HC Deb 14 June 1979 vol 968 cc604-6
10. Mr. Colin Shephered

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when next he will meet the president of the National Farmers'Union.

Mr. Peter Walker

I shall be meeting him in an hour's time.

Mr. Shepherd

May I ask my right hon. Friend to discuss with the president of the NFU the question of Aujesky's disease in pigs? Is he aware of the widespread concern in the pig producing industry over the gradual creeping onwards of the disease across the country? Will my right hon. Friend seek to develop a scheme, preferably on a Community basis, since this is a Community problem, or, failing that, on a national basis, to enable the early introduction of an eradication by slaughter policy?

Mr. Walker

I am aware of the anxiety among pig producers about Aujesky's disease. To put the matter into perspective, I should tell the House that the number of outbreaks in 1977 was 16. Last year there were nine outbreaks, and there have also been nine so far this year. I am concerned at the potential damage that the disease could cause and that is why I announced in a written reply on Monday that I am making it a notifiable disease. I am continuing examinations with the industry and officials in my Department to see what further action can sensibly be taken to eradicate the disease if possible.

Mr. Spearing

When the Minister sees Mr. Butler, will he convey to him that many of us believe that devaluation of the green pound is a two-edged weapon? Will he point out to him that £60 million a year has been spent on levies on imported North American wheat this year and that the price will therefore have to go up for the housewife and everybody else? Will the right hon. Gentleman also be able to tell Mr. Butler the amount by which maize levies will go up, the extra amount which dairy and cattle farmers will have to pay for the food for cattle, and the amount that will be put on the bill to the British housewife as a result?

Mr. Walker

I shall convey to Mr. Butler the views of the hon. Gentleman. He has probably heard those views on previous occasions. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the NFU has said that in its judgment it would be a great benefit to the industry to have a speedy devaluation of the green pound, and has suggested that a devaluation of 10 per cent. is required. It seems that, having considered the hon. Gentleman's viewpoint, the NFU has not come to the same conclusion.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) made a special payment to the pig industry, and that the availability of temporary employment subsidy was of considerable benefit in maintaining jobs on the production side of the pigmeat industry? Will he therefore discuss with Mr. Butler the short-term aids which he could make available now?

Mr. Walker

I remind the hon. Gentleman that during the period of office of the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) the pig herd went down, the pig farmers got into more and more difficulties, and the processors had great difficulties, too. The people who did well during that period were the Dutch and the Danes.

Mr. Strang

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not forget that, in the past few months, the pigmeat MCA has been cut from about £150 to £77 a ton. Can he confirm, therefore, that he accepts that it is not just a question of devaluing the green pound, but that much more important if we are to resolve the problem is the achievement of the further recalculation of MCAs which my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) served notice on our partners we were determined to achieve in the context of this price fixing?

Mr. Walker

I am all in favour of obtaining a recalculation of the MCAs, but I noticed that when the right hon. Member for Deptford made his first speech from the Opposition Front Bench after the election he expressed the view that it was very unlikely that we would get it.