HC Deb 16 January 1978 vol 942 cc11-2
10. Mr. D. E. Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what estimate he has made of the effect on Welsh sheep farming of the agreement between the French and Irish Governments on the export of Irish sheepmeat.

Mr. Alec Jones

It is too early to estimate the precise effect of heightened discrimination against United Kingdom lamb exports to France.

Mr. Thomas

Is the Minister not aware that already this week there has been a severe decline in the price of lamb in some markets, including those in my constituency? Will he give an assurance that the Government will now move positively to discuss a European Community régime for sheepmeat? Will he ensure that discrimination against Welsh lamb producers is no longer tolerated by the Government?

Mr. Alec Jones

The Government are certainly aware of the problem. Since I spent last Friday evening in Anglesey, the hon. Gentleman can be assured that the farmers there reminded me of this point, if I needed reminding. Similarly, we are aware of the importance attached to liberalising intra-Community trade by those wishing to export sheepmeat to France. The Government have already said that they are ready to reach agreement on proposals for a sheepmeat régime as long as this pays due regard to the interests of United Kingdom consumers and producers and takes into account our need for imported supplies.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Is the Minister in a position to give an assurance to Welsh sheep farmers that if ever we have a sheepmeat régime in Europe the Government will do their utmost to safeguard the interests of farmers by making sure that the guaranteed deficiency payments scheme will be retained, because it has served this country well in the past 20 years?

Mr. Alec Jones

In an earlier reply I said that it was the intention of the Government, in any sheepmeat régime, to safeguard the interests of Welsh farmers—indeed, the interests of all farmers in the United Kingdom. We shall ensure that they are adequately protected.

Mr. Roderick

Does not my hon. Friend agree that we should emulate the boldness of those good Europeans, the French, and break the rules selectively?

Mr. Alec Jones

I am not so sure that it is wise to advocate playing a game and then to break every rule that exists. I remind my hon. Friend that the United Kingdom acted pretty speedily and sent a memorandum to the EEC Commission asking it to take action to bring to an end this discrimination against United Kingdom lamb exports.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

Is the Minister aware that when I was in Brussels the official who is the head of the agriculture department there told me that the British Government had made no effort whatever to secure any kind of regulation for sheepmeat in the EEC? Does the Minister realise that this official told me that it was Ireland that had made all the running? Ireland is lucky to have its own Government.

Mr. Alec Jones

Of course I do not know what any individual might have told the hon. Gentleman in Brussels on any occasion. What I have said is that the Government are clearly prepared to come to an agreement on sheepmeat provided that the essential conditions concerning the protection of consumers, producers and imports are met.