HC Deb 14 June 1979 vol 968 cc593-4
1. Mr. David Price

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his attitude towards the draft proposals of the European Economic Community for an EEC sheepmeat regime.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Peter Walker)

The proposals put forward by the Commission provide a basis for negotiation. We have made it clear that any sheepmeat regime must end the discrimination against British exports to France and maintain access to adequate supplies from New Zealand.

Mr. Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I find his reply most encouraging, particularly his recognition of the importance of New Zealand imports into this country, not only to the British consumer but to the British producer? Is he aware that New Zealand imports into this country balance the British home kill and ensure that lamb is available throughout the year to the British housewife?

Mr. Walker

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. In addition to the importance of the British market, to which New Zealand has geared the whole of its sheep industry over many years, I emphasise to the House that such trade is absolutely vital to the future economy of New Zealand

Mr. Geraint Howells

Does the Minister agree that the majority of sheep producers in this country are not in favour of a sheepmeat regime? Does he further agree that we should retain our guarantee deficiency price system in this country, which has operated so well over the past 25 years?

Mr. Walker

The conditions under which we would consider any sheepmeat regime would need to be of considerable advantage to sheep producers in this country. The constant difficulty we have had with regard to exports to France and to other markets would be removed if we had a sensible regime. But the system must meet the criteria of removing controls and protecting the position of New Zealand.

Mr. Moate

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, on the basis of experience, a sheepmeat regime is likely to result in a mutton mountain or a lamb lake? Will he take steps to ensure that a regime is not introduced? Will he also seek to remove the 20 per cent. tax on New Zealand lamb, a tax which is harmful to the consumer and unjustified on any grounds?

Mr. Walker

The Commissioner visited New Zealand recently and had discussions there. He will be putting forward proposals to the Council of Ministers as to the future treatment of levies on New Zealand sheep meat and we shall consider those. I agree with my hon. Friend that there are lessons to be learned from previous regimes and we shall make sure that mistakes are not repeated.

Mr. Stoddart

Will the Minister reject the proposal for a sheepmeat regime out of hand? Does he agree that in all the commodities, from butter to beef, where there is intervention there is large-scale fiddle and fraud which now amounts to £1,000 million? That will be increased if another commodity goes into intervention.

Mr. Walker

The loose use of the figure of £1,000 million by my predecessor—I gather in a television programme yet to be shown—makes me surprised that he did not do something about that when he had an opportunity to do so.

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