"The Way Forward"

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th December 1984.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry , Banbury 12:00 am, 6th December 1984

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the Government's response to the National Farmers Union's policy paper, "The Way Forward."

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland and Lonsdale

This is in general a helpful statement of the National Farmers Union's views on the directions which future agricultural policy should take. I look forward to reading the more detailed paper which the NFU is now producing.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry , Banbury

Does not that policy paper show that the NFU is anxious to contribute to a policy of responsible use of resources on the land, but that it is confused about what the rest of society wants from it? As agriculture has been successful for many years and has produced ever more food, the NFU now regards the problem of surpluses as one on which society says that it does not want so much food. In addition to a more detailed paper from the NFU, would there not be some merit in the Government producing a White Paper on what we want farmers to produce and future agricultural policy?

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland and Lonsdale

The Government have worked extremely hard on these lines for several months. As part of our thoughts on these matters we are interested to have the views of the NFU and other similar bodies. We must get the general guidelines that we think it right to give clear in our minds before thinking about what method might be used to put out those views.

Photo of Mr Terry Davis Mr Terry Davis , Birmingham, Hodge Hill

Is the Minister not somewhat embarrassed by the fact that the NFU is now proving to be more radical in terms of agricultural policy than the Government? Is he aware that the report calls for a better relationship and a different approach to agriculture so that environmental objectives can be properly taken into account? Does the right hon. Gentleman have any firm objectives to meet in response to the NFU's paper?

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland and Lonsdale

I welcome the NFU's views on conservation matters. Farmers and others have welcomed initiatives that my Ministry has taken. Perhaps I could draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to our initiative in Brussels to introduce conservation matters to the new structures directive, which we shall discuss again in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday.

Photo of Mr Eric Cockeram Mr Eric Cockeram , Ludlow

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, now that the NFU accepts that there is a need to restrain the production of agricultural surpluses, that represents a unique opportunity for the partnership between the Government and agriculture to plan the future? Will my right hon. Friend take an initiative in that respect?

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland and Lonsdale

We are all glad that the NFU has been sufficiently responsible to recognise that it is not possible to continue having an agricultural policy which is based on increasing production almost at any price. We must consider together how to cope with surpluses. The problems of structural surpluses generally arise from support price levels. I hope that we can get an agreement that action on prices is the right response to the problem.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Will the Minister tell the NFU that the Think Tank report of November 1983 forecast that subsidies for British farming in 1984–85 would be £1,000 million and that that, added to CAP assistance, would be equivalent to a subsidy of £20,000 per farmer? As farmers do not pay rates, will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with the Prime Minister after he has met the NFU and ask how the Government can manage to subsidise farmers to that extent when somehow or other they cannot manage to look after pits and miners? We are not after £20,000 per miner—we will settle for less than that.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland and Lonsdale

I do not want to make any remarks about the current miners' dispute. If every group in Britain had made the contribution to the British economy that agriculture has made since the war, Britain would be a great deal better off.