HC Deb 09 December 1993 vol 234 cc470-1
4. Mr. Pickles

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps are being taken to improve the marketing of British horticultural products.

Mr. Jack

Help to improve the marketing of British horticultural produce will come from the new marketing development grant and a study that my right hon. Friend has asked me to undertake of ways in which the sector's performance can be strengthened.

Mr. Pickles

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware that growers of broadleaf and salad vegetables in my constituency are gravely concerned about the proposed EC directives on nitrates? Is he aware that, given the preponderance of vegetables grown under glass—in my constituency and throughout the country—the viability of the industry is threatened? The proposed directive is not really based on scientific justification and smacks of anti-competitive practice. What measures is my hon. Friend taking to protect British growers?

Mr. Jack

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point—he does a service to the glasshouse industry. As he may know, before I came to the House I was involved in the fresh produce industry and therefore fully appreciate the seriousness of what he says. Our officials have been working extremely hard in their discussions in Europe to try to ensure that the United Kingdom's view on the way in which the directive affects our glasshouse growers prevails. We are currently without support on that matter, but we take my hon. Friend's point so seriously that my right hon. Friend the Minister plans to raise it in the next Agriculture Council

Mr. Ashton

Is the Minister aware that the marketing of horticultural products took a severe knock with last night's vote in the House and that thousands of greengrocer shops that have been opening on Sunday mornings will now find that the competition from Tesco and Sainsbury will force them to shut every Sunday? The Conservative party is supposed to be the party of small business men, yet it was predominantly its vote last night that will shut those greengrocer shops, especially on Sundays.

Mr. Jack

What the hon. Gentleman says is an insult to the small specialist greengrocers, who, with their expertise and knowledge of markets and different varieties, serve, whether six or seven days a week, with tremendous professionalism, those who buy vegetables and salads. Long may they continue to trade in that way.

Mr. Paice

Does my hon. Friend agree that effective marketing of horticultural produce requires markets to be as open as possible? In that light, has any progress been made on the agricultural and horticultural aspects of the GATT negotiations? Will he and our right hon. Friend the Minister make absolutely sure that no special interest groups in other countries are allowed to get in the way of a satisfactory settlement?

Mr. Jack

My hon. Friend knows that many members of the Government have, in their own way, been working extremely hard to help to secure a general agreement on tariffs and trade. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister will make her contribution to that next week.