HC Deb 14 June 1979 vol 968 cc607-9
13. Mr. Newens

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what new steps he is proposing to take to protect British glasshouse growers from unfair competition within the EEC.

Mr. Wiggin

I am concerned that there should be fair competition between glasshouse producers in member States. I shall immediately examine any evidence of unfair competition.

Mr. Newens

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that in addition to difficulties over the supply and price of oil, glasshouse growers in Britain now face an additional range of burdens imposed by the Budget, while their Dutch competitors have enjoyed, over a considerable period, cheap fuel supplies from Dutch gasfields? In these circumstances, does the hon. Gentleman recognise that there is an early need to take action to provide our efficient industry with the opportunity of fair competition? It is not sufficient that he should take time merely to look at the question.

Mr. Wiggin

I am not seeking to take time to look at it The Dutch are moving to an equalisation of fuel prices, which will be helpful, but in the fuel tariff United Kingdom horticulturists have full repayment of excise duty, so the Budget decisions will make no difference to them.

Mr. John Wells

Is my hon. Friend aware that many small-scale growers with smaller fuel tanks are in a very difficult position compared with their Dutch counterparts, who have limitless gas piped straight into the nursery? Thus, fuel tank size at a time of fuel shortage does not affect them, whereas it does affect the British, particularly the man with the small acreage of glass.

Mr. Wiggin

My hon. Friend is right. The difference lies in the fact that 75 per cent. of Dutch glasshouses are heated by natural gas, whereas only 3 per cent. of British glasshouses are. If any hon. Members become aware that there are growers who are experiencing difficulties over fuel, I hope that they will get in touch with the regional offices of the Department, which have set up arrangements to see that such pleas are heard as a priority by the fuel companies.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Is the Minister aware that the dramatic increase in fuel prices is having a tremendous impact on the horticulture industry? Does not he accept that unless action is taken by the Government there will be a large number of bankruptcies or increased costs to the consumer? Will he therefore consider introducing a subsidy to the glasshouse growers along the lines of that introduced by the Labour Government in 1974?

Mr. Wiggin

The glasshouse growers have always made out their case based on fair competition, and I am not aware that the fuel costs to their competitors have gone up less than they have to our growers. I shall look into the point made by the hon. Gentleman.