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Pig Breeding Herd

Volume 986: debated on Thursday 19 June 1980

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the level of the pig breeding herd compared with a year ago.

In April 1980, the most recent date for which census results are available, the number of sows and gilts in pig in the United Kingdom was 809,000 head. Figures for April 1979 are not available, but in June 1979 the total was 847,000 head.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that his answer underlines the need to restore confidence in this depressed sector of the farming industry? In particular, does he agree that one of the major current problems is the high dock charges imposed on otherwise cheap feeding stuffs that are imported into Britain such as manioc? If that problem could be overcome, the industry would be able to get back on its feet more quickly.

I was not aware of particularly large quantities of manioc being imported into the United Kingdom. It has caused certain problems in other countries. But, over the past year, and particularly through three devaluations of the green pound, the pig sector has benefited more than any other sector of agriculture. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that this is an area with considerable problems and we shall watch it carefully.

Will the Minister agree that these problems are much greater than those faced by the industries in the EEC with which the British industry is expected to compete? In those circumstances, does he intend to take any further action to help the pig industry if it remains in difficulties? Is there any point at which he would consider that intervention was necessary?

I remind the hon. Member that in March last year subsidies obtained by other European producers for sending bacon to this country were running at £231 a tonne. During the period of the last Government they reached a peak of £318 a tonne. As a result of this Government's action our industry is now prepared to compete on even terms and today there is a positive MCA which helps our industry.