HC Deb 06 May 1982 vol 23 c274
11. Mr. Haselhurst

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is satisfied with the present support arrangements for United Kingdom tomato growers in comparison with their European counterparts, and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peter Walker

I am satisfied that the substantial support given by the Government to the United Kingdom tomato industry bears comparison in total benefit with that given to our competitors, allowing for the relative size of the industries. On heating costs, we are giving the maximum aid permitted under European Commission guidelines.

Mr. Haselhurst

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, however one looks at the issue, our growers are not achieving the market share and profitability that properly ought to be theirs and that the responsibility or fault for that does not lie wholly with them?

Mr. Walker

I believe that the growers have been at a disadvantage as a result of the variations in fuel prices between this country and Holland. That is why we have strongly negotiated, and expect soon to reach agreement, over a comparable position on fuel prices between Holland and this country. Unlike the position in most countris in Europe, I have given the maximum aid allowed by the Commission to our tomato industry and I know that the industry very much appreciates the £9½ million help that it has received in the last two years.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there has been a catastrophic fall in the number of tomato growers in Scotland due to the competition from subsidised Dutch growers? Will he now consider subsidising coal and gas heating as well as oil?

Mr. Walker

There are difficulties and problems in subsidising coal and gas and I am not considering subsidising those fuels at the moment. However, I am considering with the National Coal Board the possibility of encouraging, with Government grants, conversion to coal and ways in which contract prices could be provided to make that a sensible option for tomato growers.

Mr. Hicks

While I appreciate the action taken by my right hon. Friend, may I ask him to state when we can expect action by the Commission so that not only tomato growers but the whole range of market garden and glass house products will not be placed at a disadvantage compared with the Dutch in particular?

Mr. Walker

At the recent meeting of the Council the Commission reported that the talks with the Dutch were making good progress. I hope, although I cannot be certain, that some conclusions from this will be reported to the Council meeting next week.