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Apple Industry

Volume 986: debated on Thursday 19 June 1980

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take further steps to prevent the decline of the British apple industry.

I am aware of the difficulties which apple growers have encountered in recent seasons, but there are encouraging signs that the industry is facing up to its problems. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary gave the House a full account of the part the Government would play in his reply to the motion for the Adjournment on 20 March.

Does not the Minister have a greater responsibility to protect the British apple industry from subsidised French imports, which are neither golden nor delicious? They are plastic and tasteless.

I have no objection to that description of the product concerned. I share the hon. Gentleman's view about the superior quality of the British apple. With regard to subsidy, it is true that some years ago there was an immense capital investment by the French Government, from which the industry has benefited. In terms of current assistance and help, there is no evidence, in respect of the volume of apples, that there is any greater assistance in France than in Britain. I hope that the reorganisation of the Apple and Pear Development Council, and the appointment of a new chairman, will mean that British apples will get a better share of the market in the coming year.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the apple producers of Herefordshire are concerned about the future, especially in view of Spain's proposed accession to the Community? Will he maintain the closest possible contact with the industry so that when we are faced with the extraordinary competition we shall be in the best possible shape to meet it?

Yes, Sir, and the quality of apples that we can produce gives us good opportunities. The reorganisation of the Apple and Pear Development Council and the appointment of a new chairman will prove to be valuable to the industry.

Does the Minister accept that my constituents, who grow more apples than are grown in Wandsworth and Battersea, South are mainly concerned about the unfair competition from France? They would like to know why the French take unilateral action, and we never do.

First, may I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the apples that his constituents grow are eaten in Wandsworth and Battersea, South? With regard to French unilateral action, there has not, of course, been any action by the French in this sphere. We are in an equal position with regard to subsidies to the industry. With proper marketing, and with the encouragement of the reformed Apple and Pear Development Council, we can start to get back a bigger share of the market.

While I welcome what my right hon. Friend has done to improve marketing and to reorganise the Apple and Pear Development Council, does he recognise that even some of the most efficient orchards, for example, that run by Lord Rothschild in my constituency, are having to go out of business because they are unable to compete? Will my right hon. Friend put his mind to the problem that many of the French imports are not grade A fruits, and that it might be sensible to back companies such as Sainsbury and others, which are refusing to take the second grade French apples which often cause the problem?

That is a decision for the companies concerned. But it should be the decision of the British apple industry to provide to our major retailers the grade of apple that they require. If it can do that, it will probably have a good year.