HC Deb 18 May 1978 vol 950 cc759-60
5. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take steps to assist carnation growers of the United Kingdom who are being forced out of business by the excessive importations of inferior products.

Mr. Strang

Carnation imports have been much higher over the past winter than last year, but they were generally of a quality commanding a premium price. Our growers are already protected by a high tariff and are being helped to improve their efficiency, but bad weather has been holding back home supplies.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to agree that imported carnations are superior to those grown in my constituency. Does he accept that the amount of land put under glass for carnations has decreased by nearly half over the past 10 years, that the returns to local growers have gone down by 4p per bloom this year, and that if it goes on like this—

Mr. Jay

The EEC.

Mr. Ross

Not the EEC. The situation is due to imports from Israel, Turkey and Columbia. Will the Minister deal with that problem? Will he also have a word with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and suggest that he should take VAT off flowers?

Mr. Strang

It is true that the increase is substantially accounted for by increased imports from Israel. It is also true—I hope that this will help to improve the situation—that from the beginning of next month there will be a significant increase in the tariff, because we are now coming into the summer season.

Mr. Newens

Is my hon. Friend aware that some carnations imported into Britain and on sale during the past week were priced at only four-sevenths of the break-even price of blooms produced in the Lea Valley? Is there not a strong argument for some action to be taken, at least during the main growing season from May to October, to protect our extremely good and efficient producers, who have much better conditions for their employees than prevail in some other countries?

Mr. Strang

As I said, the higher tariff applies from June to October. I shall look into my hon. Friend's observations. My advice is that imports are commanding a higher price than home-produced carnations. I shall certainly pursue the point that he has made.

Mr. Welsh

Will the Minister also consider the plight of the raspberry and soft fruit industry, which is faced with bulk subsidised East European—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We can go all round agriculture.