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Sheep Industry

Volume 978: debated on Thursday 14 February 1980

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the state of the sheep industry in England; and if he will make a statement.

I am naturally concerned at the difficulties the sheep industry has faced in recent months because of low market prices, resulting in part from the exceptionally late pattern of marketing last year, but also from the continued failure of the French Government to lift their illegal controls on imports from the United Kingdom. Sheep producers' returns have, however, been protected by payments under the fat sheep guarantee scheme and increases in the hill farm subsidies. The longer term prospects for the sheep industry are good.

I hope that the Minister's faith in the future of the sheep industry is borne out. Will he give a guarantee to the sheep producers that the deficiency payments scheme that has applied for so many years will continue and will not be changed? Will he tell us what progress has been made on the export of fat lamb into France?

Subject to any ultimate agreement on a sheep meat regime in Europe that might take the place of any scheme that we have in Britain, we shall maintain a system of subsidy along the present lines.

As to our position with France, the final day for the French answering the Commission's case is, I think, today. Therefore, I hope that within the next few days, the Commission will take out the appropriate interim measures of the court against the French Government.

Does my right hon. Friend have any glimmer of hope at all for the prospect of an agreement on an EEC common sheep regime which will be acceptable to our sheep farmers?

So long as the French Government continue to insist upon a system of intervention, I see no chance at all.

Is there any point in our remaining members or an organisation in which we keep the rules and the French do not?

No. Sir—but there is every point in the French keeping the rules.