Discussions are continuing on reform of the regime for fresh fruit and vegetables on the basis of the Commission's proposals. The Government welcome them as a useful first step towards our goal of an end to intervention for all fresh produce.
I thank my hon. Friend for not being rushed into a bad compromise that would divert us from the ultimate goal of getting rid of the intervention system altogether. Does he agree that, in most years, the system results in almost 1 million tonnes of apples being grown just to be destroyed, at immense cost, largely to the British taxpayer as a major contributor, and that it undermines our ability to sell the best apples in the world—British Coxes and other fine apples? It is an unacceptable system, and we must phase it out before too long.
I have every sympathy with what my hon. Friend said. The intervention system is extremely wasteful. It is damaging to the interests of the United Kingdom: both to the taxpayer, who has to pay a large share of the burden for a small portion of the total intervention, amounting to only 1 per cent. of the total Community spend, and to the interests of our growers, because it replaces good fruit from this country with surpluses of unrealistic and uneconomic production on the back of large intervention, with the French taking more than one third of their apples into intervention in the last recorded year. It is an unsatisfactory system, and we oppose it. We are determined to make major changes, and not to make concessions by reaching an early and unsatisfactory conclusion.
Is the Minister aware that the draft regulations on the European Union fruit and vegetable regime underline the high price that the country is paying for his Government's lack of influence in Europe? Why are we threatened with such a bad deal for British growers, involving the continuance of waste and, in all probability, fraud? Why have Ministers let us down yet again in Europe?
I am sorry that the hon. Lady has decided to introduce a note of asperity to discussions that have generally featured a measure of consensus, both in the industry and between the parties in Committee here. We shall do our utmost, because, unlike the Labour party, we are not prepared to commit ourselves not to be isolated in Europe. If we think that we are right, we shall stick by our principles, and resist the proposals of the countries—many with socialist Administrations—that account for the greater part of the intervention, the greater part of the cost and nearly all the abuse.
Is my hon. Friend aware that we make more cider in Hereford than is made anywhere else in the world? Cider manufacturers who are crying out for raw material in the form of apple juice find it immensely frustrating to see enormous quantities of apples being destroyed when they could be juiced to make apple juice and cider. Will my hon. Friend put continuing pressure on the system, as it is essential that we end that frustration?
I understand my hon. Friend's concern, and that of the cider industry. Although the industry has been generally buoyant in recent years, the problem with allowing it access to intervention stocks is that that might have a displacement effect on apples offered commercially for cider production. We think that, on the whole, ending or curtailing the intervention system is a better and more market-related approach.