HC Deb 28 July 1977 vol 936 cc919-21
10. Mr. Bulmer

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress is being made towards the establishment of a sheepmeat régime within the EEC.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. E. S. Bishop)

The Council of Agricultural Ministers discussed the matter last October. Since then discussions at official level have taken place. The Commission is expected to produce new proposals for a Community régime in the autumn.

Mr. Bulmer

Will the Minister confirm that if no changes are made from 1st January it will be illegal for the French to put a levy on our sheepmeat? Can he say how much British sheepmeat is reaching the French market through other EEC countries?

Mr. Bishop

I do not have the figures available on the latter point, but I am aware of the situation in relation to the Irish pressure and the European Court case in connection with the French. What we want to avoid is any sudden change or disruption which would have an adverse effect upon the consumer and the producer.

Mr. Marten

What will be the position of the Minister's right hon. Friend when he goes to the Council of Ministers? What stand will he take on behalf of the British people? Has the Minister heard it said by some enthusiastic Europeans that the stand by the Minister on behalf of the British people has, in fact, harmed the Joint European Torus negotiations and delayed a decision on them? If that is so, is not the Common Market a very curious organisation?

Mr. Bishop

I should not like to stray into the area that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned with regard to the JET project. All I can say with regard to the negotiations and the objectives of the British Government—and they are several—is that we want to protect the producer and give him confidence, we want to ensure that there are no unreasonable changes in prices which would affect the consumer, and we want to make sure that there is access for third countries. After all, the Community has to import one-third of its sheepmeat. At the same time, we want to ensure that our own industry can export to France and other countries in the Community.

Mr. Watt

Does the Minister recognise the urgency to establish a sheepmeat régime? What does he propose to do to regulate the trade in live lambs exported to countries such as Holland and Denmark, which are subsequently slaughtered and then sent in through the back door, as it were, to the French market, thus avoiding the levy that is presently paid by those producers who do the right thing and sell carcases from Britain to France?

Mr. Bishop

These are problems of intra-Community trade. There is free trade among the six old member countries but not among the new three. We are seeking a policy of liberalisation of trade both inside and outside the Community. I take the point about the need for urgency in the matter to which the hon. Gentleman referred.