HC Deb 18 May 1978 vol 950 cc755-9
4. Mr. Walters

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the current level of pigmeat monetary compensation amounts.

8. Mr. Newens

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the latest position adopted within the EEC towards his proposals for ensuring that the British pig industry does not continue to be subjected to unfair competition within the EEC.

16. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the current state of negotiations with regard to the basis for the calculation of pigmeat monetary compensatory amounts.

20. Mr. Arnold

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is satisfied with the progress being made towards a recalculation of pigmeat monetary compensatory amounts.

Mr. John Silkin

The rate for bacon sides is now £256.30 per tonne. The change in the basis of calculation which I announced last week, which will be implemented once the Opinion of the European Assembly has been received, will cut the monetary compensatory amounts by a further 8 per cent. I have also secured an undertaking that the coefficients used for calculating MCAs on processed pigmeat will be reviewed in the coming months. This should mean further reductions.

Mr. Walters

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the 16 per cent. MCA reductions still leave a £235-per-tonne competitive advantage to importers, which is £43 per tonne greater than in February? Given these figures, does he feel that he has achieved anything near the desperately needed and substantial drop required by United Kingdom producers and manufacturers?

Mr. Silkin

If we are to consider these matters correctly, we shall have to review the position on Monday, when the new marketing year fully takes effect. On Monday, as the hon. Gentleman must be aware, the new marketing year comes in and all the effects will then have worked themselves through. I think that he will find that the position will be better. I had better not say by how much it will be better on Monday compared with the present position, as matters of speculation are involved. However, the position should be better than it is at present. I take the hon. Gentleman's general point that we have not succeeded in getting the full recalculation that we wished. In that respect I agree with him. The position will be helped by the promise to reassess the coefficients. In the first instance that will help the processors, or, as the hon. Gentleman called them, the manufacturers. I think that that is right. As for the producers, the present price of pigmeat is firm. I hope that it will continue to be so for some time. However, I agree that we have a long way to go.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call first those hon. Members whose Questions are being answered.

Mr. Newens

I applaud the efforts made by my right hon. Friend in this sphere, but is it not a fact that Danish farmers still enjoy a price advantage in the MCAs on bacon which is exported to this country? Does that not illustrate the totally unfair basis of the negotiations on the MCAs which still remain? Will he take note that there is considerable support among efficient pig farmers for any further action that he deems necessary on this issue?

Mr. Silkin

I agree with everything said by my hon. Friend. This is a useful step in the direction of avoiding thoroughly distorted competition. I do not intend to let go of it. I was a little disappointed that the French and the Italians did not come all the way with me at the Council, but it does not matter. We are on the way, and I do not intend to let the matter go.

Mr. Arnold

Why did the French and Italians suddenly reverse their earlier support for the Minister?

Mr. Silkin

I am not qualified to speak for the French and the Italians, any more than my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) is qualified to speak for the Opposition. If I am asked why, I should say that it was because they have a slightly different problem from ours. Our problem is mainly concerned with Danish bacon. On the whole, very few Italians and Frenchmen eat bacon.

Mr. Torney

In view of the disastrous effect that our entry into the Common Market has had not only on consumers, but on workers in the bacon curing industry, will my right hon. Friend give urgent consideration to copying the example of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and taking unilateral action in whichever way is best to protect consumers, the industry and the jobs of workers in the industry?

Mr. Silkin

I had not appreciated fully that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport took such an active interest in pigs, but if my hon. Friend tells me so, I shall certainly talk to him.

My hon. Friend may recall that I took unilateral action last year. It had some effect, but not as great as I wanted. It is better—I think that my hon. Friend will agree—to get the whole basis of the pigmeat MCAs recalculated, and that I intend to keep on doing.

Mr. Peyton

Will the Minister comment on those voices coming from Brussels which suggest that he failed to make common cause with the French and the Italians on the pigmeat MCAs and that he would have made a great deal more progress had he done so?

Mr. Silkin

I do not know to what voices the right hon. Gentleman is referring. From the beginning to the end, I said that I required a minimum reduction—that was the Commissioner's original suggested proposal, but it never got to the table—of 15 percentage point. But when the French and the Italians decided to settle—after all, this is a package, and the Mediterranean is an important area for them, but not so important for us, except in payment, and they may have had their reasons—I insisted that the coefficients should be examined with a view to their being cut. If that is so, we can get exactly the same effect. However, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we have not gone nearly far enough.

Mr. Peter Mills

Whatever the Minister may say, we have to look at the track record of the Socialist Government on the pig industry, and the fact is that the industry is slowly dying. In fact, there has been less production and more people unemployed in the pig-meat industry. Will he redouble his efforts to ensure that the industry does not continue to die?

Mr. Silkin

I do not think that pig producers are in a difficult position at the moment.

Mr. Mills

They are.

Mr. Silkin

They are not, because the price is firm at the moment. The pig cycle, which we are all aware exists in the pig industry from time to time, has been multiplied by our going into the Common Market. That has had an effect. The difficulty is that there is overproduction of pigs in Europe as a whole. The hon. Gentleman should know that. What I might have been able to do in other circumstances to protect our pig industry I am no longer able to do, and the hon. Gentleman knows that perfectly well.

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