scale emergency review of agriculture on a national basis. The Minister was prepared to do this only in respect of milk. I welcomed that so far as it went and the award that followed it. It was helpful, although we know that it does not extend beyond February. We believe that every commodity should have been reviewed, but that has not happened.
The heart of the problem has been the rise in feeding stuffs costs and the imbalance in the industry. In July I called for immediate consultations with the industry to reassess the position and see what action could or should be taken in each sector to try to get the cost of animal feed and producers' returns more into line.
At the same time we called for a complete re-examination of our marketing methods and network. After the traumatic experience of the summer, I became convinced that producers would be likely to accept disciplines and controls which they would not contemplate previously. Obviously, there is scope for improvement in marketing. Whether one goes as far as my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell), it is clear that our methods require rethinking. The Minister apparently has done nothing on this front.
The House will agree that my right hon. and hon. Friends have made consistent and constructive proposals for the industry. Where we have criticised the Government, it is for their failure to secure confidence and trust in the industry and for the demonstrable failure of their attempts to help livestock producers, and especially for their failure to follow a comprehensible course which could be described as a complete policy. What we have seen is a flow of ad hoc, makeshift devices produced one after the other at considerable cost to the taxpayer but of all too little benefit to the producer or the consumer.
I do not doubt, and never have doubted, the Government's aims and intentions. They wanted to follow an expansionist course. They said so. The right hon. Gentleman said so on 14th March, and he repeated it on 8th May. The Prime Minister emphasised it in a letter to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on 31st May. But nothing that either right hon. Gentleman said or did produced an expansionist result. The fears felt so acutely in the livestock sector were not relieved. We have seen not expansion but decline.
Again in the June debate the Minister said that the Government were looking to the industry to provide an increasing proportion of the nation's food. The contrast between aim and reality is acute. I take beef first. On 23rd March the floor in the market, the guarantee for intervention, was removed without notice and without anything being put in its place. At the same time the Minister also negotiated a reduced increase in the guide price—an increase of only 63 per cent., plus an additional £10 per head on the calf subsidy.
As the Minister explained on 25th March, the purpose was to safeguard the position of beef producers. It did nothing of the kind. The small increase of 63 per cent. meant that the gap between the European Community guide price and the United Kingdom guide price, instead of narrowing under the transitional arrangements, widened. The result, in effect, was to subsidise imports of beef into the United Kingdom and to penalise our exports. The import subsidy amounted to about 20p per lb., and, naturally, the home market was undercut. If we add to that the removal of the intervention guarantee, there we have the tragedy of our beef producers.
The Minister then tried to recover the situation by a series of measures. First, he recanted on the 6·3 per cent. and agreed to a higher figure. To some extent, this halted the unfair competition, but it was too late. Confidence had drained away too far to be reclaimed by that.
Then the right hon. Gentleman introduced the slaughter premiums which on 17th July he said would assure beef producers of a reasonable return. What happened was that the market slumped. The value of the premium was eroded, and producers found themselves in an even more perilous situation than before. Later in September the right hon. Gentleman stepped up the scale of the premiums, but to no avail.
On 3rd October the right hon. Gentleman announced extra aid to hill farmers, not by extra money but by bringing forward next year's payment from June to January. That was a gain to some extent, but I must press the right hon. Gentleman about the payment of this money. Fanners can now apply earlier for the hill cow subsidy. But it is vital for them to receive the cash. When will they get it? Will he undertake to pay the money promptly after the receipt of applications—in days and not weeks? I hope that the Government realise that, as this is only next year's money being paid earlier, it is of very limited value. Will more money be made available next year? We need to know this because it is the future which matters now. This is a very relevant matter to livestock producers in the hills.
On 31st October another new measure was announced. We were told there was to be a subsidy to wholesalers to store beef in cold storage. How that will help producers has not been fully explained. Nor have we been told what will happen to the beef after six months. We also do not know how that measure will be affected by the negotiations which the Minister announced last week.
Last week, ultimately, we got the somersault that brought back a guarantee for beef. However, the right hon. Gentleman knows that if he had not removed the floor in March, the industry would not have known the agony of recent months.
Having sought to work out what the industry has lost as a result of having no floor in the market and taking the consequences, I have tried to calculate as accurately as I can how much money the industry has lost.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the removal of the floor or guarantee. It was his own Government who did it in March last year, virtually overnight, and they defended their action on the ground that the guide price was well below any foreseeable price of beef. Those of us who pointed out that it could change were laughed at. Presumably the right hon. Gentleman is now referring to another kind of guarantee. Is the Conservative Party saying that the basic guarantee which it wants—and none other—is large-scale intervention buying?
What I said, and what the industry accepted in 1972 when we changed from the old system to the new, was that it was a guarantee. If intervention was not seen to be working satisfactorily, it was open to the Government of the day to negotiate another agreement. If intervention was not working, that is what should have happened.
Last July I said that there should be a monetary payment system backed by intervention. We got it only last week. The common agricultural policy was always open to change. If intervention was not working satisfactorily, it was up to the Community to change it. It was a floor in the market to producers.
In my calculation, I have taken the Meat and Livestock Commission's estimate of the break-even point between cost and profit of £21·50 per cwt and the actual market price week by week. I have taken into account the slaughter premium, and I have assumed a 10 cwt beast. That may be a little on the high side, but that is the basis of my estimate. I worked that out for each week over a period of 38 weeks. The difference between the Meat and Livestock Commission's estimated break-even point and the average market price multiplied by the number of beasts slaughtered each week comes to more than £90 million. That is the enormous sum of money which the industry has had to bear. That is the measure and scale of the agony through which the industry has gone.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, although he is right in his calculations, the figure is far more if one includes the losses in store cattle, which have been disastrous for our store producers?
I agree. However, I always try to produce figures which, if anything, are on the low side. I feel that it is better to err that way than to exaggerate. In any event, I get more than £90 million as a result of my calculations, and it is a staggering figure.
The deal which the Minister brought back last week lasts only until the end of January, by which time the Government will be operating on an intervention price which will be 85 per cent. of the United Kingdom guide price. It is 65 per cent. now, and rising, compared with 80 per cent. in the rest of the Community. By the end of January we and the rest of the Community will be virtually back in line again, subject to the transitional arrangements. This gives real hope for a new beef régime on a Community basis. The regret is that the industry has suffered so severely in the meantime.
Before leaving the subject of beef, I want to make these points to the Government. First, there is the anxiety about fodder. Everyone shares it, and various assessments have been made. The House will wish to hear the Government's estimate of availability in relation to need. The shortage may or may not be as bad as some fear. The worst figure that I have seen is more than 3 million tons. Is that accurate? I am told that Wales is short of 150,000 tons. The House would like to know from where it is to come, what inquiries and investigations the Government and the trade have made for obtaining fodder from abroad, and the details of plans to deal with what is, clearly, an emergency situation.
I return to the question which I asked on Thursday about beef imports from the Irish Republic. It is a long-established and important trade. However, because of the adjustments which have been made to the green pound and to the transitional arrangements, there are some temporary and artificial elements acting on the trade now. Farmers in Wales are particuarly eager to know what the pattern is likely to be in the near future and how last week's negotiations affect these imports.
This question bears directly on the O'Brien Report. There is an urgency about this matter. I know that the right hon. Gentleman agrees, but we must rely upon him and his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for action. On 31st October I said that I thought it was wrong that live animals could be imported without anyone raising any objection, and thereby damaging our markets, while the ban on exports remained. Surely this issue is especially acute in the context of a fodder shortage that, on the most favourable interpretation, borders on starvation. That is a new and painful dimension that adds more urgency to the need for a decision of this House than the Leader of the House indicated last Thursday.
The right hon. Gentleman now seems to be critical of the importation of Irish cattle, but only a few days ago he seemed to some of us on this side of the House to be in favour of extending the domiciliary period allowed before the subsidy was paid at a time of fodder shortage.
This is an old trade that we cannot cut off. I have asked what the effect will be. I am certain that, in view of the price of fodder, we would get a different result by importing cattle from Ireland if there had to be a 60 days' or 90 days' waiting period. I think that the whole House would welcome an announcement by the right hon. Gentleman that that was what he had decided to do. I hope that he will do that. It would be of real help.
I turn now to the pig sector, which I readily admit was in a most difficult situation last winter. In March the Government introduced a subsidy for pig producers which was to last until July. The object was to prevent a decline in the herd. Unfortunately, the market price slumped and slaughtering continued at exceptional rates. By May it was clear that pig production would decline by 200,000 tons by 1975. That was an estimate made by the Meat and Livestock Commission.
On 22nd May the right hon. Gentleman announced the extension of the subsidy, but by June, the next month, the total slaughter rate for the first half of the year, January to June, was nearly 50 per cent. up on the same period in 1973. In September the special subsidy was again extended, but the reduction in the herd persisted unabated.
I know that the Government made £30 million available, but, alas, much of the benefit was lost through the fall in the market, which was calamitous for producers. Indeed, they did not receive that £30 million. That was part of the trouble. In other words, the successive steps that were taken proved inadequate to safeguard future supplies for the consumer. That is what happened. In my view, that was due to the fact that the steps were successive. Taken all at once, I think that the outturn would have been different.
The House has heard the Minister, on his return from each round of negotiations in Europe—I fully acknowledge the energy and effort required to sit through them and to come back with a negotiation achieved—claim each round as either satisfactory or even a triumph. But each in turn has proved in the end to be inadequate and insufficient.
Yes. The right hon. Gentleman's latest round takes us no further than a few months hence—to February—whereas the crying need is for a longterm strategy that will carry the industry well forward into the future.
I turn now to the poultry industry and to glasshouses, because there is great concern in both sectors.
The poultry industry cannot escape the devastating increases in feed costs. As these costs represent over 75 per cent. of the cost of production, poultry farmers have been hit much harder than other livestock producers. Egg prices have certainly firmed recently, but poultry meat production is still unprofitable and producers are losing money.
The effect of the massive rise in cereals on the transitional arrangements means that the United Kingdom market is now open increasingly to unfair competition from Europe since imports have the advantage of national subsidies and monetary compensatory amounts which are not available to our home industry. Will the Minister assure the House that he will review this as a matter of urgency and in the context of the full Community review? Poultrymen feel that they are being forced to compete on an unfair basis not only with Europe but vis-à-vis other meat producers, and that undermines their confidence.
On glasshouses, I want to press the Government about the oil subsidy. This subsidy, for which we asked and welcomed, saved the industry, which depends so heavily on oil. But nothing has yet been settled on what will happen after 1st January. I cannot believe that the Government intend to abandon this industry, especially in view of the enormous extra investment put into it in recent years. But it cannot continue and use that investment unless some aid is given towards its energy costs, which are such a high proportion of the total costs.
Since the summer we have been repeatedly asking the Government to state their intentions on this matter, and I hope that we shall hear them today, perilously late though it is. I have been making my own inquiries in Brussels. I have the clear impression that, so far as the Commission is concerned, there is likely to be no objection whatever to the subsidy continuing until June. Will the right hon. Gentleman announce that now, and then work out a longer-term scheme with the industry?
In the unsettled circumstances of agriculture today we face shortages of certain foods. That is a matter that the House cannot take lightly. I have on earlier occasions said that a meat shortage is inevitable. It will happen with pig meat first. The market surveys, published by the Meat and Livestock Commission, show the scale of the prospective fall—probably about 1 million fewer pigs available for slaughter in the first half of 1975. The Meat Manufacturing Association has also warned of the shortage next year and in 1976, and a shortage means higher prices. This is why the disaster on our livestock farms this year will mean dissatisfaction for the consumer next year and in 1976.
The interests of producers and consumers are the same—a steady supply at stable prices. But under this Government that is the opposite of what is happening. The customers and consumers in the shops are not aware of it yet, but they will be soon enough.
There are other shortages. Already there is a shortage of milk for manufacture. Practically no butter is being made in the United Kingdom, and cheese production will fall far short of potential, which means more imports.
The scarcity of sugar has existed for months, and the worrying aspect has been the tardiness of the Government in securing future supplies.
On a long-term view the shortage can be made good, and our farmers have the capability to grow a lot more. I have already welcomed the increased tonnage quota now available, and the price will go up significantly now that we have ended the transitional period. But to encourage maximum take-up and higher production, I am certain that it would help greatly if the Government announced next year's price now. I realise that this is not the normal procedure, but this is not a normal year. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to say now, or within a very few days, what the contract price will be. Otherwise, he will find that not only the extra quota is not taken up but the quota that we had before will not be taken up, and the consequences would be extremely serious. If the price is generous it will still be cheaper than what we shall have to pay the Commonwealth countries for the bulk of our supply next year. I do not imagine that the right hon. Gentleman can say much about that today, because he has left negotiations with the Commonwealth to a desperately late stage. So far as I am aware—the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—no contract has yet been settled.
I shall not take up the time of the House to discuss now the impact of the new capital taxation proposals on farming, though some of my hon. Friends will do so if they are fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. I say only that at a time when confidence in the industry is so shaken, the delivery of this added and gratuitous body blow will slash investment and affect the production of food.
The Minister prides himself on the money that he is spending to help agriculture. Apart from the fact that some of that money is wasted, how does he suppose these taxes will be paid? Out of what does he imagine farmers will find the money? To make it impracticable to pass on a farm from one generation to the next is to inflict a shattering blow on a vast number of families whose whole history has been tilling the soil and feeding the people.
Finally, I want to ask the Government to re-establish the Select Committee on Agriculture. The first one was a valuable experiment—the right hon. Gentleman will recall it—and in the light of all the circumstances and problems of the industry today I believe that the House could make its most effective contribution to future policy and decision making by means of a Select Committee. I believe that this will be supported on both sides of the House, including the minority parties, and that the House wishes to involve itself once more in the detail of this industry, and that can only be helpful to the right hon. Gentleman.
At the beginning of my speech I referred to unrest in the countryside. The whole House knows how incredibly serious things must become before those who live and work in the rural areas even contemplate resorting to demonstrations. The protests that we made from these benches as well as those made by the NFU and other farmers' bodies and organisations went unheeded by the Government.
I accused the Minister of "tinkering" with the problem. That seemed to upset him, but he has been tinkering with it from start to finish. Regrettably, there was a political reason as well. As a result of the Government's internal political problems over Europe and their prejudice against intervention, they have allowed beef, pig and poultry producers to enter into ruinous and wholly unacceptable circumstances. As a result, there is a threat to our food supplies. What did all those fine words about expansion mean? How are the Government going to stop the decline, never mind about any expansion?
Unless these questions are answered fully, and unless the right hon. Gentleman at long last unfolds what his strategy is and how he intends to achieve it, the only practical and honourable course is for him to go and to make way for a Minister of Agriculture who can bring vitality and confidence back to our farms throughout the length and breadth of the kingdom.
This is the second debate that we have had on agriculture during the first month of this Parliament. Yet even during the short interval since our last debate a great deal has happened. In particular, we have had the meeting of the Council of Ministers last week, at which many important decisions were taken. That was perhaps the most important Council meeting since I took office, and I am glad to have the opportunity to say more about those decisions than I was able to do last week.
But first I want to say something more general. It really follows from what the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said in a recent letter to The Times. He made an appeal for agriculture to be taken out of politics. I should be only too glad to do that, and I wish that the right hon. Gentleman would follow his own advice. His practice since he became Opposition spokesman on agriculture has been the exact reverse.
The right hon. Gentleman asks that a Select Committee on Agriculture should be established. I was involved in the setting up of the previous one. I dealt with this first as Minister of Agriculture and later as Leader of the House. We set up a Select Committee on Agriculture. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman continue it? The original Select Committee was set up for an experimental period, and if the right hon. Gentleman feels so strongly about this why did he not take the necessary action when he was in a position to do so?
The answer is that the industry was not in the circumstance of crisis that it faces today. I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that there is widespread support for a Select Committee.
I believe that that is a lame excuse, but as the right hon. Gentleman has asked for a Select Committee I shall look into the matter and have consultations about it with the Leader of the House. It is probably a constructive suggestion, and I should welcome a Select Committee.
The right hon. Gentleman has not been prepared to recognise how far the difficulties which the industry has been facing are the result of circumstances which no Government can control. The right hon. Gentleman only touched on this in his analysis of the situation. Ever since the summer of 1973, British agriculture has had to face one challenge after another from events which Governments of all kinds were powerless to prevent. I accept that as a fact.
First, there was the enormous rise in world cereals prices. This was followed by the oil crisis and the massive push that that gave to the inflation of costs throughout agriculture. Following that there was the failure of the American maize harvest and its result, the continuing high price of cereal feed. Then there was the weather during the summer and autumn, which has left us so short of fodder for our livestock. I shall deal with that later.
These events have caused a grave situation and great anxieties in the industry which I recognise and share. It has been terribly disappointing to meet these problems at a time when we all want a confident and expanding industry. The Government can help the industry to cope with them. I believe that that is what we have done, and shall continue to do, but let no one pretend that they are problems that the Government could have prevented.
My main charge against the right hon. Gentleman is quite different. It is that he has failed to recognise in any way the consequences of this country's membership of the EEC and of the terms of accession that his party negotiated. Whether we like it or not, we have to negotiate the agreement of eight other countries to the measures that we need. It is no good talking as though we can dictate to them. They are all sovereign States like us, and unless we are prepared to tear up the treaties that the previous Government signed we have to negotiate their agreement. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that we should defy the Community and tear up treaties let him say so, but I do not believe that is the right hon. Gentleman's policy.
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that Italy tore up the treaty? Italy took action to protect her agriculture, which is something that Britain did not do. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House the first day on which he asked our partners in the EEC to agree to what was obtained only last week? He did not ask them in May, in June, in July or in August. When did he ask them?
I shall set out the history of our negotiations.
When I took office, the Government rejected the policy of the empty chair in Brussels. That was right, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite agreed with it. I determined to go to the Council of Ministers and do my best for the British farmer and the British people. I do not claim that I always got what I wanted—no one ever does—but let us consider what I have done. I obtained an increase in the calf subsidy worth £35 million, [interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) will have the courage to stand up and say what he wants, or else remain quiet and honourable.
The special pig subsidy was £30 million. Hon. Members have decried this subsidy, but it has played its part in firming the market, and today the United Kingdom pig market is the strongest in Europe. I also secured the increase in the sugar refining margin. I refer also to the grant to glasshouse growers which I secured. The right hon. Gentleman asked me to reconsider the position, and I will do what he asked, but I achieved that subsidy, and it was a better aid policy than operated in the Community for any other member country. I also achieved the July beef premiums, whatever the arguments may be about their success or otherwise. That was worth £40 million.
When the right hon. Gentleman talks about negotiations he should remember that the 8p award to milk producers was the largest award our dairy farmers had ever had, and it was worth £105 million. This is not tinkering with the industry. That improvement was greatly welcomed, certainly by the farmers of my county of Cumberland, and I believe by dairy farmers throughout the country. This is not tinkering with the industry. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), my neighbour and a distinguished Conservative, welcomed the award and paid tribute to it, unlike the right hon. Gentleman.
There was the change in the representative rate and subsidies on cereals imports. There was the move towards the full EEC price for sugar beet, the increase in production acreage and subsidies on sugar imports. There was the bringing forward of the hill cow and beef subsidy. That, too, was welcomed by both Scottish and English farmers' unions and was worth about £35 million. The hill sheep subsidy was worth £9 million, and the lime subsidy £5 million. The Conservatives destroyed the lime subsidy when they were in power. I restored it because I thought it was right, especially for the hill farmers of Wales and Scotland.
Altogether this aid amounts to nearly £300 million, and that is not inconsiderable. Now we have the restoration of a genuine guarantee for beef producers, a satisfactory framework for continuing imports of Commonwealth sugar, and a big increase in prices for New Zealand.
When I look back on all this I do not feel I have to apologise in any way for this Government's record in the Council of Agriculture Ministers. Meanwhile the right hon. Gentleman has contributed nothing but carping criticism, and continual prophecies of gloom that can only undermine the confidence that I am trying to rebuild.
I turn now to the decisions taken at the Council of Ministers last week. I will deal first with beef. When we last debated agriculture on 31st October the common theme on both sides of the House was that there must be a floor in returns to the beef producer. Last week's decisions restored that floor. For the first time since the previous Government abolished the guaranteed price and deficiency payments in March 1973, beef producers now have a firm guarantee of their average returns for clean cattle. From 18th November that guarantee is set at £18 per live cwt. It will rise in steps, and in the second half of January it will be £21·81. I am very glad that it has been possible to restore a firm guarantee in this way. The National Farmers' Unions of England, and Wales and Scotland have described it as a breakthrough. I think that is right.
I have said that I believe the system I have brought in will restore a floor to the market. The limits and parameters are there. I believe that what the farmers' unions have said is right. It has been welcomed by the farming community, and it is what they wanted.
The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire has, of course, described the guarantee as too little and too late. That is his usual style. But let me examine those criticisms. He describes the guarantee rising to £22 as too little. Yet this is 65 per cent. higher than the guarantee the Conservatives abolished a year and a half ago. I agree that costs have risen, but this is a fair and reasonable guarantee, and it is a guarantee.
The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire has often talked as though intervention provides a guarantee of producers' returns. It does nothing of the sort, of course. It is physically impossible to take enough beef off the market to force the price up to the sort of level that producers need.
I hope that the hon. Member will stop shouting. As an ex-gunner he should have more sense.
It would be wrong to try to take that much beef off the market. The only genuine guarantee to producers is the sort that we have now restored. If the right hon. Gentleman does not believe that, let him ask the farmers' unions.
As for the guarantee coming too late, I make no secret of the fact that I would like to have introduced it earlier. However, it was very hard to get the Council of Ministers to accept this radical break with Community methods. When we introduced the fixed premiums on a rising scale in August they were welcomed by the farmers' unions, which thought they would work. I hoped and believed they would work, too. But neither the farmers' unions nor the Government predicted the enormous flooding of marketings in September and October, and it was this that broke the market. So I do not accept the charge that we have acted too late. But I maintain that the abolition of the guarantee by the previous Government made it ten times harder to restore it.
Let me say a word about the limited amount of support buying that we are introducing for this brief period of heavy surplus. There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about it. We are not introducing full-scale intervention at 93 per cent. of the guide price. That is the Opposition's policy, not ours. We are introducing a limited amount of support buying at much lower prices, prices which are far lower than our notional intervention price and well below the prices now guaranteed to producers. This should have no significant effect on retail prices. It will simply help to phase the supply coming on to the market, taking a little off now and, I hope, putting it back on again when the market is firmer and the demand is there. All this operates till the end of January.
My main policy was to try to get the guaranteed price and a fair return for the farmer. For that I was prepared to have a form of supplement to support buying of the kind I have described in my statement.
I was saying that the present system operates till the end of January. The arrangements to follow on then will be decided in the context of the common price changes in the next agricultural year. We could not expect to negotiate a new permanent beef régime at last week's Council meeting. However, I give this assurance to the House and to our beef producers: I intend to ensure that the arrangements which operate from February should continue to give a measure of support to our beef industry equivalent to that we have now introduced.
Sugar was included in our package deal in Europe. This is an important question to us because we need the supplies. It is important to the developing countries and the developing Commonwealth because they need the firm assurance of long-term access. The Council of Foreign Ministers had already decided that access should be given for 1·4 million tons, and accepted that the great bulk of this should follow the traditional patterns of trade.
The Council of Agriculture Ministers now took two crucial decisions, on duration and on price.
On duration, I believe the provisions we agreed could scarcely be better. It was agreed that the principle of the guarantee to buy sugar from the developing countries should be valid for an indefinite period. The procedures for implementing that indefinite guarantee, as I said the other day in my statement, are to be reviewed as necessary, and in any case before the end of the seventh year of the agreement. No amendments, other than the adjustment of quotas in the event of shortfalls, are to be made at less than five years' notice. This gives effectively an indefinite guarantee to the developing countries, just as the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement used to do.
The second question was price, and that was much more difficult. On the one hand, many member countries could not agree to guarantee to Commonwealth producers a price higher than what was guaranteed to their own people. On the other hand, I think everyone recognised that while the world price was so high we should have to pay a price above EEC levels to get the sugar. The solution we found resolves this difficulty. The guaranteed basic price will be within the prices applicable in the Community. But the Council recognised that in the exceptional circumstances of high world prices buyers could negotiate prices above this range. The buyers would, of course, be the refining companies. We got this written into a Council declaration. This was one of the main things that I had to negotiate in the early hours of the morning. But the Council agreed that, if necessary, State guarantees could be given to them in accordance with the Commission's opinion. In other words, we shall consult the Commission so as to avoid crossing wires with the Community negotiaiton, and then offer guarantees that will help our sugar refiners to buy this sugar for the United Kingdom. I believe this is a satisfactory solution. I explained it on Friday to the representatives of the refinery workers, the managements of the refining companies and some of my hon. Friends. I am glad to be able to tell the House that the refiners said that they were certain that, with Government support, they could make the arrangements work.
Of course, there is still a lot to do, and not much time to do it in. The Commission has to negotiate the formal agreement with the developing countries, and we have to arrange for the payment of the special price that will be needed.
But I am very glad that, after all the vagueness of the negotiations undertaken by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), the vagueness of aura a coeur that seemed to satisfy the previous Government, we have at last negotiated something firm, concrete and lasting. I remember the great argument about "bankable assurances"—a phrase used by Robert Lightbourne, the Jamaican Minister. We have hastened negotiations, and I believe that we have achieved success in this direction.
As the package involved New Zealand and as this is a wide debate, before I leave the Council's decisions I should like to say something about the very important decision concerning New Zealand. The Council decided that, with effect from 1st January next, the prices for New Zealand butter and cheese under Protocol 18 will be increased by 18 per cent. This is very important for New Zealand, and Mr. Walding, New Zealand's Minister for Overseas Trade, has warmly welcomed it. It is important, not only because it will give New Zealand a better return but because it recognises the principle that the prices under Protocol 18 have to be adjusted to meet changing circumstances. The House will recall that when the protocol was negotiated, and discussed in the House, New Zealand criticism was confined to the price provisions. I am very glad that we have been able to get those provisions so materially improved. I confess that I have a prejudice towards New Zealand, as have many hon. Members on both sides of the House. I believe very strongly in our Commonwealth and our relations with it. I hope that this will help.
I have spoken at length about the arrangements I have secured in the Council, because they are so important. But I do not want to pretend for a moment that they have solved all our problems. I want now to look ahead— quite rightly, as the right hon. Gentleman has said. Here I would agree with his point of view. I want to look ahead to the problems that still face us and say how we intend to tackle them.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the fodder situation. In the immediate future, our fodder situation is indeed serious and a cause of concern to me. The greatest difficulty is in those livestock areas, such as parts of Wales and southwestern England, where the weather has severely damaged the hay crop. These areas normally look for some supplies of fodder from other areas. These supplies are also short.
I undertook in the last debate to make available the results of the fuller survey of fodder supplies in England and Wales. I have done this.
Let the hon. Gentleman hear what I say. I have not mentioned anything yet.
The hay crop is down by about 14 per cent. Some hay is of very poor quality. The carry-over stock from last year was run down to about 160,000 tons. Available supplies of straw are down by about 10 per cent. but production in eastern England is substantially up and there may be some stocks there. Silage production was reduced, but total stocks are only slightly down. The feeding value of the bulk of the silage is better than average.
I have taken the single most important step to help in this difficult situation by putting a floor in beef producers' returns. Of course, this will not solve the physical problem. But it will help to mitigate it. I note that Mr. Richard Butler, Deputy President of the National Farmers' Union, commends it, commenting that
the results of the survey underline the crucial importance of the statement to be made … on the beef situation".
I am sure that Mr. Butler was right to make this link with the new measures I have now announced for the improvement of beef producers' returns. By improving the cash flow of the industry the new support arrangements will help some of those farmers who have to buy expensive feed during the winter. By giving an incentive to farmers to rear or fatten cattle in the areas less affected by the fodder shortage, it will help to relieve the pressure on supplies in the more affected areas.
But we are also in discussion now with the fanners' unions about ways in which we can help the industry with the shortage of hay and straw. Our cereal harvest has been good—perhaps 15·9 million tons compared with last year's 15·1 million. The demand from the pig herd is down. Clearly, there will be some more cereal feeding of cattle. But we are looking into the possibilities of hay imports.
Over the next few months beef and sheep farmers will be benefiting from the substantial increases of advanced payments of hill sheep subsidy, hill cow subsidy and beef cow subsidy. Cash flow will be improved by about £44 million. We do not consider that an additional general subsidy for the purchase of fodder would be helpful. There would be a serious danger, as the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, of forcing up the price of the product in short supply. Livestock farmers would not benefit from this. But we do not rule out other practical action which would help to relieve the fodder difficulties and the real distress that I realise is occurring in some areas. That is why we are urgently considering these matters now with the farmers' unions. We are working completely together. But there is no easy solution to a physical shortage of supply.
I come now to the argument about the O'Brien Report. It was clear from the debate on the Address that some hon. Gentlemen took the view that we should at once re-open the trade of live cattle to continental Europe. They believe that such a trade is not objectionable on other grounds and that in the present circumstances it would help to relieve pressures on our beef market and feed supplies here.
The question of live cattle exports is one on which strong views are held on both sides. We are acting now in accordance with the decision of the House. If the House wishes to change its view, it can of course do so. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has now made clear that there will be an opportunity for an early debate on the Report of the O'Brien Committee. I have welcomed this.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will restrain himself, instead of being a political neurotic.
I believe that the most important task for us now is to try to achieve an agreed view on the longer-term strategy for agriculture. I agree with the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire here. There is no doubt that the balance of payments and the country's position in the world demand the best use of our own resources of land and skill. This is reinforced by the world's need for food.
The whole House has accepted the need for expansion of home agriculture. We are already engaged in long-term talks with the farmers' unions, the agricultural workers' unions and other interests in agriculture, such as the Country Landowners' Association. We are seeking as far as possible a common view on these difficult matters. These talks were held up temporarily while the National Farmers' Union prepared its views on the priorities. I understand this. But we need now to go forward with these discussions, and we are doing so. I am very ready to take account of any views which the Opposition may put to us in this debate about the longer-term objectives.
I think of matters affecting the structure of the industry. This is not in my brief. This is how I feel about it. The former Prime Minister knows that his Government destroyed a system which had worked well. That was the old county committee structure. We may argue in the House about devolution and other matters affecting Wales, Scotland and other parts of the country, but in the end participation is very important. We built up after the war a system which was second to none.
I was very proud to be Parliamentary Private Secretary—a very humble parliamentary office—to Tom Williams, who created the 1947 Act which laid down the system of assured markets and guaranteed prices and at the same time created the county structure, in which farmers, landowners and farm workers sat on county committees and under which there was virtually direct access to the Minister in Whitehall.
I want to reconsider that system in our long-term objectives. This is very important from the point of view of participation. There is a grave danger that if we were sucked into Europe this type of participation would be hard. I hope that this will not be so. I shall try to negotiate the best terms for my country when I go to Brussels and Luxembourg. This is my objective. Even though sometimes some of my hon. Friends disagree with me, I shall continue to do that. However, I believe that in the end we should aim at creating a strong viable industry in our own country and should also consider carefully some prevailing attitudes of mind.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire is sincere in his call to take politics out of agriculture. He has made a plea for the minimum of controversy and for maximum agreement about the best long-term strategy for agriculture. Let him fulfil his promise.
I have said that I am prepared to consider certain matters, including reintroducing the county structure in which the Country Landowners' Association, the farmers' unions and the agricultural workers' unions will make their con- tribution. I believe that this will be right for agriculture and right for the nation.
This is the first time that I have had the privilege of addressing this Parliament. It is therefore customary that I should declare my interest in matters relating to this debate.
I want to make it clear to the House that, apart from my family farming connections, I am Chairman of S. C. Banks Limited, a firm of corn and agricultural merchants, I am a director of Booker McConnells, which is very much concerned in sugar production round the world, and I am an adviser to the Beecham Food and Drink Group.
It is a pity, in a way, that there is no television in the House today to show the empty Government benches compared with the Conservative benches, to show the lack of interest amongst the Minister's supporters in this very critical debate for agriculture. It should be recorded just how few Labour Members have chosen to be present.
As Mr. Speaker indicated that a large number of Members wanted to speak—
It was not a snide remark in the least. It was a perfectly true remark. If the hon. Gentleman does not like it, I regret that.
I was about to say that I propose to relate my remarks mainly to cattle and to sugar. I want particularly to take up the Minister with regard to the question of beef, because this is critical at present. It is in regard to beef that the greatest lack of confidence has occurred during this year.
I have always maintained that it was a massive blunder by the Labour Government to take us out of intervention, as the Minister did in March. It appeared from his statement last week that he thinks now that some form of intervention is correct. Meanwhile, some farmers have been ruined and many thousands have lost very large sums of money. This is a matter that the Government must face.
Only this morning I received a letter from a constituent. The letter, which is dated 21st November, is very short. It states:
We read in the Press that relief is to be given to beef farmers as from now.
But what is to be done for the thousands of farmers who had to sell their cattle for the depressed prices of August, September and October? We ourselves had to sell 40 cattle in October and sustained a heavy loss.
Cannot the Opposition take up this injustice strongly and vocally?
That is just what I am doing now on behalf of my constituent and of many others throughout the country who have been damaged in this way.
The Minister should study—I am sure that his officials will be only too happy to look them out for him— the Press releases of the speeches I made this time last year when I introduced the Community schemes. I think that the Minister's arguments this afternoon were that we should work alongside the Community schemes. We introduced these schemes, but I said at the time that although we were introducing them I did not recommend farmers to switch from milk to beef unless there were com- pelling reasons for them to do so. That is on record in the Ministry files, and I suggest that the Minister looks at my speeches.
Carrying on from the point at which the Minister intervened, I was saying that all these people have lost money because of the Government's actions. This arises, as I understand it, because of the Governments prejudice against the intervention system, the prejudice that many of them have against community systems at all, or, if it does not arise from that, it arises from the Government deliberately seeking political advantage. I mean by that that the Government had their eye on a second General Election this year and were seeking to bring down the price of beef. I can think of no other reason to explain the action that the Government took.
A few moments ago the Minister said something which he has said in one form or another on various occasions this year. It was this remark of the Minister's which prompted me to speak in this debate. I will try to use the Minister's words. Speaking of the action he took last week, the Minister said that for the first time since the Tory Party took away the old guarantee the Labour Government have given a firm guarantee. That is totally wrong. The facts are quite simple and straightforward. At the time that we took away the old guarantee we replaced it at once with the intervention system. We introduced that, and I am on record as having stated in this House on 2nd August last year the precise conditions on which we introduced it. I have the Press handout with me but I will not weary the House by quoting from it.
We began to operate intervention physically before we left office. We began in February of this year, when 132 tons had actually gone into intervention before the General Election took place. The precise figure which went into intervention before the present Minister stopped it was 176 tons. We were operating the intervention system. I discussed personally with the Intervention Board the measures to be taken to operate it, and I requested the board to provide cold-storage space for 50,000 tons during the current year for utilisation. I made it quite clear that if further stores were needed we would take the necessary action.
Furthermore, when I learned that the Irish were seeking to secure cold-storage space in this country I took action to ensure that priority was given to our own farmers. That was the position at the end of February this year. Intervention was operating when we left office, and it was only the action of this Government which removed intervention.
Those are the undeniable facts, and I hope that we shall hear no more talk of having taken away the guarantee. That intervention was working at the then price, which would have been raised substantially in March and April of this when the new Community price went in, but even then it was operating at a price substantially above the market prices which have obtained this summer. Had intervention been maintained, farmers would have been receiving at least £20 per cwt. In his latest statement the Minister talked of getting £18 per cwt., but that is below what United Kingdom farmers would have had under intervention. That is the important point to make clear.
From time to time hon. Members opposite have made the point that intervention was no good because it did not work. I have heard that point made in this House, and it is untrue. I have taken pains to ascertain what has been happening in the eight other countries, and the only country which has really had massive problems, and indeed the only one which the Minister has quoted in this House, is Ireland. Ireland had massive problems because so much of her beef has been traditionally marketed in the United Kingdom, and its problems arose because the United Kingdom was not operating intervention.
All the seven other countries were operating intervention. Had they failed to get satisfactory returns, we all know enough about the reactions of continental farmers to know that there would have been quite a row in Brussels had intervention not been operating. There was a row in Brussels in September but it was not because of the non-effectiveness of intervention. It was because the intervention price was not enough, and they secured an increase of 5 per cent. I hope we shall hear no more of the charge that the previous Government let the beef producers down. That is totally incorrect. It cannot be supported by any facts. The facts I have given are the real ones.
Would the right hon. Gentleman give one fact which must be in his possession? It has been said that intervention would not have worked properly in this country because the necessary cold-storage facilities for any quota were not available. Can he tell us what quantity of cold storage was available?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was here but I dealt specifically with that point in some detail. I cannot waste the time of the House by repeating what I said. I gave the precise figure.
I gave a figure of 50,000 tons capacity, which was the initial quantity, and I said that I was prepared to provide for further capacity if required. I gave those figures; I have now repeated them, and there is no reason to waste the time of the House any further.
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman again. If he cannot do me the courtesy of listening to me in the first place, I do not see why I should give way to him again.
I have given the indisputable facts about beef. The position, as I understand it, is that the present Government are seeking to reintroduce some form of intervention. I am glad to learn that, but, as I understood the Minister's statement, this is very much of a fall-back position and at a very low price level. When he says, as I see he did over the weekend, that he does not want beef to go into intervention, we can understand some of his difficulties with his own hon. Friends in this matter. He has had to be careful in what he has said. But he should be a little more robust on this question. The amount of beef in store in the Community at present does not amount to a mountain in any sense of the word. It amounts at most to three weeks' supply for the Community as a whole.
When one talks of 50,000 tons in this country I do not know whether it is known that New Zealand—the Minister referred to New Zealand in flattering terms which I fully support—frequently has 50,000 tons of lamb in store in this country at any one time. These quantities are perfectly normal. To talk in terms of a mountain is a distortion which is a pity because it misleads people who do not understand. Too often such an expression is used by people whose sole purpose is to discredit the Community.
The Minister has a function and a duty to perform in seeking to work out the best solutions with the Community, and this is what I understood him to say in the latter part of his speech. The more he can do to debunk the nonsense which some people talk about intervention relating to beef, the more it will help the Community and the British beef farmer. But until we can get this firmly established and until we can get him to operate the Community system to the full we cannot expect confidence to return to the British beef producer. The right hon. Gentleman has gone some way to help them, but not far enough. If he genuinely wants to change the intervention system, which I fully understand, I suggest that he works within the Community system instead of seeking to work against it, which he has been trying to do all the year.
If the Minister operated the Community system in this way, and if he were to try genuinely to change the system in the way that I have described, he would get his colleagues in Brussels to work with him to achieve the eventual solution which he wants. If he had done this from the start and had followed the line taken by the previous Government, operating intervention, trying to get some amendment to it, he would have got a better response from his colleagues in Brussels. He should operate the system properly and effectively.
I have a large number of quotations from the Minister throughout the year, but I will not weary the House with them because my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) has already given some of those quotations. They are really an incredible collection of assurances and hopes, none of which has been fulfilled. Throughout the summer he talked about the beef price. In all sorts of ways he was going to maintain a price of £18 per live cwt. That is what he said in June. In July he said that the scheme to be introduced from 5th August would have that effect. Every beef producer knows how disastrously it failed.
I have a whole mass of such quotations, which it would be unkind to my hon. Friends, who know it fairly well, to repeat. It would certainly be unkind to the Minister, because it would make him blush more than ever. It is a lamentable state of affairs. That is why confidence has gone. It will return only when farmers begin to see the measures producing results in line with what the Minister has promised.
The National Farmers' Union has talked of a breakthrough because it believes that the Minister has now swallowed the unpleasant pill of intervention and will start to operate it. The NFU handout says clearly that it was the present Government that rejected the system, and they are now coming back to it.
In spite of what the Minister said about subsidies for calves, tens of thousands of calves have been slaughtered over the past few months. There has been a savage down-turn in production, and this will cause serious trouble for consumers in the next year. The true calf-rearing picture is shown by one of the Minister's Press handouts, dated 20th November, which gives the statistical information on cattle, pig and poultry food and feeding stuffs. It has two headings, one for calf starters and the other for calf food. It gives the sales for the 13 weeks ending at the end of September—that is, the July-September quarter— and those for the similar period last year. The figures are revealing. They show that for this year the sale of those calf foods is down by 12½ per cent. in a year when other foods produced on the farm are less freely available. If the purchase is down by 12½ per cent., that is a clear indication of the number of calves produced going down drastically as well. That is the serious aspect of which we should all take account.
Talking about the amount of support given to beef producers, the Minister said on 7th November:
There is one point the Minister has never made clear in regard to the milk arrangements which he made when he obtained 7·7p for the dairy farmer. I agree that it was a useful increase, but the right hon. Gentleman achieved it by putting together certain months. That means that by next March he will find it difficult to maintain that price. He has never spelt that out to the farmers. They should be clear that it is a promise that applies until the end of February, but that we do not know what the situation will be thereafter.
The story of sugar is very different. I do not wish to criticise the Minister unduly in regard to sugar. Indeed, I congratulate him in some respects. The figure of 1·4 million tons was an objective of Governments on both sides of the House. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman will deny that when we were in power we did all we could to provide for it, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman said about the initial agreement. In our discussions we sought to pave the way for the 1·4 million tons, and I had no doubt that we should have secured it. Now we have it in writing. It is a firm assurance.
The long-term arrangements should be a big help to the Commonwealth producers. I hope that they will recognise that and acknowledge what has been done. It is now up to them to provide the 1·4 millions tons. If they do not, the Community cannot be expected to give them an open door for ever. At present, with high prices, there is a temptation to sell away, but I hope that the Minister will be able to secure firm undertakings from the Commonwealth producers so that this amount of sugar comes in.
Even so, there is still a big opportunity for increased beet production in this country. That is an important aspect. Representing a constituency that is one of the biggest sugar beet producing areas in the country, I want the right hon. Gentleman to ensure that farmers are given the fullest information. I endorse what my right hon. Friend said about giving the price. Farmers should know the price, so that they may plan ahead.
Contracts are normally signed in October. I do not know, but I imagine that the Minister must know, the sort of percentage of acreage for which contracts have been signed. Perhaps we may be told at the end of the debate what it is. If it is inadequate, the Government must take special measures. It is essential that we have an increased acreage, not only to solve the immediate problems of the British housewife, which are so important and urgent, but to ensure that Britain has her fair share of beet production within the Community. If there is a shortfall, others will seek to take it up. and it will be much more difficult later to secure our quota. I note that the Minister has a substantial tonnage in his A and B quotas. I hope that it will be taken up, or at least that a substantial proportion will be taken up and that by next year we shall have the full amount.
Concurrent with that there is the Minister's responsibility to ensure that there is adequate beet factory capacity to handle the increased acreage. The right hon. Gentleman must make sure that there is no hold up there, because the beet harvest is traditionally relatively short, and it is difficult to lengthen it because of the effect of winter weather on the keeping quality of beet. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to take action upon the matter.
I must admit that after the Minister's statement on sugar I was not entirely clear about the matter, and I am still not clear after what he said this afternoon. It will be helpful if the Minister who winds up the debate tells us a little more. It seems to me that last month's agreement supersedes that which was made in the previous month. The Minister shakes his head. In that case, how do the two fit together? There could be the absurd situation of British importers bidding against the Community for sugar which must come here anyway. I should be grateful if we could hear exactly how the agreements are to work.
The important thing is that, access for the Commonwealth having been secured, the countries concerned, should operate it. But the Minister should ensure that the home farmer gets his full share as well.
I promised to speak on only two subjects. I am tempted to speak on many more, having heard the Minister. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will mend his ways over beef and do better in future.
I am glad to be called in an agricultural debate. I think this is the first time that I have spoken in such a debate in 19 years of Commons membership. First, I must declare my interest on behalf of 4,000 voters, 6,000 people or 2,000 sugar refinery and allied workers in my constituency.
I thought that the speech of the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) was much stronger than the speech of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym). At least the right hon. Member for Grantham conceded that two of the three matters with which my right hon. Friend returned from Brussels to the House on Thursday were remarkable successes for any Minister, of whatever party. It must be conceded as the best agreement that could be achieved in Brussels at this time. There may be arguments about beef which Members like myself do not completely comprehend, but when I appreciate the unfairness of comment on a subject which I understand I can hardly be expected to accept argument critical of my right hon. Friend's agreement on a subject which I do not completely understand.
I think that the right hon. Member for Grantham was a little unfair about sugar. I do not think that he can expect the House to believe that his criticisms on beef are as valid—
Yes, there is a big difference. I think that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire demeaned himself considerably when he made his crabby comments about sugar. I think that my right hon. Friend has brought back a notable sugar agreement. That must be emphasised repeatedly, for the sake of the many sugar workers throughout the country. There are 9,000 workers involved in our six refineries.
I think that the right hon. Member for Grantham would be the first to remind us that on 25th October 1973, in response to an Opposition amendment, he accepted that there has never been any division of opinion between us on the 1·4 million tons. The most remarkable feature of the agreement is not the 1·4 million tons but the fact that we have secured that amount indefinitely. No one could succeed more than to return with an agreement that is to run indefinitely. The fact that there are seven-year cycles and five-year periods of notice is also remarkable. Having secured such an agreement, I hope that we shall not allow the price argument between the three parties to go by default.
The right hon. Member for Grantham talked about the possibility of bidding, counter-bidding and bidding against ourselves. That is a worry for those of us who do not completely comprehend the system on which we are now embarking. It must be understood that the Minister has secured the right of British State assistance for 1975 I think that the communiqué says that that assistance will run, if necessary, to 1976. We have the tripartite arrangement of the refineries buying, the EEC Commission participating and the British Government playing their part.
This year we have had God's shortfall of beet. The weather has been bad and there has been a substantial reduction in the beet crop. That has meant a shortfall in the amount of beet available to some refineries, especially those at the British Sugar Corporation. I remind my right hon. Friend that we also had Godber's shortfall in November last year. Every Minister, however good he may be, must occasionally have a failure. Godber's failure in November was not to recognise the full nature of the world sugar market. The right hon. Gentleman should have tried to help our raw cane sugar imports by increasing the price that we were paying under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement.
It is often forgotten when we are discussing the signing of contracts with the EEC that the arrangement between this country and the Commonwealth producers in the past was never on a precise contractual basis. It was an agreement which merely invited companies or Governments to send up to 1·4 million tons. We cannot suggest that Jamaica or any other Caribbean islands which have defaulted to the extent of some 300,000 tons over the present season have broken a contract. No contract ever existed. It is true that they broke a contract in moral terms but they did not break it in legal terms. Previously they had entered into an agreement with us for good reasons. In February they were offered £83 a ton instead of £61 a ton. Those were ridiculous prices when considered in the light of the sugar market this year. Whatever party is in power, and whether or not we are in Europe, we cannot ever again honourably pay prices of that character to the developing countries.
We have have a colonial economy for too long in these islands and another form of colonialism—namely neo-colonialism, if you like—would emerge if we were to tell the British housewives that the days of cheap sugar will return, that we shall drive down the market and make a hard bargain at the expense of the producers. I hope that those days are over. I hope that we shall get good deals and respectable deals through the EEC and that if necessary we will continue to pay a supplement to the EEC price to give the producers a decent return on their crops.
I do not quarrel with that for one moment. When I was in Nassau representing the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in July, approximately 12 sugar-producing territories were represented, including Guyana and Belize, my right hon. Friend the Minister and, I believe, my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) were at that time at Lancaster House, meeting the Ministers of these same countries represented in Nassau. It was clearly said by all the sugar-producing territories that they would not enter a long-term agreement such as the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, as that would mean a low price for their crops for too long a time. It was clear that they would not have the classical arrangement made by Labour Governments of the 1940s and early 1950s, of guaranteed prices. The price was low then but not too low because it suited the producers. The present situation did not apply in those days.
We should be encouraging our European friends to realise that it is not fair to try to drive down the price of sugar. If we try to do that we shall be trying to drive down the standard of living of the cane sugar producing countries most of which have only monocultures and subsistence economies. Many of them have no alternative but to grow sugar cane. Mr. Forbes Burnham of Guyana would be the first to speak of the immense efforts that he has made to try to diversify Guyana's economy. He has found that task enormously difficult. Sugar is Guyana's principal agricultural asset.
It is in our interests and in the interests of the EEC to recognise that we should pay for our sugar. I believe that we have had a 10 per cent. increase in the allocation of our beet acreage. I hope that that is not planned to replace cane. I hope that we are all agreed on that. That increased allocation is to supplement the 1·4 million tons that my right hon. Friend has brought back. I hope that none of us will try to mount British beet against Commonwealth cane. I hope that we shall stick to that line and not allow our European partners to act to the contrary. Further, I hope that we shall not make some kind of agreement with the Eastern European countries to try to obtain their beet in an effort to drive down prices, and to use other countries' beet as an alternative to Caribbean, Mauritian or Fijian cane.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend for achieving what is as good as any other Member could have achieved in the present circumstances, whatever party may have been in power. I would have liked to see an even better arrangement. For instance, I would have liked to see quotas as part of the agreement, and all the other things for which we asked. However, I am sure that the arrangement is as good as we could have obtained, short of that. All that I want to know is that we shall not spoil the ship for this ha'p'orth of tar—as for example £83 instead of the higher poundage which we should have paid in excess in November last year and not in February this year. That has caused us to lose some of our traditional suppliers who are so vital to our cane refining industry this year. It must not be so misjudged again.
I agree with the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) that beet production in this country should be regarded as a supplement to cane production. Whether one is for or against the Common Market, I hope that we are not so disparaging towards our old Commonwealth connections that we will throw over the cane producers. It is also worth reflecting that, if we could grow more beet in this country, it would have to take the place of something else that we would otherwise grow, and in these days of shortage I do not know what that would be.
I wish that the Minister of Agriculture had made the speech he made today six months ago, for he would thereby have avoided a great deal of suffering in the agricultural community. Of that there is no doubt. This House has spent enough time describing the crisis in agriculture, and a fair time in apportioning blame for the failure to cure it. No one representing livestock rearing areas wishes to see a repetition of the chronic suc- cessive failures in pigs, dairy cows, beef and poultry, as well as horticulture, which have been the experience of not just the last six to eight months but the past 18 months to two years.
A great deal of blame attaches to both the Conservative and Labour Governments. The right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) made an interesting speech. The first part of it was in a sense a self-justification. Last February, when he was still Minister, I was receiving as many complaints, although from a different sector of the agricultural industry, as I have received recently. Then, too, there were contributory factors, not least that farming policy had become a kind of political football in the Common Market game. We should be concerned today with restoring long-term confidence to the industry as soon as possible and safeguarding the food supplies of the nation. Last Thursday I gave the Minister a qualified and cautious welcome for the results of his negotiations in Brussels. I pressed him from the moment the Government took office to get a guaranteed price for beef in this country.
In May last the Conservative Opposition were not asking for guaranteed prices but for intervention prices. There are many snags in the intervention system which so many Conservative Members still will not recognise. I suggest that both the Conservative and Labour parties have allowed their preconceptions of the Common Market to operate to the detriment of their judgment of what is right for British agriculture.
I am sure that the Minister could have obtained many months ago the kind of deal which he got in Brussels recently. He would have avoided a great deal of suffering had he done so. However, he has now put a floor to the market. We should welcome that fact and not be surly about it.
Why, however, did the right hon. Gentleman agree to Irish cattle coming in and obtaining the guarantee? Most of these cattle come in as so-called "stores"—and only, incidentally, because of a failure of the intervention scheme in the Republic of Ireland. It would have been right to have imposed at least a 60-day qualifying period. We have been importing a great deal more Irish cattle this year, many of them through Northern Ireland. I refer the Minister to the excellent paper prepared by the Farmers' Union of Wales, which has pointed this matter out. It would certainly have been fairer to the British farmers and taxpayers and in no way unfair to the Irish farmers to have imposed a 60-day qualification period.
Furthermore, what was the significance last Thursday of the Minister's statement that he had agreed to impose a levy on meat exported from this country to other Common Market countries? If live exports are resumed from this country will a levy be charged on each animal exported? If that is so, the right hon. Gentleman has been very coy about this part of the agreement.
The Minister should also extend the glasshouse fuel subsidy, which arose directly from the hardship imposed by the increase in the world price of oil. I am told on good grounds that if the subsidy is withdrawn one acre of tomatoes could lose about £3,000 a year. Would it be sensible or right to allow the subsidy to expire? I think not.
I want now to deal with the extremely grave situation of fodder supplies in our hill and marginal areas. I agree very much with the Minister's regret at the passing of the county agricultural committees. What a help they would have been today in dealing with the fodder situation, but the Ministry has shown no real sense of appreciation of the extent and depths of the crisis. In certain areas in Wales farmers have got in less than 50 per cent. of their fodder requirements for the winter. This is due to the most appalling weather we have experienced in our part of the country for many years.
What do the Government intend to do? It is not enough to have a survey. What is needed is the Government to have charge temporarily of fodder supplies and arrange their transfer to livestock rearing areas, in the same way as Mr. Attlee's Government did in 1947. This is an emergency operation which is very necessary and should be treated as such.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is making a constructive speech, especially about the fodder situation. I assure him that we regard it as an urgent matter, but I believe that it was right to have a survey. I understand the point he has made about transport.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. The point I want to emphasise is that in this kind of emergency the farmers who are well padded and have reserves can survive, but that the men who are really suffering are the small, marginal farmers who have no reserves with which to pay these very high prices for fodder.
I appreciate that point, but there is a considerable difference of degree between the two kinds of hardship.
Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that great hardship has resulted to cattle rearers in particular through the sale of stores at give-away prices over the last few months. These farmers could best be helped by getting an advance on next year's subsidy for hill cows, for example, on 1st January, with an additional subsidy for this year. This would enable them to buy fodder with confidence, for otherwise they might not use their cash to do it in the belief that they could have a disastrous year again next year, when they would already have spent their subsidy.
I want to discuss the long-term policy for agriculture in this country. I have always believed that a world food crisis was in the offing and that this country might experience in the near future quite acute food shortages. Over the years I managed to persuade the Liberal Party to this view, although it took a long time, and I have been accused from time to time by various people of being too pessimistic. Recently the World Food Conference in Rome justified my stand. It is not without significance that after I pointed out at the Liberal Party Assembly in 1973 that there might be an acute food shortage the right hon. Member for Grantham, who was then Minister of Agriculture, accused me of scare-mongering.
An acute agricultural crisis has overtaken the country, and it came about when the right hon. Member for Grantham was Minister. I think that it will be followed by a quite acute food crisis in this country, unless we are very lucky. A country like ours, with a population of 55 million, is taking a dangerous gamble if it is so dependent upon imported food supplies. We have huge balance of payments problems and have to bid in the world for food with a pound of decreasing value. There is ever-increasing pressure of demand on world food supplies, and although supplies of food will vary from harvest to harvest, depending on the weather, the long-term result is going to be net shortage. Furthermore, producers of primary products in the developing countries are going to receive more money for those products, by and large, and this factor, combined with higher prices for energy, will make it impossible for us to buy so-called cheap food. It no longer exists and the House should recognise that fact.
I take the view that the House has a heavy responsibility to the people of this country. We can no longer afford to gamble on imported food supplies to the degree which we have done. How can any country pay even lip-service to humanitarian and Christian ideals and ignore the plight of hundreds of millions of our fellow inhabitants of this globe who live well below the breadline? The advanced countries of the world have a tremendous responsibility towards the less developed countries. One of the ways in which we can discharge that responsibility is to ensure that we produce as much food as we can in our own country and so enable the net surplus of food in other countries to be more evenly distributed.
We also have important decisions to take, and they are not easy, about the use of fertilisers in the world. We have to decide whether they are better used in the more developed countries, such as our own, or whether their use should be encouraged much more in the less developed countries.
In this situation, and in view of the complete crash of confidence in agriculture in the past 18 months, the Minister should now call a conference of all interested parties with a view to preparing a five-year plan for agriculture. The aim should be to produce the maximum amount of food that we can economically produce within our country.
We also need to reassess many of the trends which we have allowed to grow. For example, it is lunacy to pay Government money for the amalgamation of farms today. Why on earth should we pay owners of large farms for taking over small farms when what we want is greater production per acre? We know that the result of the process of amalgamation is to reduce for ever the number of people working on the land.
Agriculture has suffered dreadfully in this country through being left in a state of suspended animation, half in the Common Market and half out. We must take a decision on this very soon. Either we stay in or we get out. If we are to stay in the transition period for agriculture should be completely abolished and we should become full members for all purposes. Then we should aim to effect some basic changes in the common agricultural policy in the light of the different world food situation. The whole purpose of the CAP was to safeguard European agriculture in a world with a food surplus. We are now in a world with a food shortage.
The whole question of the effect of the energy crisis on agriculture should be considered. It is extremely wasteful these days prodigally to expend energy as we have done. Should we not aim at a more self-sufficient agriculture? Any livestock farmer in his right senses will now refuse to expand his agricultural production beyond the normal carrying capacity of his farm unless he receives a fairly copper-bottomed guarantee from the Government for doing so.
Most farmers in the likestock areas have cut down extensively on the use of fertiliser this year. What is to be done about this? It was one of the more stupid measures of the right hon. Member for Grantham when he was Minister of Agriculture to abolish the subsidy on lime and basic slag. This Government have repaired some of the damage by restoring the subsidy on lime. Surely it should be restored and increased for slag, for those who can get it, and other fertilisers, otherwise agricultural production will certainly fail. This is an investment that can be justified for the sake of the community.
Should we encourage more beef production or less? Should lamb be encouraged at the expense of beef? Should there not be a Common Market agreement on lamb? Are we not in danger of running into a milk shortage if there is a cold winter? What is to be done about this? All of these and other questions should be considered in detail at a high-powered conference at which all farming interests should be represented. Then, whether we remain in the Common Market or get out, we should pursue for agriculture a policy which is sensible and is tailored to the needs of the country in today's world.
The era of cheap food is behind us and is as dead as the dodo. For centuries this country has lived on cheap food, largely imported and largely, let us face it, on the basis of a colonialist economy. The very foundations of the world economy upon which this was once possible have been shaken and have changed. The country is perilously slow in recognising this fact.
May I suggest, and this is a point dealt with by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), that the Minister should take steps immediately to urge the Leader of the House to arrange for a debate on the recommendations of the O'Brien Report? I asked about this last Thursday and was told that the debate could not be before the Christmas Recess. This cannot be right. The House was misguided when it voted to impose the ban on the export of live animals. This has been one of the chief contributory factors in the livestock crisis, and unless it is changed the alternative— animal lovers should recognise this—is to see tens of thousands of cattle, or more, slowly dying of malnutrition in a fodder-short Britain in the winter of 1974–75.
I conclude by reiterating the plea that this House should once again set up a Select Committee on Agriculture. I was a member of that committee when it was under the chairmanship of Tudor Watkins—Lord Watkins as he is now. It was set up as an experiment and I think it was a highly successful one. The Minister of Agriculture did not like it and his Ministry liked it less. When the Conservatives were in power I asked on two or three occasions for the Select Committee on Agriculture to be established but was refused.
The truth is that it would be in the interests of this country., and of the Ministry, to ensure a far better liaison between the agricultural industry, consumer interests and everyone else. If we had had a Select Committee meeting to deal with agriculture, say every fortnight, with the right to call civil servants and others before it we would not have got into our present state. It is in the interests of this House and the country that the Select Committee should be reformed. I hope that the Minister, who has been nodding a great deal of agreement to this part of my speech, will press the Leader of the House to ensure that such a committee is set up in the near future.
Our agriculture industry has been going through a difficult period recently, but the difficulties did not start last February. I well recall meeting officials of the National Farmers' Union in my constituency last October because they felt that there was a crisis in the industry then. We have had further problems since, but it ill behoves Tory Members to pretend that agriculture has only recently suffered from setbacks.
Our difficulties have arisen not entirely but very largely from our membership of the Common Market, in that our scope for freedom of action has been limited through having to abide by rules devised in Europe and having to negotiate with so many other countries. Our freedom of action has been limited, and this has occasioned delays in getting the correct action.
It seems that EEC policies have at times led to wild fluctuations in various forms of production. First, we had the butter mountain. To get rid of that it was decided to try to entice the farmer to move from dairy production to beef production. This did not quite lead to a beef mountain, but we were well on the way to that. This has been largely the kind of activity we have found in the Common Market. It will continue until we get much more sensible arrangements. We have a surplus of beef, and now we have reached the stage of a shortage of milk and milk products. There are wild swings of the pendulum.
The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) was complaining about the milk shortage, but this is what happens with this system. People are enticed from one kind of production to another, and very shortly there is a shortage.
I shall not give way. We have had a warning, Mr. Speaker, from your deputy that we should not allow this kind of thing to occur too frequently. Your predecessor in the Chair admonished us, saying that many hon. Members wished to speak. I would not like to do anything which keeps one of the hon. Member's hon. Friends out of the debate.
I was interested in the speech of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire. One would have thought from his remarks that his party had introduced the oil grant for heating greenhouses, that we had produced the milk shortage and that we had negotiated the terms and taken this country into the Common Market. The hon. Member was so critical of our membership that I was surprised when I recalled that as the Government Whip of the time he was largely responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on the agreement which he has made and for which we have been pressing for some time, under which we have guaranteed prices for beef products. I regret that there is any element of intervention in the agreement, because I am strongly against the system of intervention buying. It is an immoral system, which stacks up supplies of produce, be it of beef or any other, simply to ensure that the price is kept artificially high. The consumer never benefits. Our system was so designed that the consumer and producer benefited. That is why I was anxious for a return to a guaranteed price system backed up by deficiency payments. Nevertheless, I accept the package because the element of intervention is small and will not considerably affect the markets.
The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire said that if my right hon. Friend had rot removed the floor everything would have been all right. Hon. Members opposite keep referring to a floor without making clear what they mean. I suspect that most of the time they are talking about intervention buying. If so, they should say so specifically and tell the consumer that they mean intervention buying. They should come clean. On the other hand, if they are for a guaranteed price, perhaps they will spell it out.
I am fascinated that the law-and-order brigade among Opposition Members should be preaching to my right hon. Friend to act unilaterally in Europe and indicating that he should break the rules and go for guaranteed prices regardless. It is in order for me to say that, because I never supported the terms of our entry to the Common Market. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) is in the same boat, because he was honourable in this matter. He supported us. But for other Members who took this country into the Common Market on the terms negotiated to ask my right hon. Friend to break the rules is disgraceful.
The right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) defended the intervention system at length. He seems to think that it is a good system. I cannot believe that he would have negotiated towards a guaranteed price system. If what he said today is to be believed, he believes so much in the intervention system that he would not have been a suitable candidate for conducting the negotiations. The Conservative Party does not believe in the renegotiation of our terms of entry. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite want us only to get adjustments and to trim the terms.
My right hon. Friend the Minister has made a considerable breakthrough in this agreement. If we pursue his line, we shall get what may be—and I stress "may be"—an acceptable package for beef within the EEC. Up to now I have not seen much daylight in it but perhaps this is the first chink.
We must seriously consider the fodder situation. As in the constituency of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, there have been serious fodder difficulties in my constituency concerning not only price but shortage. The distribution of fodder in this country is such that I would support the hon. and learned Gentleman's plea for Government intervention to ensure that it gets to the right place and is not stored unnecessarily in places where it is not needed, possibly to ensure a better price later—I say no more than "possibly". I know that a survey is being made, but I hope that the Government will give physical assistance in fodder distribution.
My right hon. Friend the Minister said that he did not agree with a general subsidy for fodder. I accept his thesis, and that possibly the price would increase. However, will he again consider introducing a special subsidy for imports, and not for fodder generally, so that the price of imports can be brought down to a level which is possible for our hill farmers? Many of my constituents have sold at nothing short of ridiculously low prices over the past few months. How are we to recompense the people who have lost? This is a serious problem, which should be given attention. I am sure that there is sufficient expertise in the Ministry to devise a formula to ensure that those people are recompensed. Bringing forward payment of the hill cow subsidy and the various grants will not be sufficient in itself. People want an extra cash injection. If the system works, many more animals will be kept alive. In that event, the fodder situation will be doubly critical and we shall need much more fodder than will be available.
When the discussions on the banning of live exports took place, I was a supporter of the ban, because I believed— I know that I did not vote in the House at the time—that there was something wrong with the trade and that something had to be done about it. Since then we have had the O'Brien Report. The O'Brien Committee has been criticised in some quarters as being not entirely unbiased. Nevertheless, the weight of evidence is that matters were not as bad as they seemed to be.
Some of the heat must be taken out of the situation in agriculture. There must be a leeway on exporting. Human beings are more important than animals and the farmers are that much more important because their livelihoods and families are at stake. The situation is not so desperate that we should not return to exporting live animals with certain safeguards. In the long term, I should like live exports to be banned throughout the world, but that is a long way off.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is doubly nonsensical to continue the ban on the export of live animals at a time when we are importing them? Is not this selective cruelty? It seems that we are cruel when we export them but not cruel when we import them.
I understand that there are two aspects of cruelty—at the transport end and at the slaughterhouse end— and that this is what concerned the O'Brien Committee. I support what my hon. Friend has just said, that it does not make sense to import animals from Ireland at the rate that they are being imported and to ban exports.
We should do all we can to support Commonwealth producers of cane sugar. It ill behoves anyone to criticise our Commonwealth brethren if they seem to have let us down in what they are prepared to send us. It was we who broke faith with them when we entered the Common Market. We had an age-old trade with them, but we were prepared to abandon them when we went into the EEC. Why should we blame them if they can find a better market? I should like the Minister to keep on supporting the Commonwealth sugar producers for all he is worth.
In this, my first speech to the House, I should like to pay tribute to the right hon. David Gibson-Watt, who had the honour of representing the constituency of Hereford since 1956. I know that he had the respect of the House, as he did of the constituency, in that he served with dedication and distinction both as a Member and as a Minister. I thank him for the help that he has given me and the friendship that he has bestowed upon me, and I know that the House will join me in wishing him well for the future.
I should like to refresh the memory of the House about the nature of my constituency, as in all probability it is 18 years since it was last described. Although we in Herefordshire sometimes feel that change is something that happens somewhere else, there has been a substantial amount of change which has taken place gradually over the years—some welcomed, some regarded with reservation and some highly controversial.
The constituency comprises the southern half of Herefordshire and includes the city of Hereford. It is an area of approximately 470,000 square miles with a population of just over 90,000 souls. The activities pursued in the constituency are wide and varied. Light industry abounds in Hereford, Ross-on-Wye and many of the smaller communities. We have no mining or heavy industry, but the astonishingly assorted variety of the enterprises undertaken in the county compensates for that.
The main character of the constituency is agricultural, the level of employment in agriculture being four times the national average. Although half the population lives within the city boundary, the support industry, services, shops and businesses all to a large extent rely on the success of the farming sector. Approximately half the population of the constituency is dependent upon the prosperity of the countryside. Just as the scope of industry in the county is broad, so is that of agriculture. There is a complete spectrum of all kinds of farming and horticulture, carried on with considerable expertise.
Herefordshire has long enjoyed a high reputation for the quality of its livestock. Our cattle—instantly recognisable by the white curly hair on their faces—and our sheep are exported to most parts of Britain and our pedigree Hereford cattle to many parts of the world—as anyone who watches Westerns will know.
We are located in one of the oldest fruit-growing areas, with a history of apple culture going back to Norman times, and we boast the largest cider factory in the world—well represented in the House. Huge quantities of cider apples are grown in the county, and a substantion acreage is also devoted to the production of dessert and cooking apples. A wide variety of soft fruits is also grown. Although the acreage of vegetables is relatively small, there are a few modern tomato nurseries where production is of a very high order.
As is general throughout the country, the labour force in agriculture is diminishing. The number of whole-time workers has fallen by half—from 6,500 in 1956 to 3,250 in 1973. Whilst this has been offset to some degree by increased mechanisation, there has been an increase in all types of livestock, which might have been expected to demand more rather than less labour. This must mean that there has been an increase in productivity in the county during that time. Thus, Herefordshire farmers are showing that a high level of productivity can be achieved with a reduced labour force, while the scenic attractions of the county are left unimpaired.
It is this very success which has emphasised the difficulties which Herefordshire's farmers have been experiencing of late. The problems have by no means been confined to the beef question, although beef is important in Herefordshire. In 1974 the problem areas have included dairy farming, pigs and sugar beet, as well as beef. The other disciplines of farming practised in Herefordshire have had and are having their difficulties, but I wish to confine my remarks to the four subjects of beef, pigs, dairy farming and beet.
During the summer, the dairy farmers found themselves in a squeeze which became intolerable. Total feed costs had risen by £40 per cow per annum and labour costs by £50 per cow per annum, coupled with a drop of 40 per cent. in the price of calves. Our dairy farmers took the only way out available to them. As they were faced with a 50 per cent. reduction in the net profit margin, they reduced their stock. They reduced it significantly, so as to cut out the element of bought-out feed by which they had intensified production. In some instances this meant a cut-back of 30 per cent. The price increase of 7·7p a gallon of milk was welcome, but it was too late to stop the slaughterings that had occurred in the summer.
The pig subsidy, introduced in March, failed to provide the better return needed by our pig producers. Every farmer in the county was appalled at the high level of sow slaughterings during the summer, and that had its effect on the pig herd The reduction in the pig herd eventually put prices on the right track in the market, but not until late September, and that was for no reason other than shortages.
Sugar beet is grown extensively in the southern part of the county. It is not a major industry, but a significant one. The problem is that the distance to the nearest sugar beet factory in Kidderminster, is more than 30 miles— in fact, it is 50 miles. The contract price offered to the growers this year is satisfactory generally, but they are worried about the transport allowance which puts them at a disadvantage with growers in other parts of the country. This season's transport allowance of 45p per ton, plus 2·5p per mile up to 30 miles maximum gives a figure of £1·20 per ton, but South Herefordshire growers are faced with a minimum cost of £1·50 per ton. That discrepancy is bound to cause some growers to review the acreage of beet they wish to take up next season.
If there were to be a substantial reduction of beet grown in South Herefordshire it would adversely affect the economics of the factory at Kidderminster. If we are to avoid the domino effect of factory closure leading to no beet being grown in the West Midlands, with the possible loss of the acreage to our EEC partners, steps should be taken immediately to remove the anomaly. I suggest that there should be an increase in the radius of 15 miles, making a radius of 45 miles. That would provide a satisfactory compromise between those outside and those inside the 30-mile radius. This question should be resolved before contracts are signed so that Herefordshire's growers know where they are going.
My constituency is very prominent in the beef-producing league, and that is our hottest potato. Because of the geography and geology of the constituency the whole cycle of beef production is carried on within its boundaries. In the west we have the uplands bordering the Principality of Wales. Some parts are high enough to qualify for hill farming subsidies. In the centre we have the lowlands. More than half the farmland in the county is in grass, either permanent or leys. Every system of calf rearing in general practice is being used in the county. Most Hereford calves are born outdoors in the spring or winter. They are single suckled, and weaned in the autumn. That is typical of the western parts which are high-lying and cannot grow sufficient feed to take the calves further on. In the past, sufficient winter fodder was grown to maintain the breeding herd, but with intensification the prac- tice has become to increase the breeding herd and purchasing the necessary winter feed, using the return from the extra calves reared and sold.
The recent position, whereby the price fetched by fat cattle constituted a loss to the finisher and a consequent reduction in his purchasing power, coupled with premium payments designed to keep finished beef out of the market, has led to a drop in demand. No sale of calves means no purchase of feedstuffs, and we now have both calves and breeding herds facing starvation. The poor hay crop and other difficulties which have caused a shortfall in winter feedstuffs serve only to compound the agony. Urgent consideration must be given to finding ways of removing this livestock from the hills before we are faced with an epidemic of death by starvation.
Leaving aside the question of cruelty, that situation will have a serious effect on the supply of calves next spring, with a resultant shortage of finished beef in two years or so. If the only way to clear this log jam is to export the animals live, let us get on with it, taking all due pre-cautious. The only other way is by slaughter—and every abattoir of which I have experience already has a very long waiting list.
The other method of beef-calf rearing widely practised in Herefordshire is that of multiple suckling, using Hereford cross-bred cows. This uitilises the offspring of the dairy herds, and these cattle are sold as stores. Whereas it was not unusual to suckle six or more calves in a year on one cow, the trend now is to suckle only two or so. The cut-back is understandable, but the chances are that it will be too drastic to ensure that there are proper beef supplies in 1976 and 1977.
These are the problems facing my constituency. Of the four I have discussed, three have been exacerbated by action having been taken generally too late and sometimes too little. Although farmers in my constituency welcome a floor in the market for beef, they feel that £18 per live hundredweight at present is too low. They say—and with justification—that what was just enough in July will not cover them now, in November. This will hardly give farmers the confidence they need.
Farmers also comment that the measures are to last only until 31st January next year. Where, they ask, is the basis in which they can plan ahead? They point out that we have averaged only three and a half years between General Elections since the war, and that it takes two and a half years for decisions in beef farming taken now to take effect. Somebody once said that for every solution we have a problem, and it seems that we have provided solutions in the short term only to face in the immediate future the problems which result from those solutions. The essential thing that must result from this debate, and the actions taken as a result of it, is that we should end up with a much longer-term system of planning, so that the criteria on which the farmer bases his decisions today will be valid when the results of his plans come to fruition.
I am delighted to be the first to offer congratulations to the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) on his maiden speech. The House was gratified to hear both his tribute to his predecessor and his words of description about his constituency, which we all know contains attractive scenery. We were interested to hear about the varied agricultural and economic activities which take place within his constituency boundaries.
I do not know a great deal about agriculture but I know that the Hereford bull is a placid and pleasant creature and something of which Herefordshire should be proud. I hope that the hon. Member's county will read his contribution to this debate and will also note that the Labour Government have to deal with the many problems which he described and which we inherited at the beginning of the year.
I regret that in recent days we have seen several exercises in expediency, not least from the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym). Last Thursday he did not get away with his suggestion that my right hon. Friend the Minister had ended the deficiency payments on beef. In his speech today I thought that one or two of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks sounded strangely intemperate, given the nature of the letter in The Times last Monday to which the Minister drew attention. I do not think it is ever possible to take politics out of agriculture, education, or anything else.
But I would have a certain sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman's view if he were seeking to reduce the partisanship in the agricultural political debate. Unfortunately, his attitude outside the House seems to be rather different from that which he adopts inside the House. It is rather similar to the attitude displayed by the former Minister of Agriculture, the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber). The right hon. Gentleman has denied attempting to push people from dairy into beef, and indeed he repeated that denial today—although he could not deny the fact that throughout his stewardship of the industry the movement from dairy to beef went on to an extent that was highly disadvantageous to this country. Indeed, it went on until just before the February General Election, when suddenly, perhaps because of the imminence of the election, dairy farmers had a better deal. Although the farmers had been bemoaning their situation for many months, the then Conservative Government made no response at all until they realised that they needed dairy farmers' votes.
I have already said that I am not an expert in agriculture, but I know enough about the subject to realise that the industry's problems did not suddenly commence on 4th March. It ill-behoves the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire and his friends to try to suggest that the problems all began with the advent of a Labour Government. I accept, as I am sure does my right hon. Friend the Minister, that the difficulties which farmers and others engaged in agriculture have faced since the February election have become quite severe. But they were severe in many respects before that election, and I have no great confidence that the problem would have been resolved any more generously or any more quickly by a Conservative administration.
Most Conservative Members are beginning to talk about the subject of sugar, but few of them until recently went into the matter in great depth. Now a few are beginning to suggest that there has been a breach of faith by the Commonwealth sugar producers because they did not send all the sugar they might have done. Others in the House will recall that the real reason for our difficulties over sugar has been the fact that the Conservative Government brought an end to the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement supply rather earlier than would otherwise have been the case. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) showed a lack of vision, and this was the main cause of the sugar shortage. It is in that error as much as anything that has happened since February that the difficulty lies.
Similarly the problem of beef has its roots rather earlier than last February. To get out of the severe shortage of 1971–72 the then Conservative Government called for beef expansion and even urged people to go from dairy farming to beef—without paying very much regard to the consequences of that expansion programme. They introduced a recipe for glut. When that glut occurred, they complained. Now they would like my right hon. Friend to find some easement by a wholehearted acceptance of an intervention system which even the Europeans know is unsatisfactory, and if my right hon. Friend had embarked on that policy he would merely have compounded an error which some of us feel has gone on for too long already.
Many people believe that we could ease the beef situation by a reversal of the decision banning the export of live animals. I recognise that it would be wrong for urban Britain to say that the farmer alone must foot the bill for its conscience. It may be that there will have to be changes in the export arrangements. However, although we can be sure that many of the slaughterhouses and much of the travelling arrangements for beasts exported to Europe are, and may always have been, satisfactory, neither my right hon. Friend nor any organisation in this country can control what happens to a beast which finds itself in Cairo or Tunis. There must be some protection and a capacity to intervene.
My right hon. Friend has had to bear a great deal of attack recently. I believe that he has borne it well and deserved it little. However, I hope that he will not mind if I make three points which may in part appear a little critical.
First, I am concerned about the premium which is supposed to help the pig producer. I was disappointed when a Question on the subject which I asked recently brought forth a rather puzzling reply. Before the end of today's debate, I hope that that answer will be expanded a little. I asked about the Minister's view of the effect of the pig premium which was introduced in March of this year. The answer told me that it meant that the price of pork would be lower next year than it might otherwise have been. I am sure that that is true. I am equally sure that that was not the reason why the Government acted so urgently in that regard in March.
Second, I refer to a matter which has caused me considerable concern and interest over the past three years. I recognise that we face severe and delicate negotiations with the EEC and that it would be easy to take clumsy action which resulted in general embarrassment merely to pursue one objective.
French eggs are landed in this country in substantial amounts, even though the percentage as a whole may be small. But every time French eggs are offered for sale in, say, Sheffield, they depress the prices which local producers can obtain. That causes local producers a great deal of anxiety. Every time French eggs are on sale in South Yorkshire I receive complaints from egg producers in the locality.
The basic problem is that we do not allow our poultry farmers to add antibiotics to poultry feed. Many people feel that that is a reasonable restriction. However, French poultry farmers add antibiotics to poultry feed, and so the eggs which they sell in England at prices which can only be regarded as being at dumping level are produced from hens which are fed substances that we do not allow our poultry farmers to use. At the same time, if our poultry farmers produce a surplus they are not allowed to sell their eggs to France because the French maintain that our poultry farmers use an additive which is not allowed in French poultry feed.
That may be fair enough given the fact that over the past two or three years the Ministry of Agriculture has advanced the view that if our poultry farmers wanted to export eggs to France the French would not stop them even though the French regulations did not permit the entry of such eggs. I am informed that a number of British egg producers recently tried to export eggs to France. They were not allowed to do so. Thus the Ministry's assumption over the past two or three years has proved to be ill-founded.
Only the other day I was given some further information which caused me considerable astonishment. It was to the effect that some French poultry farmers use the very additive that the British fanner uses, and yet because of its use he has no access to the French market.
As I said just now, I can well understand the delicacy of our Common Market negotiations. For that reason I do not press the Minister unduly at present. But I look forward to the day when Britain can be a little more robust in its dealings with the French over agricultural matters.
I move now to my third point. I recognise that we may never again be in a cheap food situation. We need to promote increased self-sufficiency. I read with interest a pamphlet by Lord Netherthorpe, who was a farmer in my constituency. I agree with him that we must be committed to an expansion of British agriculture. We cannot afford to maintain a high food deficit along with a high oil deficit. Equally, we have to refuse to go along with a high timber deficit. Although we may be in net deficit to the tune of £1,500 million a year on food, the prospect is that we shall be in net deficit on timber products to the tune of £2,000 million in a year or two. It is therefore highly desirable to embark upon a more vigorous planting programme in both the public and the private sectors.
In July 1972 the then Conservative administration published a White Paper on forestry policy. Within weeks that was demonstrably to be regarded as absurd, because the changes in the price lists of Scandinavian and Russian exporters were massive, making the Treasury's cost-effective analysis read like a work of children's fiction. That should have brought about a change in Government thinking in 1972, bearing in mind that the present Opposition always believe that they know more about agricultural matters than we do. But we had to wait for a Labour Government to take office before there was a proper sorting out of British forestry policy.
It may be suggested by the Opposition that any current anxiety is due to the fiscal policies pursued by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I remind them, however, that this Government have shown their willingness to accept that there should be a Select Committee on the wealth tax. I am sure that that committee will take careful note of the needs of forestry, which are unique. There has been over the years a great deal of tax fiddling in the private forestry sector. But that does not negate the need for Britain to produce more of the timber products it needs, just as it also needs to produce a great deal more of its food.
I remind the House that my right hon. Friend served as PPS to Tom Williams, who was from my home town, and whose career was regarded with respect by farmers throughout Britain, just as he was regarded with respect by everyone who knew him in South Yorkshire. My right hon. Friend's pedigree in this matter is irreproachable, therefore, and I am confident that his policies will continue to be very much in the nation's interest.
The plea made by the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) for expansion in both agriculture and forestry makes a fairly useful prelude to what I want to say. I am grateful to him for that. I hope to carry him with me when I say that the Government's fiscal policy on capital taxation—both the capital transfer tax and the proposed wealth tax—are already depriving agriculture and forestry of the capital that is vital to expansion.
This debate takes place at a historic moment in the history of British farming—a turning point. I ask the House to consider the present farm crisis in the much wider context of the world food problem. I realise that in doing so I shall to some extent be following—but elaborating upon—what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) who claimed to have raised the matter two years ago. I raised the matter four years ago in my evidence to the Select Committee on Science and Technology on the population problem. I think that it became abundantly plain then that if we were to go on increasing in numbers and reducing the amount of agricultural land, and doing so in a hungry world, which will get hungrier because it is not increasing its food production in proportion to its increasing population, we should reach a crisis stage in this country in regard to food shortages.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) pointed out that we have some immediate food shortages in prospect. I ask the House to consider this matter in the broad sense. Since the repeal of the Corn Laws we have become dependent upon imported food. In the two greatest wars in history we were nearly starved into submission without being defeated on the field of battle simply by submarine campaigns preventing food from getting here. Even now, in peace time, we can no longer assume that we shall be able to import what we do not grow here—and, for that matter, import fairly cheaply.
The hon. Member for Rother Valley was right to point out that we shall not be able to assume cheap imports of anything in future. From time to time there will be surpluses. They are now called "mountains". There will be butter mountains and "beef mountains" here and there. Perhaps we ought to rejoice about that because it means that in countries where surpluses arise and provision is made for intervention prices, for proper cold storage, and so on, those surpluses can be held till they are needed for consumption and can then be offloaded on to the market.
Despite the so-called green revolution and the wonderful new varieties of wheat and rice which were to solve the world's food problem as populations grow, what has happened in the last two years? In 1974 the world produced 2½ per cent. less grain than in 1973, which was a difficult year because of the failure of the Russian harvest. We are getting into an exceedingly difficult position and I confess I do not see the means of escape from it.
No. I am grateful for that intervention because it enables me to clarify the position.
We already know enough about the 1974 harvest, because we know the result in the northern hemisphere, and we have the estimates from the southern hemisphere, which produces a much smaller proportion of the total. Putting those two factors together we now know that the 1974 world grain harvest is 2½ per cent. less than in 1973 if we take a 12 calendar month period. It is extraordinary, considering how much the demand for food has increased and how much the world population has increased during those two years, that we should have less grain produced in each of those two years than in the years before. Therefore, this is a far more serious situation than all in this House have been prepared to face.
It is not being alarmist merely to state these facts as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery wisely did. It is something that we owe to our own people.
In order to deal with this expansion of agriculture and make ourselves much more self-sufficient, there are three things, among others, that we must do. We must preserve enough farm land, we must ensure that the structure of our agriculture industry is right—I did not agree with what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) said about the structure; we must go on having farm amalgamations if we are to have efficient productions—and we must have enough capital.
First, the amount of land. I will take Great Britain and leave the Northern Ireland situation out of it because it has enough troubles of a different kind. The land surface of Great Britain is 58 million acres, but only just over 28 million acres are arable land. There is a lot of rough hill grazing which could never be anything else. That arable land, according to figures given to me by the Minister in answer to a Private Notice Question on Wednesday last week, has been disappearing in the last seven years at an average rate of 62,000 acres a year. That is in England and Wales alone. Multiplying that by 20, it means that we shall lose nearly 1¼ million acres of arable land in the next 20 years. If we add what must be assumed to be the loss in Scotland as well, it is more like 1½ million acres of land that will be lost to agriculture in the next 20 years—certainly by the end of the century—at a time when, despite greatly increasing yields, which we hope still to get, we cannot afford to lose that production. We cannot afford to do that unless our people are put on short rations much sooner than has been anticipated and expected.
What are we to do about this situation? I do not want to introduce the population problem into the debate, but it is crazy to go on permitting immigration of foreigners and Commonwealth citizens on the present scale. We should have what we used to have—a deliberate emigration policy. Family planning is now agreed between all parties. Meanwhile we must assume that the population will go on increasing—we know that it will, whatever happens now—and somehow ensure that, when development has to take place to accommodate the population, it takes place in a way which does not take agricultural land, especially the best land.
Some hon. Members are concerned about the link between the A1 and the Ml across the East Midlands and East Anglia. It will be possible to use an old railway line or to take 1,000 acres or so of farmland. Obviously the old railway line must be taken. That is the kind of thing about which we must be vigilant. So let us have a more deliberate land use policy.
We need to ensure that the farm structure continues to improve and is not damaged by fiscal policy. Thanks to the efforts of successive Governments, landowners and farmers themselves, our farm structure has improved dramatically over the last 20 years and is now the best in Europe. Europe suffered badly from the egalitarianism of the French Revolution, which badly upset its farm structure. That has persisted to this day. Goodness knows, we could suffer quite badly from egalitarianism if we have Labour Governments for too long.
The Government's capital tax policy will damage that structure and damage the forestry position, too, by causing the forced sales of land and the felling of timber. The forced sales of land will reduce the size of holdings in owner- occupation as well as splitting the ownership of many tenanted farms. The policy is already depriving farming of much needed capital, when more and not less capital is needed year by year and increased capital formation is necessary for the expansion of production.
It is interesting to note that there have not been anything like as many Members on the Government benches as there have been on the Opposition side. A further interesting thing is that those who have been on the benches opposite have almost without exception been moderate Socialist. The Left-wingers have not been present. [Interruption.] If there is an exception to prove my point I am only too glad to acknowledge it.
May I seek the protection of the Chair? I have been in this House for nearly 30 years, and I have never before been accused of being insulting to the House. I have not been insulting this evening, and I think that the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) should be invited by you, to say the least, to withdraw his remarks.
If the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) does not accept the suggestion to withdraw what he said we must try to find some other solution. The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) has a long experience of the House, and I suggest that on this occasion, because so many other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate, both he and the hon. Member for Dearne Valley should smother their pride and allow us to get back to agriculture.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I must pursue the matter. The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) said that there were no Left-wingers on this side of the House. I ask for your judgment. How does the right hon. and learned Gentleman know that there are no Left-wingers here?
I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker That is just the kind of protection that I was seeking from the Chair.
I would say in conclusion that nationalising the land would be no solution to the problems that I have mentioned, nor would it be a good investment for the State, because it would produce a return of only 1½ per cent. on the vast sum of money that would have to be found. Socialists—Right, Left and Centre—who clamour for the redistribution of wealth should realise that, put into practice, the capital taxation proposals would interfere with food production. Hon. Gentlemen opposite could have a more equal society if they did not mind it being a worse fed and more miserable one.
That is not what the people want. They are not obsessed with envy. What would make them angry is a Government which continued with, I think, a degree of mismanagement—not total mismanagement. I have a personal regard for the Minister. He has made some good decisions, but he took over a difficult situation and made it very much worse. That is one criticism of the right hon. Gentleman, and the other is that when he has acted he has acted too late and in a way that has not given sufficient assurance for the future.
If we want expansion in the long term in order to become less dependent on world food imports we have to deal first with the immediate crisis and then, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said, we have to get down to the question of conserving farmland, improving the structure and, above all, finding the necessary capital to finance what needs to be done.
This has been a debate of great interest not only for those who represent rural or agricultural constituencies but for those who, like myself, represent urban and industrial constituencies, because although those who speak with great authority and knowledge of the agriculture industry from their involvement in it rightly put a particular point of view, every one of my constituents has a vital interest in the future well-being, welfare and prosperity of the farming industry.
I have some association with the cooperative movement, which is a consumer organisation. Today's debate is on a subject about which it is possible to say there can be a dichotomy between the interests of the producer and the consumer, but I hope that at the end of the day we shall all agree that the best interests of the producer, the farmer and the consumer—the shopper—can be met if good management and good Government policy are seen not to conflict.
Some may say that the interests of the producer lie in obtaining the highest possible price for his goods, and others may say that the best interests of the consumer lie in buying at the cheapest possible price, but a number of hon. Members have pointed out that the day of cheap food has gone. I quote the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) during the debate on 31st October:
The era of cheap food, as we knew it some years ago, is over. There are no 'bargain basements' for food overseas any more."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October 1974; Vol. 880, c. 423–4.]
Those words are true and they have been echoed by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber this afternoon.
A number of hon. Members have tried to make much of what they regard as the missing objective of the Government's policy on agriculture. This was fairly and properly set out by the Minister in March when he said that the agricultural policy of the Labour Government
is to create the conditions in which British agriculture can thrive, in which farmers obtain a fair return for their produce and in which consumers pay a fair price for their food."— [OFFICIAL REPORT. 14th March 1974; Vol. 870, c. 384.]
I think everyone in the House will agree that those are laudable objectives. The problem is how to produce the nitty-gritty of the policy to make a reality of the objectives.
It is unfair of some Tory Members not to realise that the problems facing the farmers and the Government should be seen against a world background and prevailing conditions over a longer period than nine months. The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) said that we need long-term policies. It is a little difficult to believe that the present Government have been in office for less than nine months. I suggest that that is a very short time in which to create, sustain and then begin to develop what are called long-term policies.
I am struck by the way in which hon. Gentlemen have spoken very much in the tone of, "Do not blame us". They have not, in terms, said that all the blame rests with the present Government, but they have said very little about the amount of blame that can be apportioned to themselves.
In October, in an article entitled "Disenchantment with politicians", John Cherrington wrote in the Financial Times:
To say that farmers are disenchanted with politicians is the understatement of the year. They were, they feel, heavily let down by Mr. Godber, Tory Minister of Agriculture, who encouraged them with talk of the Common Market benefits of unlimited production at high prices, and then presided over last winter's discontent when livestock farming was heavily hit by high feed costs and poor prices. Godber did a saving operation with milk prices and then departed".
That comes from someone whom I would have regarded as an impartial observer. In the Financial Times only last week there was an article by Peter Bullen entitled
Why there may be no cream on the Christmas pudding".
This time last year leaders of the dairy industry were calling for urgent action to boost producers' returns to meet the unprecedented rise in animal feed costs. They warned then of the dangers to dairy farmers' confidence and the possible fall in production.
The Conservative Government ignored the entreaties for months and did not act until just before the February general election when they raised the producers' milk price by 3·5p a gallon, gave them a retrospective lump sum
payment of another l·5p a gallon and in all pumped £155 million more into milk production.
It did not say so in the article, but the Tories lost that election.
It is clear that the background against which this debate must be judged cannot be restricted to the actions of the Labour Government. Nor can we ignore the impact of the EEC. I am pleased that the debate has not been turned into an argument for or against the Common Market, but we cannot ignore that factor when we consider the problems of the farming industry. We cannot forget, either, that the problems owe something to our renegotiating EEC membership, and whether or not we like it, until a decision has been made it will be virtually impossible to plan British agriculture very far ahead. If we went too far, next June, July, October, or whenever it might be, a fundamental decision might be taken which would revolutionise our approach and completely upturn our original policies.
There is a worrying difference between the prices obtained by the farmers for their produce and the prices paid by the consumers in the shops. This point was made by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) in October, by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) in the October debate and by the President of the National Fanners' Union. It is difficult to reconcile that as fanners' prices have gone down there has been no corresponding and commensurate reduction in prices in the shops, and many people have become very angry about that. The position has been reached which was reported in the Daily Telegraph by Kathleen Smith, who said:
Britons are now eating less meat than at any time since the end of rationing—the result of butchers' determination to sell meat at up to three times the price farmers receive for it.
Anybody who knows the butchery trade will know that that is just not true. An inquiry is being held by the Price Commission into the whole question of distribution from the producer to the consumer, and I hope that the commission's report on this vexed question will appear very soon.
Retailers' prices are already subject to a number of restrictions. There are Government controls on profit margins, and price monitoring by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department for Prices and Consumer Protection.
There are inconsistencies in the whole raison d'étre of the Opposition's policy. When in opposition just before coming to power in 1970 the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), later to become a Minister of Agriculture, addressing a meeting of the farmers' union, said that it was quite impossible for the farming industry to think that year after year they could get their returns or a proportion of them from the Government, and that it would be much better if, over a period of years, we could shift that portion which the industry obtained from the Government to the consumer. The policy of Conservative Members, therefore, is plain. They want to remove as quickly as possible the total on-cost to the Government and the taxpayer and push it on to the consumer. After that speech by the right hon. Gentleman we were able to detect a shift in Opposition thinking. The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), billed in the Sunday Telegraph as a Conservative spokesman on agriculture, said:
We must be ready to put cash where it is needed. The greatest immediate need is to find a way, product by product, to tackle the feed cost situation. Clearly there is scope here to balance the mixture of extra support between taxpayer and consumer, but at present it would be wrong to put all on the end price.
So there was a shift. That was the right approach, because it is no use being dogmatic on agriculture. The subject needs a flexible approach.
From time to time the Conservatives have attacked consumer subsidies. The Government's policy is to try to curb inflation and keep prices down by the use of those subsidies, and the Conservatives always attack that approach. At the moment, the total cost is between £500 million and £600 million. We should remember, however, that at the moment producer subsidies to the agriculture industry run something along the following lines: in the nine months that my party has been in power we have added £80 million to the existing figure of £65 million, making £145 million as the total of subsidies of one kind or another to beef. The subsidies for pigs total £35 million, for poultry £7 million, for sugar beet £16 million, for glasshouses £7 mil- lion, for lime £5 million, for hill sheep £9 million and for milk £107 million, which is a colossal figure. That last figure brings the total milk subsidy up to £367 million, increasing subsidies to producers by £300 million and making the total for all commodities more than £600 million. I do not begrudge a penny of it, but it is wrong for the Conservatives to say that they intend to phase out consumer subsidies as quickly as possible and add the cost to the prices in the shops.
We cannot look too far ahead until renegotiation of EEC membership has been completed. I congratulate my right hon. Friend for bringing back from Brussels, in a very difficult industry at a very difficult time, a policy and programme which fit the needs of the British farmer and the British consumer. It is a policy which, according to the documents I have received from the National Farmers' Union, has won the union's nodding approval as the best we could get for now, although I admit that the NFU is not overjoyed. Our policy has the approval of the electorate, which was proved by our return to power at the last election. I favour a policy which provides the maximum insulation for the farming industry consistent with our national interest. The world does not owe us a living, however, and in the present uncertain state of the world and of our relationships with the EEC no section of the community can expect built-in safeguards.
The debate is not only about the present and future state of British agriculture and the nation's food supplies. It also concerns the economic and social well-being of our rural communities. There is, of course, a relationship between the prosperity of the countryside and the current fortunes of British agriculture and horticulture.
I have had the good fortune to live and work in the West Country all my life. I have not known a period when the outlook of both the farmers and those employed in servicing and retailing activities who rely to any appreciable extent on farming have been as depressed as has undoubtedly been the case for the past seven or eight months.
Having said that, I do not wish to lay all the blame and responsibility on the Government benches. As was so rightly said by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick), these troubles did not begin on 1st March this year. They began before then.
My view is that the previous Conservative Government acted too late in tackling the difficulties that were beginning to emerge in the livestock and milk sectors in the autumn of 1973 because of the then rapid increase in the cost of essential imported feeding stuffs. I believe that the Conservative Government should have acted as that situation developed. We were warned about it at the time by the farmers.
I should like to make only one further observation, and that is simply the fact that I am certain that no Conservative Minister of Agriculture would have allowed the decline that has resulted, leading to the present significant loss of confidence. This is a direct consequence of the distressed state of British agriculture at present.
In the Gracious Speech there appeared one sentence concerning fanning:
My Ministers recognise the value to the nation of expanding domestic food production economically and efficiently.
We all share the hope that this aim will be realised. In a matter of detail, the President of the National Farmers' Union is on record as stating that by 1980, given the right economic climate, farming can make an additional contribution of some £750 million to our balance of payments position. But I believe that the key question which we, as a House of Commons, must face today is whether the necessary economic climate will be created that will provide British farmers and growers with the confidence to respond to the wishes of politicians and undertake the required programme of investment and expansion.
We all have a responsibility in this respect, because part of the trouble lies with the fact that successive Governments have encouraged but then have halted too soon. As a consequence, the British fanner has not really known where he stands. The House of Commons must once more gain their confi- dence, but first farmers have got to see clear evidence from the House of Commons that they will not be let down again in 18 months or two years from now.
Recent events suggest that this will not be an easy proposition. I make that statement advisedly on the basis of experience of those types of agriculture which are represented in the Bodmin parliamentary constituency.
Much has already been said today about the beef situation. I welcome the floor price of £18 per live cwt. rising to £21·81 in mid-January. But naturally one must ask oneself and the Minister why we, as a nation, abandoned the system of intervention in March that by October of this year would have given our producers over £20 per live cwt. when in Liskeard market they were receiving only between £12 and £16 per live cwt. As a result, they were often losing up to £40 on each animal they sold.
Does the Under-Secretary consider that these same people will be easily persuaded to accept the word of politicians again, especially as his right hon. Friend said on 26th June that he intended to establish a minimum price of about £18 per cwt. over a period?
Furthermore, I ask the Minister of Agriculture whether he thinks that the figures he has recentiy announced will be adequate in view of both the shortages and the current price of feeding stuffs. In addition, what figure does he envisage for February 1975? After February, what will be the position? Some indication from the Government would be helpful.
Since the Minister of Agriculture's announcement, prices for finished beef cattle have hardened. I am delighted that the store trade prices have followed suit. But this is no consolation for the many producers who have sold their stock up to a week ago and certainly no consolation for the nation's consumers if they knew the high number of unfinished animals which were sold prematurely by farmers anxious to cut their financial losses.
There is, however, one section of the livestock trade that is still depressed— the suckled calf trade. It forms a major part of the farming activities and, therefore, the incomes of farmers on Bodmin Moor. Last year the average price received at the nine special markets was £67. So far this year the figure is still under £30. Again, does the Minister really believe that these specialist producers of young livestock—so essential to the pattern of future production in this country—will view the future with confidence, remembering that they face a difficult immediate future? At present buyers are not plentiful because of the high cost of feeding stuffs. The moor farmer has the simple choice at present of either to sell now at a loss or to winter his stock knowing that it will cost him at least £2·50 per week per animal for fodder—provided that he can get that scarce commodity—and the energy supplement, and then he will not really know his prospects of obtaining a meaningful price next year. I therefore ask the Minister to investigate the possibility of introducing a variation of the feed-cost formula. It might be applicable in circumstances such as I have described.
It is with these thoughts in mind that I, like many honourable Members, wish to impress upon the Minister the need for an early opportunity to review the whole question of the export of live animals in the light of the findings of the O'Brien Committee. This could give the necessary impetus and premium to the markets which are sadly lacking at present.
I want, finally, to say something about the present position of horticulture which is represented in my constituency in the Tamar Valley—a part which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know very well. Dependent upon market fluctuations, the financial position of the grower is never very secure, but the increase in oil costs was a very real additional burden for him. The Minister responded to this latter situation by granting an oil subsidy, but, regrettably and prematurely, he has already announced that this is not to be renewed. I hope that the Minister will seriously reconsider that decision, otherwise growers will have every right to ask the Minister to come clean about the future of their industry.
I believe that the Minister has a responsibility to outline to growers how he sees the industry evolving over the next five years or so. Growers are entitled to know how the Minister views their present rôle. If he is not prepared to give certain assurances, growers cannot be criticised for assuming the worst and believing that this Government are not interested in their future welfare.
Farming is essentially a long-term business activity. That is why confidence is so very important. For too long we have had a Government who have clearly lacked any long-term strategy for agriculture and horticulture. Unless these industries get a clear and positive lead from the Government and the House now, not only will the producer continue to suffer, not only will the rural areas feel the adverse spin-off effects, but the nation as a whole will suffer from food shortages and increased prices to the consumer, and a greater burden will be placed on an already strained balance of payments.
As I have already spoken more than once this Session, I shall not deal with some of the major problems. I shall deal with one or two points which have arisen in the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) has already spoken on the subject of sugar. The situation is not completely clear yet. In fact, it is slightly confused. When one is confused about issues affecting the Common Market, the best place to look is in the reports from Brussels, particularly in the reports of the Agence Internationale d' Information pour la Presse. I am slightly disturbed at these comments in a report last week:
The French delegation in exchange for its agreement on the
category wanted it to be clearly understood that the sugar produced in the context of 'quotas B' would cover the entire needs of the EEC over the next five years.
So, despite the agreements, it is still being said that there is a drive towards self-sufficiency or surplus production of beet in Europe. This will remain a grave danger for us if we do not take the necessary steps either to strengthen our cane sugar refining industry or to hold the line in other respects.
The same report also says that
special provisions have been provided for the French Overseas Territories, in particular
an early application of the new sugar prices will shortly be negotiated amongst the 'Nine'.
With these two caveats, our campaign on sugar has gone well, which rather suggests that I should resign more often. I am pleased that the Government have accepted the views which have been pressed upon them from the back benches and have achieved what they have achieved.
Any criticisms of the "third world" countries, particularly the West Indies and other Commonwealth Sugar Agreement countries, are completely misplaced. The problem about the developing countries was sparked off because of our entry into the Community. The argument has been that these countries failed to fulfil their obligations. However, their obligations were based on a price of £60 plus or £80 plus per ton with no guarantees of continuation after the end of next year.
It was in the double context of our possibly moving out of our agreement at the end of next year and the possibility of Europe becoming self-sufficient that the sugar-producing countries attempted to exploit the world market for sugar—hence the £140 per ton which was demanded and won this year.
The speech of the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) was an extraordinary one. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman is not here to hear me criticise his speech, but he must have realised that I was likely to say something about it. Throughout the spring and summer of last year I was saying to farmers "When we are talking about a floor let us not think only in terms of intervention buying, because I believe"—this shows what a simpleton I am—"that no British Government would ever operate intervention, that no Government would say to the British people 'We shall take beef off the market and turn nice fresh beef into frozen beef to keep up its price'."
I was wrong. The right hon. Member for Grantham reminded us earlier that the Tories started intervention buying. True, it was only just over 100 tons by the time the Tories went out of office, but he was already taking steps to expand cold-storage facilities to take 50,000 tons. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I hope that the British people get to hear about those cheers. They must realise that the position of the Tory Party is one of pleasure, not over the fact that my right hon. Friend achieved a guarantee and deficiency structure last week but because he imported into the deal an intervention aspect. That is a highly immoral way of supporting beef prices.
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree, if he is being perfectly fair—I know that he wants to be—that the other side of the coin is that when that meat comes out again it helps to keep the price to the consumer down?
There is that double aspect. However, were it to put the price down too far it would go back into cold storage again. It is the wrong way of supporting beef. Let us not defend the system. If hon. Members opposite were to say that it was necessary because they had to achieve something else, that would be one thing, but they should not pretend that it is a sensible system.
It is in this context that I want to comment on the speech of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr Pym). For someone who said that this is a question affecting not only the farming community but the whole rural way of life, it seems extraordinary that he did not once mention the farm workers.
I did not hear it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman supports them in their wage demand.
We should bear in mind that the right hon. Gentleman was the Government Chief Whip at the time that the Conservative Party scrapped the guaranteed prices and deficiency payment structure. I remember the occasion vividly because I led the campaign against it in this House. The right hon. Member for Grantham said that he was not responsible for moving over into beef, and I suggest that he should look at the speech he made in reply to me in March last year when he said how much this would improve beef production in this country.
I want to deal specifically with the present situation. I was pleased to hear the speech by my right hon. Friend the Minister this afternoon. We have progressed. I think the deal that he has made concerning the restoration of guaranteed prices and the deficiency payment structure is acceptable. But I come back to the question which I have already put to him. It is not the first time that I have put this question to him in the last few days. I must ask the question again, and I hope that the Minister who is to reply to the debate will give an answer.
If the excuse for accepting the intervention as the price to be paid for gaining a deficiency payment system is that intervention does not matter because the price is so low that there will be no real intervention, why was it necessary to have it? Why was it necessary for us to accept it? More important, why was it necessary for the EEC to propose it? Its members can count as well as we can. They know that unless it is a frozen foggy day the market figures will not drop low enough to allow an intervention buying price. Why was this necessary if it was known that it would be ineffective?
It is like the story about Sherlock Holmes and the curious incident of the dog. When Dr. Watson said "What was the curious incident? The dog did nothing that night", Sherlock Holmes said "That was the curious incident." If it was ineffective, why was it necessary? Some of us believe that a great principle has been handed over to the EEC.
Going back to my source of information, which is borne out by the interpretation by Agence Zero:
The United Kingdom will … begin by adopting an intervention price corresponding to 65 per cent. of its guide price.
That is why I say that it is doubtful whether it will be effective.
As a counterpart
for this, says the EEC, we will extract the intervention price and
the United Kingdom will grant a national aid …".
What the EEC says about this national aid as a counterpart to accepting the intervention is this:
It is therefore a temporary exception connected with the principle of 'deficiency payments' which does not prejudice the forthcoming general scheme for beef which will be applied from 1st February and which the Commission will propose at the end of the month.
In other words, that which is seen as temporary is the guaranteed deficiency price payment structure and the other
thing which is seen as in danger of being accepted as a permanent principle— [Interruption.] My hon. Friend does not agree with me?
All I am saying is that Agence Zero is putting it this way round. That is why I am concerned. I hope my hon. Friend is right, and I am sure that he hopes that he is right, too.
It seems to me that we have given away a major negotiating step. This is important, because I do not believe that until last week or two we have properly begun negotiations for the Common Market. Between the end of February and now we have taken certain amelioratory steps to deal with a difficult situation, particularly in relation to beef and then in relation to the sugar shortage. But in terms of crucial renegotiation the single most important aspect was the ending of the intervention policy for Britain. This was a major negotiating step, and it is the one which we have handed back. That is why we are concerned.
I promised that I would be brief, and I want to put two or three more points very quickly. First, if we are to remain attached to a common agricultural policy what is the effect in this country on high prices? It is not only the effect on the consumer; it is the effect on the farmer as well which is important. Once we put farming on a high end price policy, husbandry begins to go out of the window. We have all seen that in East Anglia.
Next I should like to draw attention to a statement by Dr. Pereira, the Chief Scientific Officer, last week, that we cannot tolerate the old 7–1 ratio—that seven vegetable protein to one meat protein ratio. We must develop our grasslands to get the maximum meat production, but we can no longer place this emphasis on cereals for the sake of the land, or the expense, or the effect on the "Third World" in order to produce an inordinate amount of beef.
This brings us to our trading relationship with the "Third World". I am one of those naive people who believe that election policy commitments happen to be a basic part of democracy. Our
commitment in relation to the Common Market was in our manifesto, in which we said that we would have
major changes in the Common Agricultural Policy, so that it ceases to be a threat to world trade in food products.
This means that we will oppose the CAP variable levy system, the CAP export restitutions and the CAP objective of self-sufficiency. I know these points very well because I helped to write them.
We also said:
We shall renegotiate those elements of Common Market policy which deliberately impose food taxes on the people.
When I am told that the Common Market helps to keep food cheaper in this country, in spite of its being only a temporary factor because of the supply and demand situation in the world, I say: if it is more than temporary, if it is a permanent feature for our prices to be cheaper inside the Common Market, why do we not scrap the levy system? The system is not scrapped because it is a temporary situation.
Do not let us hear any more of this kind of stuff from both Front Benches, and from yesterdays "heavies", The Sunday Times and the Observer, all of them proving how thoroughly we are inside the Common Market—almost as if somebody said "Right, boys; this is the signal for the off" and then they go pounding down the straight to prove how firmly we are in the Common Market.
The Foreign Secretary was reported as being so enmeshed in the Common Market that it would be a traumatic experience for us to leave. I must ask who enmeshed us. In the light of the policy which we advocated in the February and October elections, it is time that we ceased to take those steps which enmesh us any further in the Common Market. There are reasons for saying that we shall have national aids of that kind, that we shall make those single decisions while we negotiate. There is no case for saying that while we renegotiate we shall also take steps which render the end point of renegotiation nugatory.
The time has come, given the world food situation, when the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should see its task much more as that of food procurement, and set farming within a context of balancing home production with imports, trying to plan in the way the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) suggested a few weeks ago, when he talked about the need for producer boards or marketing boards.
We stated in our party policy the need for commodity commissioners, because we must balance home production and possible imports. We plan ahead for potatoes. We do not get the matter right, but we get it near enough to cope with the situation that develops. We must adopt that kind of procurement policy generally and give that emphasis to the Ministry.
All aspects of food should be brought within the Ministry. We cannot separate food pricing from agriculture. That should be brought back from the new Department now dealing with it.
The Ministry is one that I was proud to join. I am sorry that my stay was so short. I hope that some of the points I have made tonight will have created at least some value from my resignation from it.
In the next 50 minutes about 14 hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. They can do so, if there is a spirit of good will between one hon. Member and another, if speakers do not begin by saying that they will be brief and then take up time that would perhaps have allowed two other hon. Members to speak. I should like to accommodate as many hon. Members as possible.
I am grateful to you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not so fluent as the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), and I do not speak so fast, but I shall try to make a few points briefly.
First, I cannot go into the details of the Common Market as the hon. Gentleman did, but I am convinced that the future of this country is in the Common Market, and that the only future for the farming industry is in the Common Market.
Whether we come from farming constituencies or town constituencies, we shall all be glad to see the back of 1974. It has been a horrible year from many points of view. We must now try to see where we are, so that we may plan for the future.
I should be more at home in a cattle ring selling cattle than I am here, despite having been a Member for 10 years. I know quite a lot about cattle, but I do not intend to speak for long on the subject. Much has already been said. I draw attention to just two facts. One is that calf slaughterings, which were running at about 3,000 a week last year, are now running at 16,000— 17,000 a week. That will mean far dearer beef in 18 months' time.
Can the Minister give us any idea of the amount by which he expects the total cow herd—beef and dairy—to be down by the next count? I believe that it will be down by about a million cows. That is bad for both the farming community and consumers.
Like the Minister, I am not keen on the intervention system. I never have been. Good, fresh meat is put into cold store and it comes out chilled meat at the best and frozen if it is there for long enough. Moreover, there is always this lump of meat hanging over the market, which must depress it at a future date. Perhaps the Government could get together with overseas organisations and send cold store beef to where it is badly wanted in the world. I have just returned from Western Samoa, where there is a great shortage of beef. If beef were sent to such places, this slight intervention, which, like others, I cannot quite understand, might be of some advantage to the rest of the world.
I want to spend most of my time speaking about the arable lands, particularly those of Norfolk and Suffolk. My hon. Friends the Members for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell), Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), and Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) have been in and out of the Chamber trying to enter the debate. They would back me up in saying that although we have had a good wheat year we have had a disastrous farming year.
Harvest festivals should not take place in an arable area in October. Our harvest festival should not take place until January, when we have the potatoes and sugar beet in. Our main harvest in Norfolk is sugar beet. I am not blaming the Government for any of the things I shall mention, but we have had a disastrous time, which is why I am telling the Government what they must do for the future. We had a terrible, dry spring, and bad germination. Then there was an attack of virus yellows, which resulted in what I believe will be the worst crop in the history of the sugar beet industry.
In addition, we have the most terrible lifting conditions that we have known for many a year, with a far smaller labour force than we have ever known. The agricultural worker and the miner have an equally bad job. In the past five or six weeks agricultural workers, particularly women, have been trying to get beet out of the ground in very difficult conditions. When the men have been trying to get sugar beet up and cart it to the factories, the wheels of the tractors have been spinning not in inches but in feet of mud. When I came through a big arable district today, I found that about eight people had tried to lift sugar beet, and all had given up. I could see a couple of rounds and then a stuck plough or tractor. There will be repercussions for next year, because the land will be "killed". The repercussions from 1967– 68 continued until 1970. Bad weather has effects for a long time.
No wheat to speak of has been drilled. That which has been drilled is standing with its feet in water, and it cannot survive that for very long.
With a big proportion of the potato acreage still in the ground, and those potatoes in the clamps not keeping very well, there is a difficult time ahead this winter for both the consumer and the farmer, who has to buy his artificial manure and seed potatoes and pay his income tax and other dues in January.
I was distressed to hear what seemed to me to be an emphasis against the sugar beet crop. I hope that the Minister will stress the importance that this country must attach to it. I heard the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) saying that he was all in favour of our producing more at home, but that the sugar beet crop must take second place to imported cane sugar. I am all in favour of the 1·4 million tons coming in. I was lucky enough to go to Mauritius last year and I spent two days in Fiji this year. I know how those countries depend upon their cane harvests.
Many more people are employed in the sugar beet industry throughout the country than in sugar beet refining. I must warn hon. Members who represent constituencies with sugar refining industries that they must not count on having their refining industries for ever. Many ex-colonial countries want to grow things that we used to send them. Further, they want to make things that we used to send them. Before very long they will wish to refine their own cane sugar. In just the same way the British Sugar Corporation is now refining a large part of its own sugar production.
I ask the Minister to look to next year. It is not too early to look to next year's price review. If we are to get the contracts signed now for the sugar beet crop the price will have to be doubled. I believe that £18-£20 will not be too much. Although we thought that the guaranteed price for potatoes last year was good at £22 a ton, I believe that another £5 may easily have to be added to get the acreage for next year.
Farmers' interests and consumers' interests are bound up together. We are totally dependent one upon another. I hope that the Government will show willing and plan well ahead by thinking of next year's price review now.
I listened with great interest to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), and particularly when he was speaking about the need to remove agriculture from the centre of narrow party political squabbling. Further, I listened with interest to his comments on the absence of coherent strategy for the future. I must confess that I do not know whether that is a confession or a criticism. If I knew the right hon. Gentleman better perhaps I should know the answer to that question.
In the last few days I have been told by many farmers in my constituency—many of them are small farmers— that they are appalled that each time agriculture is debated in this Chamber it is subjected to continual party squabbling and to shortterm consideration and judgment. I share a lot of that feeling. Whether we are antior pro-Marketeers, and whatever the colour of the party labels that we wear, we have a joint and common interest. We are all consumers. We may be producers or consumers in the first instance but we meet together over the table. Our joint concern must be to ensure that the people of this island are able to eat today, tomorrow and the days that follow.
It is a fact that as a nation we have lacked any long-term agricultural development plan for years. In the last few years successive administrations have patched the leaking roof, mended the broken window and renewed the plaster, but they have ignored the fact that the structure has been neglected. We are all responsible for that. That includes politicians and the farming industry.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), who has also held office, would recall, if they were asked in the still watches of the night for their memories of office, that their duty was to act as coxswain in charge of a lifeboat, for ever throwing over lifebelts to the industry and saying to themselves "That will keep them happy for some years ahead."
It is our collective job to calm the waters rather than to keep applying liberal doses of grease to the lifeboat slipways. I do not want to be controversial. However, I do not feel that the Opposition have much about which they can boast. It was the Opposition which tore up the first social contract between the farming industry and the nation. The system introduced by Tom Williams brilliantly served the industry and consumers alike from 1947 until it began to be dismantled in 1970. That social contract guaranteed a degree of stability and confidence. It was replaced with promises and the illusion of the Common Market agricultural policy. We now know to our cost that that policy is as full of holes as a collander.
What about the National Farmers' Union? For years it has sat on the fence over the need, for example, for producer-marketing boards. Such boards could have ensured stability and order for those who are producing and for consumers, for the benefit of both farmer and shopper. It is interesting to note that in the 8th November issue of Farmers' Weekly, a journal that is not noted for its pro-Labour or pro-Government bias—to be fair, it is not noted
for any particular bias—it is said in the Editor's Diary:
There will have to be commodity boards with real marketing powers, and producer quotas or standard-quality price structures matched to accurately-calculated public demand before we can get any real sense into the food and agricultural business.
Later it said:
If the NFU does not soon come off the fence over these matters, and show itself firmly and strongly in favour of sensible planned production linked with prices, then there is certain to a be a major revolution in its ranks by people who are prepared to trust its leadership no longer.
It is a fact that delays in decision making by the National Farmers' Union are responsible today for the lack of a producer meat marketing board. I hope that members of that union who lobby in this place will recall their enthusiasm, as expressed through votes at their annual general meetings, for entry into the EEC on terms which have wrought havoc in many areas of production.
I now wish to make a plea—if I do not do so I may be charged with political point-scoring, to which I have objected—and to echo some of the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) about the need to make a fresh start on agriculture and food policies and to introduce a new deal for farmers, farm workers, the whole of the industry and consumers. It may be said that it is too late in the day to set about such a task. It is always too late to plan if we are prepared to throw out lifebelts or to hope that we shall get through before a leak springs in another place. I want to see a strategic plan under the title of "Feed Britain First". I want such a plan to run for five years and to be updated annually. Many hon. Members have stressed that it is not just a matter of going into the farmyard and turning on a "tap" to get extra milk, pork or beef. Planning is necessary. Unless the stability of the guarantee is put back into our industry, it will run into ruin.
All of us—Government, Opposition parties, farmers, farm workers and others—are concerned, irrespective of label, to get together, and, I would have thought, to provide answers to three basic questions. First, how much food do we need in this country to meet estimated demand over the next 10 years? Secondly, how much food can we produce at home? Thirdly, what are the long-term plans and resources needed to achieve it?
We have the finest grassland in Europe outside Ireland. That means butter and cheese and dairy herds, calves for beef production, and sheep. We have some of the finest cereal growers in Europe, which means feed for our cattle and food for our people.
One think is certain, and that is that we cannot go on spending money we do not have on food imports which may not be there when we need them. We are still a major food importing country, and now West Germany, Denmark and Holland, to name but three, send us beef. Why? Is there some reason why we cannot produce all the beef we need in these islands? Are we incapable of producing the lamb and pork we need? I do not believe it.
Perhaps I may turn aside briefly to the O'Brien Report, because with it I believe that once again we are getting quickly into the lifebelt system. Those who support removal of the ban should know that if we are sending cattle out we are going to have to buy in to replace them. I hope that that factor will be taken into account.
We import butter and cheese and pay subsidy on some of it. I am told that a lot of manufacturing capacity for our own butter and cheese stands idle. Can we not get together with all concerned in this area to plan a long-term future for farming and for food, to decide what we are going to produce, what investment is needed and how it is to be provided, what research needs to be conducted to support our programme, the training needed, the number of farm workers and the conditions they need, and implement such a programme?
It is not a question of codes of practice, or of guidelines, or of calls for the seventh heaven which are needed, but guarantees in which our farmers have confidence to plan their business and to plan to put the food on our tables. It is action to implement a plan to give Britain's largest single industry the stability and confidence it needs.
Hon. Members will recall the misty past when we had annual farm price reviews. The farmers' unions used to be fairly satisfied if they came out of these reviews with guarantees and so on, costing about £350 million. Now we are spending about £700 million on food subsidies—I am not criticising them on a narrow basis—and not only have we not got our food producing industry right but there is clear evidence that it is in serious trouble.
We have targets for coal production, for steel output, for the number of hospitals we want to build. We plan ahead for roads. But the one vital commodity we all need we leave to the judgment of incoming administrations, whereby policies can be changed in a way that catches farmers midstream and can have the most devastating effects.
Are we now, as a House, as an industry, as a nation, prepared to sit down and ensure that we do feed Britain first, and in the process, help also to feed the hungry world?
What was said by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) was underlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) when he referred to the difficult weather conditions we have been experiencing in the countryside, and how difficult it is to plan things so exactly.
I want to refer particularly to the beef situation and to the similar situation we ran into last year in the dairy industry. Quite a bit of the difficulty arises from the fact that we had, under our old system of annual price reviews, the fixing of prices in February-March and that we seem to be going in for the same fixing date in the Common Market negotiations.
The thing which has had more effect than any other on the industry in the past two seasons has been world cereal prices. All the cereal harvests of the northern hemisphere come in during the autumn, and the approximate quantity is known during September-October. Yet all through last winter, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) was responsible for agriculture in our administration, he was con tinually having to say, "You must wait until we come to the next price review before we can make any alteration in prices." What angered some of the farmers in my constituency was that although the bread makers who were buying wheat were able to say, "Look, the price of wheat has risen. We need an increase in the price of our commodity," the farmers were being told that they had to wait.
I must declare an interest in my next point, because I have a small horticultural unit at my own home. The horticultural industry was saved very well by the action which the Minister of Agriculture took in introducing the subsidy on oil. This will expire at the end of December. In Scotland, perhaps because we have lower mean temperatures and less daylight in winter, we feel this very strongly and hope that some transitional help will be given.
During the course of the sugar shortage I naturally had a good many comments made to me in my constituency because the only sugar beet factory in Scotland had been closed down by the British Sugar Corporation with the agreement of the Government of the day, and, I might add, the agreement of the previous Government. This was a wrong decision, and I hope that the matter can be looked at again. I have looked at some of the records collected when the fight to save the Cupar factory was going on. Among the best 15 growers in the Cupar factory area, many were producing beet at the rate of between 16 and 19 tons an acre.
That was about nine years ago. Even bearing in mind the weather conditions we have been experiencing the techniques of growing beet have improved and we ought to re-examine the decision to close down the Cupar factory. Because we have had so many crises in the beet industry we have tended to forget the poultry industry, which has suffered as severely from increased grain prices as has any other part of the industry.
I have two or three big poultry units in my constituency. The owners have written to me and I have recently sent to the Ministry some of their literature setting out the conversion rates and the use of grain as between beef and poultry. Coming from a beef farming area, I tend to be prejudiced in favour of the beef animal, but we ought to make certain that this matter is properly investigated.
I begin by congratulating the Minister of Agriculture on the agreement he has brought back from Brussels. I am grateful to him, because had he not put a floor into the beef industry at this juncture I would have been driven to vote against the Government this evening. That is a pleasure I must now keep for a future occasion.
As many people have emphasised, the case for agriculture is a producer's case but the case for what comes out of agriculture is a consumer's problem and a matter for the whole nation. I want to put one or two points about the beef situation with which I hope the Minister can deal in his reply. I should be grateful if he could say whether the £18 per live hundredweight which is set as a target is sufficient to cover costs. I should have thought that the basic level to cover costs would have been something like the £21·50 which has been estimated by the industry.
I am glad to see that the figure rises to £21·81 by the end of January. I admit that my right hon. Friend cannot anticipate the Common Market's policy after 1st February, but it would be of great help to the industry if he could say that whatever happens there would continue to be a floor at that time of at least the £21·50 or £21·81, which it will have reached on that date.
I should be grateful if the Government would tell us how they regard the meat supply situation in the next two years. What is the present figure for the entire cattle herd on the farms? Is it down, compared with a year ago? Shall we have to face a beef shortage in the next year or two? I find this difficult to estimate because the Press reports of the excess slaughterings vary so much. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said that slaughterings were one-third up on a year ago. The Financial Times says that they were 75 per cent. up on a year ago. I want to know if this is right. At what point do we reach the position when there definitely will be a beef shortage? If we know this, presumably measures can be taken to deal with it. As recently as May our total cattle herd was 20 per cent. up on a year ago. It would be useful to know the Government's estimates of the amount of beef likely to be available and the possibilities of a shortage in the next two years.
In the light of this, we must consider the fodder situation and the possibility of slaughtering due not merely to price but to an inability to purchase feed in the next few months. Straw production is 10 per cent. down, hay production is 14 per cent. down and silage is 6 per cent. down on last year. Many farmers will have to buy in to feed animals. From where will they get the money to do so in the present state of agriculture? This problem must exercise the Government's mind in calculating not just the present viability of the industry but the supply of beef over the next 18 months or two years.
Have the Government considered the possibility of allowing farmers to average their income tax over three years? Farmers in my constituency face the prospect of paying income tax in a bad year for their good year last year. I should have thought that an averaging principle would make the situation a great deal easier.
I echo the view of the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) that it was short-sighted of the last Conservative Government to close the sugar beet factory and to end sugar beet production in Scotland. At present prices, such production could be carried out in a satisfactory and profitable manner. It is a labour-intensive crop and a good break crop—and it is useful for Scotland. I do not think it need have cut into the cane sugar guarantees given to Commonwealth countries.
The critical questions are, will there be a meat shortage, and, if so, what can be done to alleviate it as well as to ease the cash flow problems of the agriculture industry?
Because of time, I do not wish to go into theological questions about the future of the Common Market raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), but I do not see why intervention buying should be regarded, in a theological way, as immoral. If this is the sort of policy which will put a floor into our industry there is no reason why we should not adopt it for the period immediately ahead. We have never regarded it as immoral that New Zealand mutton should be kept in cold store and released on the market in a reasonable flow so that the price level is not damaged. I do not see why we should regard that as a sinful way of dealing with the matter.
It is, however, important that we should try as quickly as possible to plan ahead beyond 1st February. I was worried by a sound point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham). He said that agriculture needed a long-term future, and that the question of renegotiating the terms of entry to the Common Market puts an undesirable question mark over the future for agriculture. It would be helpful if hon. Members interested in agriculture could join the Government in an attempt to devise policies which, in the Common Market, would achieve the best possible results for this country. Then it may also be necessary to examine the alternatives if we have to come out of the Common Market.
I echo the comment of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) that it is a pity that we do not have a Select Committee on agriculture. We cannot handle these matters on the Floor of the House. Detailed work should be done by Members interested in agriculture, together with the Government and outside experts. Such a Select Committee should not only talk about policy and the problems of agriculture; it should scrutinise Common Market instruments on agriculture. That cannot adequately be done by one scrutiny committee covering all Common Market activities. We need a Select Committee to draw together the industry, the Government and both parties. It would be the best way not only of taking politics out of agriculture but of taking out of agriculture the sillier types of argument that we sometimes hear. We want a long-term policy for a healthy agriculture industry, so that it can do its best to satisfy consumer demand in this country.
I shall try to follow your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker and keep my remarks to five minutes.
On Thursday, the Minister complained that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) was carping in his criticism when he said that the right hon. Gentleman's measures were too little and too late. Having spoken to farmers in the East Riding last week end, I can say that that is exactly their verdict.
The measures clearly are too late, because thousands of farmers have already lost millions of pounds. There is no question of recompense for those who have lost money. By now the main flood of fat cattle feed off grass is over and prices are beginning to rise in the markets, as they always do in the period before Christmas. This great guarantee gesture by the Minister will therefore cost the Government very little. What is the estimated cost to the Government of the new guarantee? Had it been given six months ago it would have cost a large sum and saved many farmers from bankruptcy or near-bankruptcy. By now it has become far less beneficial to the farmer or expensive to the Government.
Apart from farmers who have lost money on fat cattle, we must remember those who have lost on their stores. The figures are impressive and depressing. Over the nine months to October, 12½ per cent. more stores were sold than during the same period last year; in the month of October, 42 per cent. more stores were sold. These figures show the extent to which farmers had to shed their stocks for lack of feed. So cheap have stores been that, for people who happen to have corn available, it has paid to feed them corn at £60 a ton, in the hope of higher beef prices at Christmas.
I am pleased to hear that there will be a debate on the O'Brien Report on the export of livestock. Will the debate be on a motion which, if passed, will authorise the exports once again? This is very important to my constituents, not least the farmers with sheep.
British agriculture is resilient and in the end will recover from the Labour livestock fiasco, but it will never recover from the effects of the Labour capital taxation now in prospect, if, indeed, it is ever carried through. The structure of our farming has greatly changed since the turn of the century. In 1900 almost all farms were on a tenancy. Now, more than 50 per cent are owner-occupied. That is healthy development. There is nothing more efficient than a mediumsized family farm run by the farmer and, possibly, his two sons, each with his responsibilities. That sort of set-up has all the ingredients for success, with the experience of the farmer, the new ideas of his sons and the natural desire of the farmer to invest in a concern that he owns, and the assurance of continuity that only ownership can bring.
A combination of capital gains tax, capital transfer tax and wealth tax, even on the most optimistic figures, is bound to bring this sort of farming to an end, especially the medium-sized and large owner-occupied farms which receive no help from the concessions suggested in the Budget. The structure of our agriculture, which has been the envy of Continental countries, we are apparently willing to destroy. In the past the Continental structure has been fragmented by bad inheritance laws. We are now producing bad inheritance laws which will have the same effect on us.
What does the Minister think about big estates? In my constituency there are a number of large estates; there are four of over 10,000 acres. Under the new taxes these are bound over the years to go. There is no way out of that. The Chancellor of the Exchequer no doubt will be delighted—once again he will be soaking the rich—but the Minister of Agriculture must think in agricultural terms. These are highly efficient large agricultural concerns. If they are fragmented, a great change will occur which will be to the detriment of agriculture and the nation. What has the Minister in mind to replace the present system of many considerable family farms and a significant number of largish estates? These matters have to be faced now. I should like to hear the Minister's views.
Although the subject of agriculture can be said to be important in England it can be claimed to have even more importance for Wales. Economically, agriculture is more important in Wales because we have twice the number of people involved in agriculture compared with other parts of the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the social importance of agriculture is immensely important and cannot be over-emphasised. In some areas of Wales agriculture provides the conomic base of our national way of life, our culture and our language. Therefore it is essential for the people of Wales to maintain a prosperous agriculture.
The unit on which the agricultural structure depends is the family farm. The fight for the Welsh language and a Welsh culture is in great part the fight for the family farm. We are extremely interested in whatever happens to affect the prosperity or even the existence of this central or basic unit in the farming structure. We are disturbed to discover that between the years 1962 and 1974 the number of dairy farms in Wales was nearly halved. Farmers are being driven off the land more rapidly than ever before, at a time when we need on the land all those with experience of farming.
That this should happen is as important to the townsman as it is to the countryman, and, indeed, will become even more important in the future. A year or so ago there were warnings about shortages of oil to come. There is a far more alarming shortage which faces the world in future, and that is a shortage of food. The world population is likely to double by the end of the century and food ships may no longer sail to our ports. Therefore, we must provide by all possible means for the growing of our own crops.
When we speak of the defence of our nations we should look at the situation in present circumstances from the point of view that it is the farmer rather than the soldier who stands in the front line. The barn is infinitely more important than the bomb to our defences. In these circumstances we must all agree that no experienced farmer can be allowed to leave the land.
This issue is not only a national one, but is a matter of international concern of the greatest magnitude. For millions of people shortage of food is not something which threatens to come in some distant future: it has already arrived. Already there are greater numbers of people who are starving in the world than has been the case in the whole history of mankind—hundreds of millions of them. There is today a terrible need for every ton of food we can produce. Governments somehow or other must show the wit to cure the predicament of these starving millions.
Some hon. Members will remember the situation in the 1930s when the world was shocked by the news that engines in South America were being driven by the burning of grain. Morally our situation at present is almost as bad. We are not producing all the food we can in our own countries, and we are certainly not distributing food properly throughout the world. We need a fair distribution of property and food within our own countries, but we also need an international effort. In this respect we must all make our contribution.
I put in one last word on behalf of the Welsh farmers, who have suffered gravely in recent months. Many face disaster. They have had to sell stock at knockdown prices and in many instances it has been sent to the knacker's yard. It is not surprising that a great many of them were sufficiently angry to take spontaneous action to try to prevent Irish imports.
The Government should find some way to compensate those farmers who have lost money, if not by means of a disaster fund—and it is proving a disaster for many of my constituents—at least by backdating the financial advantage given by the floor which has now been restored to beef. It would be of great assistance if it could be backdated, say, to August. It would help many farmers to buy fodder, which is a subject on which it had been my intention to speak at greater length, because the situation is desperate in Wales. All round us we see animals starving because of the lack of fodder. It is possible to import coal from the United States to ports in Wales. It should be equally possible to import hay from Canada to ports in Wales.
I make one final plea to the Government. It is to lift their ban on the export of livestock.
We all know the Minister of Agriculture to be a most genial person. It is difficult to find anyone quite so agreeable who can engender so much distrust, deep-seated frustration and anger among the farming community. Shortly after coming to this House as the Member for East Grinstead. I well remember a group of farmers burning an effigy of the right hon. Gentleman. During past months a great many more have come precious close to doing it again. I do not begrudge him the success that he had last week. At the same time, I hope that he will not show too much complacency because he has had a modicum of success, albeit rather late in the day.
I have to declare an interest in marketing in that I am a director of an advertising agency which promotes a wide range of goods, including animal feedstuffs. I accept that what I intend to say is a matter not only for the Government. It is also one for fanners themselves.
If anything of a fundamental nature which will prove beneficial in the long term to the industry is to succeed, it must have at the very least the understanding and co-operation of the Government. The Minister will recall that the Conservative administration issued a Green Paper on agricultural and horticultural marketing. On the very first page it said:
Production policy is only half a policy if it is not wedded to effective use of resources in marketing.
I recognise that there are major differences between Britain and the Continent in terms of farming structure. We cannot, nor should we, in all cases expect British farming to market its produce in a manner identical to that adopted on the Continent. The fact that producer groups play a large part in marketing in many EEC countries does not mean that we should expect the same pattern to be followed here. Nevertheless, certain commercial practices are sound, whatever the product.
If the producer co-operatives over the EEC as a whole sell a substantially greater proportion of their produce than similar groups in this country, I should have thought that there was a need for us to study more actively how we might market more of our own produce in this way.
As one who has spent part of his life in, and is still associated with, advertising and as a consequence has often been called on to study the marketing structure and planning of business organisations, I cannot help noticing how over the years the agricultural industries of different countries in Western Europe and elsewhere have adopted many of the techniques of marketing and promotion which hitherto we associated with the selling of capital and consumer goods.
My impression is that we have still to learn the need for aggressive and more efficient marketing of our farmers' produce. On the whole, we have tended to think in terms of simply churning out a farm product. Insufficient attention has been paid to matching production to demand and to exporting.
There is a lack of marketing intelligence. There are exceptions. Those who know the grain trade well regard it as particularly efficient in this country. But looking at meat marketing, how can we plan ahead when export orders are frustrated because there is a bottleneck in slaughtering facilities, very few of which are up to EEC standards, and the Government have yet to implement the O'Brien Report?
Knowing that there are many legal and financial obstacles and other problems upon which comment and constructive proposals are required, I hope that the Government will let it be known that, like the previous Government, they would welcome proposals from the agriculture industry with some degree of urgency, and that, for their part, they would be willing to participate in new initiatives to improve the industry's marketing services.
As this is the first agriculture debate in which I have spoken in this Session perhaps I should declare my interest in the industry. It is well known to many hon. Members.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) on his maiden speech this afternoon. I was interested in what he said because I have on my farm some of the cattle which come from his constituency, although I confess I have no interest in the cattle which his predecessor was particularly noted for fostering on his farm. My hon. Friend spoke with extreme feeling and knowledge of his constituency. There is no doubt that people in Hereford can be confident that they have as worthy a champion of their cause in my hon. Friend as they had in his predecessor, David Gibson-Watt, whose contributions to our debates many of us will miss. We look forward to hearing his successor again. I am sure that the substitute will well live up to the original.
There has been much talk about the problems facing the industry and its current difficulties. There has also been a great deal of talk about many of the longer-term, deeper problems of the industry, what can be done to plan for them and what can be done to meet the needs of the industry and food supplies for the consumer in future.
I was delighted to hear such talk. The idea of a Select Committee is worthy of consideration. I must point out to hon. Gentlemen on the Government side who tended to chide us for not having had a Select Committee during our period in Government that—with the possible exception of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson)— there was nothing like the same pressure because, during our term in office, the agriculture industry was prospering. It is only since this Government came into power, within a period of eight months, that the situation has changed out of all recognition. It is this as much as anything which has led to the demand this afternoon for a Select Committee to look at the longer-term policy.
In all sincerity I ask the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food not to obscure the short-term problems of the industry simply by reference to what we should do for the longer term. Farmers and farm workers are concerned because they have to earn their livelihoods in the shorter term. It is the shorter term that matters to them. Over the last eight months what has been happening day to day rather than what might be happening or might be hoped to happen in future has been their main concern. I put out these words of caution about the longer term, but to a great extent we should devote our attention to the short-term policy. I believe that it is on the short-term policy that the Government stand condemned this evening.
The one thing that has come through many of the speeches today—this comes from the Minister's statement to the House last Thursday, which we on this side welcomed—is the right hon. Gentleman's conversion to the need to do something positive about putting a floor into the beef market. This has involved the conversion of the right hon. Gentleman to a policy of intervention and the principles of it. I hope that he has not found that too difficult, because what has happened is very much in the interests of the agricultural community, and we welcome it.
Unfortunately, I did not hear the whole of the speech of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). We are all aware of his dislike of the system of intervention, and I hope that he listened to the notable speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) who made clear that intervention has worked in Europe and showed that a great deal of what was said by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West is not true. One can, of course, always find examples of a policy not working, but intervention has worked in Europe, and it is totally erroneous to say that we should be wrong to adopt it.
By that intervention the hon. Gentleman has demonstrated his doctrinaire approach to the whole question. He looks at the whole issue as calling for only one solution or another. That surprises me, coming as it does from someone who has been concerned with the industry in one way or another for a number of years. It surprises me to hear the hon. Gentleman say that one can find one solution that will suit all circumstances.
I do not believe that intervention by itself is a panacea, or that it provides an immediate remedy for all the problems, because it does not, but, equally, it is wrong to say that intervention has never worked, is not working now and never will work in the future, because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham showed, the system does work.
Since last Thursday, and as a result of what the right hon. Gentleman said, the outlook for the beef industry is much better, because at last we have something positive. Throughout the summer there were nothing but intentions and a tinkering of one sort or another. The Minister has tried one solution after another, but the one thing that has been lacking, and for which we have been pressing, is a floor for the beef market. We now have this for the first time since the Government came to power. The Minister said that this is something different, but he should talk to some of the farmers. They welcome this floor, and the remarks which the right hon. Gentleman said he welcomed were made because he has introduced intervention, and he would be wise to recognise that.
Time and again we hear Government Members talking about deficiency payments as though they were the be-all and end-all, and a panacea for all our problems. The truth is that the history of the agriculture industry and of the beef industry proves that not to be the case. I ask the Government to cast their mind back to the years between 1966 and 1970 when we came to office. Was the farming industry content with the price it had then, and did it think deficiency payments were providing a sufficient return? It was because that system was not working properly that my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) had to introduce a special review in the autumn of 1970 to provide a cash injection into the industry.
This simply illustrates yet again that neither system is necessarily the right one, and farmers have been encouraged because the right hon. Gentleman's package last week is a combination of methods. The farming community welcomes that. The Minister has abandoned his doctrinal approach today, and that is a good thing. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I support a system which combines a floor of intervention with some form of monetary payments which, when prices fall below a certain level, make good the returns to producers.
However, the Minister must accept that although what he has brought back from Brussels will help the industry it has been an expensive package for the British farmer paid for over the last eight months. Since last March, the right hon. Gentleman has left a trail of havoc and distress among livestock producers throughout the United Kingdom.
If it were simply a case, as I know it is with the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West, of doctrinaire objection to intervention, that would not be so bad, but I have detected something slightly more sinister in the Government's unwillingness to adopt an intervention system such as this. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) touched on this today. I return to our debate of 8th May when the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), in winding up, chided my right hon. and hon. Friends for what they had said about intervention. He said:
If hon. Members had gone to the public clearly at the election, they should have been saying 'We will increase the prices of beef and milk', but they did not."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th May 1974; Vol. 873, c. 531.]
It is in that statement that I find something which worries me about the Minister's obstinacy to produce anything of this sort in the last eight months. Many of us can see behind his attitude an attempt to keep beef prices below the cost of production because of the votes that would attract at a General Election. In this the Government have shown more concern, for narrow party political reasons, for the outcome of a General Election than for those who have to produce the nation's food.
Another matter on which the right hon. Gentleman stands condemned flows from his late conversion to the policy to put a floor in the beef market. We should not forget that in March there was a floor in the market and there was intervention and it was accepted by the farming community then. The right hon. Gentleman removed that floor. By consistently rejecting intervention throughout the summer months he has weakened his negotiating position on the whole review of the common agricultural policy.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, he and his Government chose to opt out of the intervention system. In choosing to opt out they make their voice that much weaker and they carry that much less moral strength and persuasion in seeking to prove that the views of others are wrong. They lose that degree of persuasion which is necessary if changes are to come. My right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham began the review of the CAP, and while we are glad to see it taking place we know that it has been slowed up and hindered by the right hon. Gentleman's failure to take advantage of intervention and by his decision to opt out of that system.
Now that the right hon. Gentleman is entering that system, I hope that it will help him to persuade our colleagues in Europe of where the deficiencies in their system lie. I hope that it will put him in a slightly stronger position to be able to urge that what deficiencies there are should be corrected.
This afternoon the right hon. Gentleman took a great deal of pride in his new proposals. I welcome them as far as they go. At the same time, however, the right hon. Gentleman is taking too much credit to himself. For example, he said that this was something very much welcomed by the farming community. He quoted Sir Henry Plumb as describing this as a break through. I only wish that the right hon. Gentleman had read on in the Press release from the NFU. Sir Henry Plumb did describe it as a break through, but the Press release went on to say that
since the present Government rejected the system of intervention buying in March, the Union has been urging consistently the case for a firm guarantee.
Therefore, it is because of the Government's own actions that they have come to the present position.
No. I have given way already to the hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman called in aid the President of the Scottish NFU as welcoming the proposals, but I wish that
the right hon. Gentleman had quoted a little more of what he said. In the statement in which he welcomed what had been done he also said:
It has taken far too long to achieve it, and many men have been desperately hurt in the interval … As far as the level is concerned, this is not enough to repair the damage done to the industry over the past nine months.
Damage has been done to the industry. The Farmers Weekly, in its leader this week, described it as the
Rescue that may come too late".
It likened the right hon. Gentleman, in a rather unlikely comparison, to the coxswain of a lifeboat:
For those who went under while Coxswain Peart was back in the lifeboat station swinging the lead, there is only a memorial, 'They bought their calves too dear.'
That is the feeling throughout the farming community because of the inaction of the last nine months.
What we failed to hear from the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, but what we have heard in speech after speech from both sides of the House, was a concern about those who have literally gone out of business over the past nine months, and those who, nine months after the present Government came to power, are near to bankruptcy. We failed to hear about the farms on which the stock is currently undernourished and lacking the main feed required for this winter, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford described. Hon. Members on the Government side of the House have completely underestimated the effect that this has had upon feeling throughout all the rural communities. My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) described that. Although the right hon. Gentleman may have moved now, the scars he has caused over the last nine months will take a very long time to fade.
It is true that during the last nine months we have had plenty of intentions. We have had talk of floors, of £18 per cwt., and so on, at different times during the summer. On 26th June the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock said:
It was suggested that in order to have confidence there must be a floor figure.
He went on to say emphatically
That figure has been given."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th June 1974; Vol. 875, c. 1630.]
The figure was certainly given, but it had no effect. For many producers, particularly producers of store stock, that floor
simply turned out to be a trapdoor on a scaffold. That was seen during the summer because so many people suffered a great deal. Throughout the summer we have had a certain amount of tinkering, but it has always been too little and too late. While we admire the intentions that the right hon. Gentleman has had during the summer months, and although his intentions may have been good, his action has not matched what he said he would do for the industry.
To illustrate the tremendous thumping the livestock industry took during the summer months I will quote a few cases from Scotland. One farm in the southwest of Scotland which sells suckled calves suffered a drop in its prices from £60 to £70 in 1973 to £20 to £25 in the autumn of this year. This is at a time when the cost of fertilisers and feeding stuffs has risen by 50 per cent., wages have risen by 30 per cent. and transports costs by 100 per cent.
At a farm in Banffshire the price of store calves fell from £107 last year to £72 this year, meaning a drop in income of many thousands of pounds. Two farms in the Highlands and one in the Islands are unable to sell their calves. Half their calves have had to be retained on farm at a time when winter keep is extremely limited.
We are left with the problem of those who produce the store stock, those who have already sold their stock and for whom this late action by the Government has done nothing. Some of them may have been able to gain benefit from the £10 calf subsidy, but there were many whose calves were born before the qualifying date. They are anxious about what is to be done for them. Can anything be done retrospectively for the producers of store stock? They are in real difficulties. Cash is short. Many of these producers are landed with more stock in winter time than they can carry with shortages of feeding stuffs. What they want is action, not platitudes and promises.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he is prepared to bring forward the payment of the hill cow subsidy for 1975. In opening the debate on agricutlure on 31st October the Minister of Agriculture said this:
We have brought forward the beef cow and hill cow subsidies for 1975, so that producers can get the money when they need it
to help with the winter feed bills."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October 1974; Vol. 880, c. 414.]
It seems perfectly clear from that that these producers should be getting money during the winter months. I remind the Government that the present subsidy is based on figures which are collected in June and the subsidy is paid in November and December, six months later than the qualifying period. Therefore, if the Government are bringing forward the qualifying period from June to January, is the payment to be made six months later in the same way as now? This matters for store producers. The date is normally the December census and again the June census. The producers want to know the basis of the qualifying date. They want to know what income they will get.
The most important thing as regards the hill cow subsidy is whether it is to be an advance payment. What is to be the position next autumn. By making an advance payment the Government have admitted the need for cash now. Does this mean that cash will have to be foregone in the autumn and winter of 1975? Is there to be a second payment. If it is simply to be an advance payment, certainly the store producers to whom I speak do not want to live on tick—which is what the Government's promise amounts to.
With regard to livestock and the O'Brien Committee's Report, I beg the right hon. Gentleman to give us a better undertaking than that which was given by the Leader of the House last Thursday when he said that we would have to wait until after Christmas before the matter can be debated. The matter should be debated now, certainly before Christmas, because I believe that unless we can reopen this outlet, subject to proper safeguards for welfare, the kind of suffering which we shall see on our farms will be far greater than the suffering which those who originally caused the decision to be taken believed could take place.
In the few minutes left to me, having spoken of the position facing agriculture, I wish to turn to the equally important matter of future food supplies for this country. This is of particular importance and was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire. As my right hon. Friend said, although we are producing adequate liquid milk supplies, butter production is virtually at a standstill.
Coming to the subject of pig meat, I should like to refer to the tremendous number of slaughterings of breeding stock earlier this year. The Meat and Livestock Commission forecast a million fewer pigs for slaughter in the first six months of next year, and we have an example of the consumer being held to ransom as a result of the Government's actions.
Perhaps the most serious matter of all is the beef industry and the supply of red meat. Whilst there is unlikely to be any immediate shortage in 1975 or in the first part of 1976, I hope the Government do not brush this matter under the carpet as they have brushed so much else. I was interested in a conference in Aberdeenshire last week when the whole question was discussed, and I should like the Minister's comments on these facts. We have at the moment about 6 million breeding cows in this country, which each year produce about 4·6 million calves. We are at present slaughtering steers, heifers, cows and calves at the rate of 5½ million a year.
If one projects these figures, one can see that by 1976—I should like to know the Government's view on this—the total size of the beef breeding herd will have decreased from 6 million to 4·8 million. This means that, instead of our getting 4·6 million calves a year, production will be about 3·5 million calves. That is very nearly a 25 per cent. drop in beef production in two years' time. Not merely the fanner but the consumer will suffer from the higher prices which will have to be paid. The Government have shown in the events of the last eight months a callous disregard of the future food supplies of this country.
To sum up, I believe that the Government stand condemned, despite the belated achievements of the Minister in Brussels last week. In the last six months we have witnessed a sad story of a betrayal of our country's livestock industry, and particularly the beef industry. This story has been all the more sorry because it has particularly hurt the smaller producers—those less able to defend themselves in the hill and upland areas.
At the same time, the Government have put future food supplies in jeopardy. The Minister has gambled with the nation's food. We now have from the Government an expression of intent for the longer term. In view of their failure in the short term, they must not be surprised if those intentions are greeted with a certain amount of cynicism and disbelief by those in agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman's good intentions with regard to getting the industry on the right road will be that much more difficult of achievement because of his abysmal failure over the past eight months.
The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) was quite carried away in the last few minutes of his speech. I thought that he might have prepared it some weeks ago, not in the atmosphere of the solid achievements of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in his last discussions in Brussels.
My first, pleasant duty is to congratulate the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) on his maiden speech. We noted his kind remarks about his predecessor, who was known to many of us a long time before he came to the House. Dare I say, in the context of the representation of Hereford, that the hon. Gentleman's predecessor and his family, like mine, had a long tradition of breeding quite a different breed—the Welsh black cattle? I think that on the first occasion on which I met David Gibson-Watt, many years ago, he was preparing a rather useful bull for exhibition at Lampeter, which I think he did successfully. I am sure that the whole House wishes him well, because he was a friend to all hon. Members on both sides of the House. We congratulate his successor, who has shown a deep knowledge of the industry. I hope that we shall hear a great deal from him in the future.
We have had a wide-ranging debate. The whole theme of the debate on 31st October was the deep concern felt on both sides of the House about the problems of the beef sector of the livestock industry. The crisis situation that had developed there was the one that my right hon. Friend was called upon to remedy. The greatest disservice the House could do would, however, be to say that there was a crisis throughout the industry. A serious problem had arisen in one part, and in that one part alone. My right hon. Friend's successful mission has restored the situation there.
We should remind ourselves of the success concerning the milk industry. These days I do not hear any representations from the milk producers about the price they receive. The beet producer has had substantial encouragement from the proceedings at Brussels. In bringing forward payments to the hill farmer, my right hon. Friend has brought him comfort as well. Perhaps the greatest tragedy for the marginal producer was the cutting off of the lime subsidy by our predecessors. There has been a welcome throughout the industry for what the present Government have done about that. One does not hear a squeak of protest from the cereal producers, who make up a large proportion of our agriculture.
It is right to put the whole problem in perspective and to appreciate that many of the industry's problems have been solved in the past few months, or that elsewhere the industry was in good heart before. Certainly that is true of cereals.
The problem that remained was principally that of beef. It was odd that in the debate that took place on 31st October the great cry for unilateral action came from Conservative Members. They who had taken us into Europe on the present terms found the situation unsatisfactory. In speech after speech they demanded unilateral action from my right hon. Friend. That was a strange cry from the party that sets itself up as the "law and order" party. Conservative Members were demanding that my right hon. Friend should break the Treaty of Accession. The House knows the limitations on manœuvre within the framework of the common agricultural policy and the great need to renegotiate the CAP system. I remind the House that in a letter that Sir Henry Plumb wrote to The Times on 20th November he said:
We have become enmeshed in the bureaucracy of the Common Market.
Perhaps that sums up the difficulties that we now face. We have a long tradition of agricultural support. Both parties
when in Government have carried on the tradition of Tom Williams, referred to by my right hon. Friend. We were then able to take the kind of unilateral action that the British agriculture industry came to expect for so long, and under which it flourished. Of course, there have been problems. There have been periods when parts of the industry have been dissatisfied. There has been disagreement over some price reviews. There were arguments as to degree. However, within our own resources we were able to ensure a foundation of prosperity for agriculture.
I believe that my right hon. Friend has made a major step forward. It has been described by the President of the National Farmers' Union as a major break through. As I understand it, he was not referring to intervention but to the price system which my right hon. Friend has brought back from Brussels. As I understand it, that is the basis of the reference. I may be wrong.
I have taken part in agricultural debates a little longer than has the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards). As I understood it, on 31st October Conservative Members were saying that there should be a price system. They were asking for the kind of price system which has been brought back from Brussels following the recent meeting of the Council of Ministers.
Surely the complaint was that uncertainty had arisen due to the action of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's right hon. Friend in March. He had to bring back something. He should never have taken it away. That is the essence of the matter.
I do not know how far we need to review past history. The right hon. Gentleman is the man who writes pompous letters to The Times suggesting that agriculture be taken out of politics. We must be reminded that that can hardly be reconciled with the speech that he made this afternoon. Perhaps he will remind himself which Government were responsible for doing away with guaranteed prices. The right hon. Gentleman knows, because it was done in March 1973 by a Government of which he was a distinguished member.
That is when the decision was made which cut across the whole of the tradition since the war—the tradition of support for the agriculture industry. The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is so. Of course, he does not like to be reminded of these matters, but I have stated the truth. That is what the industry recognises. That is why Sir Henry Plumb was able to welcome gladly what had been achieved by my right hon. Friend in Brussels.
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that he has it in his power tonight to restore, or go a long way towards restoring, the confidence which has been only partially renewed by the Ministry of Agriculture? The right hon. and learned Gentleman can do so if he can carry conviction that he and those who think like him will support the Minister of Agriculture in ensuring that on 1st February this country goes right along to the full Common Market beef régime, with no mucking about?
British farmers have once again tasted guaranteed prices, and I know what they will want on 1st February. It is that we shall fight for.
One wonders why the Conservative Opposition have become so steamed up and are trooping into the Lobby against my right hon. Friend's successful mission. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend got the farmers everything they wanted. He got them guaranteed prices and partial intervention. What else do the Conservatives want? [Interruption.] He has succeeded in gaining everything in his mandate.
Having taken the action which hon. Members demanded on an assured price floor for beef producers, we hoped that the debate would provide views and proposals for consideration of the longer-term policy for British agriculture, which is of vital national importance. The effects of the rise in energy prices and in the prices of many basic materials are so important that a period of re-thinking our priorities may well be necessary. We shall consider the proposals which have been made in the debate for the longer-term improvement of our food production and we are discussing with the farmers' unions and others concerned the longer-term position.
We hope, however, that, as far as possible, this longer-term consideration of farm policy will not be, in Lord Rothschild's words of a few weeks ago, a political football. This is why I called the speech of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire such a piece of humbug.
A host of points have been put by hon. Members. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire spoke of the cut in agricultural research expenditure as being of great concern. I agree. However, his complaint was somewhat misconceived. The cut is in the expenditure for 1974–75, and it was made by the Government of which he was a member last December.
Really we have had so much humbug from the right hon. Gentleman that I wonder he has the face to suggest that. The estimates for next year have not been announced.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) and the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) raised the question of an advance payment of the hill and uplands cow subsidy and the method of payment.
There still seems to be a misunderstanding about this. We have brought forward the qualifying dates for payment. I shall first deal with the effect of this upon the beef cow subsidy. The 1974 payment is to be paid following, and on the basis of, the existing qualifying date—that is, in December in England and Wales. The 1975 payment will be made immediately thereafter, following the new qualifying date of January. There will therefore be—this may come as a surprise to some—two payments this winter, and the qualifying date will remain as 1st January in 1976. Therefore there will be a double payment, one in December and one in January. The payments will be £11 each. That removes any fears and anxieties about the reports which the hon. and learned Member may read in obscure newspapers.
Turning now to the hill cow subsidy, the 1974 payment will be made following the existing qualifying date, which is June in England and Wales. The 1975 payment will be made immediately following the new qualifying date of January. There will, therefore, be two payments, during this autumn and the winter. The qualifying date will remain as 1st January in 1976. That explains the substantial injection of money where it is needed as a result of bringing forward these dates. This will be very much welcomed by the industry. I know that those in the hills will welcome it very much.
I come now to the point about speedy payments. We shall do our utmost to pay the subsidy as soon as possible after the appropriate dates. In September I asked the chairmen of the regional panels in Wales to do their utmost to help us ensure that payments are made speedily. We are deeply conscious of the need for rapid payment.
The question of fodder has dominated a great part of the debate today and on the previous occasion. There has been a serious problem in the Principality, part of which I have the honour to represent. The problem exists throughout the country. I believe it is much worse in Wales than in many parts of England.
It would seem that cereal yields have been encouraging and that this need can be met. That is a great help to the industry. The real problem concerns hay and roughage generally. During the course of his speech today my right hon. Friend tried to indicate some of the possibilities. The picture is now fairly well known. There are pockets where there is anxiety, but there are other areas where the situation is much better. We are in touch with the farming unions. When my right hon. Friend is able to take practical measures he will announce them as speedily as he can. There are difficulties about what can be done when there is a national shortage of fodder. We have to explore every possibility.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery raised the question of the 60-day domiciliary period. We said that we would consider this problem and we have given it great consideration. But when there is already a shortage of fodder it would be odd to impose a domiciliary period which meant that cattle would come into this country and would stay here and be fed and use fodder which was in short supply. We have considered what could be done on this score, but for many reasons—such as that it is a traditional trade and the common agricultural policy—it is not possible to make any change.
The industry wants to know what will happen after 1st February. We have ensured that something was done immediately and rapidly. What we have done has been welcomed by the industry. The industry wants to know what is to happen now. If the policy of permanent intervention were working well, it would be odd to find so many countries in Europe actively working to change the common agricultural policy. As the Community's new beef régime is about to be discussed, it would be unrealistic to expect that we could have introduced a permanent system at the Council of Ministers last week.
We now have an arrangement which provides an increasing assured return to the end of January, but beef producers have the assurance that we intend that the arrangements from February next should continue to give a measure of support to the beef industry equivalent to that which we have introduced. There will no doubt be hard negotiations ahead, but we have made clear what we intend for the longer term and have backed our intentions in the immediate future with cash through the variable premium. There will be a great drive in the Community to ensure that there is a better system for beef as a whole and we shall do our utmost to ensure that the future of the British beef produced is safeguarded.
The problem of beet prices was raised by a number of Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for his successful negotiations on sugar. I was asked what would be the effect of what has been achieved on the beet producers. Would it be enough to ensure that they would take advantage of the new quotas? The beet farmer is to receive the full EEC price from 1st January 1975. This price is above £10 per ton compared with £8·63 at present. This is a substantial increase.
In addition, the beet farmer will receive whatever increase in price for the 1975–76 crop is agreed at the Council meetings in December and January. The full 1975–76 price will be paid as a gurantee on all sugar produced within the maximum quota next year. This guarantee therefore applies to up to 1·5 million tons of sugar produced in the United Kingdom. This must be a strong incentive to increase production and must be recognised as such by the industry.
The agreement reached with us on the duration and price for the import of sugar, reinforced by the declaration made by the EEC that the imports will be made in accordance with traditional patterns of trade, gives a firm assurance to cane refiners of their viability in the future.
The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd), in his most able maiden speech, referred to the transport allowance on sugar beet between farm and factory. This factor will be examined in the context of agreed prices for sugar and sugar beet in the Community farm price review. We attach great importance to giving beet producers every incentive to take up the opportunity which the enlarged acreage provides. I hope that will reassure the hon. Gentleman's constituents.
The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire referred to the glasshouse subsidy. Our subsidy has been paid for a longer period than have the similar subsidies in the Netherlands and other Continental countries. I was interested to hear the view of the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), that the Commission would be likely to favour the extension of our subsidy, and I shall be interested to hear the view of the Commission on what the right hon. Gentleman said. The guidelines so far relate to the equivalent of one year's fuel usage in the period ending on 30th June 1975. I understand that various courses of action are being considered by the Commission, but no proposals have yet been put to member States.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) mentioned the export of eggs to France. It is true that the French do not admit eggs from the United Kingdom. That is because the EEC rules do not permit the use of certain additives in feeding stuffs which are used by the United Kingdom products. We are seeking the Community's agreement to changes in the rules, but in the meantime we should have difficulty in challenging the French. My hon. Friend suggested that French producers were also using these additives. I should be surprised if that were so, but if my hon. Friend can
I think that the House will recognise that my right hon. Friend carried out very successful missions in Brussels. He achieved success throughout the agricultural industry. He achieved an increase in the calf subsidy of £35 million—
My right hon. Friend succeeded in grants for glasshouse growers, the July beef premium, the 8p award to milk producers and the change in the rates for cereal imports. In all these measures we have succeeded, and we shall continue to work for British agriculture as a whole.
|Division No. 14.1||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Dodsworth, Geoffrey|
|Altken, Jonathan||Bryan, Sir Paul||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Alison, Michael||Buchanan-Smith, Alick||du Cann, Rt Hon Edward|
|Amery, Rt Hn Julian||Buck, Antony||Durant, Tony|
|Arnold, T.||Budgen, Nick||Eden, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Atkins, Rt Hn H. (Spelthorne)||Bulmer, Esmond||Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)|
|Awdry, Daniel||Burden, F. A.||Elliott, Sir William|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Carlisle, Mark||Emery, Peter|
|Banks, Robert||Carr, Rt Hon Robert||Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)|
|Beith, A. J.||Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)|
|Bell, Ronald||Channon, Paul||Eyre, Reginald|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Clark, Alan (Plymouth, S)||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Clark, William (Croydon S)||Fairgrieve, Russell|
|Benyon, W. R.||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Farr, John|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Cockcroft, John||Fell, Anthony|
|Biffen, John||Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Finsberg, Geoffrey|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Cope, John||Fisher, Sir Nigel|
|Blaker, Peter||Cormack, Patrick||Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)|
|Body, Richard||Corrie, John||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Costain, A. P.||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Bowden, Andrew (Brighton)||Crawford, Douglas||Fowler, Norman (Sutton C)|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Critchley, Julian||Fox, Marcus|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Crouch, David||Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)|
|Brittan, Leon||Crowder, F. P.||Freud, Clement|
|Brotherton, Michael||Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Fry, Peter|
|Galbralth, Hon T. G. D.||Le Marchant, Spencer||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Lloyd, Ian (Havant)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Loveridge, John||Rossi Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)||Luce, Richard||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Gllmour, Sir John (East Fife)||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||MacCormick, lain||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Godber, Rt Hon Joseph||McCrindle, Robert||Scott, Nicholas|
|Goodhart, Philip||Macfarlane, Nell||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Goodhew, Victor||MacGregor, John||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Goodlad, A.||Macmillan Rt Hn M. (Farnham)||Shelton, William (Lambeth, St)|
|Gow, I. (Eastbourne)||McNair-Wiison, P. (New Forest)||Shepherd, Colin|
|Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Madel, David||Shersby, Michael|
|Gray, Hamish||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Silvester, Fred|
|Griffiths, Eldon||Mates, Michael||Sims, Roger|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Mather, Carol||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Grist, Ian||Maude, Angus||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Grylls, Michael||Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Hall, Sir John||Mawby, Ray||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Speed, Keith|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Mayhew, Patrick||Spence, John|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Spicer, James (W Dorset)|
|Hannam, John||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Harrison, Sir Harwood (Eye)||Mills, Peter||Sproat, lain|
|Harvie Anderson, Rt Hn Miss||Miscampbell, Norman||Stainton Keith|
|Hastings, Stephen||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Havers, Sir Michael||Moate, Roger||Stanley, John|
|Hawkins, Paul||Monro, Hector||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Montgomery, Fergus||Steen, Anthony (Liverpool)|
|Heath, Rt Hon Edward||Moore, John (Croydon C)||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Henderson, Douglas||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Heseltine, Michael||Morgan, Geraint||Stokes, John|
|Hicks, Robert||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral||Tapsell, Peter|
|Higgins, Terence L.||Morris, Michael (Northants)||Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)|
|Holland, Philip||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Taylor, Teddy (Glasgow, C)|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Morrison, Peter (Chester)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Hordern, Peter||Mudd, David||Temple-Morris, P.|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Neave, Airey||Thatcher, Rt Hon M.|
|Howell, David (Guildford)||Nelson, Anthony||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Neubert, Michael||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Barnet)|
|Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Newton, Tony||Thompson, George|
|Hunt, John||Nott, John||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (Devon)|
|Hurd, Douglas||Onslow, Cranley||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally||Trotter, Neville|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Page, John (Harrow West)||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Pardoe, John||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|James, David||Parkinson, Cecil||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick (Redbr)||Pattie, Geoffrey||Viggers, P. J.|
|Jessel, Toby||Penhaligon, David||Wainwright, Richard (Coine V)|
|Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Percival, Ian||Wakeham, John|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Peyton, Rt Hon John||Walker Rt Hon P. (Worcester)|
|Jones. Arthur (Daventry)||Pink, R. Bonner||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Wall, Patrick|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Prior, Rt Hon James||Walters, Dennis|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Pym, Rt Hon Francis||Warren, Kenneth|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Raison, Timothy||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Kilfedder, James||Rathbone, Tim||Wells, John|
|Kimball, Marcus||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Welsh, Andrew|
|King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Wiggin, Jerry (Weston-s-Mare)|
|Kirk, Peter||Reid, George||Wigley, Dafydd (Caernarvon)|
|Kitson, Sir Timothy||Renton, Rt Hn Sir D. (Hunts)||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Knight, Mrs Jill||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Knox, David||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Lamont, Norman||Ridley, Hon Nicholas||Young, Sir George (Ealing)|
|Lane David||Ridsdale, Julian||Younger, Hon George|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Latham, Michael (Melton)||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)||Mr. Adam Butler and|
|Lawson, Nigel||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Mr. John Stradling Thomas.|
|Abse, Leo||Bates, Alf||Bradley, Tom|
|Allaun, Frank||Bean, Robert E.||Bray, Dr Jeremy|
|Anderson, Donald||Benn, Rt Hn Anthony Wedgwood||Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Pr)|
|Archer, Peter||Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Bidwell, Sydney||Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)|
|Ashley, Jack||Bishop, Edward||Buchan, Norman|
|Ashton, Joe||Blenkinsop, Arthur||Buchanan, Richard|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Boardman, H.||Butler, Mrs Joyce (Haringey)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Booth, Albert||Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)|
|Bagler, Gordon A. T.||Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Campbell, Ian|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Canavan, Dennis|
|Barnett, Joel (Heywood)||Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Cant, R. B|
|Carmichael, Neil||Hooley, Frank||Orme, Rt Hn Stanley|
|Carter, Ray||Horam, John||Ovenden, John|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Owen, Or David|
|Cartwright, John||Hoyle, Douglas (Nelson)||Padley, Walter|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Huckfield, Leslie||Palmer, Arthur|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Park, George|
|Cohen, Stanley||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Parker, John|
|Coleman, Donald||Hunter, Adam||Parry, Robert|
|Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (L'pool)||Peart, Rt Hon Fred|
|Concannon, J. D.||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Pendry, Tom|
|Conlan, Bernard||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Perry, Ernest|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Phipps, Dr Colin|
|Corbett, Robin||Janner, Greville||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Cox, Thomas (Wands, Toot)||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Prescott, John|
|Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, M)||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Jenkins, Hugh (Wandsworth)||Radice, Giles|
|Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (B'ham, St)||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)|
|Cryer, Bob||John, Brynmor||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Johnson, James (Kingston W)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Johnson, (Derby S) Walter||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Dalyell, Tarn||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Davidson, Arthur||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Rodgers, William (Teesside)|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Judd, Frank||Rooker, J. W.|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Kaufman, Gerald||Roper, John|
|Davis, S. Clinton (Hackney C)||Kelley, Richard||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilm'nock)|
|Deakins, Eric||Kerr, Russell||Rowlands, Ted|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Ryman, John|
|de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Kinnock, Neil||Sandelson, Neville|
|Delargy, Hugh||Lambie, David||Sedgemore, B.|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Lamborn, Harry||Selby, Harry|
|Dempsey, James||Lamond, James||Shaw Arnold (Redbridge, Ilf)|
|Dolg, Peter||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)|
|Dormand, Jack||Leadbitter, Ted||shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Lee, John||Short, Rt Hon Edward (Newcastle C)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)|
|Dunn, James A.||Lever, Rt Hn Harold||Silkin, Rt Hn S. C. (Southwk)|
|Dunnett, Jack||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Sllkin, Rt Hn John (Lewish)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth||Lipton, Marcus||Sillars, James|
|Eadle, Alex||Litterick, Tom||Silverman, Julius|
|Edelman, Maurice||Lomas, Kenneth||Skinner, Dennis|
|Edge, Geoffrey||Loyden, Eddie||Small, William|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Luard, Evan||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Snape, Peter|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Lyons, Edward (Sradford W)||Spearing, Nigel|
|English, Michael||Mabon, Dr J. Dickson||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Ennals, David||McCartney, Hugh||Stallard, A. W.|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||McElhone, Frank||Stewart, Rt Hn Michael (H'smith, F)|
|Evans, loan L. (Aberdare)||MacFarquhar, R.||Stoddart, David|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Mackenzie, Gregor||Stott, Roger|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Mackintosh, John P.||Strang, Gavin|
|Faulds, Andrew||Maclennan, Robert||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C.)||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirle|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||McNamara, Kevin||Swain, Thomas|
|Fitt, Gerard (Belfast)||Madden, Max||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Flannery, Martin||Magee, Bryan||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Mahon, Simon||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Mallalleu, J. P. W.||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Marks, Ken||Thome, Stan (Preston)|
|Ford, Ben T.||Marquand, David||Tlerney, Sydney|
|Forrester, John||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Tinn, James|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester)||Tomlinson, John|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N)||Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Tuck, Raphael|
|Freeson, Reginald||Maynard, Miss Joan||Urwin, T. W.|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Meacher, Michael||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|George, Bruce||Mendelson, John||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Mikardo, Ian||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Ginsburg, David||Millan, Bruce||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Golding, John||Miller, Mrs Millie (Redbridge)||Ward, Michael|
|Gould, Bryan||Molloy, William||Watkins, David|
|Gourlay, Harry||Moonman, Eric||Watkinson, John|
|Graham, Ted||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Weelch, Ken|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Weltzman, David|
|Grocott, Bruce||Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Moyle, Roland||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Hamling, William||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||White, James (Glasgow, P)|
|Hardy, Peter||Murray, Ronald King||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Harper, Joseph||Newens, Stanley||Whitlock, William|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Noble, Mike||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Oakes, Gordon||Williams, Alan (Swansea)|
|Hatton, Frank||Ogden, Eric||Williams, Alan, Lee (Haver'g)|
|Hayman, Mrs Helene||O'Halloran, Michael||Williams, Rt Hn Shirley (Hertford)|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||O'Malley, Brian||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Orbach, Maurice||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)||Woodall, Alec||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Wilson, William (Coventry SE)||Woof, Robert||Mr. James Hamilton and|
|Wise, Mrs Audrey||Wrigglesworth, Ian||Mr. Laurie Pavitt.|
|Young, David (Bolton E)|