HC Deb 04 November 1959 vol 612 cc1141-72

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Sharples]

8.56 p.m.

Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)

From the staple food of fish, we now come to the no less staple food of pigs. I am grateful for the opportunity to start this short debate.

Pigs and their problems have had a good deal of publicity not only in the farming but in the national Press in the last few weeks, and already in this Parliament they have been the subject of at least two speeches in the House. One of the things that I have noticed is that comment on pigs and their problems has been far from unanimous. It is true that important questions are being asked at the moment about the whole future pattern of the pig industry, on which hon. Members may well wish to say something this evening. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will need very long for his reply to the debate, and I certainly should not expect a long reply from him at this stage. I hope that if I can complete my remarks fairly quickly, in view of the unexpectedly early start to the debate, there will be plenty of opportunity for other hon. Members to intervene with their views.

The marketing of pigs in Britain today is an extremely intricate and complicated problem, probably the most complicated of all the marketing problems with which my right hon. Friend the Minister is faced in agriculture. I should therefore like to begin, as much to clear my own head as for any other reason, by recalling briefly to the House the main characters in the pig drama.

First, there are the producers themselves, one of whom is the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer), who I see in his place opposite. He spoke during the debate on the Address. If I do not spend a great deal of time pressing the claims of pig producers it is because I think that there is no dispute whatever between the two sides of the House that those claims are valid and that we want to see what they desire, a fair return and confidence in the future of the pig industry firmly established.

What I am concerned about, as I shall try to explain later, is whether we are wise to encourage the producers of pigs to concentrate as much as they are being encouraged to do on what may turn out to be, from the point of view of the consumer and of the market, the wrong type of pig. I will return to that in a moment.

Then there are the curers who are having a difficult time as I think everyone knows, with falling profits, and who will, in the months to come, probably have to face increased competition from Denmark. By the "curers" I mean the people who make the bulk of British-produced bacon by the method known as the "Wiltshire cure", using as their raw material the type of pig whose production is currently encouraged by the Government by the payment of the quality premium. The type of pig for which this premium is eligible is the long and lean type with a prescribed back fat and length measurement which has to be attained by the producer if the pig is to be eligible for the quality premium.

The impression sometimes gets around that when we talk about pigs, and particularly about bacon pigs, we always mean the Wiltshire type of pig. Most people think that the market for Wiltshire bacon is what one might call the be-all and the end-all of the pig industry. It is therefore important to recall, as the hon. Member for Deptford very properly did in his recent speech, that of all the pigs produced in this country something like two-thirds go to the pork and manufacturing trades and only one-third to the bacon trade—that is, to the curers. Pigs find their way not merely into one market, but into three markets—bacon, pork, and manufacturing.

The next interested party is the National Farmers' Union, which has made public what it wants my right hon. Friend the Minister to do about pigs. I shall refer in more detail presently to the union's proposals. I am glad that it has stressed that the first essential in dealing with pigs is to keep up the confidence of producers and to reverse the decline in the numbers of pigs which is, possibly, the most serious aspect of the situation at the present time.

It is worth while pointing out that through the Fatstock Marketing Corporation, which supplies between two-thirds and three-quarters of all the pigs to the bacon curers, the National Farmers' Union has a rather special identity of interest with the Wiltshire end of the pig industry. Because it is rather better organised and more vocal than some other sections of the industry, its representations have probably figured more largely in the post-bag of hon. Members than those of some of the other interests concerned. By "other interests" I refer, of course, to the pork butchers and the manufacturers, who are the largest in point of numbers and turnover of pigs, but who from the very nature of their business are mostly small men and not so well organised or so vocal as the curing section of the trade.

I suppose that the main people in this end of the trade are Messrs. Wall & Sons, who also produce bacon in competition with the Wiltshire type of bacon, except that it is made from a different type of pig, a heavier and fatter pig, which is taken in the factory and tailored, as it is called, the surplus fat being cut off and the bacon produced being packed in a cellophane pack with the rind removed ready for the consumer in the shops. There are, therefore, two types of pig from which bacon comes. There is the Wiltshire type and there is the heavy hog which is tailored in the factory and from which the prepacked bacon comes.

Finally, at the end of this catalogue of interested parties there is the consumer.

Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

But the most important.

Mr. Ramsden

I agree that the consumer is the most important. It is the consumer who, in the last resort, will dictate what the future market for British bacon is to be and who, by what he or she buys, will determine what type of pig will be the most profitable for producers to produce. It is really with the consumer in mind that I am rather concerned that Government policy may have already gone too far, through the application of the quality premium, towards weighting the British pig industry in favour of the production of a special type of pig, that is, the Wiltshire type, and that it may have created a pattern in the industry which will not be reflected in future years in sales to the public.

One solution of the bacon industry's difficulties which is being widely canvassed at present is that the quality premium on bacon pigs should be removed from the general subsidy and paid as a production grant at a level of 2s. or 3s. a score according to quality and continued for the two top grades for the next five years. I must say to my hon. Friend that I have considerable doubts about the soundness of that proposal because I believe that one of its effects would be that producers would be given an even greater price incentive to concentrate on feeding and breeding the one special type of pig which at the moment qualifies for premium, which is the Wiltshire type, which in practice means Landrace or large type, or a cross between the two.

I think there are dangers in this proposal from the point of view of producers because if at the end of the day more Wiltshire bacon is going to be produced than the public is prepared to buy then I cannot see how any amount of Government subsidy is going to be able to keep up the market and prevent a situation where we get over-supply and a consequent fall in prices, which would inevitably be extremely damaging to producers. I think there is even a certain amount of danger in the very term "quality premium" as it is applied to this type of pig because, surely, in the long run quality can mean one thing and one thing only, what the public is prepared to pay the best price for.

If one looks at the history of the pig industry down the years one sees that the market for Wiltshire pigs has never been consistently strong, except perhaps in the years just after the war when strict control over imports was being operated. I believe, therefore, that we owe it to pig producers to consider very carefully what type of bacon is likely to be the one which the public will be prepared to buy in the future.

I am sure we need not contemplate any kind of surrender to the Danes. I think the Wiltshire cure can very likely be made more attractive and the sales of Wiltshire bacon increased, and I believe that the N.F.U. has plans in hand to encourage that kind of development at the moment. I also think it is likely that with the growing preference of shoppers for packaged foods, such as the pre-packed bacon to which I have referred, the tailored product may well soon become more attractive than Wiltshire or Danish bacon. It is interesting to note that in the development of this type of bacon we in this country have a clear lead. We began the development, and this kind of bacon is widely on sale. As yet the Danes are only just beginning 1o think of following in our footsteps in the production of this kind of bacon. By and large, I think that the prospects for the British bacon industry are not by any means unhopeful.

I am not asking my hon. Friend tonight to say what sort of bacon he thinks the public is likely to want in the future.

Mr. Manuel

Why not?

Mr. Ramsden

He would be a rash man if

Mr. Manuel

A rasher.

Mr. Ramsden

All I ask him is to do his best to see that the public continue to have a choice and that all sections of the industry have a fair chance of meeting that choice.

This brings me to my next point which is that one effect of the present quality premium is that as well as being a subsidy to producers it is in practice a price subsidy to the Wiltshire curers. It is not a particularly good or effective subsidy even to producers, because in certain circumstances it can disappear altogether, as it is doing at the moment, and at a time when producers probably most need it. But when it operates, it does so as a subsidy to the curers, because it means in practice that the Wiltshire curers can buy their pigs in the open market at a real cost to themselves of 2s. or 3s. a score less than the cost to the rest of the trade which is buying in the same market in competition with them.

I cannot think that this can be right or even what Parliament intended to happen when it voted this subsidy in this form. It might even be something which the Public Accounts Committee might look into and pronounce upon. In practice, again, this, as I think, unsatisfactory aspect of the quality premium is not confined to the two top grades of quality pigs. There have been times in the last few months when for every 100 pigs that the curers bought it worked out that they were getting a subsidy of about 1s. 1d. for each score weight bought. They had this help to enable them to buy bacon pigs, irrespective of quality, in competition with the pork butchers and manufacturers who do not receive any such help or advantage from a subsidy.

I should be surprised if anyone on this side of the House could bring himself to defend a subsidy of this kind, inasmuch that it seriously distorts competition in the pig industry and is effectively preventing that industry from having to adapt itself to changes in the market and in the public demand for its products. We on this side of the House think that a healthy future for almost any industry, if not for every industry, depends upon this capacity to adapt itself to the changing circumstances of the market. The quality premium in its present form is not even a good kind of subsidy from the point of view of the producers themselves.

The other proposal put up by the National Farmers' Union is that the guarantee arrangements for bacon pigs should be separated from those for pork pigs; the idea, I take it, being that in this way one could isolate bacon pigs from the so-called pull of the pork market and enable curers to plan on the basis of a fairly constant through-put. We realise that the curers need a steady through-put, but I am rather sceptical that this proposal could achieve it without in practice producing the kind of violent fluctuation in prices which is what everybody concerned with the pig market wants to avoid.

I do not want to go into the point in great detail, because I have made already a long enough and sufficiently complicated speech, but hon. Members who are interested will find in the history of what happened in the 'thirties, when attempts were made to isolate these markets, a good example of what I mean. It is set out fully and cogently in Chapter 2 of the Bosanquet Report—the Report of the Reorganisation Commission for Pigs and Bacon.

To sum up, I believe that the first essential short-term requirement is to return confidence to pig producers. We want to do more than halt the decline in the prices of pigs; we want an upward turn. Otherwise we shall find ourselves short of pigs in a few months' time, and that would be the worst possible thing from both the producers' and the consumers' point of view.

After my right hon. Friend's statement in July there might have been an upward turn in the number of pigs, not just a stabilising of the downward trend, but for some rather continuous alarmist talk about the future prospects in certain sections of the Press. I believe that the pessimism evident in some quarters is without foundation and that there is every justification for a return of confidence now being reflected in the beginning of an increase of pig numbers again.

Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)

The hon. Gentleman has spoken of the lack of confidence earlier in the year in the production of pigs for bacon purposes and he has attributed that to the propaganda in the Press. Was he speaking of the difficulties envisaged by some of the pig breeders in respect of Danish competition? If he was thinking of that, it was a thought which emanated from the industry, not simply from the Press.

Mr. Ramsden

When the announcement was made it emerged in discussion that it was the prospect of future Danish competition which caused a great deal of anxiety. However, I said that when my right hon. Friend gave an undertaking towards the end of the previous Parliament about the standard price, no matter what the competition, I thought that the announcement would have been a help in restoring confidence, as a similar announcement was helpful in a rather similar situation over beef, as the National Farmers' Union has pointed out recently. I think that would have been the case if this pessimistic thinking had not been given a great deal of currency in the Press. It is now time to look again at this matter and I hope that, as a result of what my right hon. Friend may be able to say tonight, producers may be able to take a more optimistic view.

That is what is needed for the short term. What is needed for the long term is a thorough reappraisal of the subsidy policy on pigs. We need to take another look at where we are going. We need to know what kind of bacon pig we should be aiming to produce and we should be beginning to work towards a policy on the basis of what the consumer is likely to want to buy, because that is the acid test of quality when it comes to production. In the long run it is the only way to serve the best interests of the producers themselves.

When we are talking about pigs we must consider the interests of three markets, not one, and no one of them can be fairly considered in isolation from the rest. Any changes which my right hon. Friend may make must be gradual in fairness to everybody concerned, because some people are fairly fully committed in this respect. So I hope he will take his time in reaching his decision. I believe that in the long run we must get nearer to a situation in which there is more freedom for pigs to move between the three main divisions of the pig market according to how consumer demand varies. This cannot happen if one side of the industry is isolated and enjoys special protection in an endeavour to ensure steady through-put and price, irrespective of the demand for its final product.

Even if I have not been able to throw any light on the problems facing my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, I certainly wish him well in his attempts to grapple with the situation.

9.20 p.m.

Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

I think the whole House will agree that the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) has put a great deal of thought into presenting his case. I agree with him right away that there is great anxiety, not just in the part of the country which he mainly indicated but throughout Britain, over current prices. I am receiving letters from pig producers expressing their anxiety, mainly from people in my constituency who are operating smallholdings on very tight budgets and are having extreme difficulty. Last Saturday I received a deputation from these smallholders on this question. While the Scottish aspect may be more than the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can deal with tonight, I hope we shall not be parochial in outlook and talk only about Wiltshire bacon or the Wiltshire pigs. In Scotland we know about Ayrshire bacon. It is very famous and universally appreciated by those who go to Scotland. I hope the hon. Member for Harrogate will agree with me that all bacon is of equal importance when we are talking about current prices.

Mr. Ramsden

Perhaps I misunderstand the hon. Member. It is difficult to tell whether he is pulling one's leg or not. I would, however, respectfully point out to him that "Wiltshire" in reference to bacon is not just a topographical term denoting the county. It is a generic term relating to a kind of bacon.

Mr. Manuel

I know. We do not produce it in Scotland. The Ayrshire pig producers would not produce anything known as "Wiltshire". The long lean type of bacon illustrated so very dramatically by the hon. Gentleman opposite is of a much different breed in the part of the country where I come from.

The main content of the hon. Gentleman's speech was current prices. The question that the pig producers in the deputation asked me was how it came about that during the time of the Labour Government the producers got a much better price and bacon retailed at about 3s. 8d. per 1b., whereas the pig producers are now getting a much lower price and yet bacon costs 6s. 8d. or 7s. per lb. We ought to have a logical explanation. Obviously, there has been some bungling. We seem to have far too many pigs of a certain kind. Why is the industry allowed to produce such a large number of bacon pigs while the price is soaring to such an extent that many of our people are unable to buy the kind of bacon they want?

I heard a phrase used by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) about bringing home the bacon. He is the type of person who produces pigs. He knows a great deal about them, and he has often brought home the bacon. Today I understand there is a glut, and it is the same with eggs. The two usually go together, but that is not the subject of the debate tonight. The complaints of my constituents seem to stem from the fact that there is too much bacon of a certain kind, or too many pigs of certain types, being produced, while the prices, nevertheless, are going extremely high, so that old-age pensioners, people on National Assistance and the large bodies of unemployed which we have in Scotland cannot buy this bacon. Therefore, I hope that from the Front Bench opposite we shall have some logical explanation of why it is that when pigs were dearer bacon was cheaper, and now that pigs are cheaper, the bacon is dearer, which seems to me to be a complete travesty.

I hope something will be said to allay the fears among pig producers up and down the country and in Ayrshire, in particular on the smallholdings, where things are becoming so very tight that they are completely unable to operate within the budget marked out when they took over the smallholdings.

9.27 p.m

Colonel Richard H. Glyn (Dorset, North)

If I may clear up what seems to me to be a little misconception about the Wiltshire cure, I would like to say a word in its defence, not because Wiltshire is an adjoining county geographically to my constituency, but because, contrary to the belief of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), the Wiltshire cure is produced in Scotland, as indeed it is in bacon factories practically throughout the country

It is, of course, the name for a certain sort of bacon without any geographical connotation whatever. This Wiltshire cure which has been spoken of, and which seems to me to have been a little bit criticised, is worthy of support for certain particular reasons. It has been pointed out that certain breeds of pigs are more particularly suited for the production of bacon of the Wiltshire type than others.

Mr. Manuel

I am very pleased that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has applied himself to that point, of which I am now seized. He will agree that this Wiltshire cure had nothing to do with Ayrshire bacon and that it is not a pig in the sense that the hon. Member has stated.

Colonel Glyn

If there is an Ayrshire cure, it has been insufficiently advertised and its fame has not extended so far out of Ayrshire as that of the Wiltshire cure has outside of Wiltshire.

The real point is that the type of pig which is suitable for the Wiltshire cure is also perfectly suitable for being fed on to heavy hogs, and, if the worst comes to the worst, can be killed early for pork. It is really a treble-purpose sort of pig type, and it is worthy of support for that very reason. There are many types of pigs which are quite suitable for pork or heavy hogs but which could never make a proper Wiltshire cure.

It has been said that the Government have been mistaken in offering quality premiums for bacon pigs, and I should like to say a word about that. At the present moment, while agreeing that there is some definite disquiet throughout the pig industry, what has really brought this to a head is the devastating drop in the price of bacon pigs. The price has dropped very substantially within the last two or three months. As a result of this, the producers of pigs suitable for bacon of the Wiltshire type are excessively discouraged and extremely worried, and some of them are wondering how long they can remain in business. This is a type of pig which may be used for any sort of pig meat production. It can be used for bacon, pork or heavy hog, as no other type of pig can be. It is a very important sort of pig, because it is the only type of pig which can be used for the Wiltshire cure, and for making the type of Wiltshire bacon which can best compete with bacon from foreign countries.

I believe that that is a matter worthy of consideration. It is an argument for increasing the quality premium on that type of pig until such time as the price for that type is raised to an economic level. We must remember that unless this type of pig is given special support, it will eventually be impossible ever to have an adequate bacon industry in this country. There are two reasons for that. First, if the breeders of this type of pig give up producing it, it will be impossible to re-create it in future years. Secondly, there is already a very much reduced through-put of bacon pigs through our bacon factories. It is because our bacon factories are having a constantly reduced through-put—now down to 35 or 30 per cent. and in some cases down to 25 per cent.—that the cost of curing bacon has risen so much. When there is a low through-put, overheads remain the same so that there is an enormously increased cost per pig. That is one of the reasons for the great difference between the price of pigs and the price of bacon.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

I understood that the Wiltshire style of curing was very old but that it emanated from Wiltshire—rather in the way that Cheddar cheese came from Cheddar but is now made all over the world. The Wiltshire style of curing was born in Wiltshire many hundreds of years ago, but I am certain that when I was a boy in the West Country the Wiltshire cure was used for all sorts of pigs, white, black, fat, thin, long, short. How is it that in the middle of the twentieth century we can cure in the Wiltshire style only for one kind of pig?

Mr. Winterbottom

Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman answers that question, will he deal with another matter? What does he mean by the Wiltshire cure? As I understand it, there are only three methods of curing a pig for bacon purposes. There is the auto-cure—by injection—the use of salt and the use of saltpetre. The so-called Wiltshire cure is not a cure which is confined to Wiltshire. I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is trying to say that a Wiltshire pig can go to a bigger size. In my experience, the salt cure can be used for all kinds of pigs. I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is getting confused between a cure and what is called the Wiltshire cut, which is a special way of preparing bacon so that the pig is cut up in a certain way giving certain proportions of the hock, gammon and so on.

Colonel Glyn

I am referring to the Wiltshire cure. I hope that I have made it clear that that has nothing to do with Wiltshire and is a trade term applied to a certain sort of bacon produced from a certain sort of pig. It is a cure which produces a Wiltshire side. It is a mild cure and produces bacon which does not have an excess of fat. That is what necessitates rather skilled grading.

I return to the point that if sufficient support is not given to the British type of bacon pig which is most suitable for producing decent bacon in this country, the position of our bacon factories will get still worse and many will be forced out of business altogether and could not quickly be brought back into production. Secondly, people will cease to breed to produce these rather specialised pigs.

It is easier and cheaper to produce the heavy hog than the bacon pig. The bacon pig must be fed accurately, apart from being bred specially. The bacon pig's food must be weighed daily, and in some cases the amount of water must be restricted. All these things are necessary to produce a pig which will make a decent side of lean bacon.

The bacon pig is exposed to the competition of imported bacon, and we import a great deal of bacon. Imported pigmeat does not affect the heavy hog, or to any great extent the pork pig. The bacon pig is a specialised type of pig which the others are not, and for these reasons it is worthy of more, rather than less, Government support.

Unless something is done about this, in a few years' time the breeders of the specialised pigs will be wholly discouraged. If there are insufficient bacon pigs, factories will close down. The high price of pork is due to a comparative shortage of beef, and therefore pork sells well. This position may alter in a few years' time when more beef and less pork is sold. Should this happen when our bacon industry has been practically wiped out, our pig industry will be in a very unhappy state.

For these reasons, I believe that there is a case for giving more, rather than less, quality premiums to the people who breed these specialised bacon pigs.

Mr. Ramsden

I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I do not think anybody would protest against the justice of the quality premium provided it is for quality that is maintained when it reaches the housewife. Would the hon. Gentleman deal with the point of the premiums going to the curer with whom other sections of the trade are in competition on the same ground?

Colonel Glyn

The short answer is that there is virtually no premium. The relatively high price of pork pigs means that no subsidy is paid on bacon pigs at the present time and therefore the question does not arise.

9.37 p.m.

Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)

; Surely the point ought to be made that the tastes of the British public for bacon and pork have altered considerably since 1939. As the standard of living has improved so has the standard of taste. The production of heavy hogs will not meet the changed and more delicate palate of the consumer of bacon and pork in this country.

The Danes are responsible for the Wiltshire cure in this country. Danish bacon producers have produced a cure which is acceptable to the palate of the ordinary Briton. In an attempt to compete with the Danish product, British producers and curers have been producing the pig and curing it to match what the Danes have been doing. The Danes have done this extremely skilfully. They have varied their cures from district to district. Men who work underground in hot pits need more salt in their cured bacon than men who work in other places. This the Danes supply. On the whole, the British producer, but not to the same extent the British curer, has done a good job in competing with the Danes.

Since 1939, the Government have been asking pig breeders to produce an efficient pig. By the very nature of the animal, the pig is a bad converter of food. That is why we killed the pig population during the war. The heavy hog is a bad converter of food.

The Government are quite right to say that if we are to make proper use of our foodstuffs—and it is only recently that we have been in a position to import foodstuffs without any sort of bar—we must produce an economical pig which, in turn, produces the cure which the housewife wants. As a result of both Government pressure and Danish competition we have produced in this country a satisfactory Wiltshire cure from two or three breeds of pig.

If what the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) asked came true we would stop producing that sort of cure in this country and these breeds of pigs. That would leave the market wide open to the Danes. I do not believe that we can satisfy the desires of the housewives and the men of this country by producing a heavy, fat hog. It is not required. It may be desirable for manufacturing purposes, but it is not the kind of pig which the British family wants on the breakfast table. Therefore, if we did as has been suggested we should lay our market wide open for capture by the Danes.

We could not afterwards, in a year or two, revert under the stress of circumstances to producing the sort of pig which we are now producing. Even though the life of a pig is short it takes a long time to breed up to the high standard which specialist producers in this country have achieved. I therefore repeat what I suggested last Tuesday week, in the debate on the Gracious Speech, namely, that the Government should consider whether it is now possible to provide a premium for quality pigs produced for this market.

When, on 21st July last, we had a similar debate, we warned the Government what would happen. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) was insistent that we were approaching a state where the specialist pig producer would go out of business. What did the Minister of Agriculture say then? He said: In all this the only risk is that this scare-mongering—the hon. Gentleman is the last scaremonger to speak on the subject—may frighten some specialist bacon producers out of production. On this point, I do not think that there is any disagreement between the N.F.U., the bacon curers and the Government. We are all concerned to reassure farmers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1959; Vol. 609, c. 1101.] The hon. Member for Harrogate said that the trouble started because a lot of people were talking pessimistically. I can assure him, as a pig producer myself, that the trouble was caused when the curers started to pay us a lot less money. They did not do that because of a lot of pessimistic talk; they were in a situation in which there was such an increase in imported bacon that they could not pay what farmers regarded as an economic price. That was no pessimistic talk. They were hard facts resulting from the action which the Government took, and they were referred to on 21st July last.

I agree with what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Dorset, North (Colonel Glyn), that it is utterly essential, with our integrated scientific agriculture, that we should have specialist pig producers. We should not go back to the bad days when pigs were sloppily fed on bad swill and were produced for their weight rather than their quality But if we are not to go back to that stage, which was not a credit to British agriculture, we must have more direct action and thought by the Government. They will have to stop saying, "You are crying 'Wolf'. You are being pessimistic and doing great harm to the industry", when the industry is obviously suffering from the deficiencies of the action of the Government themselves.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

I noticed when I looked at the remaining subject for debate that it related to the current prices of the products of the pig industry, but the only product which seems to have been mentioned tonight is bacon and we have had an excursion into what is and what is not Wiltshire bacon. But, coming back to the price structure of the bacon industry today, it is rather alarming when one sees many tickets in shop windows advertising Wiltshire-cured bacon at 3s. 6d. a lb.

There is another kind of bacon which I myself eat, and which my parents had before me. It is produced by Harris of Calne—I make no apology for mentioning the name, I have no connection with the firm. One could buy its Wiltshire-cured smoked bacon which is the same quality all the time—Harris's "Double Crown" Wiltshire smoked bacon—but that is 7s. a lb. In my view retailers and wholesalers of farm produce in this country—what I am saying applies to beef, mutton and lamb as well as to pork and bacon—do a great disservice to the agricultural industry by selling goods to the public under misleading labels.

It is time that there was some tightening up to the Regulations in order to ensure that what is offered to the consumer over the shop counter is what it is described as being. I have had put before me bacon which was described as Wiltshire-cured bacon, but which was green bacon cured in a brine tub—it was no more bacon than my foot. But that is how it was described and that is what is being sold to the public.

The hon. and gallant Member for Dorset, North (Colonel R. H. Glyn) spoke of a pig specially bred and cured in the Wiltshire style. I know that the firm of Harris lays down very strict rules regarding the pigs which it uses. It will not have an institution-bred pig; it wants dairy-fed pigs. But from that we should not assume that only one breed or type of pig is suitable for curing in the Wiltshire style. I have seen all sorts of pigs cured in the Wiltshire way by farmers who did their curing at home, and the smoking as well.

We talk of creating a pig for the consumer market, as was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Dept-ford (Sir L. Plummer), and I agree that the British housewife demands lean bacon, but I do not know why. Whenever we killed a bullock that was lean, and when it was dressed, hung up and quartered, we used to say that the animal had been killed to save its life. We believed that a healthy well-fed and well-housed animal should carry a bit of fat. No wonder we have a huge surplus of eggs in this country, because how can eggs be fried if there is no fat from the bacon in which to fry them? We should educate the housewife to use good fat bacon so that she may be able to fry the eggs in plenty of fat.

There is another activity of the industry which has not been mentioned, the production of black puddings. They seem to be out of fashion. I have never seen any in the House of Commons. One must have plenty of fat in a black pudding and plenty of oatmeal. Then it is a very fine dish. But it is only satisfactory if it is cooked with fat bacon. This present-day craze for lean bacon amazes me. I always believed that to be good bacon must be fat.

The British taxpayers are pouring millions into the industry, but it seems to me that there is someone between the producer and the housewife who is getting a lot more out of it than he is entitled to. The retail price of bacon in this country is fantastic. I have seen bacon offered for sale at over 7s. a lb. Some of it, described as Wiltshire-cured bacon, was never cured in the Wiltshire style. I suppose that different farmers have different methods. We used to use bay leaves and marjoram and all sorts of other herbs, and it was boiled in a tub and put in a smoking chamber. This was a very expensive process. One has seen sides of pigs thrown into a tub of brine and saltpetre, the brine forced by pumps into the joints of ham. One has seen these products cured by different methods, and when some appear in the shop windows at 7s. and others at 3s. 6d., all coming from subsidised pigs, one realises that somebody is making a lot of money somewhere.

The Government should look into the whole question of the cost of distrbution to the consumer of the products of this industry. We pay more and more every year in taxes to support the production of foodstuffs on our farms, whether it be beef or milk. I am all in favour of sustaining British agriculture, but it seems extraordinary that the more we pay in taxes into this industry the more we pay for the products. The price goes up to the consumer and goes down to the producer, and because it goes down to the producer we pay more in taxes to help the producer. Do not ask me why this is. I am not a financier. I am not a middleman acting between the farmer and the consumer. But it seems extraordinary that the more we pay in subventions into this and other industries, instead of getting a lower priced product for the consumer we continually get a higher priced product. It is time that we had more strict control over labelling and marketing the products of British agriculture.

It breaks my heart to walk past a butcher's shop and to see on a hind-quarter "Prime ox beef," when one has only to look at the hindquarter to see that it is a fourteen-year-old cow. That is where the British farmer is sold the pass by the butcher who labels a four-year-old ewe "Prime new Sussex lamb" and when the housewife buys it she cannot chew it.

This sort of thing has always been done. I could tell some wonderful stories out of school of what has happened. A butcher, a friend of mine, dealt with the wives of friends of his. They would buy the cheapest cuts he had. When he went to the club the husband of one of his customers would say, "That beef we had on Sunday was terrible." The butcher would say, "I am sorry about that." The husband would say," I feel annoyed about it because my wife was assured that she bought the best." Very often the butcher, and indeed traders in general, deceive the housewife. What a business this game is between the farmer and the consumer. But it all hits back on the British farmer.

It is tiresome to hear people say that the products of other countries, the bacon of Denmark, New Zealand lamb and so forth, are superior to what we produce in this country. They are not. I consider that a product should be correctly marketed and sold for what it is. If a butcher has an old sow he should say so. If it is wet cured and sloshed with water in a tank to add weight to it, it should be described as such. If it is an old cow it should not be labelled as prime ox. Neither should an old ewe be labelled as prime New Zealand lamb. This is the sort of thing which damages British agriculture, because the housewife is often buying a product which is not what she thinks it is.

The Government should take strong action as quickly as possible to ensure that what the British farmer puts into the market is offered at a fair price, and bears a label describing what it is.

9.55 p.m.

Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)

The hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) was very worried about this problem. His solution was to isolate the curing from the pork market. That is what he said. I wrote it down, but he now appears to be shaking his head. I cannot believe that that is the solution, because that was tried before the war and it just did not work; we continually had the pork prices rising and it was not possible to make firm enough contracts with the bacon factories to prevent the pigs suitable for pork going straight into the pork market. I do not see any point in trying that again. It will not work to try to isolate curing from pork. The hon. Member now appears to be nodding his head. I do not understand what he was shaking his head about just now. Surely the solution is to have a pig marketing board.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dept-ford (Sir L. Plummer) suggested last week—and I think that the Government must take account of this question—a meat marketing board, in general, and pig marketing in particular, and said that the obvious solution was a pig marketing board. That board could channel the pigs in the proper way. If curers are willing to pay for quality pigs, then the farmer who is doing his best, encouraged by all the scientific advice he can get, will see that his pigs improve in quality. They are bound to give the curers the supplies that they require as prices improve, and all the pigs not of that quality will naturally be channelled into the pork market. A board to deal with that is the obvious solution. I should like to suggest to the hon. Gentleman that that is the obvious solution. The Government should give it their very careful thought and encourage the farmers to set up a pig marketing board as quickly as possible.

9.57 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) for initiating this debate tonight. Perhaps, when he initiated it, he had no idea how wide the discussion would go. We have had a most interesting debate, but I did not expect, nor am I properly briefed, to deal with the matter of black puddings and one or two of the other issues raised by hon. Members from north of the Border. I apologise to hon. Members north of the Border. I am grateful to them for their intervention, but I hope that they will excuse me of any discourtesy if I do not follow them fully into these matters.

I should like to deal with some of the points put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate, because undoubtedly this is an issue of grave concern to the farming community, particularly, of course, to those directly concerned in producing pigs for bacon.

The distribution of pigs between the various markets—the pork market, the manufacturing market, and the bacon market—has been a problem for many years, and there is no simple solution to it. That has been abundantly clear to anyone who listened to the debate tonight. We have had a variety of solutions put forward none of which have been identical.

Attempts were made in pre-war years, through a contract system, to secure regular supplies of pigs for bacon factories and to provide some basic stability in competition with the pork market. These endeavours failed, basically, because they endeavoured to determine in advance what proportion of our pigs consumers would demand in the form of pork and what proportion they would demand in the form of bacon.

Then we had the war years when the whole position was distorted. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) dealt fairly with the reason why pig production went down then. After the war, these problems re-emerged. After decontrol, the Bosanquet Commission was appointed to examine the whole question.

After careful consideration of the very many views put before it, the Commission emphasised the merits of a basically free market in pigs and pig meat and the need to avoid the creation of artificial barriers to stop the flow of pigs between the bacon, the pork and the manufacturing markets.

I wish to emphasise those points to the House. They tend to be forgotten now, but it is not so long since this matter was very fully thrashed out by the Bosanquet Commission. The Government at that time accepted those views, and they have been the basis of our pig policy since decontrol.

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. J. E. B. Hill.]

Mr. Godber

The White Paper on the Pig Industry, in 1956, said: The Government are satisfied that a system of deficiency payments is well adapted to ensure an adequate return to the industry without impeding the operation of market forces, which play an essential part in securing that the balance of production in the different branches of the industry is kept in harmony with the changing demands of consumers. That is what we must really face.

It is true—I do not deny it for a moment—that the curers are experiencing difficulty at present, but I ask the House to keep a sense of proportion in this matter. The number of pigs going into cure this year is estimated to be 2.7 million, compared with 2.9 million in 1958, 2.8 million in 1957 and 2.8 million in 1956. These figures really show no more variation than we should expect in a free market, where the consumer is allowed, through the price mechanism, to indicate how he wishes to consume his pig meat. The Bosanquet Commission, indeed, considered that curers should accept a substantial variation in their throughput to fit in with the variations in demand for the different commodities from the pig.

In giving those figures, of course, I do not deny that, at present, the numbers have fallen considerably. Here, I will take up a point made by the hon. Member for Deptford, to whom I always listen with great care on these matters. He is a successful pig breeder, and I know that he speaks from knowledge He was, I think, speaking of the need to keep an adequate number of pigs at present, and he reminded us of the debate in July when, he said, the Opposition warned us that we should run into trouble. At that time, my right hon. Friend himself did say that, having regard to the size of the breeding herd, there would be a drop. Between July and now the pigs already born were on the way, but he said then that he believed that we had reached the bottom of the trough in the breeding herd.

Subsequent figures have borne this out. We have seen a steadying in the numbers, and the level of the herd has remained fairly constant since then. It is my hope and expectation that we shall see some rise in the near future.

Mr. William Baxter (Stirlingshire, West)

The hon. Gentleman has said that the number of pigs going to the bacon factories is very much the same now as the number going to the factories during the last few years. Why, therefore, has the price of bacon gone up? My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) said that the reason that the price of bacon had gone up was that there were fewer pigs going into the bacon factories.

Mr. Godber

I do not think that the price of bacon has fluctuated very much recently. It has remained fairly constant.

Mr. Manuel

It is too high.

Mr. Godber

The hon. Member for Stirlingshire, West (Mr. Baxter) was asking why it had gone up. I do not think that it has gone up materially at the moment. There is, of course, an adequate supply of bacon now because, although the amount of home-cured coming on the market has dropped, the amount of imported bacon has increased. There is certainly no shortage on the market at present.

I emphasise, also, that the recent reduction in the number of pigs going into cure is in no way due to the agreement with Denmark. That agreement has not yet come into operation and, in view of the assurances given to producers, there is 10 reason why it should affect the number of pigs coming forward from our own production. I emphasise that, because I think that there has been some misunderstanding about it. The agreement with Denmark does not start to operate until the summer of next year, and it cannot possibly have had any effect on the present number of pigs coming forward. The position as I explained earlier, is that there has been a fall; there is this cycle in the production of pigs and we have, I believe, reached the bottom of the trough and should be seeing a rise in the near future.

I should now like to say a word about producers. Pig prices at present are good. This is reflected in the low subsidy payments. It is true that at present the specialist producer of bacon pigs is at some disadvantage, although I think that his difficulties can be over-emphasised, and, with great respect to him, I felt that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Col. R. H. Glyn), who, again, I know, speaks from great knowledge on this subject, somewhat over-emphasised the position at the moment. I should like to correct my hon. and gallant Friend on one point. The quality premium is still being paid. It has not ceased to be paid. I know that he wishes it to be higher still. That is a point on which I will not comment at the moment, but I should like my hon. and gallant Friend to realise that it is still being paid at present.

Sir L. Plummer

The subsidy is no more than a few pence a score.

Mr. Godber

There are two different things. There is the ordinary subsidy, which was only a few pence and which has gone up to 1s. a score, the latest figure, but the quality premium is in addition to that figure. It is the general subsidy rate which has dropped to Is. a score.

An examination of the figures shows that over the last three months the bacon pig producer was getting a return, on average, of 44s. 10d. a score compared with 46s. 9d. received by the pork producer, but for the three preceding months the figures were 46s. 8d. for the bacon pig producer and 46s. 6d. for the pork producer. This shows that, in fact, the fluctuation has not been nearly so great as might be believed. Indeed, the differential has been extremely low over a great deal of this year. Also, one must especially remember that in any case the pork pig producer expects a somewhat higher price because pork pigs are marketed at lighter weights and, therefore, the costs of production are bound to be relatively higher. One must recoup the cost of the production of the weaner in the first place over a shorter period.

Over the year, the bacon pig producer can count on average prices not much different from the standard price, and, of course, he has the safeguard of the lower stabilising limit and the benefit of the quality premiums. It should not be forgotten that these premiums come out of the guarantee to pigs as a whole and, therefore, are made at the expense of the producer of other types of pig. That must be remembered. Producers of other types, which as was said earlier represent two-thirds of the producers, are to some extent subsidising the producers of the special quality type bacon pig. It may be that it is right that he should do so, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dorset, North said, but it should be recognised that that is what is happening, and it should be clearly understood.

I have tried to put the position in perspective, because I realise that there are difficulties, but they must not be overstated.

As the House knows, the curers, the pig producers and sausage manufacturers have made representations to my right hon. Friend about the present pig situation, and we are very willing to go into any proposals that can be shown to be in the best interests of the trade as a whole. Here, I would take the point of the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) about a pig marketing board. We are always perfectly willing to look at proposals of this sort. I agree that previously, when we have looked at this matter, we have not been able to favour it, but that does not mean that we are not willing to look at any suggestions put before us.

As I say, we are willing to go into any proposals that can be shown to be in the best interests of the trade as a whole. My right hon. Friend is to see representatives of the pork butchers, but until all these representations have been heard—and I assure hon. Members that certainly not all the views that come before us are identical; they are widely diverging, and this again shows the difficulty of deciding on any fresh line of policy—the House will appreciate that no considered conclusions can be reached by the Government.

So far as producers are concerned, I would re-emphasise that there is no cause for despondency. What matters to producers is the level of the guaranteed prices fixed at the Price Review. My right hon. Friend has already announced that prices will not be reduced at the next Price Review. That is something which is very rarely done on any occasion, and on this occasion I think that it should give confidence to producers to plan ahead. They can have that confidence at the present time. I would deplore any attempts to undermine it. I do not suggest that anyone in the House has done that tonight—we have had constructive speeches—but there have been occasions when one has seen in the Press comments which can have only an unfortunate effect.

The House knows the latest figures for the breeding herd show that the fall in numbers has been halted. My right hon. Friend gave those figures the other day in answer to a Question. As I have said, from past experience it is likely that we may see a rise. That is what all sections of the trade need, the curers more than anybody. A slight rise in the total numbers might bring things back into better balance. The demand in the pork market is always strong in the weeks preceding Christmas. That, again, accentuates the present problem. We must, therefore, keep a sense of proportion.

I remind the House that it is less than two years since we were faced with a subsidy bill in the region of £40 million a year for pigs because the herd had got too large for the needs of the pork and bacon markets together. We want to try, if we can, to steady these fluctuations. We certainly do not want to make the mistake of an over-incentive.

I have tried to show that my right hon. Friend is studying the whole position with the greatest care. I believe that there is a sound future for the market for pigs of all types. We believe that there is room for the different types mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate, the hon. Member for Dept-ford and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dorset, North, and there is a need and a demand for a steady output. The producer is assured of his position until the Price Review of 1961, which is a long way ahead.

I hope that what I have said tonight will help to reassure farmers generally that the position is secure and that they have no reason to doubt that pigs will be required. That is the greatest help that could be provided for the curers, who are suffering from shortages which, I hope, will not be long continued.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

The House will feel that we have had an arid and unsatisfactory reply from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I would have been far happier had he got away from his brief and dealt with the situation as it faces us. It is no good giving us a series of figures which are irrelevant and then even admitting their irrelevance and not giving us the relevant figures.

What we are concerned about is the position at the moment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) has said, we had a debate in July. When I forecast—it was not a difficult thing to do—that we would be in our present troubles at this time of the year, my representations were dismissed by the right hon. Gentleman as election scaremongering. But what have we heard from the hon. and gallant Member for Dorset, North (Colonel R. H. Glyn)? He has talked about the possibility of the bacon industry being wiped out. All that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can say is that he believes that his hon. and gallant Friend has somewhat over-emphasised the position. If that is something of an overemphasis, certainly we are facing a serious position.

Let us consider a few of the factors. Now that we are in this difficult position, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary says that he is willing to consider representations. Everyone in the House knows that, at the beginning of the year, the right hon. Gentleman cold-shouldered the representations of the National Farmers' Union about pig marketing. That was made clear in the Press at the time. I was obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, however, because when I asked a Question in the House he was able to present himself in a more conciliatory light.

Mr. Godber

The hon. Member should be quite fair, as I am sure he would wish to be. My right hon. Friend made it abundantly clear that if it was the wish of producers' organisations to put forward a scheme for a marketing board he would be perfectly willing to look at it.

Mr. Willey

He made it perfectly clear that he was cold shouldering the proposals made by the National Farmers' Union early this year. There is no question about it. If the Parliamentary Secretary doubts that I ask him to refresh his memory by turning to the agricultural Press.

The position about marketing is simply this. We from this side of the House have repeatedly asked the Government, implored the Government, to look at pig marketing, and repeatedly the Government have refused. As I have said, the Government, in this somewhat invidious position of justifying their doing nothing, said that the producers disagreed with the Commission's Report and for that reason it was necessary for them to take no steps about marketing. That is why we have no confidence now in the Government's protestations.

Now take the position of the Price Review. The Parliamentary Secretary tried to create the impression that he has met the N.F.U. on this. Of course, he has not. The N.F.U. did not ask him to say that the Government would not reduce the guarantee price at next year's Review. No one in the world believed that it would be possible. I would remind the House what the N.F.U. asked for in its statement of 16th July. Referring to something about which I shall say a word in a moment, the Anglo-Danish Agricultural Agreement, it said: In these circumstances it is evident that the Government's restrictive production and price policies at the last two Annual Reviews for the pig section of the industry must now be materially revised. Accordingly, the President is requested to seek forthwith firm assurances from the Government that action will be taken at the next Review to encourage the restoration of the national pig herd and provide the opportunity for home pig producers to compete in the United Kingdom bacon market. "Materially revised." That is what the N.F.U. asked for. The N.F.U. did not call for an assurance that there would be no reduction in price. It is no good coming to the House and saying, "The Minister in our debate in July said that he would not reduce the guaranteed price. How happy the industry must be." It is quite irrelevant. The Parliamentary Secretary looks surprised. Does he think that it would have been tenable in these circumstances for the industry to envisage a reduction?

Mr. Godber

The hon. Member invites me to interrupt. I would only ask him in turn to refresh his mind of what Lord Netherthorpe said in another place following the announcement my right hon. Friend made. He welcomed that as a reassurance.

Mr. Willey

It is for this very reason that I have called attention, as I thought it right and proper to do, to the precise words used by the N.F.U. Council after the Anglo-Danish Agreement had been announced. If the Parliamentary Secretary is prepared to argue that to say one will not change something is materially to revise it, he is making nonsense of the use of words.

Mr. Godber

The hon. Member is not. dealing with my point.

Mr. Willey

I am dealing with the hon. Gentleman's point. I am calling attention to the request which was made and the action taken by the Government.

Mr. Godber

My point is what Lord Netherthorpe said. He welcomed it on behalf of producers. I should have thought that was a sound point.

Mr. Willey

He welcomed it because it was better than having nothing. What I am saying is that this does not mean the Government have gone anywhere near to meeting the request of the producers that price policies should be materially revised.

Let us turn to the question of the Anglo-Danish Agreement. The Parliamentary Secretary can no longer deny—the General Election is over—that this Agreement is believed by the producers to be prejudicial to their interests. The Minister produced a quaint justification of the Agreement, that it would cost the taxpayer only several million pounds, that this was no more than a side payment. I would have said, if that was the position, it would have been far better to have made a side payment; but we all know, if we study this Agreement carefully, that the Government are precluded from taking any steps to prejudice the Danes. The Danes are given an advantage by way of this Agreement and the Government must not take any step which would prejudice the advantage thereby given.

One of the reasons why I complain of the Parliamentary Secretary in his speech sticking too much to his brief is that I have been unable to find what the position is today with regard to Norwegian frozen fish, and I have been getting alarmed at the way the negotiations are going. I do not think that his Department has a really effective voice in these negotiations. It is clear to everyone in the House now that if we had known that the Government were going to extend all these concessions we could have had a European Free Trade Area. It seems now that the agricultural Departments have no effective voice in the Agreement and do not even know what is happening.

The main complaint I made against the Government, when we debated this matter in July, was that it is very unfair to the pig industry to make pig producers vulnerable to Danish competition at the point of their greatest weakness, which is what is happening under this Agreement. That is why, of course, the Agreement is affecting the pig industry.

This was the Government's responsibility. The Government are responsible for the industry. Indeed, up to the beginning of this year they had spent, since 1951, by way of subsidy £326 million in supporting the industry. Therefore, it was their responsibility to ensure that by the time the Anglo-Danish Agreement came into effect we had our pig industry in as strong and as powerful a position as we could provide. This is where the Government let down the industry. It is no use hon. Members opposite looking upset. The Parliamentary Secretary has talked about cycles in pig production. The subsidy policy has not avoided this, and what the Government have devised by their subsidy policy is that at the very moment when the bacon industry is at its weakest point the Anglo-Danish Agreement begins to come into effect.

I should have thought that in those circumstances, we would have had a more vigorous reply from the Parliamentary Secretary. It seems to me that he feels himself inhibited in the light of the Anglo-Danish Agreement from saying to the House that he intends to stand by the British bacon industry.

I would call attention to a communication that I received today from the general secretary of the British Association of Pig Producers, who says: I realise that it is early in the Session to begin asking assistance—but the crisis which has overtaken our bacon producing members is of such urgency that I am constrained to press for your immediate help.…The urgency of the situation lies in the fact that those who have the greatest capital invested in the industry are the specialist bacon producers—and these are now increasingly unable to sell their bacon even at cost price. They are giving up pig keeping in large numbers—and leaving the market wide open for the further infiltration of Danish supplies. It is not an exaggeration to say that if this situation is allowed to continue until Christmas (and there is no foreseeable change in the trend between now and then) we shall have seen the beginning of the end of what little share of our own bacon market is still left to us. Our share of the bacon market has fallen drastically—by at least 10 per cent.—over the past few years. We now have the bacon industry facing these difficulties and we have the Government giving no more comfort than to say that if they receive representations they will be good enough to consider them. That will not do. We should have the Government making proposals.

When the Government are asked to face the position they say "We have been very courageous. We have issued a statement that has never been made before. We have committed ourselves at next year's Price Review not to reduce the price of pigs". But, as I say, no one in their senses envisaged the possibility of any reduction in pig prices. The purpose of the present price policy was to reduce production, as the hon. Gentleman knows. In present circumstances, no one would envisage a further deliberate reduction in production.

Mr. Godber

May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman on the interesting line he is following? If he felt so strongly that the price was too low, why did he not protest after the last Price Review, which was an agreed review in respect of pigs as other things? He left it until the debate in July when he tried to tie this up with the Danish Agreement. I have tried to point out that the present shortage cannot possibly have been brought about by anything to do with the Danish Agreement, but if he felt that the price fixed was too low, the proper time to come forward would have been at the time of the Price Review. To be wise after the event is not particularly clever.

Mr. Willey

There is no reason for the Joint Parliamentary Secretary now, very late in the day, to try to engender heat by being personally abusive. The hon. Gentleman knows quite well, if he is attacking me personally, that I have consistently and persistently attacked the pig production policy of the Government. If the Joint Parliamentary Secretary had any complaint I should think it would be about the persistence of my attack on the Government about their pig policy. I have been persistent in this because I have tried to elicit from the Government time after time what is the purpose of an enormous expenditure of well over £300 million. After spending what is now running into £400 million because we have to take into account the Danish tariff moneys, I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would be able to tell the House that we had stability in the pig industry and that this expenditure was therefore justified because we had a better and more efficient production. This is what is disturbing, that when the bacon industry, largely through Government action, is in its present condition, and we ask what they will do about it, all the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is able to tell us is that as an act of grace the Government will consider any proposals that are made. The hon. Gentleman knows that the proposals about marketing have been brought to his attention repeatedly. In the July debate I complimented the N.F.U. on its statesmanlike presentation and discussion of the proposals because it was up against an obdurate Government. The Government have been pressed time after time to take action about pig marketing and they have failed to do so.

Now I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will go back to his right hon. Friend and say that the entire bacon industry is greatly disturbed. The industry does not want to be neglected by the Government merely because the party opposite won the election. They appeared much more sympathetic towards the industry before the election. Now the industry wants some action from the Government, so I hope the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will go back to his right hon. Friend and say that what is wanted is not just a meeting with the representatives of the different sections of the industry, but some effective action to ensure that it is put in a strong position to face the much more difficult competition we can expect from the Danes when the Anglo-Danish Agreement comes into force.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Ten o'clock.