HC Deb 08 June 1995 vol 261 cc303-4
1. Mr. Spring

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he is taking to encourage the consumption of food produced in the United Kingdom. [25812]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Angela Browning)

My ministerial colleagues and I take every opportunity, through our marketing grants and other practical help, to encourage the industry to improve its marketing performance.

Mr. Spring

Can my hon. Friend assure the House that support for home-produced British food, which is so excellent, also comes from the private sector? Can she also assure the House that she and her fellow Ministers will set a best-practice personal example by eating good British food at all appropriate opportunities?

Mrs. Browning

On the first point, I commend to my hon. Friend and the House the excellent work of Food From Britain, which this year will receive £5 million from the Government and which also attracts money from the private sector. On the second point, I can confirm to the House that since I was appointed Minister for Food a year ago, I have done my best to eat British food, and have gone up one dress size as a result.

Mr. Tyler

Does the Minister acknowledge that the best way to assist home producers will be to prevent unfair competition from exports from other states? In that regard, can she confirm that the Minister's statement that he found very powerful the case for restricting imports of foods and food products into this country from other member states of the European Union, where the same standard of hygiene and animal welfare do not apply, is one that she is examining carefully? Can she further confirm that, under the treaty of Rome, there is nothing to stop the Minister using his powers to prevent those foods from being put into the British market, which puts our consumers in an unfortunate position?

Mrs. Browning

The hon. Gentleman will know that there are strict rules on hygiene within the Community and also in the trade that we do with countries outside the Community. The Ministry would always take the necessary action to make sure that food that had a question mark against it in terms of hygiene was taken out of the food chain and that the necessary steps were taken. My right hon. Friend the Minister has demonstrated clearly his desire, against a free-trade background, to encourage both hygiene and welfare-friendly food. Obviously, the best way to do that within the single market is by Europe-wide agreement and enforcement.

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. and slim Friend is far too young to remember that there used to be a "Buy British" campaign. Will she and her Department consider introducing an "Eat English" campaign? If she is clever enough, she may be able to think of a similar phrase for the Welsh and the Scottish. When is she going to promote Britain even more than she already does?

Mrs. Browning

I accept the compliment from one so young, and thank him for it. It is interesting to note that "Produce of England" is a label that is now put on food sold in Paris by Marks and Spencer because the French and other nations seek out English food. In Paris, £40,000-worth of British sandwiches, made in this country, are sold. Throughout the capital of France, they seek out British muffins. Around the world, one can see the success of the British food industry.

Mr. Martyn Jones

One way to encourage the consumption of home-produced food is to discourage imports. What does the Minister intend to do about the estimated 80,000 tonnes of Spanish lettuce which we believe is imported at below-cost price?

Mrs. Browning

On discouraging imports, the answer is to encourage and support import substitution. Through the good quality, safe food which we have in this country, we can persuade UK consumers to seek out UK-produced food. The hon. Gentleman will know that the lettuce industry is currently jeopardised because of an absurd decision about nitrate levels in lettuces. My hon. Friend the Minister of State is working hard to ensure that the English lettuce industry survives, people eat British lettuces, and those European nonsenses that arise from time to time are batted away as quickly as possible.

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