HC Deb 30 June 1986 vol 100 cc689-91
9. Mr. Harvey

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is the closing date for receipt of claim forms for the sheep annual premium; and if he will seek to extend it for farmers in serious financial difficulties.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

For the 1986 marketing year, the closing date for the receipt of claims for the first application period was 24 December 1985, and for the second application period, 10 April, 1986.I have no plans to seek to extend the most recent closing date, which is now well behind us.

Mr. Harvey

Will my right hon. Friend allow his usual good common sense to override the bureaucratic objection in this case in view of the fact that many farmers in my constituency are suffering financial penalties of up to £6,000 because of an oversight? In view of the major problem of confidence in the sheep industry as a whole, will my right hon. Friend now provide an assurance that there will be compensation in the wake of the decision to ban the movement and slaughter of lambs? Will he further provide a major and massive publicity campaign to rest ore faith in Welsh lamb and the industry?

Mr. Edwards

There were 155 late claims in the 1986 marketing year compared with 127 late claims in the previous year. The rules of the European Commission are extremely strict on this matter and, except in the case of force majeure, we are not able to deal with claims submitted after the application date. Of course, I share my hon. Friend's concern about the present circumstances arising from the restrictions we have had to impose on sheep in the area. We have said that we will consider compensation for specific farms suffering specific losses. This is a matter that we will be discussing further with the farmers unions. I am particularly anxious that we should be able to lift the restrictions on as large a part of the area as we can as quickly as possible. We are at present carrying out an extremently intensive monitoring programme and I hope to give some further results to the House this week.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what efforts the Welsh Office and he personally have made to persuade the European Community to be less obdurate in the matter raised by the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Harvey)? Does he appreciate that many farmers throughout rural Wales are losing a great deal of money as a result of the decision he has told us about, especially bearing in mind that some of the forms were misleading? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he is now prepared to allow specific compensation for specific farms which have suffered specific losses as a result of the movement restriction, which is different from what was said by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in his statement?

Mr. Edwards

I have already said that we will consider specific compensation in specific cases. That is something we have made clear. On the hon. and learned Gentleman's second point, that is a rule that has persisted over a good many years in which there have been frequent exchanges between the Commission and the Government. The rules are absolutely strict and adamant. I do not think it is practical to make the changes the hon. and learned Gentleman proposes.

Sir Raymond Gower

Can my right hon. Friend explain the serious matter of the late claims, and will he consult the farmers unions in Wales and take steps to make sure it does not happen again?

Mr. Edwards

The forms set out the position and the rules absolutely clearly, and massive publicity is given. This is not a new rule that has suddenly been introduced. It has been operating for a good many years and it is widely known by farmers. However we will continue to do everything we can to publicise the rules so that people are fully aware of them.