Pig Industry

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th January 1977.

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Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton 12:00 am, 20th January 1977

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will now announce further measures to help pig producers.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he is taking to ensure that pigmeat production is maintained at a satisfactory level.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on his policy towards the problems of pig producers.

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor , South Norfolk

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is satisfied with the present state of the pig industry; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Hon. Robert Boscawen Hon. Robert Boscawen , Wells

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the returns presently received by pig farmers.

Photo of Mr Hilary Miller Mr Hilary Miller , Bromsgrove and Redditch

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the returns presently received by pig farmers.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

Yes, Sir. I shall announce such measures now.

The method of calculating monetary compensatory amounts on our imports of bacon and other pigmeat should be changed. The present method is unfair to producers and processors in the United Kingdom. I have proposed to the EEC Council of Ministers that a fairer method be adopted.

In the meantime, our producers are facing very real difficulties. Sow slaughterings are at a disturbingly high level and the breeding herd is being run down. The risk to our pig supplies is obvious. The Government have therefore decided to introduce a temporary subsidy of 5·5p per kilogram deadweight—50p per score—on pigs certified under terms and conditions similar to those which applied under previous subsidy schemes. These payments will rest on the authority of the Estimates and the confirming Appropriation Act. Supplementary Estimates will be presented in due course and meanwhile, if necessary, recourse will be had to the Contingencies Fund. The necessary administrative arrangements are being made with a view to accepting pigs for certification from Monday 31st January.

I believe that this action will be welcomed by all concerned in the industry as a positive step to help them meet their immediate difficulties.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

Although any help is welcome, is it not true that the Minister has fiddled around for far too long on this matter? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Since heavy hog producers are currently losing up to £8 per week, by how much will today's announcement reduce that deficit?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I somehow felt that the hon. Gentleman might be a little light in his expression of gratitude, but he is wrong about timing. The House may recall that in November I had conversations with the then Agriculture Commissioner and raised the point with some force about the change in mcas. As a result, we had a small change in the calculation of 8 per cent. I had hoped that the Commission and the Council of Ministers would have come to a fair method of recalculation in the December round of Council meetings. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Following that, this is the earliest moment at which I could have taken the measures, and I have now taken them. Therefore, I have informed the House of the situation at the earliest possible moment.

The figure of 50p per score—I hope that the House will forgive my talking in terms of scores, because I have yet to get used to kilograms—will mean, on average, a subsidy per pig of £3·50. It has been calculated on what the efficient pig producer should require to make pig production profitable.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

Is the Minister aware that we join in welcoming his reply, but does he not agree that it is worrying that this has taken so long to happen and that a great deal of damage has already been done to confidence? Will he give an assurance that this kind of delay and damage to confidence will not be allowed to happen again?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

The granting of a direct subsidy in the way I have announced to the House is not without its difficulties. I should much have preferred it if the method of calculation had been in the form which I have constantly made clear in the House and which I intended to obtain—namely, a recalculation of pigmeat mcas, which always seemed to me to be the best way of settling the matter.

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor , South Norfolk

Will the Minister make clear the situation in regard to heavy hogs, because this will have serious implications for food manufacturers and in terms of employment in the industry? Is he satisfied that today's announcement will be enough to deal with the heavy hog situation? If he is unable to obtain agreement on mcas, which may depend on his willingness partly to devalue the green pound, will he give an assurance that the subsidy will continue until he does so?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

If I may deal first with the last part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, it is rather like giving a copy of "Rayden on Divorce" to a newly-married couple. After all, I have only just introduced the subsidy, so let us wait and see. On the other matter mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, I would inform him that this subsidy is based on the pig producer but will have its effects throughout the production cycle. It will have a significant effect on the preservation of jobs and also, I hope and trust, will be of benefit to the consumer.

Photo of Hon. Robert Boscawen Hon. Robert Boscawen , Wells

We are always grateful for anything we can get from the Minister, but does he not agree that his reply is still unsatisfactory? Therefore, I give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment—

Several Hon. Members:

Oh!

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I did not hear that.

Photo of Mr John Watkinson Mr John Watkinson , Gloucestershire West

Is my right hon. Friend aware that farmers in West Gloucestershire will welcome the measures that he has announced today? Is he also aware that they are grateful to him for the consideration he showed when she met a delegation of them at the Ministry earlier this week? Does he accept that there are hopeful signs that feeding costs may be firming up as a result of more stabilisation of grain prices generally, which is an added hopeful sign for the pig industry?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. In return, I may say that I have always believed that British farmers are the most able and intelligent farmers probably in the world, and that high among them are his constituent farmers. Bearing in mind my conversation with them a little while ago when he brought them to see me, they at least will not be totally dissatisfied.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

First, Mr. Speaker, I am much obliged to you for your temporary deafness. I hope that it will not be of too long duration.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the extent of our surprise at his gall in accusing my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) of being a little light in his gratitude? Is he not aware of just how long we have had to wait for action and even words from him on this subject while the pig industry was being virtually destroyed? Will he now tell us what he intends to do about securing an early change in the arrangement for calculating the mcas? Does he agree that he missed a valuable opportunity early on in not agreeing to a slight devaluation of the green pound to bring this about?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

The right hon. Gentleman has addressed his mind to this matter in his usual rather picturesque language, but I have a feeling that temporary deafness must be a little catching in the House. On many occasions I have told the House the exact nature of the difficulties. I have always tried to keep the House fully in the picture about the difficulty of recalculating the mcas and why I thought it was the best method. If the right hon. Gentleman says that I have been lacking even in words, he should read the appropriate references in Hansard.

The right hon. Gentleman's final question was to ask me why I did not slightly devalue the green pound. The simple answer is that a slight devaluation of the green pound would be accompanied by an equally slight increase, but of exactly the same amount, in the cost of feeding stuffs for our pig producers, which would mean no gain whatsoever. The gain would come from a recalculation of the mcas or in the method I have set out.

Photo of Mr Thomas Torney Mr Thomas Torney , Bradford South

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement, but is he aware that I, too, am surprised at the gall of the Opposition in daring to criticise when they call all the time for cuts in Government expenditure? By how much will the action that my right hon. Friend has taken today benefit the hard-pressed consumers who have to buy either the pork or bacon that results from the order that he has made?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

I do not want to make excessive claims, but the fact is that bacon and pork prices are lower than they have been. The basis of this action is to safeguard supplies for the consumer at the price we are talking about. It would be foolish and, I think, dishonourable of me to claim that it will cause a reduction in the price of these commodities.

Photo of Mr Geraint Howells Mr Geraint Howells , Cardigan

I am sure that Welsh pig producers will welcome the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman. I believe that it is a step in the right direction. Will the right hon. Gentleman give me an assurance that, as regards the long term, he will consider the situation again at this year's price review?

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Now that you have recovered your hearing, may I give notice that I am still dissatisfied and that I intend to raise the matter at the earliest possible moment?

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Mr. Luce. Question No. 2.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , Isle of Ely

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Will the hon. Gentleman mind waiting until after Questions? We are running very slowly. [Interruption.] I realise that the Minister has not answered. I hope that the House will not mind very much if I do not hear the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) until after the reply.

Photo of Mr John Ellis Mr John Ellis , Brigg and Scunthorpe

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It seems that when you hear things and when you do not is completely arbitrary. Some of us have seen the Minister recently, and there have been—

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman is disappointed that he was not called. Does the Minister wish to answer the supplementary question of the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) before I hear again?

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

With your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, I think that might not be a had courtesy to give to the hon. Gentleman who has made a fair point. As I have said, I think that the correct process is that of recalculation of the mcas. However, I have no doubt that that will now find itself, in view of the time scale, coming into the discussion on other matters.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

I repeat, Mr. Speaker, that in view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply I give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter at the earliest possible opportunity.

Later

Photo of Mr John Ellis Mr John Ellis , Brigg and Scunthorpe

May I now raise my point of order, Mr. Speaker? In response to your request, I have deferred it until the end of Questions. May I invite your consideration of what happened on Question No. 1 to the Minister of Agriculture? Hon. Members used the device of giving notice that they wished to raise the matter on the Adjournment. That was done, I think, three times. I understand the difficulty of the Opposition when Back Benchers are called who have not tabled Questions. But when other hon. Members who have not put down Questions are excluded from asking supplementary questions your diplomatic deafness, which was exercised on the first two occasions, gives rise to a sense of resentment if it is apparently used in a discriminatory way to give preference to some Back Benchers. If we are to have a device such as this which enables hon. Members to curtail discussion on a Question, the application of that device should be made in such a way that it does not create dangers and get us into the difficulties that we saw today.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I should inform hon. Members who were not in the House earlier this afternoon that five other Questions were grouped together with Question No. 1. Following my policy of calling those whose Questions are being answered, I endeavoured to try alternately to call hon. Members from either side of the House, and I succeeded in calling some. I understand the hon. Member's frustration, but I hope he is not even hinting at discrimination by me against anyone. Naturally, Mr. Speaker likes to please everyone if he can—just like an hon. Member in his constituency. That is not always possible. However, I shall do my best.