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Pigmeat (Monetary Compensatory Amounts)

Volume 958: debated on Thursday 16 November 1978

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the current state of negotiations concerning the recalculation of pig-meat monetary compensatory amounts.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement about the future of the pigmeat industry.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has made in renegotiating the system of monetary compensatory amounts for pigmeat.

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

The United Kingdom breeding herd is now expanding, and this will be helpful to the pigmeat curing and processing industry, which, I recognise, continues to face competitive difficulties. My right hon. Friend is continuing to press for further cuts in monetary compensatory amounts payable on imports, and we are hopeful that the Commission will shortly present its promised review of the coefficients used to calculate mcas on processed pigmeat.

Is the Minister of State aware that he has presided over the partial destruction of our pigmeat industry, which is certainly not in accord with the objectives of "Food from Our Own Resources"? Can he now give a firm date for the calculation of the MCAs to be changed? Will he advise the Prime Minister that if we in this country produced much more food from our own resources—which we can do and which the farmers are prepared to do—we would not be paying such a hefty contribution to the EEC?

I think that the hon. Gentleman, to be fair, recognises that the calculations are now based on 78 per cent. of the basic prices, which compare with the 92 per cent. base used when the issue was first taken up. That represents a cut of about 15 per cent. As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend has been pressing consistently in Brussels, and we hope that some recommendations will come from the Commission before the end of the year.

Does the Minister accept that unless there is a recalculation of the pigmeat coefficient, or a reduction in the level of the MCAs, we are likely to witness the demise of the processing industry in the short term and pig farming in the long term?

Bacon and ham imports from the EEC total about 54 per cent., of which the Danes contribute 43 per cent. due to the unfair position with MCAs. The percentage of EEC imports has increased from 49 per cent. in 1973 to 54 per cent. in 1977. The Netherlands has had a three-fold increase, which underlines the need for urgency in this matter, which is one for the Community as well as for us.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, although we recognise the efforts made by the Minister in Brussels in this regard, it is becoming intolerable that the British taxpayer should pay large sums to finance the demise of the British pigmeat industry and to create redundancy in the pigmeat processing industry?

I think that the tact that the breeding herd is increasing is a tribute to my right hon. Friend's efforts. In the past two years, there has been the change of 15 per cent. in the MCA, there has been the 7·5 per cent. change in the green pound, there was the massive £17 million subsidy given until the European Court intervened—and, of course, we are still pressing.

My hon. Friend is correct. As the United Kingdom is the second largest contributor to the Community trough, there is no reason why the snout of the British pig industry should not get a little more elbow room to ensure that we get more MCA changes on the trot.

Will the Minister of State suggest to his right hon. Friend that, encouraged by his success in becoming the toast of the Mourne fishermen, he should proceed, by protecting the Pigs Marketing Board of Ulster from the proposed depredations of the EEC, to become the toast of the pig producers of Northern Ireland?

My right hon. Friend and I have both met the Mourne fishermen in the right hon. Gentleman's area. I am sure that my right hon. Friend takes the right hon. Gentleman's point.

Although I accept that there is a real problem for both the pigmeat industry and workers in the industry, is my right hon. Friend aware that the real trouble is our membership of the Common Market and the common agricultural policy? Is not this one of the aspects to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was referring when he said in his Guildhall speech that the common agricultural policy needed to be changed? Does my right hon. Friend agree that action should be taken, if necessary, to withdraw Britain from the common agricultural policy in order to stop this kind of thing?

I think my hon. Friend will know the answer to his last comment about the future in the Common Market. He knows, of course, of the efforts being made to make the changes necessary to protect our industry. The sector working party report this week mentioned various ways in which the industry itself can help to improve quality and marketing. I think that, combined with that, any changes in the MCA position will help the industry towards greater confidence.

Whilst I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman has done his best with a rather bad case, may I ask him now whether the Government really will renew their efforts, particularly with the French and Italian Governments, who want the same thing, to get this MCA system modified and avoid further destruction of the pigmeat processing industry?

I do not agree that the right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that my right hon. Friend has done his best with a bad case. This matter will be being pressed very hard in Brussels in the next few weeks.