HC Deb 23 March 1995 vol 257 cc475-6
10. Mr. Win Griffiths

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to reduce the trade deficiency in agricultural produce. [13885]

Mr. Waldegrave

My Department has a wide range of initiatives specifically designed to tackle the trade gap.

Mr. Griffiths

Can the Minister tell us, then, why we continue to have a huge trade deficit in food and why in France 90 per cent. of desert apples are home grown, while in Britain the figure is only 25 per cent? Should we blame our consumers or our farmers, or is it down to lack of support from the Government?

Mr. Waldegrave

The obvious reason why we have a large deficit is that we can grow only temporary foodstuffs. Even in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, banana production would not do very well. However, many imports could and should be produced here. My Department, through Food From Britain, a range of marketing grants and, above all, the huge support structure for British agriculture, is doing a great deal to grow more in Britain. In the past few years, the history of apple production—the efforts of my hon. Friend the Minister of State have led in this—has been encouraging.

Mr. Lord

Is my right hon. Friend aware that pig farmers in Suffolk are extremely afraid of unfair competition from Europe as they phase out their sow stalls and tethers while others may not? It would be quite a contribution to the trade balance if more of our own pigmeat could be consumed in Britain. Supermarkets are showing increasing interest in our home grown, extensively produced pigmeat and I urge my right hon. Friend to do all that he possibly can to encourage that trend.

Mr. Waldegrave

I certainly can and will; the Meat and Livestock Commission is doing that. Both sides of the House will want to join my hon. Friend in saying that it would be perfectly legitimate to have a campaign for high welfare pigmeat. British pigmeat is reared in humane conditions, which is not necessarily true of imported pig products.

Dr. Strang

Is not it clear that in the dairy sector Government deregulation has forced up prices for consumers and destroyed jobs? Does the Minister agree with the management of Northern Foods plc that deregulation is one of the reasons for the devastating job losses that have been announced today? Will the Minister admit that as long as we have EU milk quotas we cannot have a proper free market in the milk sector and that deregulation gives us the worst of all worlds, as the Labour party and others warned at the time?

Mr. Waldegrave

I have very great sympathy with those people in Northern Foods who have lost their jobs. I have rather limited sympathy for the management, because I happen to know, as many farmers will confirm, that Northern Foods was going round the farms up and down the country saying that whatever anybody else would pay for milk it would pay 1½p more. If that was not bidding up the market, I do not know what was. If Northern Foods then found that, having bought the market share, it could not afford it, that is bad management. The overall situation in that market has been one historically where we have imported high value added products and exported low value added products. That is crazy. It is now changing, but in the long term we will have a much stronger and more secure market.