HC Deb 22 June 1994 vol 245 cc220-1
5. Mr. Tyler

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what steps he is taking to reduce the competitive disadvantages facing United Kingdom food producers within the EU single market.

Mr. Needham

British food producers are competitive. They are winning business in the single market. The UK's exports of foodstuffs to the European Union increased from more than £2.7 billion in 1990 to £3.8 billion in 1993. That is an increase of 40 per cent. The Government are backing that excellent performance with support for marketing and exports.

Mr. Tyler

Is the Minister satisfied that the GATT regime and the EU single market mechanisms are sufficient to deal with the problem of subsidised dumping of agricultural and horticultural produce, and especially the salad produce that is coming to this country at prices below production cost? Has he seen the evidence about that issue that the National Farmers Union has put before hon. Members?

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman is the Liberal Democrat spokesman on agriculture. I cannot understand why he is asking me what is obviously an agricultural question. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has considered the question that he has posed and has not found any evidence to the effect that he has suggested. If the hon. Gentleman has that evidence, I suggest that he does two things—first, write to the Minister direct and, secondly, ask the Minister about it on Thursday.

Mr. Nicholls

Is not the biggest disadvantage to food producers in the EC the possibility of over-regulation by Brussels? Is not it a profound piece of cheek for a representative of the Liberal Democrat party to come along to the House, representing a party which would give away our veto in Europe and lie down to anything that is imposed on it by Brussels, and then shed crocodile tears all over the green leather about regulation from Europe?

Mr. Needham

My hon. Friend, representing as he does a seat in the west country, knows as well as I do that what the Liberal party says in the constituencies, in the House of Commons and in Brussels is mutually contradictory. We should not be surprised about that; we should just make sure that our constituents know it.