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European Price Review

Volume 930: debated on Wednesday 27 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what discussions he has had this month with the National Farmers Union of Scotland concerning the European Price Review; and if he will make a statement.

I discussed this matter with the President and General Secretary of the National Farmers Union of Scotland on Thursday 21st April. I also met representatives of the National Farmers Union on 25th and 31st March.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the anger of farmers over the problems facing the pig industry? Does he understand that, unless action is taken immediately, the housewife will be short of supplies in the not too distant future? Why has the recently concluded price review in no way helped the pig industry, about which there is so much concern? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not hide behind the statement to be made later today in order to escape from his responsibility to pig producers in Scotland.

I do not know why the hon. Gentleman should have made that last statement. I discussed this matter with office-bearers of the Scottish NFU at the meeting last Thursday. They understand the difficulties under which we are operating. We introduced a special subsidy for pigmeat. The Commission claims that it is illegal and is threatening to take us to court. Negotiations are going on regarding the method of calculating the MCAs, a method which we believe at present to be unjust. We hope to make progress on that matter. I think that the industry, although naturally apprehensive about the present situation, understands that the Government are making every effort to improve it.

As the Secretary of State said, there is anxiety in the industry about the fall in production. Can he add to what has been said about the review regarding the likely effect on agriculture in the North of Scotland? Does he think that production will rise?

I do not think that I should anticipate the statement that is to be made later this afternoon. Scottish farming as a whole did not have a bad year last year. There were difficulties, but the difficulties in Scotland were a good deal less severe, due to the weather and other reasons, than the difficulties south of the border.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the price review will bring no consolation to Scottish pig producers and processors, who are wondering whether the Government really wish a viable industry to continue? Does he accept that there is a need to change the basis of calculating the MCAs? If so, what does he wish to put in its place?

I have already said that the present method of calculating the MCAs is unfair, and we have been attempting to change it. We have made certain changes, but not enough to satisfy our position. We are still negotiating on that matter.

I think that the Scottish NFU accepts that it would have been foolish not to reach a conclusion on the overall price review on Monday because of the diffi- culties we had over pigmeat. The NFU wanted us more than anything else to reach a conclusion. At least from that point of view it has welcomed what we have done. It is an extremely good solution—in fact, the best settlement we have ever had—from the point of view of consumers in Scotland, as elsewhere.

It may be that farmers in Scotland understand the difficulties, but they certainly do not accept them. What they do not understand and seek to end is the constant uncertainty from year to year, which allows no stability on which to plan for the future. When contemplating capital investment—for example, in dairy herds and beef cattle—farmers need long-term security to plan properly.

Will the Secretary of State tell me of any advantages that we have had from joining the EEC?

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will in no sense forget the dire plight into which the Scottish pigmeat industry will be put unless it has some definite help in the near future? Will he take special steps to explain to consumers that, if the Scottish pigmeat industry should fall into that dire catastrophic situation, they will suffer from higher prices and shortages?

I recognise the difficulties in the pigmeat section of the industry, but that is not the whole of farming in Scotland. Certain sections had a particularly good year last year. That was acknowledged freely and openly when I addressed the annual general meeting of the Scottish NFU the other day.