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Crops (Market Support)

Volume 19: debated on Sunday 4 April 1982

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which agricultural crops have required market support in the past year.

The information requested is given in table 25 of the annual review of agriculture 1982 White Paper. This gives details, including a breakdown by product, of public expenditure under the common agricultural policy and on national grants and subsidies.

Does the Minister agree that this market support gives farmers confidence to plan ahead and gives a great deal of help with our balance of payments?

Yes. I am glad to say that there has been a substantial improvement in our self-sufficiency in food. In the last few years that has improved our balance of payments by £1,000 million a year.

Is what the Minister has so far been able to do for the horticultural section of the industry sufficient to offset the huge subsidies given by the Dutch for their gas heating? Is the industry yet in a stable position, and has the Minister taken into account the fact that despite these problems the Dutch workers are still paid 50 per cent. more than their British counterparts?

We are expecting an agreement, perhaps this coming week, on the problem of the Dutch gas subsidy. I hope that it will solve this problem permanently. Unless that happens at the meeting on 15 March, legal action will be taken against the Dutch. Unlike a number of competing countries I have given our horticulture industry the full extent of national aid allowed by the Commission.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that many farmers have suffered complete crop losses and that, apart from those in Wales, the South-West and Scotland, who will be fairly compensated, they will get no compensation from Community funds for the severe damage they sustained in December and January? That applies particularly to those who produce vegetables, as do many of the growers in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend lobby Brussels to see whether further Euro funds, over and above those announced by his right hon. Friend on 22 February 1982, can be found for this purpose?

A decision has been taken. No further Euro funds will be available. I am glad to say that over the country as a whole farming losses resulting from the bad weather have proved to be far smaller than were expected at the time. I hope that all parts of the House will be pleased at that. The aid given by the European Community is not confined just to Scotland and Wales.

Does the Minister have any difficulty in reconciling his attitude on agriculture, which is propped up by Government intervention, and what he said about agriculture assisting in maintaining a balance of trade surplus as a result of that Government intervention, with the opposite philosophy put forward by the rest of the Cabinet, who are arguing that Government intervention in industry is bad. There was a balance of trade deficit with the EEC in semi-manufactured and manufactured goods of £2½ billion in the last financial year. How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile those two views?

I am delighted to say that in all the policies I pursue I have the enthusiastic support of all my Cabinet colleagues.