HC Deb 08 December 1986 vol 107 cc3-4
2. Mr. Harvey

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he has any plans to introduce quotas on sheep production in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

There are no plans to introduce sheep meat quotas in the Community.

The June 1986 census results record a further 2.3 per cent. increase in the sheep breeding flock in Wales, and the industry continues to benefit under the EC sheepmeat regime.

In the last marketing year sheep producers in Wales benefited by £73 million under the two sheep premium schemes and hill livestock compensatory allowances.

Mr. Harvey

I welcome those excellent figures, but does my right hon. Friend agree that farming faces one of its most uncertain prospects for years because of factors outside the Government's control? Will he consider introducing quotas on sheepmeat production to protect upland farmers from the lowland farmers who are going out of cereals? Will my right hon. Friend also assure us that there will be no swingeing cuts in the milk quota?

Mr. Edwards

I can understand the great concern in the industry, and I raised the question of sheepmeat quotas in my speech to the NFU at Aberystwyth only a few weeks ago. The industry ought to be considering that matter, although the issues are complicated and we are still a long way from self-sufficiency in sheepmeat. It is right that the industry should be considering the possibilities.

Mr. Geraint Howells

I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that his Government virtually abolished the dairy industry when the quota system was introduced. If things remain as they are, will he introduce, not a quota system for sheep, but measures to get rid of the surpluses in intervention in the Community?

Mr. Edwards

It is all very well asking us to get rid of surpluses within the Community, but it is wrong then to pretend to the electorate that that can be done without difficulty and pain. That approach is wholly dishonest. We have listened to the ideas put forward by the hon. Gentleman's party, but they offer no solution to the problems of the industry.

Dr. Roger Thomas

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that unless we tackle the CAP comprehensively, other sectors of farming, such as those taken out of cereal growing, will turn to sheep and those lowland areas will have a terrific advantage over hill sheep farmers in Wales?

Mr. Edwards

Clearly we must look at the problems of the CAP against the background that changes in any one commodity have results on others. We must be very careful to look at the knock-on effects.

Mr. Best

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the small farmer is the backbone of agricultural life in Wales and that there needs to be positive discrimination in favour of the small farmer in any changes made in agriculture? As well as that positive discrimination in favour of the small farmer in whatever sector, we need to take a comprehensive view of agriculture, rather than each sector being viewed separately. That will overcome the uncertainty faced by agriculture.

Mr. Edwards

The Government did favour the smaller producers when the milk quota system was introduced. However, the consequences must be fully thought through, because we must remember that there are many more small producers in Europe than in this country. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) has suggested that those producing 250,000 litres or less and those with financial difficulties should be entireley sustained in their businesses, but if we reduce production that will involve even more severe consequences for the medium-size and larger farmers. I hope that that is recognised and that people have worked out what a policy of maintaining support for smaller farmers will mean for agriculture generally.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

In view of the relatively greater importance of the sheep industry to Wales than to other countries in the United Kingdom, why is the Secretary of State in the Chamber today and not representing Wales with British Agriculture Ministers at discussions in Brussels? Will he at last accept our criticism that he will not be taking seriously his responsibilities as the Welsh Minister of Agriculture until he goes there?

Mr. Edwards

There is absolutely no doubt that the sheepmeat regime and the support for the sheep industry has been one of the great success stories. Indeed, the reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Harvey) asked the question was to express concern that if the success continues and the number of sheep increases, we shall over-produce. The hon. Gentleman should be congratulating us on the success of our sheepmeat support policies.