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Volume 930: debated on Thursday 21 April 1977

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on the current trading position of pig producers.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has made in achieving a change in the method by which pigmeat monetary compensation amounts are calculated.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he is taking to ensure that pigmeat production is maintained at a satisfactory level.

The average market price for pigs has improved since the end of March but I am well aware that producers continue to face difficulties. I shall continue to press for a reduction in the monetary compensatory amounts paid on our imports of pigmeat, which would improve the competitive position of our producers and processors. I have introduced a temporary subsidy to help producers in the shorter term and have maintained it in the face of considerable pressure. The weekly rate of sow slaughtering is now declining.

Since the January measures have manifestly not worked, will the Minister now try seriously to obtain a European solution to the problem? Will this not require considerably more conciliation and diplomacy than he has displayed in Europe in recent weeks?

If I were able to employ all the charm and all the endearments of which the hon. Gentleman is capable, it still would not alter the economic facts that certain countries and certain foreign pig producers would feel that they were economically hurt. This has been the difficulty all along. The point about the subsidy was to try to prevent as much as I could of slaughtering in the sow herd. That is why the figures are rather revealing. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that at the peak nearly 10,000 sows per week were being slaughtered. The latest weekly figures, published today, show sow slaughterings at 7,000.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is an appreciation of the temporary measure that he took but that, at some time or other, the 50p a score will have to be replaced by some other system? Is he aware that the view of pig producers is that the industry is in a very parlous state? Will he do everything he possibly can to make certain that the pig population does not fall any more than it has already fallen?

I readily give the hon. Gentleman that assurance and I am grateful to him for what he said about the temporary subsidy. As he knows, I am being taken to court for it, and this inevitably means that I cannot be seen at the moment to be increasing the subsidy or thinking of increasing it. I think that in future there will be a change in the monetary compensatory amounts. As I have said, there are many ways in which we can achieve that. I have been working and will continue to work to get that result.

Does the Minister realise that part of the difficulty is that he missed the boat last October, when, by making a modest devaluation of the green pound, he could have got a reorganisation of the monetary compensatory amounts, which would have avoided most of this difficulty? Will he stop using the bogus argument about fewer sows being slaughtered? Since the Government have presided over a decline in the pig breeding herd of 15 per cent., it is hardly surprising that there are fewer pigs left to be slaughtered.

To adopt the words of the Duke of Wellington to the man who addressed him as Mr. Smith, if the hon. Gentleman believes that, he will believe anything. The truth of the matter is that in October last the Commission, in whose power it was, made a reduction in the pigmeat monetary compensatory amounts as the result only of my intervention. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not know his history. He does not know anything about it. It made an 8 per cent. cut, and there was no question at the time—and there has been no question since—that the Danes, the Germans or the Dutch would be willing to make a change in exchange for a green pound devaluation. If the hon. Gentleman thinks about the issue for a moment, he will realise that a green pound devaluation would cut their competitive position.

Would not the Minister agree that the majority of pig producers are in favour of changing the monetary compensatory amounts and not devaluing the green pound?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and he knows what he is talking about. A green pound devaluation means an increase in cereal costs. The matter is as simple as that.