HC Deb 28 July 1977 vol 936 cc921-3
11. Mr. Temple-Morris

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the current level of the pig breeding herd.

12. Mr. Crouch

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he proposes taking to bring about a reduction in the subsidy received by importers of pigmeat by way of monetary compensatory amounts and so remove the present advantage to foreign competitors of British pig farmers.

Mr. Bishop

The most recent available figure for the United Kingdom breeding herd is for April, when the number of sows and gilts in pig was estimated to be 827,000.

I know that producers continue to be concerned about the effect the monetary compensatory amounts paid on imports of bacon and ham have on their competitive position. We again stressed the need for urgent agreement on a fairer way of calculating these sums at last week's Council meeting. We received a mixed reception, but we will continue to press our case.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Does the Minister accept that there are few sectors of agriculture under greater threat than is pig production? The statement of the Minister's right hon. Friend has not exactly been optimistic with regard to the future. Does the Minister further accept that the only hope for the future now is a rundown of the industry, with higher prices through shortage, and that that will result quite directly in more import pressure and the eventual driving-out of the British pig producer? What will the Minister do about it?

Mr. Bishop

The House will be aware of the considerable efforts that the Minister has made for the industry in the past, including the 8½ per cent. change in MCAs, the 2.9 per cent. change in the green pound, the subsidy—subsequently withdrawn—worth £17 million and, recently, the abolition of the ACAs, which, in relation to the Danish exporter, helps us to the extent of £42 a tonne. Those are some of the factors, but we are still pressing in the Community for a recalculation of MCAs. The possibility of much lower cereal prices and the better harvest should, of course, help the livestock industry generally.

Mr. Crouch

Is the Minister aware that the MCAs are now working directly against the British pig producers? Will he tell his right hon. Friend that I regard it as his duty to go to Brussels the moment that the House goes into recess and not come back until he has sorted out the problem? He should seek to solve the problem of the MCAs in calculating a more proper subsidy to allow British pig farmers to stay in business. Will the Minister ask his right hon. Friend to start speaking up in the Cabinet for British farming and food production? If his right hon. Friend is not prepared to do that, will he ask him to resign?

Mr. Bishop

In view of the catalogue of action and effort that my right hon. Friend has deployed in the past, to which I have just made reference, the hon. Gentleman will realise that no one has been pressing more forcibly for the British pig industry than my right hon. Friend. I am glad to know that the hon. Gentleman is behind us in this request—indeed, demand—to recalculate the MCAs. That is the position that we shall press with all the effort that we can.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when he answers all these questions from Tory Members he could save a lot of time by just saying that their chickens are now coming home to roost?

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will the Minister admit to the House that the situation of the pig producers in this country remains grave and that unless a decision is made very soon the long-term future of the industry is in grave jeopardy? Will he, as Minister of Agriculture in the United Kingdom, take whatever action is necessary to ensure that the pig industry in this country remains a viable one, even if that means that we shall be temporarily unpopular with our European partners?

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Poacher turned gamekeeper.

Mr. Bishop

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that my right hon. Friend took unilateral action to help the pig industry and that he was then required to withdraw the subsidy worth £17 million. Whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we renew the subsidy, I do not know. But I do know that the remedy is mainly in the hands of the Community. We have been pressing for the Community to take unilateral and urgent action on the lines that we have suggested.

Mr. Torney

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the slaughter of pigs cannot go on, because if it does the British pig meat industry will disappear? Does he further agree that the Danes will never be able to make up the shortfall? Therefore, will he bring back, unilaterally, a pig subsidy, despite the bleating and threats of the Common Market?

Mr. Bishop

I am not sure that "bleating" is the right term for pigs, but I take the point. I have made very clear the fact that we were not in any way inhibited from taking action in the past, but we must now look to the Community. The strong views expressed on both sides this afternoon are an indication of the serious position facing the industry.

Mr. Wiggin

Does the Minister accept that this is now the single most serious matter within the agriculture industry? Does he further accept that the pig herd is now one-fifth smaller than at this time last year, and that individual pigs are losing money at the rate of at least £3 a head? Will the Minister indicate, as the House goes into recess for three months, what we should say to our pig producers about their future when they are losing money at this incredible rate?

Mr. Bishop

With regard to slaughterings, there may be an indication that this is a peak in the pig cycle, and there should be a strengthening in the market. We hope and expect that the position regarding cereals and feedstuffs will be helpful to the industry in the immediate future. We do not need to be pressurised more on this matter, because the remedy really lies in the hands of the Community.

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