Orders of the Day — Agriculture

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th November 1974.

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Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington 12:00 am, 25th November 1974

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.