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Glasshouse Growers

Volume 984: debated on Thursday 15 May 1980

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12.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made in establishing a common European Economic Community policy for subsidising fuel supplies to glasshouse growers.

I am not aware of plans for a Community policy for subsidising fuel supplies to glasshouse growers.

Why are Ministers dragging their feet on this issue? When will glasshouse growers go to the wall? If the Commission can approve subsidies to the Germans to the tune of £12½ million, and subsidies to the French, why cannot the Minister get together with his colleague in the Department of Energy and get a proper scheme for growers in this country, to save imminent bankruptcies?

On a matter of detail, the French scheme has not been approved. The German scheme is for one year only, limited in quantity, for changing heating arrangements. The Government are fully aware of the difficulties created by the Dutch competition, but, as I have told the hon. Gentleman many times, there is no evidence that this is unfair in Community terms.

Will my hon. Friend accept that it is not good enough for the Government just to be aware of the problem? Is he aware of the serious plight of growers of salad products, particularly small growers, in my constituency and elsewhere? Will he accept that unless the Dutch are prepared to raise their gas price to an oil equivalent price issued to our growers, there can be no alternative to introducing a subsidy system of the kind described by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross)?

I understand that the Dutch are increasing their prices. The question of a subsidy for energy costs applies to many other industries, as well as the glasshouse industry.

Does the Minister recognise, however, that British glasshouse growers have continually been fobbed off with the excuse that the disparity, which undoubtedly exists, between the price of fuel to Dutch growers and to British growers is disappearing? In those circumstances, will he recognise that the industry will disappear unless he takes some action very soon on this issue?

The hon. Gentleman's Government faced this problem in exactly the same way. The truth is that the Dutch are supplying their glasshouse growers with gas at a profit, and this gives them an advantage over our growers.