HC Deb 24 January 1968 vol 757 cc392-6
9. Mr. Monro

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will publish the 1968 Price Review White Paper.

20. Mr. Stodart

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the earliest date on which the outcome of the February Price Review has been announced since the 1947 Act was passed.

33. Mr. Baker

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what administrative machinery is involved in the publication of the Annual Price Review White Paper; and if he will make a statement.

37. Mr. Hawkins

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will give an assurance that the date of publication of the Annual Price Review White Paper will be the earliest in the year since 1945.

38. Mr. Awdry

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the earliest date in the year since 1945 on which the Annual Price Review White Paper has been published.

39. Sit Frank Pearson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what special measures he has taken to bring forward the Annual Price Review White Paper at the earliest date.

41. Mr. Loveys

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has now completed the technical discussions in advance of the 1968 Price Review.

44. Mr. Jopling

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the earliest date on which he will be able to present the Annual Farm Price Review.

47. Mr. Eldon Griffiths

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will announce the results of his 1968 Price Review.

Mr. John Mackie

The farmers' representatives and my right hon. Friend consider it particularly important this year that full and accurate data should be available for the Review. Technical discussions on the data with the farmers' unions have already been completed and my right hon. Friend will be advancing subsequent stages of the Review aiming to publish the White Paper on 6th March. This will be four days earlier than the previous earliest dates of publication which were in 1955 and 1960. Comprehensive discussions with the farmers' representatives take place before the Government make their decisions. The arrangements for publication are the same as for other White Papers.

Mr. Monro

Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that if agriculture is to play its part this year in helping to solve our economic crisis, a full statement of the future of agriculture must be made immediately and not in some weeks' time?

Mr. Mackie

My right hon. Friend has already made several statements, as the hon. Gentleman knows, particularly on meat and cereals, which give farmers the assurance that they require. I noticed some jeers when I mentioned the dates of publication in 1955 and 1960. These were the two previous earliest dates. March 6th is at least 10 days earlier than usual.

Mr. Stodart

The hon. Gentleman seems pleased at beating the record by four days only. Is this not the most deplorable exhibition of complacency that we have seen for a long time? If there is an urgency for food production, let him get a stir on.

Mr. Manuel

What a shocker you are!

Mr. Mackie

I would almost agree with my hon. Friend. I was simply stating a fact. I was not being complacent. I made the point in answer to the long list of Questions, and I stated what we were doing. I said that the representatives of the various N.F.U.s considered it particularly important this year that full and accurate data should be available in the review. The hon. Gentleman knows that this cannot be done in a few weeks.

Mr. Baker

As the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend has been under pressure about this for a good many months, can he tell the House why the February Price Review cannot be produced in February this year?

Mr. Mackie

As I have just explained to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), we have to get all the figures properly worked out and agreed with the N.F.U. beforehand; the N.F.U. insists on this. I can appreciate the row which there would be from hon. Members opposite if we did not do this correctly.

Mr. Loveys

Although it is vitally necessary to have as early a Price Review as possible, should not this particular one include a longer-term policy statement concerning the part which agriculture could play to help to get the Government out of their difficulties and to give greater and much needed confidence to the industry?

Mr. Mackie

That is a different question altogether, but I would point out that we have given longer term assurances on beef, cereals and pigs than have ever been given before.

Mr. Jopling

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that this is no ordinary year? The Prime Minister made an announcement in his devaluation broadcast of special new incentives for the agriculture industry. Does not this show that the whole system of the Price Review negotiations, particularly the primary ones, is much too cumbersome and needs very urgent review so that in a case like this it can be brought forward much earlier than is being done this year?

Mr. Mackie

That is definitely a different question altogether.

Mr. Dan Jones

With due respect to politicians, can my hon. Friend tell us whether the farmers have requested that this Price Review should be published earlier than February? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Let the Minister answer.

Mr. Mackie


Mr. Godber

Again, I must press the hon. Gentleman further on this matter. What he has said is quite deplorable. Is he not aware that I asked for a clear statement from the Minister before Christmas? The statements which we had then gave no clarity and showed no drive at all. Is he not further aware that the Prime Minister talked about import saving, but without definite targets and definite incentives the agricultural community cannot provide the sinews which they undoubtedly could provide, given the necessary drive and incentive. Would the hon. Gentleman look at this matter again? This is a quite deplorable decision.

Mr. Mackie

When I referred to "farmers", as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the people with whom we deal in our discussions are the representatives of the N.F.U.s in the three countries concerned. There may be many farmers, at the instigation probably of some hon. Members opposite, shouting for something to be done, but the responsible body, the N.F.U., knows perfectly well that this cannot be rushed, and we are not going to rush it because of any political pressures.

Sir D. Renton

Is not the main trouble the fact that devaluation has undermined the minimum import prices at present running, and is it not essential that those prices should be reviewed so as to make the system of minimum import prices effective once more? Therefore, is there not an urgent need to get the Price Review over and done with?

Mr. Mackie

There are completely different negotiations on minimum import prices from the negotiations in connection with the Price Review.

Mr. Manuel

Would my hon. Friend agree that in the 1968 Annual Price Review the general tendency in the country for land-owning interests to increase tenant farmers' rents will be clearly illustrated?

Mr. Mackie

Increases in rents are one of the costs which are always taken into account in the Review.

Mr. Monro

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment.