HC Deb 02 November 1966 vol 735 cc433-6
3. Mr. Drayson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has for increasing the supply of home-cured bacon, particularly in Yorkshire.

4. Mr. J. E. B. Hill

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is aware of the present difficulties of the British bacon industry; and what action he is taking to prevent its further decline.

8. Mr. Buchanan-Smith

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is aware that the supply of bacon pigs is not adequate for the proper working of bacon factories; and what steps he is taking to increase the supply.

17. Sir D. Renton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps the Government propose to take to encourage the quality bacon curing industry.

28. Mr. Eldon Griffiths

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to assist pig producers and the bacon industry.

69. Mr. James Johnson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he is taking to increase the supply of home-cured bacon, especially in Humberside and East Yorkshire.

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the difficulties facing the bacon industry and of the fall in bacon production. Representatives of the curers have discussed the situation with me. Their difficulties largely stem from the decline in the number of pigs, and I have therefore taken action to encourage early expansion of pig production.

Mr. Hill

Since the economic circumstances have changed so drastically, surely they require much prompter action? Why is the Minister allowing the British bacon industry to be squeezed towards extinction, especially at a time when home demand for quality products is unsatisfied, and at a time when we need to keep our balance of payments from being unnecessarily strained?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman is obviously aware of what we call the flexible guarantee system and the operation of the middle band. I thought the fundamental problem was to increase the supply of pigs, and because of this I announced recently at Harper Adams that we would raise the middle band by 400,000. I expect this will have the desired effect and will create confidence from the point of view of the producer, which in the end will affect the whole industry.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Does the Minister really think that raising the middle band without reference to what prices are going to be will rectify the situation? Is he not aware that bacon curers at the moment are losing 30s. a pig and that his reply this afternoon demonstrated his complete failure to understand the situation.

Mr. Peart

I am rather surprised that the hon. Member said that, in view of his knowledge of the industry. Obviously, raising the middle band will affect the price.

Sir D. Renton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his promise of early action would be welcomed; but apart from raising the middle band, what action is he going to take? Is he aware that, unless he takes urgent action, we shall completely lose our home markets to foreign suppliers?

Mr. Peart

The right hon. and learned Member is aware that the signing of the actual contracts is something which is arranged commercially between producers and the industry. The Government are not involved in this. Where I think I can do something is to increase the supply of pigs. For this reason, I believe the action I have taken is the right one.

Mr. Johnson

Accepting the need to honour obligations with Danish bacon imports, could the Minister tell the House who is actually responsible for signing bacon contracts at home?

Mr. Peart

As I said in reply to the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), the signing of the contracts is a matter for producers and the curing industry as a commercial proposition. Hon. Members opposite have never wished me to interfere in such commercial arrangements.

Mr. Farr

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, whilst this year's position is bad enough, it is next year's contracts, which should be negotiated now, about which we on this side of the House are very concerned? Is he aware that many contracts are not being entered into for next year's supplies?

Mr. Peart

There is a problem here, That is why I want to give confidence to the producers to get pig production rising. This is how the system has operated. I believe that we can achieve this. I am still hoping to discuss this matter with people who have some constructive suggestions to make in the industry itself. I am talking about the curing industry. I have rejected the idea of a direct subsidy.

13. Mr. Peter Mills

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in view of the serious pork and bacon situation, why he has not lifted the middle band on pigs at once, thus relieving the situation.

Mr. Peart

Producers' returns in recent months have risen considerably through restoration in full of the cuts previously made under the flexible guarantee. But production has been slow to respond. I want producers to have confidence to increase production. I have therefore given an assurance that they can increase marketings by over a million above the current annual rate without fear that the flexible guarantee will operate against them. This gives an immediate all clear for expansion.

Mr. Mills

Surely the Minister realises that his action will be too late. What is needed is action now if the situation is to be retrieved. Unless the Minister is very careful, he will go down in history as the Minister who surrendered the bacon industry to the Danes.

Mr. Peart

The hon. Member must know that what I have done has been approved and welcomed by the National Farmers' Union. Immediately I made my announcement, it was approved by the Union.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Does the Minister agree that, even with the middle band increased by 400,000, farmers could well be fined for over-production, although they are producing less than the British bacon industry needs? Is not this ridiculous?

Mr. Peart

I cannot accept the logic of that. I think that what I have done will help to restore confidence, and it means a go-ahead to produce.

Mr. W. Baxter

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the difficulty of the bacon industry apart from that from the farming community? If he looks into the matter, he will find without doubt that quite a number of bacon producers are on the verge of bankruptcy owing to the losses which have been incurred over the past six months. This state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue.

Mr. Peart

As I said in replying to a previous Question, I am aware of the difficulties. I have met the curers. They would have liked a direct subsidy. I cannot accept this. I believe that the answer is that we must increase pig production. This is what we are doing.