§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when the Government expects to publish their response to the second report from the Agriculture Committee of Session 1991–92, on the trade gap in food and drink; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Gummer
The Government's response is published today, and copies are available in the Libraries of the House.
I welcome the report of the Select Committee as a valuable contribution to the debate on the trade gap. It supports the Government's view that collaboration between producers is the best way for them to produce what the market wants, and that close collaboration is also needed between producers, processors and retailers.
The Government are addressing these needs through the group marketing grant which they introduced in April. We believe that it can make a real contribution to improved marketing at home and abroad.
I am delighted that the marketing initiative is moving forward on such a broad front. Food from Britain is working with us on the group marketing grant and will certainly have a role to play in other ways too. The National Farmers Union has its own Food from the Countryside programme and regional food fairs are planned. Several food and retail companies are sponsoring the three-year initiative with Strathclyde university on improving opportunities for British suppliers. there has never been so much interest in this subject, and I am sure that working together we can make a real impact.
The response acknowledges that the Committee and the Government are in agreement that intra Community trade in agriculture produce should be conducted on a fair footing. However, the Government do not accept that the taxpayer should offset the cost of national food safety or animal welfare measures, since these are ultimately of benefit to the industries concerned. For the same reason the Government do not feel that an increase in its contribution to Food from Britain is justified at present. The Government agrees with the importance which the Select Committee places on marketing and collaboration.