HC Deb 21 May 1981 vol 5 cc409-10
11. Mr. Colin Shepherd

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied that the measure of support he has provided to United Kingdom poultrymeat producers is sufficient and is equivalent with the support given to European competitors.

Mr. Peter Walker

The aid that I recently provided was a short-term measure to help our industry meet its hygiene inspection costs in 1980–81. I am pressing in Brussels for Community arrangements that will ensure that our industry can compete on reasonable terms with those of other countries.

Mr. Shepherd

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the urgency that is creeping into the problem in that the major customers of the poultry industry are thinking about placing their orders for the Christmas trade, especially for turkeymeat? Is my right hon. Friend aware of the strong evidence that the French are, even now, able to undercut substantially the prices quoted by United Kingdom producers? Is he aware that United Kingdom producers face the future with great fears?

Mr. Walker

I am aware of that. A particular plant in Brittany has been supported by heavy regional and central Government aid. It is now offering on the London market for delivery at Christmas substantial supplies of turkey at prices way below the costs of production. We have given full details to the European Commission. If such turkeys were allowed to come in with such subsidies it would be in violation of the trading spirit of the Community.

Mr. Torney

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, due to the unfair competition from the EEC and America, the British poultry industry is still suffering from a tremendous recession which is creating high unemployment among members of my trade union in the industry? Will he take steps to ensure that action is taken to abolish unfair competition to give our industry a fair chance?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman rightly mentions what was unfair competition from the American industry. I took the necessary action on that and banned all imports from America that did not comply with European standards of hygiene. In spite of fierce protests from the American Government and a reference to the GATT authorities, I believe that that action was correct. In terms of the differences in hygiene inspection I have given substantial grants to the poultry industry. We are taking up the current disparities with the Commission.

Mr. Johnson Smith

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if we go on this way for much longer we shall not have an industry to boast about? When can we expect some action from the Commission?

Mr. Walker

In terms of the current position of the industry—for instance, the imports in the last year-—we still maintain the great proportion of trade and we deserve to do so,. due to the efficiency of our industry. I hope that the Commission will take action quickly against the specific French plant.

Mr. Mark Hughes

If the Commission is too slow, will the Minister assure the House that he will allow for national provision to enable the turkey industry in particular to supply British turkeys to British housewives this Christmas?

Mr. Walker

With the hon. Gentleman's experience of European matters, he knows that it would be the height of stupidity for any Minister to say what he would do if the Commission does not do what it should do. I look to the Commission to act quickly.