§ 3. Mr. Hague:
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his latest estimate of the value of beef exports.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry)
In the first nine months of this year total United Kingdom beef exports amounted to just over 84,000 tonnes worth about £167 million. For the same period last year exports were 78,000 tonnes worth just over £170 million.
§ Mr. Hague
Does my hon. Friend agree that the continued success of beef exports is not only good news for the industry but is a powerful reminder, after all the scare stories last year, that British beef is among the best in the world? Does he agree that the use of greater marketing expertise could open up still further opportunities for British exporters? Can he tell us whether and how he will be using the new marketing initiative of his Ministry to assist exports in the industry?
§ Mr. Curry
I agree with my hon. Friend that in the past the weakness when farmers have got together has been the quality of marketing and management that they bring to a project. The aim of the marketing grants is to address any marketing deficiencies and to provide good management, which we are willing to support. We also have an undertaking from the supermarkets and some of the food industry that they will assist in providing managers. That is an essential part of the campaign to ensure that our beef, which is the world's best, finds its way on to tables across the world.
§ Sir Hector Monro
Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the best beef exported from Britain comes from the less-favoured areas and hill land? Does he agree that 438 hill farmers had a substantial drop in income in recent years? When will he announce an enhanced hill livestock compensatory allowance?
§ Mr. Curry
I agree with my hon. Friend that beef production is particularly important in the less-favoured areas. He will know that the Scottish Beef Club has had great success in the export market and that the idea of Scottish beef has been extremely successful. We are pursuing discussions on the future of the HLCAs following the autumn review and we shall announce the results as soon as we can.
§ Dr. David Clark
In view of the excellence of British beef, why is it that major British restaurant chains, which, incidentally make generous donations to the Conservative party, are unable, on the grounds of quantity, quality and consistency, to use a single ounce of British beef in their restaurants, when at the same time 1 million tonnes is rotting in intervention?
§ Mr. Curry
The reason is that under the general agreement on tariffs and trade beef from other countries, notably Australia, comes into the European Community. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman supports the liberalisation of trade under GATT and that he would not wish to defy the GATT rules. In many cases those imports are available at a cheaper price than within the Community. The answer is to unwind some of the absurdities of the intervention system which mean that far too much money is devoted to financing the depreciation of beef rather than to putting it on the table. We must also try to direct support much more to the specialist producers of high-quality British beef.