asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take steps to ensure the future of the European sheepmeat regime.
The regime brings considerable benefits to British producers and consumers and is an important factor underlying our strong sheepmeat sector. I shall continue to resist firmly any changes that would discriminate against United Kingdom interests, including the introduction of two-tier pricing.
Can the Minister tell us what progress he hopes to make in the coming summer's review of the European sheepmeat regime, and can he give us some indication of the proposals that he will put to the Commission to secure the position of British sheep producers, particularly in the less-favoured areas?
The present regime has great advantages and we intend to defend those. It is the Commission that is doing this review, and no doubt we shall seek to put forward our views. The one thing that we must ensure is that there is no discrimination against the United Kingdom. That is why I again raised the question of two-tier pricing, because that is the way to ensure discrimination. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will dissociate himself from his own party's policy on this matter.
May I express the hope that in fighting for British farmers the others come off worse than my right hon. Friend?
I shall take that as a compliment and a hope for improvement.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, two-tier pricing is not the only discrimination. The current proposal by the Commission in the price negotiations is to limit the grant to flock sizes, which would be heavily discriminatory against the United Kingdom. Will he ensure that that does not get through?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right and is at one with us in fighting against that. I draw to his attention the fact that that is one of the things we find so unacceptable in the policies put forward by the alliance parties, which constantly suggest that we can have a policy in the Community that gives special help to small farmers while ignoring the fact that small farms in the Community are very much smaller than small farms in Britain. It is no good suggesting that we can have a Community policy that excludes all those small Farms but gives special help to British small farms. One can say that only if one's remarks are directed at the electorate and not at the Community as a whole.
Will the Minister address the real concerns of those who are raising sheep in the hills and uplands, namely that measures to constrain production of cereals on lowland ground will lead to the expansion and proliferation of sheep flocks in these areas, to the detriment of the store breeders in the hills and uplands?
That is why, in the proposals by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the suggestions for set aside will not allow payment to be made for those who move into grass and use that grass in competition with those on the hillsides. When any of the hon. Gentleman's constituents raise these concerns, he is able to defend the policies of the Government in protecting their interests. I hope that he will also tell his constituents the truth about his policy, which would harm them very considerably.