HC Deb 21 October 1982 vol 29 cc487-8
2. Mr. Newens

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been achieved to date on the equalisation of energy costs incurred by glasshouse growers in EEC countries.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Peter Walker)

Under the agreement between the European Commission and the Dutch Government, the preferential gas tariff to Dutch glasshouse growers is to be phased out on 31 March 1983. I am extending the aid to United Kingdom growers using oil at the maximum rates permitted under new guidelines recently issued by the Commission. This additional aid will be worth up to £1 million to the industry.

Mr. Newens

I welcome the extension of the aid and recognise the Minister's stand. However, does he recognise the catastrophic position of many of our glasshouse growers because of the cumulative effect over many years of the Dutch advantage in fuel costs? Is it possible to make aid available to make up for the years when the disadvantage was greatest? Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to implement the Select Committee's recommendations for the industry, as, without them, there will be many bankruptcies in the years ahead?

Mr. Walker

The Government, in the absence of an agreement with the Dutch, negotiated that aid should be provided by national Governments. Britain, and perhaps one other country, has for a considerable time given the maximum aid allowable. I am continuing that right up to the moment when the Dutch gas subsidy is phased out.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

In view of the long start that the Dutch had and the fact that the capital base of our industry has been eroded by what the Commission has proclaimed to be the Dutch Government's unlawful actions, could we not continue the aid until next autumn so that the creditworthiness of at least part of the industry can be restored after a situation that is not of this Government's making? Can we not at least do what is within our power to assuage the ill-effects of the Dutch cheating?

Mr. Walker

No, Sir. Under pressure from the United Kingdom Government, the Commission negotiated to phase out the advantage that the Dutch had by a certain date and agreed that until that date aid should be provided. We are almost alone of all European countries in giving the maximum aid to our growers during the entire period.