HC Deb 23 February 1984 vol 54 cc966-7
9. Mr. Nicholson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what measures he proposes to implement to alleviate the problems facing the Northern Ireland pig industry.

13. Mr. McQuarrie

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received from pig producers regarding the cost of feed in the Province and the effect this is having on production.

Mr. Butler

The problems of the pig production sector were raised with my noble Friend the Earl of Mansfield by officials of the Ulster Farmers Union on 10 February. In this financial year, as in each of the two previous financial years, the Government allocated just over £1 million to the industry under the special temporary assistance for intensive livestock industries arrangements. It is the Government's intention to continue payment of this aid. Northern Ireland firms are also making use of the European Community scheme of aids to private storage of pigmeat, which was introduced on 16 January 1984.

Mr. Nicholson

I welcome the Minister's reply. Does he accept that after the serious decline in the number of pigs—there are now about half as many as there were 10 years ago—and as the industry plays an important role in Northern Ireland in providing employment on farms and in ancillary industries, he should give serious thought to advancing proposals to help alleviate the problem Northern Ireland faces as a peripheral area, with the result that high import costs mean that pig production is loss-making?

Mr. Butler

There is no doubt that the pig producing and processing industries are important to the Province. There has been a loss of jobs in that sector. The industry has been relatively stable for eight or nine years, but present circumstances are intensely grave. I am glad that there has recently been an improvement in prices, but, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, grain prices have also increased. The problem derives from over-supply. Until that is sorted out, I am afraid that I cannot hold out any hope for pig farmers.

Mr. McQuarrie

My hon. Friend will be aware that the loss to the Province of 50,000 tonnes of German intervention breadmeat last year — which amount was quickly taken up by the producers in 1983—has caused the industry serious problems, because the increase in pig prices has increased the price of feed by £50 to £60 a tonne since August 1983. As the pig industry is vital to the Province for home consumption and export, will my hon. Friend take positive action to secure cheaper feed prices for the pig industry, as any further decline in production in that industry will have grave consequences for the future of the economy and employment in the Province?

Mr. Butler

The intervention grain benefited the industry and the intensive sector last year. I know that my noble Friend is doing all that he can to get a repeat of that if it is possible.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the Minister agree that the pig producers of Northern Ireland are at a disadvantage because of a slush fund that was established by the Government of the Republic to help produce to be sent to third countries? Will he consider setting up such a fund to assist the Pig Marketing Board in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Butler

I can see no hope of doing more than we are doing to help this sector.

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