HC Deb 11 December 1975 vol 902 cc637-9
8. Mr. Blaker

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next expects to meet the National Farmers' Union to discuss the problems of the horticultural industry.

Mr. Strang

The current Annual Review will provide the opportunity for such discussions.

Mr. Blaker

Is the Minister aware that the National Farmers' Union is very concerned that growers in the glasshouse sector will be very severely hit by the recent heavy increase in the cost of fuel oil, which represents such a very high proportion of their costs? Is he also aware that Holland, Belgium and Germany are assisting their glasshouse growers with the cost of fuel oil to the full extent agreed by the European Community?

If the Minister is not prepared to give our own growers in the glasshouse sector similar assistance on a national basis, will he at least press for an agreed Community scheme to be put into force so that our growers may be able to compete fairly?

Mr. Strang

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the way the oil companies have decided to increase their prices will have an adverse effect on horticulture. I also agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that, if we are to remain in the Community, we ensure that competition is fair. I am sure that he will welcome the fact that the Commission is now challenging the Dutch proposals and the Dutch scheme.

Mr. Newens

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the Lea Valley it is estimated that the increase in the price of oil and other expenses in the coming year will add at least 19p to 20p to the cost of a 12 lb. box of produce? Is he aware that this is extremely serious and that in relation to the Dutch, who get their fuel so much cheaper, our industry is placed in such a difficult situation that it will face extinction in due course unless something is done? Will he give further consideration, therefore, to the recommendation for a subsidy if some other agreement cannot be arrived at early on to give our industry the protection it needs?

Mr. Strang

I recognise my hon. Friend's deep concern and interest in his horticultural constituents. I would point out that in Holland the bulk of the heating comes from gas, and the European Commission is seeking to force up the price of gas. However, I accept the basis of my hon. Friend's remarks. Certainly the Government are anxious to see the continuance of a prosperous and efficient horticultural industry.

Mr. Hicks

I acknowledge that the European Economic Commission is investigating the matter in respect of Holland. However, will the hon. Gentleman recognise the urgency of the position for our domestic growers? Will he ask his right hon. Friend when he goes to Brussels next week to investigate the possibility of rationalising the method of aid to national growers, thus doing away with the accusation of unfair competition?

Mr. Strang

I do not quite understand that question. However, as the hon. Gentleman's leader is seated beside him, I may as well put the point that there is a limit to the extent to which Opposition Members can press for Government subsidies for private industry at the same time as complaining about the public sector borrowing requirement.