HC Deb 17 July 1980 vol 988 cc1743-4
11. Mr. Hardy

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to what factors he attributes the disparity in value between British agricultural produce sales to France and French sales to Great Britain; to what extent different marketing and sales promotion techniques are responsible; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peter Walker

France's agricultural industry is much larger than ours. France is a traditional food exporter, and has climatic advantages for certain crops. Good marketing has no doubt contributed in some areas, and the illegal restrictions on United Kingdom sheep-meat exports prevented exploitation of our comparative advantage in that sector.

Mr. Hardy

Does not the right hon. Gentleman consider that official French Government support for, and involvement in, marketing in this country is extremely damaging to British national and agricultural interests? Does he agree that this extends much further than the fruit sector, and is becoming increasingly relevant to the egg trade?

Mr. Walker

There is also a range of marketing benefits, helps and subsidies available to British exporters, and they are substantially used by them. For example, my recent decision substantially to increase the grants for marketing cooperatives in this country will be a positive help to them.

Mr. Moate

On the question of French sales to Britain, has my right hon. Friend seen the report that the Office of Fair Trading may rule against the agreement between the growers and the trade to restrict imports of French Golden Delicious to top grades of fruit only? Does not he agree that it would be disgraceful if the Office of Fair Trading were to intervene in that way, and that what we need are more such agreements to protect British interests?

Mr. Walker

I do not know the detail of any such agreements. Judging by the pronouncements of the various organisations named, there is some doubt as to whether any specific agreement exists. It would be up to the Office of Fair Trading to decide upon the strength and nature of the agreement as to whether it was against the rules of fair competition.

Mr. Skinner

To what extent do the French sales, both in relation to this question and intrusion into other markets, contribute to the statements that the right hon. Gentleman made at Warwick a week last Saturday, when he argued that throwing people out of work and creating a £7,000 million bill for the public sector borrowing requirement was too high a price for squeezing inflation out of the economy?

Mr. Walker

It was because of my anxiety about unemployment that I considered it so disastrous for the previous Government to pursue the green pound policy that they did, and lose many jobs in this country.