HC Deb 05 July 1984 vol 63 cc446-9
2. Mr. Haselhurst

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions he has had with the president of the National Farmers Union about easing the burden on dairy farmers arising out of the introduction of milk quotas.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jopling)

I have met the president of the NFU on several occasions during recent weeks. At our most recent formal meeting on 20 June we discussed a number of matters relating to milk quotas and the outgoers scheme.

Mr. Haselhurst

Did my right hon. Friend's discussions with my distinguished constituent cover the case of hardship where the farmer is complaining that the inputs he made prior to the introduction of the quota scheme mean that he will suffer severe financial loss, as he will now not expect to be recompensed, with the possibility of endangering his whole livelihood and the viability of his operation?

Mr. Jopling

It is my belief that the huge majority of farmers will be able to adapt their businesses. The milk industry has already shown remarkable flexibility and adaptibility. While there will be serious problems for milk producers, I believe that their ingenuity will get them through most of the difficulties.

Mr. John Morris

Is it correct that the Minister has decided not to go to the Royal Welsh Show? Would it not be better if he were to go so that he could meet representatives of farmers in Wales, who are deeply concerned about the tragic situation facing the dairy industry?

Mr. Jopling

I should have thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, above anyone else, would know that I am not responsible for agriculture in Wales. That is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that recently I paid an enjoyable visit to a western part of Wales, where I was extremely well entertained by Welsh farmers and enjoyed bottled beer and pork pies. While I should very much welcome visiting Wales again, I am afraid that it will not be possible to fit in a visit to the Royal Welsh Show. However, I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be there.

Sir Hector Munro

Does my right hon. Friend agree that he had a friendly and warm reception at the Royal Show? Is he further aware that the section of the industry facing the greatest difficulty is probably that of the producer retailer, and has he given further thought to the transferability of quota, which is essential to the survival of that section?

Mr. Jopling

I had an extremely pleasant day on Monday at the Royal Show at Stoneleigh. I am very much bothered by the problems of the producer retailer. I have explained to my hon. Friend—and I did so to the House in the debate on Tuesday—the difficulties that we face because of Community rules which make it extremely difficult to make switches between direct sale quotas and wholesale quotas. This matter needs a good deal of attention by the Commission, and I intend to continue to pursue it.

Mr. Mark Hughes

Will the Minister also take time to meet representatives of the farm workers in the outgoers scheme, because we understand that a 40-year-old stockman will get only £900 redundancy pay if he loses his job, which compares ill with the amount provided for cow owners?

Mr. Jopling

I had an extremely hospitable meeting with the farm workers at their stand at the Royal Show. It was a pleasant occasion. But let me disabuse the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Canavan

Was it just milk that the right hon. Gentleman was drinking?

Mr. Jopling

We had something rather stronger than milk to drink. Comparisons between the statutory redundancy scheme and the outgoers scheme are false. The outgoers scheme is not a redundancy scheme. It is intended to help the industry to adjust to a new situation, by encouraging those who wish to go out of milk production to do so, thus making extra quota available for redistribution. Outgoers do not have to leave farming; only to give up dairying.

3. Mr. Temple-Morris

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the latest situation regarding the implementation of milk quotas.

Mr. Jopling

Draft regulations under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act were laid before Parliament on 27 June. These regulations set out the detailed arrangements for implementing the quota system.

Mr. Temple-Morris

We were grateful for the opportunity to debate the matter ealier this week. My first question relates to better quota transfer and flexibility. Will my right hon. Friend get to Europe as quickly as he can—I appreciate that his hands are tied—and press for greater opportunities for transfer, perhaps by such means as leasing? There is uncertainty about the future. Now that we are stuck with milk quotas, for better or for worse, may we have a longer term plan for milk?

Mr. Jopling

I am intrigued by the possibility of leasing in connection with quota transfers. Nothing within the Community rules allows us to do that, but we are giving urgent attention to it. There is uncertainty in the industry, for obvious reasons. I hope that shortly we can sort out many of the problems, particularly in relation to quotas, after we have dealt with the special cases. We cannot move further until we have passed the regulations to which I referred in my main answer. I am anxious to consider what has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House before we bring back the regulations for a final decision.

Mr. Torney

Will the Minister explain the French quotas? If the French do not implement their quotas—which are far less stringent than ours—as I think they will not, will the Minister undertake not to implement United Kingdom quotas, and so avoid making some of our farmers bankrupt and many farm workers redundant?

Mr. Jopling

Yesterday the hon. Gentleman attended the Select Committee on Agriculture, which I also had the pleasure of attending. He will remember that I read to the Committee the words which I used in Luxembourg at the last Council, which were also used by my hon. Friend the Minister of State in his winding-up speech on Tuesday night. I told the Select Committee that I had decided to request the Commission to put on the agenda of the next Council in 10 days' time a report by the Commission on the progress which individual states are making to implement the milk quotas, so that we can see whether everyone is attempting to obey the rules.

Mr. Penhaligon

Is the Minister aware of the fear among those hoping to make a case under the special case procedure that they will not know their final quota until this milk year is completed? Does he agree that they are in an impossible position and cannot adjust the output of their herds in relation to quota? May we have an assurance that that will not happen? Secondly, if the right hon. Gentleman cannot do that, will he explain what will happen to the farmers and what fines will be imposed upon them if they have to face that incredible situation?

Mr. Jopling

I hope very much that there will be no question of farmers not knowing what their quotas are before the end of this milk year. It is difficult for us to say when farmers will know precisely what their quota is, because we have no idea how many farmers will apply for consideration under the special case arrangements for a share of the 2½ per cent. of milk production which we have reserved.

Mr. Harris

Is my right hon. Friend confident that he can assemble quickly enough the administrative and appeal machinery to deal with what many of us fear may well be a bureaucratic nightmare?

Mr. Jopling

I have always told the House that the implementation of quotas and super levies would be difficult in bureaucratic terms. There has never been any secret about that. However, I am confident that, immediately after Parliament has agreed to the regulations, we shall be able to ensure that applications are considered very rapidly indeed.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to clarify the remarks of the Minister of State on Tuesday about hardship cases resulting from bad weather conditions? The wording in column 234 of Hansard suggests that no one can apply until a region is designated as having a 10 to 15 per cent. cut in production because of bad weather or "a natural setback". If that is so, it is a serious restriction on the consideration of hardship cases.

Mr. Jopling

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having drawn my attention to this matter as I entered the Chamber. Hardship cases based on weather will be dealt with on an individual basis, not a regional basis.