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Pig Subsidy (European Court Ruling)

Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 24 May 1977

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will use the opportunity afforded by the visit to this country today of the Agriculture Ministers of the EEC and Commissioner Gundelach to consult them on measures necessary to save the United Kingdom pig industry from the total disintegration with which it is now threatened.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. E. S. Bishop)

Perhaps I should explain that, in the absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is at this moment engaged in the two-day visit of Community Agriculture Ministers to the United Kingdom, to which reference has been made, I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend will certainly take the opportunity of the presence in this country of Commissioner Gundelach and ministerial colleagues from the other member States to press on him the need for urgent action to help our pigmeat industry, taking account of the European Court's decision of last Saturday in respect of the temporary pigmeat subsidy. Indeed, he has already had very full discussions about the implications of that decision and the future with Mr. Gundelach.

My right hon. Friend proposes to make a statement about the future of the subsidy and other relevant matters before the House goes into recess.

I welcome the last part of the Minister's statement. I understand the reason for his right hon. Friend's absence.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a situation of great gravity has been reached and that matters cannot be allowed to drift? Will he suggest to his right hon. Friend that he should ask the Commission to take action similar to that which was taken on eggs in 1975 under Article 135 of the Treaty of Accession and to reduce substantially the amount of the mcas for a period of, say, three months?

My right hon. Friend has had discussions on the situation with Mr. Gundelach. It would not be helpful to anticipate what discussions will take place, except that the comments of hon. Members will be borne in mind, as will undoubtedly the point made by the right hon. Gentleman, in the next two days.

With respect, that is not good enough. Will not the Minister of State at least agree to pass on this suggestion to his right hon. Friend with the request that he passes it on in turn to the Commissioner, who is in this country?

It would help the House if I were to say that all suggestions made here today will be conveyed to my right hon. Friend. I am not saying, however, that some of the ideas will not have been in his mind already.

Order. The House will have heard the Minister say that there will be a full statement before the end of this week. Therefore, I propose merely to take two questions from either side, because this matter will be pursued later in the week.

The Minister's statement is not good enough. Every day's delay is another nail in the coffin of the pig industry. The Government must do something. Will the Minister bear in mind that the Government have got the pig industry into this mess? He must take some action now and save the industry before it is too late.

The House will be aware that the Minister has not been found lacking. After all, we secured an 8 per cent. change in the mcas at the end of last year. We have made a change in the green pound, which helps. We have given a subsidy, which has landed the Minister before the European Court. This is not a matter that we take lightly. There is every indication that the Government have done their utmost, even to the point of the court decision, to help the industry. It is fortuitous that we shall have the opportunity today and tomorrow to impress upon other Ministers from the Community the seriousness of the position of our own industry.

Does the Minister agree that it is unprecedented for the court to back the Commission in an interim judgment of this kind? If that is so, may I ask who is running the Community—the Council of Ministers or the Commission? Secondly, will my hon. Friend keep in mind that any resistance offered to this judicial attempt to prevent us from handling our own industry in our own way and any other attempts by his right hon. Friend and himself will be backed by the people of this country and the farming community?

I assure my hon. Friend that note will be taken of this point. Anyone who knows the track record of my right hon. Friend to date in these matters will know that he will lose no opportunity to ensure that the pig industry is safeguarded as far as we are able.

Will the Minister accept that my own constituents, who were given a promise through me by his right hon. Friend that he would level with them about any further discussions about pig farmers, will be extremely disappointed by his statement? Will he say whether there are other factions in the British industry that he is prepared to sell out for the sake of EEC bureaucracy?

I have two observations to make. One is that the Minister will be making a statement to the House before we go into recess, which is only a matter of days, when he will be able to report on any progress made with the Ministers here this week. Secondly, I ask the hon. Gentleman and the House to note that the Ministers have been invited to go to a pig farm tomorrow.

Is not my hon. Friend aware that the increasingly political decisions being taken by the European Court of Justice, particularly on agriculture, should be a simple lesson to us that the agricultural directives of the EEC should no longer be automatically applied in this country until they have been decided by the House of Commons, which, unlike some Opposition Members, has the interests of the British consumer and the British pig farmer in mind?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend and those with whom he is in contact in the Community will take due note of all these points, including those made by my hon. Friend.

I have noted those hon. Members who have been standing up. I shall remember them tomorrow or the day after when the statement is made.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The statement might be made on Friday when the tradition is that a number of us are not present as it is the last day before the recess, although I am perfectly prepared to be around if necessary. May we have an assurance from the Minister that the statement will be made on Wednesday or Thursday?

I cannot give such an assurance as it is a matter for my right hon. Friends who are concerned with the business of the House. I know that my right hon. Friend will be anxious to make the fullest possible statement to the House. I shall certainly convey the hon. Gentleman's comments to him.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you whether my punishment will be over when the statement is made for daring to question the fact that I was refused a Private Notice Question?

Order. The hon. Gentleman does himself and me an injustice. He should not think that that was in my mind at all. If it was, I would never have confessed it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In no way do I seek to challenge your judgment, but it is necessary for those on the Back Benches to understand something of your reasoning. I understand from the exchange that we have just had that, although the form of the Private Notice Question accepted from the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) was different in terms from that submitted by my hon. Friend, nevertheless it was about the pig industry.

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying far beyond the points of order to try to argue the basis on which I accept Private Notice Questions. The House itself has given Mr. Speaker this responsibility and it is not open to question and answer in this way.

With respect, Mr. Speaker, all I am seeking is guidance for when I am moved to put down a Private Notice Question on when I may expect to feel resentful and when I may not. In other words, what I am doing is seeking information so that hon. Members may know how to avoid falling into the trap of my hon. Friend and being reproved by him for not listening to the wisdom of the Chair. I do not wish to be in that position, but I find it difficult not to have sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) in this instance.

Later—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. About a quarter of an hour ago you were good enough to give the House your guidance about the scope for debate when civil proceedings—indeed, also criminal proceedings—are under way in our courts. You have given us an indication of the point at which matters become sub judice. May we be clear that your ruling does not extend to the deliberations, or to the proceedings leading up to deliberations, in the courts of the Community? You will appreciate that many of us may wish to discuss at considerable length the effect of the Community courts ruling on both pigmeat and Irish agriculture. I expect other matters will similarly arise. Would you be good enough to tell us what the position is?

Certainly. I have just found out. It is not a domestic court and, therefore, our rule does not apply.