HL Deb 11 June 1980 vol 410 cc429-31

2.42 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will insist on the institution of a similar arrangement for Northern Ireland before agreeing to any extension of the levy reduction granted under EEC Regulation 811/80 on imports of feed grain into Italy.


My Lords, as part of the 1980–81 agricultural prices package it was agreed that the reduction of levies on imports of feed grains by sea, which are granted to Italy under Regulation 811/80, would be phased out in three equal steps by 31st July 1983. In recognition of the special problems in Northern Ireland, the Council agreed to consider at an early meeting proposals which have been made by the Commission and which would benefit agriculture in Northern Ireland.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. I should like to ask him whether the Government are aware that the industry has almost halved since we joined the Common Market; and, further, whether he is aware that a very small reduction in the levy on the imported grain would cost this country far less than paying unemployment and other benefits to those who will be thrown out of work. The number to be thrown out of work varies between 4,000 and 8,000. Further, are the Government aware that there is a danger that the industry may be extinct before the money paid under FEOGA grants reaches the processing industry after its application, as the time lag between application and receipt is very great?


Yes, my Lords, the Government are aware of all the problems which my noble friend has stated. I think it would be more informative if I said to my noble friend that Mr. Gundelach was not able to come up with a scheme at the Agricultural Council on 28th to 30th May, but he presented orally proposals for specific aids to Northern Ireland to assist the agricultural structure and to support capital investment in the eggs, poultry meat and feeding stuffs sectors, with up to 50 per cent. of FEOGA funds, to which the noble Viscount has referred, contributing a total of 12 MEUAs over four years.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether it is not a fact that the feed grain levy abatement which currently applies to Italy will not be phased out until the end of 1983? As Northern Ireland is recognised as one of the less favoured regions of the EEC, would the Minister not agree to use his influence, and indeed his good offices, to ensure that the Province is given the same assistance as Italy in respect of this feed grain, so as to enable the livestock producers in the Province to overcome this unfair competitive handicap?


Yes, my Lords. As the noble Lord will see from my original Answer, the three equal steps by which the present levies will be reduced end on 31st July 1983. He is quite correct in that. So far as concerns bringing about the situation of a more equitable position between Italy and Northern Ireland, I think the noble Lord must await further result from the discussions of the Commission.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that agri- culture in Northern Ireland, particularly the production of pig meat and poultry meat, excites the admiration, or did excite the admiration, of a number of leading people in agriculture even in Scotland? In their development of housing, for example, and indeed in the facilities for the unloading of grain from North America, and its manufacture, they were well in the lead; and any help they are given through the EEC and through our own Government is bound to be well and efficiently used.


Yes, my Lords, I would agree with all of that. It is extremely fortunate that today the Report of the Select Committee on European Communities, the feed grain imports paper, has been published and is in the Printed Paper Office.


My Lords, did I correctly hear the noble Lord say something about a kind of currency known as MEUAs? As I might want to lay in a stock of them for my old age, can he tell us what they are?


Yes, my Lords, with pleasure. It is an acronym which means "million European units of account".

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