HC Deb 15 March 1979 vol 964 cc679-82
4. Mr. Haselhurst

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met the president of the National Farmers' Union.

Mr. John Silkin

I met the president of the National Farmers' Union on 26 February.

Mr. Haselhurst

Did the right hon. Gentleman have discussions with Mr. Butler about the state of pig farming and the pigmeat industry? Was he able to report any progress on the level of MCAs and the calculation of the pigmeat coefficient? Unless something is done soon, the long-term prospects for the pig breeding herd are poor.

Mr. Silkin

Yes, although, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, the pig breeding herd has increased by about 44,000 in the past year. The problem will be—and is—much more with the pig processors. That, of course, has repercussions for breeding. Therefore, it is important to deal with a further recalculation of the pigmeat MCAs. We discussed this matter, and I hope that when we return to the subject of price fixing on Monday week a strong stand will be taken not only by United Kingdom but by the Italian and French Ministers. From discussions that I have had with them I believe that that will be the case.

Mr. Corbett

Was the Minister able to discuss with Mr. Butler his views on the inter-departmental review on the export of live animals for slaughter and further fattening, which has been published for almost 12 months? Has he been able to indicate to the National Farmers' Union both his views and those of many Members of the House—and certainly millions of people outside—who are determined to bring this vile trade to a speedy end?

Mr. Silkin

That was not on the agenda for 26 February but I discussed this with Mr. Butler's predecessor, Sir Henry Plumb, some time ago. I put to him the basis of a carcase trade for the whole of Europe. Whether they are right or wrong from the welfare point of view. I understand the argument of many farmers that the United Kingdom should not be prejudiced by what occurs in the rest of the Community. I realise that others might get the trade if we were to stop it, which in the end would mean that while we could say that we had no involvement with the trade, the same number of calves or sheep might still be exported. Therefore, the real question is the carcase trade, which is a matter that I have also taken up with the Commission.

Mr. Spearing

When my right hon. Friend meets Mr. Butler, will he remind him that 15 million tons of grain and 2½ millions tons of sugar, which together with surplus milk products will cost the EEC £3 billion to dump on the world market, are being exported in the current year? Will he ask Mr. Butler how he thinks British farmers can expand when there are surpluses, particularly in the areas that I have mentioned, and remind him that the sum does not encourage competition in the EEC?

Mr. Silkin

The question of surpluses came up in discussions between Mr. Butler and myself. I was pleased to find that on this occasion he took the same point of view as Her Majesty's Government, namely, that there should be a freeze until products and structural surpluses were reduced to the proper levels.

Mr. Charles Morrison

I have no doubt that when the Minister last met Mr. Butler they talked about the green pound among other things. Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that a devaluation of 5 per cent. is adequate to meet the current needs of British agriculture?

Mr. Silkin

As I have told the House many times, one has to judge a devaluation of the green pound, not simply in the context of what farmers require or need but in a general context. I believe that there should be a devaluation of the green pound on various occasions—possibly at different times during the year. It is, therefore, very important that we consider the question in relation to price fixing.

I do not regard 15 per cent., with its inevitable repercussion of a 17.3 per cent. increase in support prices, as being at all realistic or, indeed, justified. Five per cent. at this moment, if it can be obtained—as I believe it can—before the price fixing, is something well on the way. But I would always look at that in the light of the national interest and would never be averse to saying either that we should have another devaluation or that we should not.

Mr. Peyton

What will the right hon. Gentleman ask for now? Secondly, what will he do to recover for individual countries the right, which they used to have until last year, to take adjusting action on their own initiative?

Mr. Silkin

On the first point, I think that I have already made it clear to the House—I certainly did in my recent statement—that I have already asked for a 5 per cent. devaluation of the green pound and that I want that before the price fixing. When I look at the price fixing, I can always make up my mind according to the situation at that time, but this 5 per cent. seemed to be an essential before the price fixing. I believe that that answers the right hon. Gentleman's point about the right of an individual country to decide, of its own volition and in its own national interest, when it should make a green currency devaluation. I shall fight for that, and I am glad that the Italian Government take exactly the same view.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must warn the House that we are running very slow indeed, and I fear, with respect, that answers are a bit long.