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Agriculture: Pigs

Volume 726: debated on Monday 21 March 2011

Question

Asked By

We are committed to supporting and developing all British farming. This includes working with the pig industry to build on progress by the pig meat task force to improve relationships between farmers and retailers. At an EU level, we are working to improve the situation for producers in the medium term, including discussions in the Commission’s new enlarged pig meat advisory group.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that pig producers are losing £20 on every pig sold, that the industry as a whole is losing £3 million per week and that at the same time supermarkets are making £60 million a week and processors are making £8 million per week? When are the Government going to set up a grocery ombudsman whose job will be not only to protect consumers but to ensure that producers, such as British pig producers, get a fair price for their product?

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for raising his Question. He is quite right to point to problems that the pig industry is facing as a result of the rise in the price of cereals and oil and the fact that our welfare standards, of which we ought to be very proud in this country, are a lot higher than elsewhere. As regards his principal question about the grocery code adjudicator, we have made it clear on a number of occasions in this House and in another place that we intend to bring forward legislation to create a grocery code adjudicator. We hope that we will be able to produce draft legislation later this year and take things further forward as we discuss that draft legislation.

My Lords, I am afraid it is the same old question, but it has to be because so little of our national law is now made in your largely redundant Lordships' House. The question is: to what extent are Her Majesty's Government in charge of aid to pig farmers and to what extent is it decided in Brussels?

My Lords, the noble Lord is, for once, right to say that it is the same old question. We have heard it from him a number of times in the past. If he is asking whether we should subsidise pig farmers, I have to say that this industry has largely been unsubsidised and that is how the Government and the pig world would like it to continue. If he is saying that there are concerns about the welfare standards being higher here than elsewhere, well, welfare standards are higher here than elsewhere. That is something the previous Government brought in earlier than the rest of Europe, but the rest of Europe will be catching up with our standards by January 2013, which we welcome. At that point, there will be a level playing field in terms of welfare standards.

My Lords, prior to foot and mouth disease in 2001, pig farmers were allowed to feed swill to their pigs. Is there any way in which Her Majesty's Government can reconsider the rules on swill feeding so that swill can be prepared centrally or regionally by approved swill cookers and then distributed to pigs? The cost of feeding pigs grain is tremendous and is frequently criticised.

The noble Countess is right to point to that problem, which is why I highlighted the price increases in cereal. If the scientific evidence was such that pig swill could be made safe and reintroduced into the food chain, we would consider it. Obviously we will base any decision entirely on the scientific evidence put before us.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a survey by the National Pig Association last month indicated that 77 per cent of producers have said that they will go out of production if the present situation continues? If that happened, there would be more imports of lower-welfare pork, some of which is produced in conditions that frankly would be illegal in this country. Will the Government consider bringing together producers, those who represent processors and the supermarkets to see whether we might together achieve a long-term sustainable supply chain agreement?

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for highlighting the problems in the whole supply chain. We accept that it is in the retailers’ interest to ensure the long-term survival of British producers of pork, and we will do all that we can to achieve that. There is very little that the Government can do directly, but there are a large number of things that we can do indirectly, which is why I referred to the groceries code adjudicator and why I talk about government buying standards and a whole range of other matters. They are all small things, but they should all help.

My Lords, in response to my noble friend Lord Hoyle, the Minister talked about a draft Bill on the adjudicator later this year. However, given the urgency of and indeed the cross-party support for this, can we have an assurance that the adjudicator’s office will be up and running this year? Is that the Government’s aim?

My Lords, as the noble Baroness knows well, I cannot give the House that assurance. All I have said is that we will have a draft Bill this year, and we will take it from there.

My Lords, if I may say so to the noble Lord, it was the turn of those on these Benches. I congratulate my noble friend on the usual high standard of his answers. Does his bloodline make him a kinsman of the late Earl of Emsworth?

My Lords, that is a very difficult one. I am very familiar with the works of PG Wodehouse. Whether I am related to Lord Emsworth is another matter.

My Lords, may I now ask whether the noble Lord, or rather his party, is still committed to the primacy of market forces?

My Lords, obviously market forces are very important, but there are other things that a Government can do. I made it clear earlier on that we do not believe that pig farming should be supported by subsidies. Nor does the pig farming world think that it should be supported by subsidies.

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has drawn attention once more to the urgency of the matter of the groceries adjudicator. The Government have the opportunity to insert a provision into the Public Bodies Bill. They refused to do that a week ago. Surely they should do so now; the Bill is still going through the House.

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will raise this matter on Report on that Bill, but I think my explanation to him in Committee was that we think it better that these things are discussed in greater detail when we can find time for an appropriate Bill. That is why we are committed to a draft Bill.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the draft Bill to which he refers would be a far more welcome addition to the legislative timetable than another draft Bill that has recently been talked about?

My Lords, I think that we are going beyond my pay grade and I will not discuss the differences between draft Bills.