HC Deb 19 December 1991 vol 201 cc444-5
11. Mr. Harry Barnes

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement about the United Kingdom trade deficit in 1991 as it applies to food and drink.

Mr. Gummer

Net imports of food, feed and drink into the United Kingdom were £4.7 billion for the period January to October 1991. This compared with £5.2 billion for the same period in 1990.

Mr. Barnes

Is the Minister aware that since he was first appointed to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 1985 there has been a £28 billion food deficit, which amounts to £15 million per year or £1,200 per household? Is that not a pretty inept performance?

Mr. Gummer

Very much the same situation has obtained under Ministers of both Governments for the past 20 years—[Interruption.] That happens to be a fact, and it was this Government who set out to do something about it. The hon. Gentleman may like to ask some of his right hon. and hon. Friends what they did about it. They did not even approach the matter. We are dealing with it as well as we can in the circumstances and are beginning to have some real effect. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will ask his constituents to remember that if they want to do something about that matter there is one answer—to buy the best food that there is, and that is British produced.

Mr. Sims

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the drinks industry enjoys a surplus mainly because the value of exports of Scotch whisky far exceeds the value of imports of wine? He will be aware that there are Commission proposals on harmonisation with a zero rate for wine but a substantially higher rate for spirits, which is bound to have an adverse effect on our trade balance. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will press for harmonisation based on alcoholic strength, or at least some mechanism for capping the rate on spirits?

Mr. Gummer

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I can assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will not allow the European Community to roll over him—as would be the case if the Leader of the Opposition were in charge of the affairs of this country—but will be fighting hard for Britain's interests, and especially for the interests of the Scotch whisky industry.

Mr. Tony Banks

Why does this country import more champagne per head than any other country? Could it be that the people of this country are storing up champagne to celebrate the wondrous event of the Tories' being smashed at the next election?

Mr. Gummer

That is an entirely new version of the phrase, "champagne socialist". The hon. Gentleman does not set an example to others in the consumption of champagne, as I do not believe that he seeks such a tipple—

Mr. Banks

The Minister is wrong there.

Mr. Gummer

In that case, the hon. Gentleman sets an example and shows that in a free society people can decide what they want to drink. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman wants a society in which people are prevented from drinking what they want.

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