Is my right hon. Friend aware that I find his reply most encouraging, particularly his recognition of the importance of New Zealand imports into this country, not only to the British consumer but to the British producer? Is he aware that New Zealand imports into this country balance the British home kill and ensure that lamb is available throughout the year to the British housewife?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. In addition to the importance of the British market, to which New Zealand has geared the whole of its sheep industry over many years, I emphasise to the House that such trade is absolutely vital to the future economy of New Zealand
The conditions under which we would consider any sheepmeat regime would need to be of considerable advantage to sheep producers in this country. The constant difficulty we have had with regard to exports to France and to other markets would be removed if we had a sensible regime. But the system must meet the criteria of removing controls and protecting the position of New Zealand.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, on the basis of experience, a sheepmeat regime is likely to result in a mutton mountain or a lamb lake? Will he take steps to ensure that a regime is not introduced? Will he also seek to remove the 20 per cent. tax on New Zealand lamb, a tax which is harmful to the consumer and unjustified on any grounds?
The Commissioner visited New Zealand recently and had discussions there. He will be putting forward proposals to the Council of Ministers as to the future treatment of levies on New Zealand sheep meat and we shall consider those. I agree with my hon. Friend that there are lessons to be learned from previous regimes and we shall make sure that mistakes are not repeated.
Will the Minister reject the proposal for a sheepmeat regime out of hand? Does he agree that in all the commodities, from butter to beef, where there is intervention there is large-scale fiddle and fraud which now amounts to £1,000 million? That will be increased if another commodity goes into intervention.
The loose use of the figure of £1,000 million by my predecessor—I gather in a television programme yet to be shown—makes me surprised that he did not do something about that when he had an opportunity to do so.