asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he is satisfied with the operation of the European Economic Community's sheepmeat regime in Wales; and if he will make a statement.
Yes, Sir. The sheepmeat regime has brought substantial benefits to Welsh sheep producers, who have a guaranteed price for fat lambs under the sheep variable premium scheme. Breeders also benefit from an annual premium on ewes and the breeding flock has been increasing by 2 to 3 per cent. a year. In the last full marketing year, 1983–84, the regime resulted in payments of £56·8 million to Welsh sheep producers.
How can the Secretary of State be satisfied with the operation of a regime which is now being used to penalise sheepmeat producers in the United Kingdom, and in Wales in particular? Is he satisfied with the present gap operating in the premia and what is his view of the future of the premium? Will it be phased out by the Community?
We have fought resolutely for the sheepmeat regime, which this Government introduced, and which has led to the substantial increase in the flock in Wales. I believe that is has made an enormous contribution to the rural economy. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it was not possible to secure entirely satisfactory modifications to the clawback arrangements, to which I think he was referring. However, we shall continue to press for changes to alleviate the difficulties caused by clawback. The exemption from clawback for our exports outside the Community has been renewed to the end of 1987.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the industry wants him to make a better fight for the sheep farmer than he did for the small dairy farmer?
As I pointed out, we are talking about the sheepmeat regime, which was introduced by this Government in 1980 and which has been the biggest boost to the sheep industry in Wales that there has ever been.