HC Deb 13 March 1980 vol 980 cc1538-40
7. Mr. Meacher

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next expects to meet his EEC counterparts.

Mr. Peter Walker

When I attend the Agricultural Council on 26 and 27 March.

Mr. Meacher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that French action over lamb curbs—with the apparent unenforceability of redress by the Commission—is; a textbook lesson on why French politicking rather than strict British compliance with the legalities is the right way to deal with the Common Market? When will the British Government use directly applicable law to settle this matter immediately in the French courts, or else use French tactics to resolve some of the bigger CAP and budget issues, where we have much more justice on our side?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman is the last person from whom I would take advice on how to deal with the Common Market. I do not believe that the French are gaining any advantage from their current posture. At the last Council of Ministers meeting the French were condemned by the other eight Ministers for their action. The Community has taken out an interim injunction against France and I believe that that course will prove to be in the British interest. It would be easy for me to announce speedy retaliation—doubtless to loud cheers from the House—but I believe that that would destroy Europe. That is probably what the hon. Gentleman wants.

Mr. Lang

Does my hon. Friend agree that the proposed EEC co-responsibility levy and super levy are entirely unacceptable in this country because they would militate strongly against the larger and more efficient herds?

Mr. Walker

Yes, Sir. We made that clear at the last Council meeting.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Will the Secretary of State be taking up with his counterparts in the EEC the plight of our glasshouse growers and the unfair competition that they face from Holland and France? Will he give the growers some kind of heating subsidy or at least ask for fair terms?

Mr. Walker

I raised this matter at the last Council meeting. As a result, the Commission is immediately looking at the varying fuel subsidies throughout Europe to establish a similar pattern throughout the Community. We have urged speedy action which I hope will quickly ensue.

Mr. Heller

I regret that the right hon. Gentleman will not take advice from my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). Is he prepared to take advice from me? The right hon. Gentleman will recall that I urged my own Government to take precisely the sort of measures suggested by my hon. Friend. The Government did not take my advice at that time and we are now in something of a mess as a result. Would it not be a good idea if the Government were at least to accept that advice now and take some retaliatory action? We might then end up in a good position in relation to the EEC.

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman knows that I am always willing and eager to listen to him. However I find it difficult to decide whether the last Government might have done even worse if they had taken his advice.

Mr. Stanbrook

At a time when we need all the help we can get from our European partners in securing a reduction in our budget contribution is it wise to be so unsympathetic to the French?

Mr. Walker

This is the second time that my hon. Friend has tried that particular line of argument. He should ponder how it is that it is not only Britain that is attacking the French. Seven other nations in the Community, and the Commission, are all agreed that the French Government could, if they wished, support their own sheep producers legally and effectively. I suggest that, if my hon. Friend is really interested in the future role of France in the Community, he should lecture them and not us.