HC Deb 14 December 1966 vol 738 cc433-5
7. Mr. van Straubenzee

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is aware of the difficulties to producers in Berkshire caused by the sudden closing of the bacon-curing factory of M. Venner & Sons Limited, Reading; and what steps he is taking to assist producers.

8. Mr. Buchanan-Smith

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many bacon-curing factories have gone out of production in the past six months.

24. Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is aware of the lack of confidence still existing in the bacon industry in this country; what further plans he has for restoring confidence; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the difficulties facing the bacon curing industry which arise from the fact that we have fewer pigs than we need. Three factories of significant size have ceased curing in the last six months, although the strong market for pigs offers alternative outlets for the producers concerned.

I have already announced the Government's intention to raise the middle band for pigs and the decision to maintain next year the United Kingdom share under the Bacon Market Sharing Understanding. These measures reflect our desire to see a strong and efficient bacon curing industry. I shall be discussing with the industry what action may be necessary to that end in the longer term. Meanwhile I recognise both the immediate anxiety of producers that the outlets for bacon pigs should remain adequate and the present concern of curers over the current unprofitability of their operations.

The Government have therefore decided to make loans from the Exchequer to bacon curers in respect of bacon produced in Great Britain within certain limits, as from next week until the end of March 1967. Details will be worked out as quickly as possible in consultation with the industry. Recovery will be through a levy on home-produced bacon when a more satisfactory relationship between costs and prices has been restored.

The loans will be financed initially by advances from the Civil Contingencies Fund pending a Supplementary Estimate, and legislation covering the arrangements will be introduced in due course.

Mr. Speaker

A long Answer like that might be taken at the end of Questions.

Mr. van Straubenzee

We shall want time to study the announcement which the right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to make. Directing myself to the factory referred to in Question No. 7, will the Minister accept that very great difficulty has been caused to producers both by the suddenness of the decision and by the lack of alternative facilities within anything like a reasonable radius?

Mr. Peart

I believe that what I have done will help to restore confidence. This is what I want, and I am sure that what I have announced will be welcomed.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I welcome the fact that the Minister has at last recognised the need to help bacon curers in the short term. Will he in his longer-term review bear in mind the imbalance between pork and bacon markets, and also the subsidised imports from Denmark, and look at these problems as well as the short-term one?

Mr. Peart

I have always taken the facts into consideration. The hon. Gentleman must know that we are partners to the bacon sharing agreement which my predecessor negotiated, and I must stand by that, but I am anxious to achieve our own percentage and improve our position. This is what we are seeking to do now.

Mr. Ron Lewis

As I have a constituency interest in this, may I assure my right hon. Friend that there will be widespread satisfaction in this further statement that he has made? Can he give an assurance that the industry will be fully consulted about the details?

Mr. Peart

I give the assurance that we will consult the industry about the details of the scheme.

Mr. Godber

This is a very important statement, and we shall obviously wish to study it, but may I ask in the meantime whether the Minister has taken full account of the short-term needs, and whether these loans will be adequate to maintain existing factories so that no more close, and will he come forward as soon as possible with his longer term solution, because this can only be looked on as a palliative?

Mr. Peart

I believed that this immediate action was necessary, and I have taken it. There are matters which affect long-term policy, which of course we will have to discuss. I have said that we will do this with the producers, and the review procedure is adequate for that.

Mr. W. Baxter

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will give at least some degree of satisfaction to the industry as it will now realise that he is seized of the great difficulties which it has been facing for a considerable time? On the longer-term aspect, will my right hon. Friend look at the possibility of a different system of subsidy to bacon, pigs, and other things?

Mr. Peart

All these questions and those about the working of the guarantees and the middle band are ones at which I shall look when the time comes for the Annual Review.