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Volume 984: debated on Thursday 15 May 1980

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the present state of negotiations concerning the establishment of a sheepmeat regime within the European Economic Community.

The Commission has put forward revised proposals which contain features on which we have lodged strong objections. The proposals have been referred for detailed examination and will then be further discussed by the Council of Agriculture Ministers.

As my hon. Friend continues with these discussions, will he bear in mind the needs of the New Zealand economy, which is heavily dependent on the export of sheepmeat and other agricultural products?

Yes, Sir. We have made it perfectly clear that we are in close consultation with the New Zealand Government on this matter. Tomorrow I shall discuss this issue in detail with the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Is the Minister aware that some organisation—if not a sheepmeat regime—is needed in the market? Has he any evidence that New Zealand lamb is being diverted from Iran as a result of the crisis there, and from the French market as a result of the blockade? What action can be taken?

I do not have any such evidence. Shipments of New Zealand lamb to this country are in accordance with the projections that we had previously received. Obviously, a disruption of the Iranian, or indeed the Iraqi, market for New Zealand lamb would cause difficulties for New Zealand and could have implications elsewhere. The Treaty of Accession to the Community stated that there should be a sheepmeat regime but I do not think that there is any necessity for a scheme of heavy intervention in the case of lamb.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the establishment of a sheep meat regime is becoming of less and less interest to Staffordshire farmers, who are being deterred from rearing sheep by the extraordinary high incidence of sheep worrying by dogs? Will my right hon. Friend speak to the Home Secretary and—

In view of the fact that even were a sheepmeat regime to be introduced the French would not honour it unless it was 100 per cent. beneficial to them, will the Minister consider not establishing a sheepmeat regime at all? Whatever the French agree to will be bad for Britain.

No Sir, because the previous Government, in their renegotiations, accepted a Treaty in which it was stated that there would be a sheepmeat regime.

In spite of the efforts that my right hon. Friend has made, and realising the serious problems, will he appreciate that in these matters time is not on our side? Will he bear in mind the fact that in the last week lamb prices in the South-West dropped by 20p a kilo? In the long run, that is not in the interests of producers or consumers.

Yes, but, as my hon. Friend knows from announcements that I have made previously affecting the operation of the scheme as far as fat lambs are concerned, it has nevertheless meant that producers' returns have been maintained during this difficult period. However, I agree that it is of considerable importance for British agriculture that we get a settlement in this sphere.

If the Minister continues to object to a sheepmeat regime which necessitates intervention and an increase in United Kingdom costs, whether to the CAP or the United Kingdom Budget—and we back him on that—what sort of sheepmeat regime does he expect will come out in the end?

It is important to have a common external policy—which so far as New Zealand is concerned is in operation at present, with a 20 per cent. tariff under the GATT, which I think can be changed if the New Zealand Government are willing freely to negotiate a change for the lowering of that tariff, and therefore voluntary agreements elsewhere—and a scheme that results in the free movement of sheepmeat across frontiers in Europe.