HC Deb 01 February 1996 vol 270 cc1111-3
7. Mr. Elletson

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to increase exports of British food. [11271]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Tony Baldry)

The value of UK food and drink exports is currently almost £10 billion a year. We continue, through Food From Britain, to provide active support for British food and drink exporters.

Mr. Elletson

Is my hon. Friend aware of the help provided by Food From Britain to more than 1,000 British companies, including several from Blackpool and Fylde? Marketing grants and other forms of assistance have helped several local firms, including Premier Biscuits, Fair Game and the Packaged Ice Company, to increase exports and break into new export markets. Does he agree that Food From Britain is doing an excellent job and will he join me in congratulating it?

Mr. Baldry

Food From Britain is doing an excellent job, and all over the country large numbers of successful businesses are exporting foodstuffs from the UK. Indeed, food exports have increased by 10 per cent. since last year. We are exporting pizzas to Italy, mineral water to France, and I strongly suspect that, somewhere in the UK, someone is exporting ice cream to the Eskimos.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

One of the better foods that we export is fish; the delicious and nutritious brainfood that we should all eat more of, especially those sitting on the Government Front Bench. The British fishing industry would like to export more fish, but at the moment it is importing too much of our fish, caught in our waters by foreign vessels. Therefore, is it not disgraceful that the Minister has not made a statement on how well he fulfilled the mandate imposed on him by the House of Commons by the Government defeat in November to get a better deal for British fishermen at the Fisheries Council?

Mr. Baldry

I would have been delighted to have had the opportunity to proclaim my success at the Fisheries Council. We struck a very good deal, balancing the interests of the UK fishing industry with the needs of best science. We must ensure that our industry has the maximum catch this year, at the same time as ensuring that there are sustainable levels of fish in the sea for years to come.

Mr. Tyler

I acknowledge that the livestock sector is not doing anything like as well as other sectors, as the farm incomes survey showed last night. What plans does the Minister have to promote the export of meat and dairy products, especially to other countries of the European Union? Did he note, for example, that at the recent international green week festival in Berlin, the Irish were there in force, led by their Minister, yet there was no representative from the Government, the Meat and Livestock Commission or Food From Britain?

Mr. Baldry

UK Ministers and Food From Britain are at practically every significant food fair in Europe. Bearing in mind how few Liberal Democrats are present, it is very difficult to take anything they say seriously. Indeed, in their own document on agriculture, they freely acknowledge that Lib-Dems say everything to everybody to satisfy the pro-animal and pro-farming lobbies.

8. Mr. Fabricant

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next plans to meet his counterparts in the EU to discuss the export of British beef; and if he will make a statement. [11272]

Mr. Baldry

Beef exports have been discussed at three of the last four meetings of the Council of Agriculture Ministers. British beef exports are a real success story. Last year British beef exports were worth an impressive £526 million.

Mr. Fabricant

Following my hon. Friend's robust efforts to protect British fishermen in the Irish box, Staffordshire farmers now want him to push still further the export of British beef and not allow bovine spongiform encephalopathy to be used as an excuse by our French and German cousins for not importing it. Will he convey to our French and German brethren that British beef is, of course, far nicer than knackered horse?

Mr. Baldry

I am glad to say that the Meat and Livestock Commission estimates that UK beef exports in December were significantly higher than they were at the same time in the previous year. Clearly, although unfair and alarmist reports about BSE do not help, our continuing impressive beef export performance is testimony to the quality and competitiveness of British beef. We have made it clear to the Commission that we expect it to ensure that Germany complies with European Community law.

Mr. Madden

Will the Minister confirm that animal welfare groups do excellent work in monitoring meat exports? Will he therefore repudiate the remarks made a few moments ago by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins), who has now fled the Chamber, accusing my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) of pocketing £15,000 a year from an animal welfare group? Will the Minister acknowledge that that money goes not to my hon. Friend but to support research carried out in his private office, and that the same organisation funds Conservative Members in precisely the same way?

Mr. Baldry

I am sure that the Register of Members' Interests speaks for itself.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the Minister assure me that, when he makes representations about beef exports to the European Union, he will keep in mind the valuable contribution made by Northern Ireland to those exports? Will he be fully briefed by Baroness Denton, the Northern Ireland Office Minister responsible for agriculture, about the difficulties that Northern Ireland exporters now face in exporting beef to the European Union?

Mr. Baldry

We all have good cause to be proud of the quality of agriculture in Northern Ireland; it makes a significant contribution to United Kingdom agriculture overall. I have no doubt that if Baroness Denton feels that there are concerns, she will raise them with us, and we shall act upon them.

Mr. Mackinlay

Will the Minister tell us why neither he nor any other Minister attended the Berlin green fair, where the promotion of food exports was discussed? If the Irish Minister was there, why was the British Minister not there?

Mr. Baldry

As I have already explained, United Kingdom Ministers attend many trade exhibitions to promote UK food. The fact that UK food exports have increased by 10 per cent. in one year is a testimony to that.