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Pig Industry

Volume 934: debated on Thursday 30 June 1977

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2.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a further statement about the future of the pig industry.

7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the actions of the EEC Commission with regard to aid for the United Kingdom pig industry.

17.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals he has to assist the United Kingdom pig industry.

19.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what effect the EEC Commission's actions under Article 135 of the Treaty of Accession will have on the pig industry; and whether he will make a statement.

I have secured a succession of Community measures to help our pig industry. The combined effect of these measures is to reduce significantly the level of payment on our pigmeat imports. For bacon imports payments are £86 per metric ton lower than they would otherwise have been. These measures, along with the recent improvement in the scheme of aids to private storage and increases in restitutions on Community exports to third countries, should help our pigmeat processing industry and strengthen our pig market. All this is helpful as far as it goes, but I have made it clear that it is not enough. What is needed is a fairer method of calculating monetary compensatory amounts in this sector, and I am continuing to press for this.

Does the Minister realise that many pig producers still do not appreciate that he has his hand fettered in the matter of monetary compensatory amounts? Will he make it clear that it does not rest only with him whether the MCAs are to be realigned?

Secondly, will he explain to pig producers that as long as there is a surplus of pigs in the Community and we are locked inside the common agricultural policy and all that implies there cannot be much hope for the expansion of home production?

I do not think that there can be much hope for the expansion of home production on the basis on which the hon. Gentleman was speaking. The fact is that we have been caught partly in our own normal British pig cycle as well as in a European pig cycle.

On the question of MCAs, the real villain of the piece is the high cost of cereals. I think that all pig producers know that. We are trying to tackle that problem.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the real evil has been his refusal to look at the value of the green pound? His pandering for urban votes by depressing food prices has resulted in the pig industry's being sold down the river by the Government. Is he prepared to negoiate a change in the value of the green pound in exchange for a change in the calculation of the MCAs?

I do not think that the second helpful suggestion would have quite the effect that the hon. Gentleman thinks it would. It is not a question of a green pound devaluation one way or the other, even if we could confine it to the pig issue and forget every other issue involved. If we simply devalue the green pound on a reasonable basis—I am not talking about the whole 30 per cent., because no one would go for that, but about 10 per cent.—in pure arithmetic, the cereal costs would outweigh it, or there would be so little difference that it would not be worth while. That is not the answer. The answer is a recalculation of the MCAs.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition have themselves to blame for the situation in the pig industry and, indeed, in many other sectors of agriculture, in as much as they took us into the EEC and accepted a common agricultural policy which ties the hands of the British pig farmer and other farmers and denies my right hon. Friend and the Government the right to assist the pig industry and other industries? Will he therefore take steps to change completely and basically the common agricultural policy?

I have been taking some steps to change the common agricultural policy. However, I want to be fair to the Opposition. In fact, they are not altogether to blame for the pigmeat crisis. What is wrong is the basis of calculation of the MCAs. I think that on the whole they would probably agree with me about that. What I resent is that when I provide a national aid that results in £17 million going to British pig producers and am taken to court for it I do not get the whole-hearted support that I would like from the Opposition.

Is the Minister aware that we are somewhat surprised to hear him repeat today what he said before about the effect of the green pound devaluation on the pig industry? Has he seen the spirited rebuttals of those remarks by leaders of the pig producers, who say that devaluation of the green pound would dramatically help them? In view of this difference, will he consider having a joint meeting with the leaders of the pig producers and putting out a joint statement afterwards so that we may know whether they are right or he is?

They accepted my arithmetic. That is perfectly true. They said that in one of the statements I have seen. They draw somewhat different conclusions from it. What they cannot dispute with me is that there is a cereal balance in this. But I, in turn, ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on one question. If a devaluation of the green pound is the answer to the problems of British pig producers, why are the Danes and the Dutch so keen on our doing it?