§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Lord STRABOLGI rose to move, That the Fat Sheep (Protection of Guarantees) Order 1976, laid before the House on 26th February, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the Fat Sheep (Protection of Guarantees) Order made on 16th February 1976, a copy of which was laid before the House on 26th February be approved. I suggest that your Lordships will find it convenient to consider this and the following order standing in my name together since they are complementary. If your Lordships agree, I shall then move the second order formally. These two orders replace similar orders which have been overtaken by changes in the livestock guarantee arrangements and the opportunity is also taken to provide for the introduction of metric measures into the scheme and to permit some simplification of the procedures during periods when no guarantee payments are necessary.
§ The first of these orders, the Guaranteed Payment Order, provides authority to make deficiency payments, describes how they are to be calculated and the requirements to be fulfilled to receive them. As your Lordships are probably aware, animals must be certified if they are to qualify for a deficiency payment. Certification involves the examination of live animals at auction markets and carcases at slaughterhouses to ensure they are satisfactory for the meat market and to record the correct age and weight. The certificates authorising deficiency payments are completed by auctioneers at 99 auction markets, and, at slaughterhouses, by officers of the Meat and Livestock Commission, as agents for the Ministry. The main purpose of the Protection of Guarantees Order is to guard against double payments on the same animal and, in particular, requires the ears of animals certified live to be punched before they leave the auction market. These broad principles are the same as in earlier Orders governing fatstock guarantee payments but, within them, there are some changes to which I should draw your Lordship's attention.
§ As your Lordships know, there is an EEC régime for pigs and the Treaty of Accession provided that United Kingdom production subsidies could only be retained until transition to the Common Agricultural Policy resulted in pig prices equalling or exceeding those obtained under our guaranteed payments system. This position was reached on 1st August last year and this is why these Orders before the House today, unlike those they replace, exclude any reference to pigs. Your Lordships will remember we reached a similar position on fat cattle some two years earlier.
§ The second change updates the legislation on two minor simplifications of the mechanics of the scheme. During the 1974 Agricultural Review, agreement was reached with the Farmers' Unions to simplify procedures by eliminating the small topping up end-of-year payments made when the average price for the year multiplied by the guaranteed price exceeded the total subsidies paid. At the same time, limitations which had been imposed on deficiency payments by means of an estimated price mechanism when prices fell well below the guarantee level were also dropped from the scheme. The opportunity is taken in the present Orders to regularise the situation. I have already mentioned the provision relating to metrication. This has no effect on the determination of the guarantee but simply enables prices and average returns to producers to be expressed in pence per kilogramme instead of pence per pound with effect from 3rd January 1977.
§ Finally, the Orders before the House would permit the suspension of certification procedures during periods when no guarantee is payable. I should like to 100 assure the House there are no policy implications behind this change. There is no Community sheepmeat regulation at the moment and, as has been made clear on a number of occasions, Her Majestys' Government's position is that any EEC régime would need to provide for the continuation of satisfactory support arrangements for our producers. The difficulty has been that the wording of the previous Orders have left no discretion to drop certification, although there have been long periods when the seasonal movement of average market prices has taken them well above the guaranteed level. Ear punching has continued during these periods on all sheep presented for certification and animals are thereby being caused pain and suffering unnecessarily. This has been criticised from time to time by animal welfare interests and others. Also the suspension of certification should lead to some reduction in the associated documentation work and therefore some saving in the costs of this process which are borne by the Exchequer although this will be limited by the need to retain staff against the need to resume payments when market prices fall. I commend these two Orders to your Lordships. I beg to move the first Order.
§ Moved, That the Fat Sheep (Protection of Guarantees) Order 1976, laid before the the House on 26th February, be approved.—(Lord Strabolgi.)
§ 7.15 p.m.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for explaining both these Orders. They are relatively familiar one permits the payment to be made and the other protects the payment. We accept these entirely as they are. Sheep is still one area in which we have guaranteed payments. When you see the Orders coming through it is rather like meeting old friends again. The noble Lord said that there is an EEC régime for pigs and he referred to the fact that there may possibly be one for that dreadful word "sheepmeat". I know that he and the Government are concerned to see that, if a régime is entered into, it will be for the benefit of the country as a whole. Indeed, the noble Lord referred to that.
I hope that he and the Minister will not forget that in the whole of the European Community we in this country are responsible for the consumption of about 101 80 per cent. of sheepmeat that is produced, and we produce about 50 per cent. of it. Therefore if there is to be a sheepmeat régime, which would of course replace this, I hope that the Minister will make sure in all the negotiations that he is calling the tune. One of the effects of such a régime would be to curtail the imports from New Zealand, a country which suffered a lot as a result of our entry into the EEC. It accepted a great deal of what it had to put up with because we were joining the EEC. It is extremely important that New Zealand is not hurt any more than is necessary by any possible EEC régime for sheepmeat. I hope that the Government will keep that strongly in mind during these negotiations.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for the welcome he has given to this Order. I was taking careful note of what he said about the forthcoming EEC régime, particularly in regard to New Zealand. Of course, mutton and lamb, or sheepmeat as he called them, is one of the few remaining, commodities for which the EEC have not yet adopted a Common Market regulation. Until they do this, Member States are free to regulate their domestic market as they feel appropriate within certain limitations. Last September the Commission published draft proposals, as your Lordships know, which are at present being considered. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has made clear and stated publicly in the other place that the Government could only accept a régime which did not lead to significant and unnecessary increases in prices, as this would not be in the consumers' interests; secondly, that it safeguarded the United Kingdom's producers' returns; and thirdly—and just as important—that it allowed continuing access to the United Kingdom markets for New Zealand lamb exports. I am sorry to say that the Commission's present proposals do not adequately meet these criteria; but discussions are at present continuing in Brussels and I can assure the House that the British and New Zealand interests will be very strongly taken up. I hope that this has answered the point raised by the noble Earl.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.