HC Deb 14 December 1995 vol 268 cc1092-3
10. Mr. Pawsey

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of the relative efficiency of agriculture in the United Kingdom and in other major EU countries. [4137]

Mr. Douglas Hogg

I believe that United Kingdom farmers can compete effectively with their counterparts in other major countries of the European Union.

Mr. Pawsey

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for confirming the efficiency of the British farming industry. However, does he agree that the nonsense of the CAP distorts the free market, and that its cost—the billions that it costs British taxpayers—enables less efficient foreign industries to compete unfairly with the United Kingdom industry?

Mr. Hogg

There are indeed serious defects in the CAP, to some of which my hon. Friend has drawn attention. We have been forward in pressing the case for far-reaching reform of the CAP, and Commissioner Fischler has now produced a paper accepting that the status quo is not sustainable. I welcome that fact, and we shall push for substantial reform.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

While we are talking about the efficiency of milk producers, if the Minister of State can really buy four pints of milk for 26p, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman advise his colleague to resign his seat and go into the milk business, to buy a milk tanker, take it round to his local supermarket and fill it up with milk in the half-gallon bottles that it sells, and then sell that milk to a farmer, so that the farmer can sell it on to a milk processor? If he did that, he would make a 100 per cent. profit.

Mr. Hogg

It is quite plain that the hon. Gentleman was not listening to my hon. Friend the Minister of State. I should add that my hon. Friend has many talents, and I am sure that he would make a splendid milkman.

Mr. Dykes

May I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to visit the three very efficient farms in Harrow, East? It is always an interesting phenomenon to visit urban farms. Will he confirm that one of the ways of enhancing the efficiency of Britain's farms would be to adopt the single currency, bearing it in mind that the National Farmers Union now endorses such a policy?

Mr. Hogg

My hon. Friend has represented many interests in his time in the House of Commons, but I did not know that he was such a prominent spokesman for the agricultural community. I am delighted to hear that there are three farmers in Harrow, East. That community will be the easiest to meet in its totality.

Mr. Simpson

I am glad that the Minister is keen to recognise the efficiency of our agriculture industry. Will he explain why this country currently has a trade deficit of £6 billion in food and drink, 63 per cent. of which is with countries that have no climatic advantage over the United Kingdom? Will he explain the compelling logic and virtue of agriculture policies that have seen imports from the EC increase by 20 per cent. since 1980 and exports decrease by 3 per cent.? If we have an efficient agriculture industry, what is the point of a policy that discourages Britain's ability to provide its own food?

Mr. Hogg

There are two points to be made. First, the hon. Gentleman is enunciating a policy of fortress Britain, which—whatever else may be true about it—is incompatible with the policy of Opposition Front Benchers. Secondly, on a point of specific detail, if he contrasts food exports last September—the latest available figures—with the previous year, he will see that our exports have gone up by 10 per cent., whereas imports have gone up by 4 per cent. In other words, exports are doing rather well at the moment.

Forward to