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Lamb Exports

Volume 982: debated on Thursday 17 April 1980

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the state of negotiations concerning the export of lamb to France.

The European Court has affirmed that its judgment of 25 September 1979 was sufficient condemnation of the French Government's import restrictions and said that no interim injunction is required. In maintaining their illegal restrictions the French Government are undermining respect for Community law.

I am continuing to negotiate for Community arrangements for mutton and lamb acceptable to the United Kingdom.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that that reply will do much to dispel the feeling growing up in sheep farming circles that he has, perhaps, been less belligerent on that point than in the past?

The situation has a potentially grave effect on the future of our sheep producers. It is the first example in the history of the European Community of a Government continuing to violate a decision of the European Court. I hope that the French Government will cease to do so in the near future.

Is not the story of lamb over the past eight months yet further proof that the EEC cannot be reformed from the inside?

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that time is not on our side? Will he accept that the combination of a mild winter, plenty of grass and a heavy lamb crop means that in the South-West particularly there are enormous numbers of lambs to be disposed of? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not in the interests of the producer or consumer for prices to be extremely low? Will he see that the market is opened up as quickly as possible?

Yes. As my hon. Friend says, in contrast to last year, this lambing season is a distinct improvement. It is important, in an area where Britain is the biggest single producer in the Community that the whole European market is available and open to British producers.

As the right hon. Gentleman has followed the procedural point to its logical conclusion and it has brought no satisfaction, will he now take direct retaliatory action to make the French aware that we shall no longer stand for the import ban?

I sympathise with the sentiments behind that view, but the moment that the Community enters the game where one country acts illegally and others follow, it will begin to disintegrate. I believe that such action could bring about the end of the Community. I am reluctant to pursue such a course. I hope that, before there is further pressure to do so, France will recognise the potential damage that she is doing to the Community.

Will my right hon. Friend do his utmost to ensure that the present live trade in sheep and lambs for slaughter is replaced by a carcase trade?

It is primarily a carcase trade, and I am sure will continue to be so. However, there is an important live trade to the Continent that must continue, particularly with regard to breeding stocks, for which this country has a high reputation.

Will the Secretary of State consider the serious problems in Wales? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Prime Minister is correct and agree that the French have walked all over him?

That remark was not made by the Prime Minister but invented by a correspondent of The Guardian. I believe that the French, not only on this issue but on wider issues, have put themselves at a negotiating disadvantage.