HC Deb 17 July 1980 vol 988 cc1738-40
7. Mr. John Home Robertson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further statement on support arrangements for hill livestock producers.

Mr. Peter Walker

The rates of hill livestock compensatory allowances will be reviewed in the autumn in consultation with the farmers' unions.

In addition to these allowances, hill cattle producers will be eligible for head-age payments under the new European Community suckler cow premium scheme and hill sheep producers should benefit significantly from the arrangements agreed for the new common organisation of the sheep market.

Mr. Home Robertson

Is the Minister aware that it is essential that he should make a firm statement on support for hill sheep within the next week if hill farmers are not to face ruin because they do not get adequate returns from the store markets within the next month? If the EEC scheme is not to come into effect in time, will he at least give an undertaking that funds will be made available from national sources?

Mr. Walker

The announcement of the increase in the subsidies for sheep in this market was made by me some weeks ago when I increased all the guaranteed allowances by 11 per cent. Therefore, with 1 million extra lambs and an 11 per cent. increase in the last year on the guaranteed price, there should not be any case of starvation in the hills.

Mr. David Steel

The Minister must be aware that 15 July was mentioned originally as the starting date for the sheepmeat regime. There is great uncertainty in hill sheep areas with the store sales coming up next month. When will the new starting date be announced?

Mr. Walker

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is anxiety to obtain an additional 18 per cent. on what I have already announced, and I can understand that. The date of 15 July was convenient for us, but it has to wait for the completion of the negotiations with New Zealand, which are taking place now, and for the Commission to say when it can implement the scheme. As far as I am concerned, the sooner the better. I hope for an announcement at next week's meeting.

Mr. Myles

If we cannot get this agreement with the EEC before the store sheep sales, will my right hon. Friend consider raising the national guarantee to that level so that the store producers as well as the fatteners will benefit?

Mr. Walker

The degree to which we can do that will have to be considered and also the date, which is important. We have already increased the guarantee system by 11 per cent. after one of the best lambing seasons in recent times.

Mr. Wm. Ross

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the survey of hill marginal land in Northern Ireland is complete but that it will not be completed in the rest of the United Kingdom until 1981? Therefore, will he make an immediate application for an extension for Northern Ireland so that it may reap the maximum benefit from the sums which are now available?

Mr. Walker

Discussions are going on in Brussels about how we can speed up the classification of hill marginal land throughout the United Kingdom. There are obvious advantages in doing this throughout the United Kingdom at the same time.