HC Deb 30 April 1984 vol 59 cc3-4
3. Mr. Geraint Howells

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what further plans he has to help dairy farmers in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Edwards)

The Welsh Office, through the resources of the Agriculture Development and Advisory Service in Wales, will do everything possible to help producers reach decisions on how best to conduct their business during this difficult period of adjustment. All milk producers have already been sent a copy of a note prepared by ADAS which offers preliminary advice on coping with the quota.

Mr. Howells

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he made a political blunder and neglected his duties in not going to Brussels to look after the interests of Welsh dairy farmers? Will he now consider paying compensation to those who, through Government proposals, have lost their business?

Mr. Edwards

I do not accept that. I am certain that it is sensible for negotiations with 10 countries in Europe to be conducted on behalf of Britain by one Minister who has fully considered the various interests of different parts of the United Kingdom in the detailed discussions that take place at every stage of our consideration of the issues.

Mr. Hooson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that achieving, for instance, the doubling of the suckler cow premium, the retention against all odds of the beef variable premium and the extension of the less-favoured area definition from 57 to 80 per cent. of Welsh farmland is good news for Welsh livestock farmers?

Mr. Edwards

That is correct. We succeeded in the European negotiations in achieving many of the most important objectives which were spelt out to us by the farmers' unions. Not least, we avoided the revaluation of the green pound.

Dr. Roger Thomas

What defence does the Minister have for the agreement which is driving farmers to pour milk down the drain rather than take it to the creameries so that they do not have to face such a substantial financial debacle?

Mr. Edwards

The defence is that at present surpluses in Europe are costing European taxpayers about £3 billion. The policy of the hon. Gentleman's party is drastically to reduce expenditure on the CAP. I cannot take his protests seriously when action is being taken to reform the CAP and reduce expenditure on what members of his party have previously described as an obscenity.

Mr. Wigley

Were not many farmers advised professionally to produce more milk in the last two or three years? Is it not a travesty that between 30,000 and 40,000 cows may have to be slaughtered to meet the terms of the policy? Does the Secretary of State intend to help farmers in Wales by using article 4 of the agreement made on 31 March, which provides for a one-off grant, or an annual grant to assist farmers to change from producing milk?

Mr. Edwards

Successive Ministers of Agriculture have argued for a reform of the arrangements for milk support in the Community. In the absence of an agreement on that, in recent years it would have been extraordinary for British Ministers to tell farmers that they should not take full advantage of the arrangements that apply to the rest of Europe. If we had done that we should have started to cut back from a much lower base and our relative position and self-sufficiency would have been much less satisfactory than it is. I do not apologise for encouraging farmers to take advantage of the European arrangements. We have now reached an agreement on a measure to cut surpluses. I have nothing to announce at present on the line suggested.

Mr. Barry Jones

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the Government's craven efforts have put many hundreds of Welsh dairy farmers at risk of bankruptcy or serious hardship? Will he concede that the Government have betrayed the Welsh dairy farmers in order to advance towards something like an EEC budget? Does he agree that he has put the whole of the Welsh rural economy at risk?

Mr. Edwards

Many individual farmers will face real difficulties, but I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman, of all people, is in a strong position to lecture the House on the subject, since his Front Bench argues that we have done insufficient to cut expenditure on the CAP.

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