Sheepmeat

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th December 1988.

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Photo of Mr Geraint Howells Mr Geraint Howells , Ceredigion and Pembroke North 12:00 am, 5th December 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he has any plans to visit Brussels to help secure the future of the European sheepmeat regime.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I am well aware of the importance of sheep production to the rural economy and, in particular, to the hill and upland areas of Wales. I intend to play an active part in assisting my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the important negotiations on the review of the sheepmeat regime.

Photo of Mr Geraint Howells Mr Geraint Howells , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

Is it not regrettable that the Government will not allow our Secretary of State, who has full responsibility for agriculture in the Community, to go to Brussels? However, there is one ray of hope—I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware of this—in that the French sheep breeders have at last seen sense and are keen to introduce a sheepmeat regime, similar to ours, in France. As the Secretary of State is responsible for our present sheepmeat regime, will he now go to Brussels to talk to the French and others to safeguard the present scheme?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I should be perfectly happy to go to Brussels and, indeed, may well go to Brussels—there is no difficulty about my going there. As a tolerably old hand at negotiations in Brussels, I advise the hon. Gentleman that there are considerable advantages in having one negotiator rather than two. However, there are also advantages—my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods agrees with this—in my being present and if for certain talks and negotiations in Brussels he would like me to be there, I shall certainly be there.

The position of French sheepmeat producers has changed from time to time over the years, but that of the French Government has not changed. So far in negotiations there is not much sign that the French Government are changing their view. What is vital is that a scheme emerges that will ensure that, if anything, we get better access to the European market for our sheep production; that there is no discrimination against United Kingdom producers; that the income, especially of sheep producers in the hill areas, is maintained at a sensible level so that they remain viable, and that any transitional changes will not create difficulties during the transition.

Photo of Mr Ron Davies Mr Ron Davies , Caerphilly

Does the Secretary of State recognise that the present sheepmeat regime will do nothing to meet the estimated £200 million that will be lost to Welsh farmers this year as a result of the current high interest rates? Given the Secretary of State's reported speech to the Carlton club, when he referred to the Chancellor as "incompetent" because of the impact of high interest rates on industry, and if the Secretary of State is to represent the true interests of the people of Wales, does the right hon. Gentleman think that he has any honourable course of action other than resignation?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

While I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will ever gain admission to the Carlton club, had he done so, and listened to my speech, he would have found that the version of my speech that appeared in The Observer was totally an invention of The Observer.

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Shadow Secretary of State

May I, too, congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the wide publicity that yesterday's press gave to his criticisms of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? We agree with him in that. In relation to sheepmeat, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Welsh farming fraternity want to see him in Brussels more often, standing his corner, fighting hard and being on guard against opportunistic continental farmers?

May I ask him, as our Agriculture Minister, what advice he is giving to the people of Wales on eggs and salmonella? Does he agree that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), should be relieved of her office following her careless remarks at the weekend? Is the Department of Health not worried and is the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food not rather complacent?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his election to the shadow Cabinet. I am sure that we are all relieved that at long last the Labour party has a Welsh spokesman in the shadow Cabinet.

I should like to thank him also for his kind and generous remarks, which have given me great confidence in my negotiating skills when I go to Brussels. I am glad that the view of the Welsh farmers is that I would negotiate well on their behalf, and I am also glad that that view is so enthusiatically supported by the hon. Gentleman.

It is vital to get a good sheepmeat regime for the future, in the same way as we have had a good regime in the recent past. I have no reason to believe that we will not be successful in that endeavour.