The Minister will be aware that there was quite a substantial decrease in farming incomes in real terms in 1987. There has been a substantial setback for farmers as a result of the disparity in the green pound at present, which is making what is otherwise a very efficient industry uncompetitive in relation to other EC countries. Does the Minister realise that an immediate 9 per cent. devaluation of the green pound is both necessary and would be realistic bearing in mind that it would add only 0.5 per cent. to the RPI?
It is not true that there was a decrease in incomes across the board last year. In a number of sectors, including dairy farming, income increased in real terms. One of the areas most affected was the arable sector, partly because of the weather. Having made that clear, we have yet to see what the Commission will propose for further adjustment in green currencies in the price fixing. I am aware of the strong feelings of farmers, which I have heard at many meetings, and I shall take them into account when considering any devaluation of the green pound.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many small and medium-sized farmers are now beyond breaking point? May I express the hope that he will soon conclude his deliberations and provide for a remarkable and notable devaluation of the green pound?
I am aware of the feeling about the green pound. We shall be discussing the price fixing in the Council of Agriculture Ministers towards the end of this month. I cannot say at this stage whether we will complete deliberations then. Obviously, I am anxious to get agreement on that as soon as possible, so that farmers know exactly where they stand.
Is the Minister aware that his cautious replies to this question will be a matter of some concern to the agriculture industry? Before he returns to Brussels for discussions on agricultural price fixing, will he make it clear that the grotesque misuse of resources implicit in the CAP will not be resolved by the selective destruction of jobs and livelihoods in British agriculture, which is what the green pound is doing?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that in the past nine months we have put an enormous amount of effort into putting right what he refers to as the "grotesque" distortions in the CAP. We shall be completing that next week and then we shall be looking to the price review. In that context, I shall, as I said, be taking into account representations that I have had on the green pound.
May I add my voice to those who are calling for a devaluation of the green pound, which, as my right hon. Friend knows, is doing such grave damage to Britain's pig industry, particularly in counties like my own of Suffolk? I know that my right hon. Friend is aware of the problems and I am sure that he will do all that he possibly can, because he, too, has many pig producers in his county. Is he aware that many people are now asking about fairness in Europe and, unless we get that aspect right in all that we do in Europe, the implications, not just for agriculture but for our membership of the EEC, will be grave?
I agree with my hon. Friend. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear on 16 February, and as I have also made clear on a number of occasions in the House, I shall be pressing hard to secure the best possible improvements for our pig producers. This is one of the most hotly contested areas in the CAP, so it will not be easy to obtain a majority agreement, but I assure my hon. Friend that I am well aware of the problems and am determined to press as hard as I possibly can.