HC Deb 28 October 1976 vol 918 cc679-81
3. Mr. Peter Mills

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he will take to protect the food industry and farmers from the consequences of the decision of Her Majesty's Government not to revalue the green pound.

18. Mr. Farr

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is taking to control the situation that has arisen due to the failure of Her Majesty's Government to revalue the green pound.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James A. Dunn)

The decision not to revalue the green pound led to a serious shortage of stock being presented for slaughter in Northern Ireland. After consulting my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced on 19th October the introduction of a scheme on the lines of the former Meat Industry Employment Scheme which is intended to protect some 3,000 jobs in the beef and pig processing and ancillary service industries in Northern Ireland. It will also reduce the prices of meat in Northern Ireland shops to levels comparable to those in Great Britain.

The scheme will initially run for four weeks, during which time it will cost about £1 million. Meanwhile, I shall be keeping the situation under review and examining other methods of solving these problems.

Mr. Mills

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, in spite of these measures, much damage has already been done to the food and slaughterhouse industries in Northern Ireland because of the disparity? Will he make the strongest representations to see that we start to adjust the green pound not only in the interests of agriculture but, in the longer term, in the interest of consumers as well?

Mr. Dunn

The hon. Gentleman took part in a debate on Friday last week when it was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that the maintenance of the present level of the green pound was essential to countering inflation.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that the Government have not revalued the green pound means that housewives and consumers in Northern Ireland and Great Britain will be able to buy food at lower prices than if the green pound had been revalued? Does he agree that we have to change the common agricultural policy, and will he call on his right hon. Friends to work for a change for the benefit of farmers and consumers in this country?

Mr. Dunn

I agree with what my hon. Friend said about prices. The maintenance of the voluntary social contract is important to Government policy. Like my hon. Friend, I wish to see the CAP revised to take account of new circumstances.

Mr. Farr

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that certain sectors of the Northern Ireland economy are at risk because cattle producers can smuggle their animals across the border and get an extra £35 or £40 per head? Is he aware that, until that situation is rectified, certain sectors of the economy in Northern Ireland will be in grave danger? What is he going to do about it?

Mr. Dunn

The hon. Gentleman should know that it was because of the situation which he has described that we reintroduced the Meat Industry Employment Scheme in a modified form. The border presents grave difficulties of supervision, and we have called on all the agencies to assist us in this matter. Cattle can be apprehended on the Northern Ireland side of the border, but there are difficulties once they get over the border. We have asked the Irish Republic for help.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the housewives and the meat plants in Northern Ireland are grateful for the speedy intervention by the Government in this matter? Will he note that in Northern Ireland there is a strong body of opinion that the Common Market should not be a one-way street and that, if we are paying in, it is time that the Market paid something to us?

Mr. Dunn

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said. I share his view.