HC Deb 16 March 1978 vol 946 cc622-4
11. Mr. Jay

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will give an assurance that no further obstacles will be placed in the way of imports of butter and lamb from New Zealand into the United Kingdom.

Mr. John Silkin

I consider it of primary importance that New Zealand should be able to continue to export butter and lamb to this country. I have made—and shall continue to make—our position clear in Community discussion and shall keep in close touch with the New Zealand Government.

Mr. Jay

As the Rome Treaty is so keen on competition, would it not provide valuable competition with artificially dear Continental food if we imported foodstuffs from New Zealand free of all quotas, levies and other restrictions?

Mr. Silkin

My right hon. Friend is well aware that part of the programme that we have is to liberalise the importation of foodstuffs into the Community, especially from Commonwealth countries but from third countries in general. I must tell my right hon. Friend, however, that this will not be—indeed, it could not be—achieved overnight. It is a long and at times a rather painful process.

Mr. Hooson

Is the Minister aware that the estimated cost of the transportation and handling of one New Zealand carcase of lamb is £8.75 sterling and that this is one of the great impediments to New Zealand trade? Is he aware, further, that New Zealand welcomes an increase in the price of lamb over here since it helps its farmers, who at present receive a very small price?

Mr. Silkin

An increase in the price of lamb or, for that matter, of butter—for which we pressed with the approval of the House last year—to take account of an increase in costs, is perfectly understandable. But my impression from my discussions with my opposite numbers from New Zealand is that they still look upon New Zealand as a country which is willing and able to supply the United Kingdom with the traditional commodities which it always exported to us at a price which the British consumer can afford.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Although I appreciate my right hon. Friend's efforts, does he not feel that those efforts will probably be blocked by the EEC? Are the New Zealanders satisfied with the cavalier fashion in which they have been brushed off? After all, they fought for us in two world wars.

Mr. Silkin

I am not altogether sure that that last basis is one that comes into the hard-headed calculation of Agriculture Ministers. I hope that it will always come into ours. Dealing with my hon. Friend's first point, I hope that the brush-off of which my hon. Friend talks will at least be softened, if not totally avoided, by the fact that New Zealand farmers have the loyalty, friendship and kinship of Her Majesty's Government and the people of this country.

Mr. Jopling

Will the Minister give attention to one aspect of the proposed sheepmeat regime, whereby what is called a safeguard clause might be introduced to allow the Community to stop all imports from, for instance, New Zealand at very short notice? Is that necessary, in view of the serious impact that it may have on New Zealand lamb exports?

Mr. Silkin

It is very good to be able to agree with the hon. Gentleman. If such a proposal were made, the Government would wish to resist it, because it would be totally wrong, in our view.

Forward to