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1965: Sweeping changes to British farming

The Labour Government has put forward a plan to improve production in farming and decrease Britain's reliance on imports of beef.

But the Agriculture Bill has provoked opposition from Conservative MPs.

Speaking in the House of Commons during a debate on the second reading of the bill, the Minister of Agriculture, Frederick Peart, said the proposals were designed to "bring lasting benefit to all who cared for and worked on the land or who were concerned with the great meat industry".

An independent statutory body - to be known as the Meat and Livestock Commission - would have sweeping powers from the breeding and slaughter of animals to marketing of meat to the consumer. The commission would initially be funded by a tax on every animal slaughtered.

The bill also aimed to:

While Mr Peart acknowledged the commission would have a great deal of power he had decided against support buying - whereby if market prices fall the government would buy up produce to keep prices buoyant.

He said the system would be expensive to the Treasury and would benefit neither the consumer nor the farmer.

'Odds and ends'

The other major thrust of the bill was the amalgamation of small farms to improve production by buying land from those who could not find a buyer.

Rural development boards would also co-ordinate development of agriculture and forestry in their regions.

But the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Joseph Godber, accused the government of rushing the bill through Parliament, as a collection of "odds and ends".

He also expressed doubt that it would increase production and efficiency and concerns about the extent of the new commission's powers.

He said the scheme to buy up large tracts of land for amalgamation would be wasteful and expensive.

In Context
In 1965 Britain was importing 290,000 tonnes of meat from overseas. Ten years later this figure had been reduced to 113,000 tonnes.

Factory farming in Britain began with the Agriculture Act of 1947 which granted subsidies to farmers to encourage greater output by introducing new technology, specialisation and improved breeding and management of animals.

Extra measures were introduced in the Agriculture Act of 1967 which saw the birth of the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC). It is funded by a levy on slaughtered and exported animals and works alongside the British meat and livestock industry to improve its market position.

Britain joined the EEC in 1973 - renamed the European Union in 1991 - and British farmers basked in subsidies and grants provided by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The system of support buying during the 1980s was heavily criticised for wasteful overproduction - such as the notorious butter, beef, and wine mountains during the 1980s - and for the financial burden placed on the EU as whole.

In the 1990s outbreaks of BSE and foot-and-mouth - as well as swine fever and TB in cattle - devastated the agriculture industry and British tourism and forced a change in attitude to intensive farming. The emphasis was now on welfare of animals, the land and the consumer as much as on welfare of farmers.

In December 2002 the government launched a Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food that set aside 500m to encourage "green", organic and sustainable farming.


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