Agriculture

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:31 pm on 15th February 1988.

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Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard , South West Norfolk 9:31 pm, 15th February 1988

People in my constituency of Norfolk, South-West, not all of whom farm on grade 1 soil, are realistic about the necessity to reform the CAP and to tackle the problem of surpluses. Our farmers are business men who, like any business men, want a framework in which to plan their future, in which to plan for perhaps reduced outputs in some crops and diversification to others, but above all the opportunity to compete on the fairest terms possible within the European market place and beyond.

The settlement that was announced this weekend moves towards the provision of a framework in which our farmers can work. The legally enforced regulations, provided that they work effectively, will be popular with our farmers, who for some time have been under the firm impression that only British farmers have been keeping the rules, especially with co-responsibility levies.

I know that I must be extremely brief. I should like to have talked about non-agricultural use of land and biotechnology, but I shall confine myself to some remarks about the pig industry. If farming is in crisis, it is most in crisis in the production of pigs.

As other hon. Members have said, it is a cyclical problem, but since the previous crisis in 1983 the industry has done an enormous amount to put its house in order. It does not benefit from direct support, such as intervention price, but producers have studied the market, produced pigs that the market wants, have not over produced, in contrast to their Dutch competitors, for example, and above all have developed their marketing.

I think that nobody has mentioned marketing in the debate. Perhaps no one else present in the Chamber visits supermarkets and butchers as I do, but over the past couple of years I have been struck by the evidence in the retail sector of the industry's determination to market pork attractively — not just joints, but fillets, kebabs, stir-fry, spare ribs, casserole pork and lean pork steaks. That is a good example to producers in the other meat sectors. The pork producers have also cashed in on the healthy eating fashion by demonstrating the many uses of lean pork.

The industry has been assiduous in developing its export markets. A supplier in my constituency has negotiated excellent outlets in Japan and the United States. However, all those efforts have been defeated. Why? Because our producers are being forced to compete against the Dutch, Danes and French, who are able to export their pork to us with a subsidy provided by favourable MCA rates, while our producers have to battle against an export tax from unfavourable MCAs. In effect, our taxpayers are spending £5 million a year to help the Danes, Dutch and French put our pig producers out of business. That cannot be right, and it is not good enough.

I know that my right hon. Friend is fully aware of the problem. I know that he is determined to move to an early abolition of MCAs, if possible. I know, too, that the short-term private storage aids will give temporary relief, but pigmeat MCAs should be abolished as soon as possible, otherwise our producers will be forced out of business, only to have their place in the market filled by more imports.

Our farmers are efficient, well organised and ready for change. Like my right hon. Friend, they know that their best interests are to be served by an orderly and sustainable change in agricultural policy. Moves towards the abolition of MCAs and a devaluation of the green pound will enable British farmers to compete fairly with our neighbours, and we must strive to give them that chance.