HC Deb 03 July 1975 vol 894 cc1663-5
12. Mr. Wakeham

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has made to the Government of the Netherlands with respect to the artificially low cost of natural gas used in that country for horticultural production and the effect that the use of that gas has on the terms of trade in horticultural produce between Great Britain and the Netherlands.

Mr. Strang

I have no evidence that the prices charged for natural gas in the Netherlands are artificially low in relation to the cost of distributing the onshore supply available in that country. Gas costs in the Netherlands are only one of many factors influencing the volume and price of Dutch horticultural exports to the United Kingdom.

Mr. Wakeham

Is the Minister aware that there are many people engaged in the glasshouse crop production who disagree with the answer which the Minister has just given and who are greatly concerned about the failure of the Government to make representations to stop what they consider to be unfair competition?

Mr. Strang

The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that the Commission, in its latest proposals to the Council of Ministers, envisaged that the price of natural gas—it was thinking especially about the Netherlands—should be brought more into line with the price of oil.

Mr. Newens

Does the Minister regard it as satisfactory to pay glasshouse crop producers to dismantle the glass which was frequently erected with Government grants? Is it not an absolute disgrace at a time like this, when we need to produce at home rather than to import, that we should be prepared to accept an outrageous policy of this description because we failed to give the support which we should have given to our home industry?

Mr. Strang

No. That would not be satisfactory. As my right hon. Friend did not find the Commission's proposals acceptable, he opposed them in the Council of Ministers. Those proposals have been taken back, and are being reconsidered.

I cannot accept that we have in any way neglected the industry. The support which we gave it at the right time, when it needed it, last year, was welcomed by horticultural interests.

Mr. Hicks

Will the Minister confirm that our glasshouse producers are suffering from unfair competition at present, as a result of his Department's refusal to take the appropriate action?

Mr. Strang

Frankly, I think that the Opposition are about six weeks out of date. They have not noticed that the prices of tomatoes and lettuces are up more than 40 per cent., compared with last year. The industry is doing well now.