HL Deb 24 November 1982 vol 436 cc887-9

2.44 p.m.

Viscount Sidmouth

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the serious impact the accession of Spain to the EEC would have on the market for horticultural products, and what proposals they have to mitigate this.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government accept that Spanish accession is likely to affect British producers in a limited number of horticultural products. We have made it clear that accession arrangements must include transitional provisions to help safeguard the interests of such producers.

Viscount Sidmouth

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that declaration of intent. Is he aware that Spain has a great potential, through protective cropping and irrigation, to produce fruit and vegetables during the North European season? Does he agree that if that potential is developed, as is being done now, it would have a serious effect on jobs in horticulture, which is a labour intensive industry, in this country?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, clearly, if there are possibilities for Spain when it joins the Community to increase its exports or production, no doubt it will do so. However, expert opinion is that there are limitations to that increased output in the Spanish horticultural and agricultural sectors.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, leaving aside the effect on horticulture, does the Minister agree that instead of inflating the EEC, as we seem to be doing, we should do far better, in our own interests—excluding the interests of other people who, in my opinion, perhaps do not count so much—to deflate it instead?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is a master at taking advantage of Questions. The Question refers merely to horticultural products. I take the noble Lord's point, but the Government believe that Spain is a part of Europe and it is part of the structure of Europe. It is now involved in NATO and it is quite right that Spain should become part of the European Community.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us welcome what he has just said in the latter part of his Answer and that we, like him, look forward to welcoming a democratic Spain into the European Community?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am glad to note that, not for the first time, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, agrees with the Government.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House whether, before the accession of Spain and Portugal to the Community, the Government have discussed with the British horticultural industry any problems that might arise? Secondly, can the Government assure the House that they will do all they can, as the Germans requested in their case, to ensure that the accession of Spain and Portugal to the EEC will not involve any increase in our own provision of resources, or otherwise increase the budget to a further extent, but will be financed entirely by economies in the common agricultural policy? This is a point that I think—

Several noble Lords


Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, please let me complete my last sentence without interruption. I have been putting a question all along, but I will sit down now, because the noble Lord knows my intention.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, of course we are aware of Spanish problems and we certainly wish to see those problems as far as possible mitigated as between Spain and the United Kingdom. I remind the noble Lord that the conditions of entry are between Spain and the European Community. With regard to our own resources, it is our view that expenditure on agricultural support needs to be reduced, especially in relation to surplus commodities, rather than increased. Any question of increasing the Community's own resources raises much wider issues, including the amount of the United Kingdom's net budget contribution to the EEC.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, the Commission has made proposals for variable transition phases. In his opening reply the noble Lord referred to a transition phase. Was he referring to the same thing? If not, could the noble Lord tell the House what the Government's attitude is to the Commission's proposals, in view of the undoubted effect of the accession of Spain and Portugal in certain sectors of British horticultural and agricultural industry?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, at the moment the agricultural chapters have not been discussed in full with the Community and Spain. Clearly, anything that comes as a result of the discussions will have to be considered very carefully. It is our intention and desire to see that there should be a proper transition arrangement during which time all the countries involved will be able to make their own arrangements as regards the future full membership of Spain.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, would it not be desirable not always to concentrate entirely on what are considered to be British interests, but sometimes to consider what are the interests of the Community as a whole?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is precisely the reason why we welcome Spain into the Community. On the other hand, one must realise that there are certain effects which could be harmful to United Kingdom interests and we wish to see that those are made as small as possible.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that no punitive measures will be taken against Spain in regard to the export from Spain to this country of what is known as "Sherry"?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I cannot imagine that the export of sherry would have a punitive effect on anyone, unless he took too much of it.

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