Although there are no specific limits for national aids to horticulturists, it is certainly my intention to raise the subject of national aids, and the threat which they pose to the whole basis of the common agricultural policy, with my colleagues during the United Kingdom Presidency. At the meeting that took place in Brussels this week, we obtained the agreement of the Commission to present this autumn a major paper studying the whole impact and effects of national aids.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the Dutch horticulture industry appears to be using the slowness of Community machinery deliberately to destroy its competitors in this country? Will he please give this matter the utmost priority?
Yes, Sir. This specific matter was raised by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State at the meeting in Brussels last Monday. The Dutch Government, although they have increased the gas price, have been summoned by the Commission and told clearly that the progress in establishing a proper basis for their gas price is not satisfactory, and that is being reviewed.
No, Sir. The availability of the European market to our food and agriculture producers is a great advantage. If the right hon. Gentleman studied the considerable expansion of our food exports to the Community, he would realise what an advantage it was.
Is the Secretary of State aware that all that our horticultural growers, particularly tomato producers, are seeking is a fair share of the home market? The fact is that Dutch imports of tomatoes continue to grow, backed up by cheap fuel—even if the price is slightly increasing—and cheap credit. That cannot continue if our growers are to remain in business.
Yes, and that is why we introduced a package of special aid for our horticulture and why we have made a major aspect of the United Kingdom Presidency in this six months a study of the possibility of uniformity in the whole question of national aids; that affects horticulture more than most industries.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that my Lea Valley constituents recognise that he is doing his best but that his best is far too slow, because of the Community structure? Is he also aware that, so incensed and distressed are they, they are talking about trying to organise a boycott of Dutch imports?
Until last week, the price of one of the major commodities, tomatoes, was substantially above last year's prices for a few weeks. A considerable volume of British tomatoes was sold in that period. But because of our close relationship with the horticultural committee of the NFU, it knows that we have given every possible aid and that if we are successful in our pressure to obtain uniformity of aids during our Presidency it will be the best help that we can give our horticulturists.
If they believe that, what they must think of the previous Government I dread to think. I inherited a Dutch advantage much greater than it is today, with no aids given to the industry.