Under a European Commission regulation which came into effect on 9 December, we are required to charge clawback—at the rate of 50 per cent. of that applicable to lambs—on ewemeat exported to France. Though we remain opposed to this approach, we have introduced the necessary arrangements. The French have now removed the import restrictions they were operating on our exports of ewemeat.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the concept of imposing what is, in effect, a tax on any form of export of agricultural produce from the United Kingdom to the Community is unacceptable? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the practice is never allowed to stick and that it is never accepted in default? Will he take all the steps at his command to ensure that this kind of penalty is not accepted in future?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that it is unacceptable to claw back that which one has given in the first place. That does not make sense and we have opposed it wholly. It is also wholly unacceptable and against any kind of international order when a country decides to take the law into its own hands and act in a way that we would consider to be entirely illegal.
What will the right hon. Gentleman do to remove claw back by next spring, when a great number of cull ewes will come on to the market? It is essential to remove this claw back by then.
I said clearly in answering the last question that we believe this to be entirely wrong. We have obeyed the law because it is our business to be law-abiding. We shall do everything in our power to change what is obviously nonsense.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that his endeavours on behalf of sheep farmers are highly commendable, but as this matter has been dragging on since last September we must try to get it resolved as soon as possible because it is having a very serious impact on the sheepmeat market between this country and the Continent?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I believe that it is necessary to stand up in the Community for the rights of British fanners, and it is not proper that their reasonable export demands should be stopped, first, illegally and, secondly, by a system that is clearly nonsense.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there has been considerable disruption as a result of the action by the French. That is why we opposed it so strongly, apart from the principle concerned. At the same time, obviously it would be for the trade to take any course of action which it felt was available to it. As to the hon. Gentleman's assertions, I will give him a detailed table of what seem to me to be the direct effects.