To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what special financial assistance the Government will allocate to the agricultural industry in Northern Ireland, in the light of the general agreement on tariffs and trade negotiations and the Council of Ministers' proposed reductions in farm subsidies.
Does the Secretary of State agree that farmers in Northern Ireland are now facing the worst potential financial crisis since the agricultural depression that occurred between the two world wars? In that context, I found his answer disappointing. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in condemning the decision to withdraw grants from co-operatives in Northern Ireland which market beef, sheep, cereals and potatoes because Northern Ireland is an objective 1 area in the EEC and we shall remain in competition with other objective 1 areas which will receive those grants? Will the Secretary of State condemn that decision?
I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about farming in Northern Ireland because of the circumstances confronting its farmers in the current year. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's proposition to the attention of my noble Friend Lord Skelmersdale, who is responsible for agriculture in the Province, and will discuss it with him.
Is it my right hon. Friend's position, not only for Northern Ireland but for the whole of the United Kingdom, that the GATT agreement can be accepted by the British Government as part of the EEC position only if it represents a satisfactory deal for our farming industry and, incidentally, for the textile industry, which is also important in Northern Ireland?
I wholly agree with my hon. Friend, not only about our attitude towards the negotiations conducted within the Community framework, but about the extreme importance of the Uruguay round.
Did not the Commissioner, Mr. MacSharry, say when the 30 per cent. cut in the subsidy was announced that no farmer would be worse off? How on earth can the Commission and Her Majesty's Government live up to that commitment? The people of Northern Ireland, and especially those in the farming community, are most anxious to hear what extra money is to be made available.
I am conscious that statements were made in the aftermath of the Agriculture Council, which agreed on the Community's negotiating position in the GATT round. We must wait until that GATT round is concluded before deciding precisely what we can do, especially in relation to farmers.
In view of the Secretary of State's answer to the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and his affirmation that he understands the seriousness of the position of farmers in Northern Ireland, will he outline the proposals that he has suggested to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should be put before the Council of Ministers so that this financial difficulty can be alleviated?
No proposals have yet been made about how farmers might be compensated. In the negotiations, the United Kingdom argued—and it was agreed—that detailed decisions would be premature. The possibilities include production neutral income aid to the most vulnerable producers and measures with environmental or conservation objectives. I very much enjoyed the opportunity of meeting farmers from the glens of Antrim earlier this month when we discussed this matter.
May I assure you, Mr. Speaker, of my support in trying to keep some of these noisy people subdued? Their behaviour is quite disgraceful.
Will the Minister assure the House that textiles will not be used as a bargaining counter in respect of agriculture in the GATT negotiations, because not only would that damage Northern Ireland, where textiles still provide some jobs, but, as the Minister recognises, it would damage the textile and clothing industry of the United Kingdom which employs 500,000 people in all and is an important source of jobs in cities such as Bradford which I help to represent?
I am, of course, familiar with the importance of the textile industry to Northern Ireland, but overall responsibility for the GATT negotiations lies with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The matter is not specifically related to this question about Northern Ireland farmers.