HC Deb 22 January 1981 vol 997 cc409-10
5. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has had from the poultry industry about unfair competition from producers in other European Economic Community States.

Mr. Peter Walker

Representations have been received from a number of organisations and firms in the industry.

Mr. Winterton

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that brief reply. What action has the EEC Commission taken over the Danish Government's intention to pay the charges relating to the EEC regulation on poultrymeat hygiene? I know the importance that my right hon. Friends place on the poultrymeat industry. Do the British Government intend to give the British industry the same sort of assistance?

Mr. Walker

As my hon. Friend knows, the last time that he asked a similar question, we had demanded an inquiry by the Commission, which had taken place. It said that, as a result, there was unfair competition and a dissimilarity of practice throughout the Community and that it would be tabling measures—I trusted that they would appear at the January Council meeting—to meet that point. Obviously, I do not know at present, because of the sad death, which both sides of the House will regret, of Mr. Gundelach, whether there will be any delay in bringing forward those proposals, but this is a matter of urgency for our poultry industry, which is operating under a disadvantage. I hope that action will be taken during this month.

Miss Maynard

Does the Minister accept that part of the unfair competition in our poultry industry is subsidisation of feeding stuffs in other countries? Does he appreciate that the importing of poultry meat is destroying jobs in rural areas of this country where there are already too few jobs, and that, although dairy farmers are compensated when they go out of business, dairy workers and poultry workers are not compensated?

Mr. Walker

As the hon. Lady will know, our poultry industry has enjoyed a very good record of exports, and is probably one of the best and most efficient in the world. When there was unfair competition from the United States due to its not complying with our health regulations, we stopped those imports. We have now ascertained that there is similar competition in Europe. The Commission has promised to act speedily. If it acts speedily, in January, I believe that our poultry industry will, perfectly fairly and reasonably, compete and succeed.

Mrs. Fenner

Will my right hon. Friend confirm or deny newspaper reports which allege that eggs are exported from this country to Europe and then reimported? If that were so, would not he consider it a patent absurdity from which the British housewife had a right to be protected?

Mr. Walker

Yes, but it is difficult to trace the identity, original location and final destination of an egg. I can only say that I have substantially increased the amount of inspection at the ports. If anyone can provide any evidence of such practices, we shall take immediate action.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Is it not the case that, before we went into the Common Market, we could, and did, do anything that we wanted to do to deal with matters such as this, but that now we cannot do as we want to do because we have to ask someone in Brussels? Did not the Euro-fanatics on both sides of the House promise that we would lose no sovereignty at all? Can we not now be honest and admit that we sold the people down the river and that the sooner we get out, the better?

Mr. Walker

While respecting the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the river, I personally believe that one thing that we should lose on a substantial scale if we pursued the policies he has suggested would be a great number of jobs, which would increase unemployment substantially.