HC Deb 24 April 1975 vol 890 cc1721-3
2. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement about measures to assist horticulture.

25. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the future of the horticulture industry.

Mr. Strang

Our policy continues to be to encourage growers, principally through capital grants and the help available from the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service, to modernise and where appropriate expand their production.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the growers whom I have the honour to represent do not want to be featherbedded and that what they want is fair competition with other Europeans? Is the hon. Gentleman of the opinion that the new measures from the Community to come into effect at the end of June will provide our growers with fair competition, and will he explain why the fuel subsidy could not have been continued for the few months until the new measures become effective?

Mr. Strang

As I have explained, I cannot comment on the proposals from the Commission which are intended to have effect from Ist July without knowing what they are, just as the hon. Gentleman cannot comment on them without knowing what they are. I agree that we are against unfair competition in respect of glasshouse growers and other sections of agriculture, but our assistance compares favourably with that of other EEC countries. At the end of the day, as has always been the case, whether we are inside or outside the Community, the glasshouse growers will have to get their returns from the market place.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Is my hon. Friend aware that many growers in my constituency warmly welcomed the Government's introduction of the subsidy and are bitterly disappointed that it has not been continued? They would echo the comment of the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) that they do not want to he subsidised or feather-bedded but want to be able to compete fairly with products from abroad that are subsidised. Does my hon. Friend believe that the glasshouse industry has a future, given the difficulties that it is facing and the bankruptcies that are likely to occur? Will he comment on the suggestion that is gaining currency in the EEC that grants should be paid to glasshouse growers so that they can close down production?

Mr. Strang

I understand the disappointment felt by my hon. Friend and his constituents at the Government's decision not to extend the subsidy. The subsidy was announced as being of a temporary nature and it is inevitable that there should be disappointment when it comes to an end. Certainly we see a future for the horticulture industry. My hon. Friend and his constituents will be encouraged by the present firming-up of tomato prices. If the present weather continues and the demand for salad continues to increase, prices will rise even further. We cannot comment on the Commission's proposals until they are made, but we understand that they might include the measure referred to by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Wells

When will the junior Minister grow up and learn that the horticulture industry comprises seven entirely separate sections? His replies to Questions Nos. 1 and 2 were given in two separate groups, but the answers we have received so far have all been in reply to Question No. 1. Will the hon. Gentleman please answer the Question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) about the other sectors of the horticulture industry? Will he please be a little more forthcoming and, instead of refusing invitations as he did in a letter to me this morning, go out and meet horticulturists and cease living in an ivory tower in Whitehall?

Mr. Strang

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to have noticed that nearly all the supplementary qustions related to the glasshouse industry. That is why my answers related to that section of the horticulture industry. The glasshouse sector and tomato-growing in particular constitute a small proportion of the total industry, and the industry as a whole will continue to benefit from the generous capital grants and from the improved advisory service which has been made available. As in the past, the industry will stand or fall on its own efforts.

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