asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the curent state of the negotiations concerning lamb imports from the United Kingdom into France.
The Commission has started further legal proceedings against the French Government for their failure to comply with the court's ruling, and I am pressing the Commission to apply for an immediate interim injunction against the French measures.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that it is now six months since the European. Court gave its decision? Is he aware that the patience of sheepmeat producers in Britain has been sorely tried? Will he keep pushing the European Commission so that it wastes not one hour in laying that interim injunction on the French, should the answers not be satisfactory? Will he make certain that the discussions concerning the ban do not form part of the price negotiations this year?
I cannot guarantee that other countries will not endeavour to make those discussions form part of the price negotiations. The United Kingdom Government will not treat them as part of the price negotiations, but as a matter of legality or illegality. The final reply of the French Government should be received today, but on the assumption that it is unsatisfactory, after over five months' delay that has taken place, it would be wrong if the Commission did not seek the interim injunction procedure.
Is the Minister aware that it is now almost too late for a large number of our sheep producers, particularly in the uplands? Is he considering any retaliatory measures against the French?
No, Sir. I do not believe that it is a correct procedure that, if one country is failing to comply with the law, other countries should follow that example. The French negotiating position on a range of other topics is adversely affected by their present posture.
Is my right hon. Friend able to confirm the documentary evidence from the Commission's legal services department that France has not only been flouting the Community law but is the worst offender throughout Europe? Will he use this against the French Minister whenever there is an argument against our fishing industry?
It is not a case of who is worst. The French Government are the only Government in the history of the Community to have acted against a decision of the European Court.
What will happen to the French if they are found guilty of infringing the rules?
They have been found guilty. The Commission does not have the power to force penalty payments. However, power exists within the Council of Ministers, and if a Government continue to disregard the rules of the club, they should start to lose some of the benefits.