HC Deb 16 April 1981 vol 3 cc418-9
2. Mr. Colin Shepherd

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the progress being made towards an equivalence of energy costs in the glasshouse industries of the United Kingdom and other member countries of the European Economic Community to ensure fair competition in horticulture.

3. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the response of the Dutch Government to the requirement upon them to end the unfair advantage their horticulturists obtain from the provision of cheap gas supplies.

Mr. Peter Walker

I understand that a further announcement by the Dutch Government on gas prices to horticulture is imminent. Meanwhile I am taking every opportunity to press for the ending of the distortion of competition.

Mr. Shepherd

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the horticulture industry is not satisfied with the progress being made to equivalence of competition? What has happened to the undertakings that my right hon. Friend gave to the industry on 13 and 17 March when he said that there would be a more definitive statement within two weeks, based on the report of the energy task force? Does not that task force report highlight the fact that horticulture has the highest proportion of energy costs to total costs—at 40 per cent.—of any industry in the country? When will my right hon. Friend take action to remove from the British producer the appalling handicap of unfair competition?

Mr. Walker

It is an appalling handicap which needs to be tackled. When I met the horticulturists on 13 March I said that I hoped to make a statement by the end of the month. I was given to understand by the Dutch Government that they would announce their new gas prices before 31 March. Because the Dutch Minister had the Presidency of the Council of Ministers during the price fixing, that was not possible. I am told by the Dutch Government that the announcement is about to be made.

Mr. Ross

Is the Minister aware that many hon. Members with horticulture interests believe that the Dutch Government are prevaricating, in spite of the excuses by the Minister? Has his attention been drawn to early-day motion No. 317, which has been signed by nearly 70 hon. Members, most of whom are his Back-Bench colleagues? Is he aware that we had hoped that he would today announce an Easter present for horticulturists? Will he please ensure that an announcement is made before the end of the month?

Mr. Walker

I understand the frustration, which I share. However, I do not think that on this occasion the Dutch Government were prevaricating. The cause was the demand on the Minister during the price fixing, when he had the Presidency. The latest information from the Dutch Government is that they hope to make an announcement either this week or next. Soon after that I shall make a statement to the House.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

Does my right hon. Friend accept that if justice delayed is justice denied, the years of waiting while the European Community has failed to resolve the fuel price question represent a grave injustice to British growers? Does he accept, therefore, that the EEC procedures for dealing with charges of unfair trading practices must be thoroughly overhauled and speeded up?

Mr. Walker