HC Deb 24 April 1975 vol 890 cc1718-21
1. Mr. Ralph Howell

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions he has had with the other EEC countries about assistance to glasshouse growers after June

17. Mr. Banks

asked the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food what recent discussions he has had with the other EEC partners on the problems facing glasshouse growers.

22. Mr. Michael Latham

asked the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food whether he will now make a statement on the progress of his negotiations with the EEC over national aids to the glasshouse sector of the horticultural industry.

27. Mr. Blaker

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what consultations he has had with his opposite numbers in the EEC countries about Community arrangements for the glasshouse sector of the horticulture industry after June.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Gavin Strang)

We are awaiting proposals, which are expected very shortly, from the EEC Commission.

Mr. Ralph Howell

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the great disappointment which all glasshouse growers will feel at that thoroughly inadequate reply? Is he further aware of the reply which I received from Mr. Lardinois in the European Parliament in which he expressed extreme sympathy with the British glasshouse growers and undertook to approach the Minister personally on this subject? May I ask whether such an approach has been made by Mr. Lardinois and, if so. what was the result?

Mr. Strang

The on. Gentleman has raised a number of points, but his Question relates to proposals which we know the Commission will bring forward from the end of June with regard to horticulture and especially glasshouse growers. The second point he raised related to a reply which I understand Mr. Lardinois gave him when he raised this matter with him. We have received no approach from Mr. Lardinois, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this is a decision which will be taken by the Government of this country on the basis of our own best interests.

Mr. Banks

When will the Minister show, by performance and not words, that he sincerely wishes to encourage the growth of home-grown food, and when will he recognise representations made by the glasshouse industry, in which I have an interest, and by the European Commission as my hon. Friend has intimated?

Mr. Strang

The Government have made it absolutely clear that they are committed to the continuance of a successful indigenous horticulture industry. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the aid which the Government moved quickly to grant last year in total compares favourably with the aid received by any other EEC country.

Mr. Latham

Will the Minister confirm that his deplorable decision not to extend the subsidy pending the EEC negotiations was motivated solely by energy-saving reasons rather than by any concern for British growers?

Mr. Strang

All Government decisions have to be taken on the basis of all factors affecting our national economy. This country has to adjust to the facts of life of high energy prices and very large oil imports.

Mr. Blaker

It is all very well for the Minister to repeat that the Government are dedicated to the survival of a viable glasshouse industry, but what the industry wants is action and not simply words. Will he make sure that the proposals which the Commission plans to bring forward come forward as rapidly as possible? Will he support the proposals of COPA for a continuing fuel subsidy on a degressive basis?

Mr. Strang

It would be quite inconsistent for the Government to support the COPA proposal for a degressive oil subsidy, having refused to extend the subsidy beyond 31st December 1974. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we wish the Commission to come forward quickly with its proposals, which are intended to have effect from 1st July this year. The future of our horticulture industry and the policies we pursue will depend to some extent on these proposals and on whether we remain a member of the European Community.

Mr. Newens

Does not my hon. Friend accept that our producers are at a disadvantage compared with their continental counterparts? While he is waiting for a decision to be reached, might not some producers go out of business and never be able to come back again? In these circumstances, is there not a necessity for immediate action to be taken? We cannot wait for that action until these discussions are concluded.

Mr. Strang

I recognise my hon. Friend's deep concern for the glasshouse growers in his constituency. I cannot accept that the assistance which we have provided is less favourable than that provided in other Community countries.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Will the Minister consider setting up a British horticultural board with statutory powers to safeguard the interests of the producers of this country if that were their wish?

Mr. Strang

I cannot respond to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. There is still great scope for more co-operative marketing of horticultural produce in this country.

Mr. Jopling

Is the Minister aware that the glasshouse sector of the horticulture industry is suffering from a major crisis mainly because of the Government's failure to act now? Has he noticed that, in referring to the British Government's refusal to continue the subsidy on oil, Mr. Lardinois in his reply said that he believed it was desirable that the British Government should make use of the authorisation? What will the Minister do about that? Does he realise that everyone is against the Government on this and that, if we are not careful, we shall suffer from a shortage of glasshouse produce later in the year?

Mr. Strang

I am not sure whether it is the Opposition's policy to take their lead on agriculture from Mr. Lardinois, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall continue to take decisions on the basis of our assessment of the national interest.

Mr. Latham

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

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