HL Deb 03 December 1980 vol 415 cc390-1

2.42 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what has been the effect of the introduction of the European Community's sheepmeat régime on trade with other member states of the Community and with third countries.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the United Kingdom's exports of sheep and sheepmeat have been substantially reduced since the introduction of the régime, mainly because of the clawback charge, and we have made strong representations about this to the Commission. As a result, we have secured exemption from clawback for our exports to countries outside the Community until 31st March next year. Exports to Belgium and Germany have fallen since 20th October, but those to France have increased. Trade to third countries has virtually ceased, but should recover under the new arrangement.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, in thanking the Minister very much for that reply, may I say that I am delighted that he has managed to get some alteration in the clawback for other countries. May I hope that the Minister of Agriculture, in the process of further discussions, will be able to increase that to include the European countries?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her observations. It is our desire—and we have stressed this upon the Commission—that alleviation should be made over the transport part of the clawback charge for trade with members within the Community. May I remind my noble friend that although this was one of the disadvantages of the régime which we have come up against, the régime has enabled France to keep the system of intervention that she likes, it has enabled the United Kingdom to keep the variable premium which we like, it has kept the price to consumers low and allowed the price to producers to go up, and has prevented anything from going into intervention and has all been funded by FEOGA.

Lord Hawke

My Lords, is it not the case that whatever the complications of the sheepmeat régime may be, at least it has enabled the British consumer to buy British sheepmeat at a reasonable price and cheaper than imported New Zealand meat?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hawke is right. It is interesting to note that in November of last year the retail price of sheepmeat was 133p per pound and that this year it is 129p a pound. That means that the price to the consumer has gone down substantially; and I am sure that all noble Lords will be grateful for that.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, would my noble friend consider whether it would be possible for exporters to deduct the price of their exporting from the clawback they have to pay to the EEC?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, this is one of the points that my right honourable friend the Minister is taking up with the Commission. He is hoping to get the Commission to agree to that, but so far they have not done so.