HL Deb 28 June 1993 vol 547 cc584-6

2.53 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the European Community is seeking to interfere with the development of the British wine industry, and what action they are taking in the matter.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earll Howe)

My Lords, the production of wine from English and Welsh vineyards has developed considerably during the past decade and the Government are committed to its continued success. The Government are therefore seeking to ensure that the interests of our industry are properly reflected in the Community's wine regulations.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful Answer. Will he go a little further and say whether the press reports that objection is being taken in the Community, particularly in the French section thereof, to the expansion of the British wine industry are correct?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend will agree that the English and Welsh wine industries deserve all the encouragement that we can give them. That is why we have taken issue with the EC Commission on the terms of the rule prohibiting, the new planting of vines. We have done so on grounds of practicality and fairness. We are producing some excellent wines in this country and we wish to see the industry develop further.

Lord Shepherd

My Lords, in the light of the Government's commitment to our wine industry, will the Minister specify how they are fulfilling that commitment and whether government hospitality serves English wines at their functions?

Earl Howe

My Lords, the Government take every opportunity to bring English wine to the attention of their guests by serving it at government functions. With regard to the rules of the EC wine regime, we do not believe that the ban on new planting is practicable because it can be introduced only after we know what the previous year's production was, which is after the planting season is under way. We have made representations to the Commission on that score. Nor do we believe that it is fair to introduce a ban on new planting on the basis of one year's figures alone. Again, we have brought that point to the attention of the Commission.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Brussels directive requires the British wine industry to plant no more vineyards until 1996 and then not to use the hybrid grape, which is most suitable to our climate, on the grounds that it would offer unfair competition to the other producers in the EC? Is the Minister also aware that the 3 million bottles which we produce annually would hardly make a splash in the vast wine lake which is maintained by the EC? Is he further aware that many jobs would be lost if the Government do not invoke the doctrine of subsidiarity and tell those in Brussels that it has nothing whatever to do with them and that we shall do exactly as we please about our own wine production?

Earl Howe

My Lords, we cannot cut ourselves off from Community rules relating to the wine industry, as the wine regime is part of the CAP, to which we are legally committed. The UK also relies on the single market and therefore we must abide by EC rules in that connection. The ban on new planting is not currently in force in this country. However, long-standing EC rules prevent quality wine being made from hybrid grape varieties, as the noble Lord correctly said. The Government wish to see that rule changed because those varieties can produce good, often excellent, wine in the UK.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, would it not be sensible if government departments in this country instructed themselves on the ways in which, for example. the French Government and the French wine industry construe and apply legislation coming out of Brussels?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I must point out to my noble friend that the major producers of wine in the Community are subject to a total ban on new planting in order to restrict production. During the past few years we in this country have seen a most impressive increase in the acreage under vines and the Government are keen to see that development continue.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this matter falls within the exclusive competence of the Community and that therefore, in line with the principles of subsidiarity, which do not apply within areas of exclusive competence, it will be extremely difficult to give effective support to our own wine industry?

Earl Howe

My Lords, in broad terms I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. However, we believe that there is scope for the rules to take greater account of UK growing conditions and of the fact that our production could not be said to contribute to Community surpluses.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that, despite the great support of all things British, it is a relief to Her Majesty's Government to know that we are not supporting the claims that elderberry wine can be champagne against the claims of the people from Epernay? That is becoming too presumptive on our part.

Earl Howe

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very interesting point. We have noted the conclusion of the recent court judgment and are studying it carefully.

Lord Carter

My Lords, why cannot English and Welsh wine producers be treated as generously as the French and Greek tobacco growers?

Earl Howe

My Lords, the Community subsidy to the wine regime is almost exactly on a par with that to tobacco growers.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, in his answer to an earlier supplementary question the Minister said that support was given to English and Welsh wine producers. Can he advise the House why the Government discriminate against wine producers in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I have no intention of discriminating. The fact is that the vast majority of vineyards are located in the southern part of the British Isles, as the noble Lord will be aware.