HC Deb 21 March 1991 vol 188 cc392-3
11. Mr. Ralph Howell

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the self-sufficiency of British agriculture in 1979–80, 1984–85 and 1989–90.

Mr. Gummer

Self-sufficiency in foods that can be produced in the United Kingdom was 71 per cent. in 1979–80, 80 per cent. in 1984–85 and about 74 per cent. in 1989–90.

Mr. Howell

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Will he acknowledge the great contribution that British agriculture makes to the economy in general and the special contribution that is made by the cereals sector? Will he ensure that, in any future GATT negotiations, the aggressive attitude of the Americans is kept well in check?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend could not say other than that, on this point, I have been as aggressive as any of the American negotiators. European farmers—British farmers among them—must have equal access to world markets. I will not accept measures that would improve the position of the United States but reduce the opportunities for Europe. However, concentration on self-sufficiency could easily hide the fact that we need to increase our sales in the rest of Europe, as well as the fact that our home market today is the whole of Europe, not merely the United Kingdom.

Mr. Cryer

Is not the balance of trade deficit in agricultural products between the United Kingdom and the rest of the Common Market about £5,000 million? Does not it demonstrate that, for the United Kingdom, the CAP has been a ghastly and costly failure? That is especially so in view of the fact that, since 1979, the Government have contributed about £14,000 million under the CAP. Does not this demonstrate the need for reform of the CAP as a matter of drastic urgency and will the Government do something about that? Secondly, could not British farmers contribute more to the production of the nation's food?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman has got his facts the wrong way round. The common agricultural policy has enabled us to produce a great deal more of the food that we need. However, the consumers of Britain want choice. The hon. Gentleman said that the balance of trade deficit in agricultural products is £5,000 million, but the foods that that figure covers include many that cannot be produced in this country. However, there is £2,500 million worth of food that we could produce. I do not recommend that people buy British when British is not best, but I believe that farmers, other producers, manufacturers and retailers could do a great deal more to use home sources, so long as they produce food that the public want. It is for the consumer to decide; we have to meet his demand.