HC Deb 07 June 1984 vol 61 cc432-5
4. Mr. Campbell-Savours

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has yet placed in the Library complete details on the operation of the European Economic Community milk quota scheme.

7. Mr. Temple-Morris

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on progress being made towards the implementation of milk quotas and the accompanying European Community and United Kingdom regulations.

10. Mr. Andrew Stewart

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he now expects to be able to make a statement concerning special cases of hardship resulting from the agreement in the Council of Ministers on quotas for the dairy industry.

Mr. Jopling

A number of the detailed arrangements relating to the operation of the supplementary levy arrangements have still to be worked out. These include those relating to direct sales, the outgoers scheme, and the reallocation and transfer arrangements for quotas. However, I intend to submit shortly for the approval of Parliament draft regulations under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act. These regulations will, among other things, lay down the arrangements for implementing the special case rules, including provision for appeals to an independent tribunal and local panels. Producers will be receiving preliminary guidance on the special case rules in the next few days.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Do details on the operation of the scheme include proposals to deal with the problems being confronted by the milk processing industries and the Milk Marketing Board in particular? Is the Minister aware of a statement made by Mr. Geoffrey Barr, chief executive of the Milk Marketing Board, to his 13,000 employees, that they need to make a 20 per cent. cut in their operating costs? Does that not imply that there will be substantial redundancies, and do the Government intend to help in any way to avoid those redundancies?

Mr. Jopling

The effects on processing plants of the supplementary levy arrangements that have been agreed in the Community are a matter for the milk board, because they come under its control. The board is an independent organisation which looks after its own affairs.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Is not my right hon. Friend only too well aware that the present situation is by no means the end of the story? Does he agree that it is of the utmost priority that we avoid a sudden introduction of measures to do with the dairy sector, cereals or anything else? Does he not think that that is all important for farmers' confidence?

Mr. Jopling

My hon. Friend will recollect that from July until almost the end of last year I was arguing—this was referred to in the House last night—that much the best way of dealing with the catastrophic surplus of milk in the Community was through the discipline of price, and that we did not wish to deal with that as a first priority through the supplementary levy scheme. I hope that we shall have no more of these schemes and that we shall deal with individual commodities through the discipline of price.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Does the Minister realise that individual farmers, not least those in Northern Ireland, are unable, three months into the year, to plan their milk production and operations?

Mr. Jopling

The right hon. Gentleman may recall that in the middle of April we gave to the vast majority of milk producers who deliver wholesale to the milk boards provisional quotas on which they have since been working. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman may have seen that in May the deliveries of milk were 4.2 per cent. down on the same month last year.

Sir Peter Mills

In this difficult situation of guotas and price restraint, is my right hon. Friend aware of the almost disgraceful statement by the alliance that it would increase the price of milk to the farmers? Is that not disgraceful, cynical and wholly unfair? Will he utterly condemn such misleading of my farmers?

Mr. Jopling

I have noticed statements that have been made by spokesmen for the alliance parties. All I can say is that if we had such policies they would be sure-fire recipe for even more catastrophic surpluses, overspending and bankruptcy than we are already experiencing.

Mr. Strang

Is it not clear that these measures will discriminate adversely against the British dairy industry, and is it not a scandal that farmers from the Republic of Ireland are coming here to buy our cull cows?

Mr. Jopling

The hon. Gentlman should recall that in Germany and the Netherlands farmers are having to make larger cut-backs in milk production than farmers here. Therefore, his question is based on a fallacy.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in some parts of Britain the base year 1983 was a bad year for milk production? When he lays down the criteria for assessing special cases, and when he re-allocates the spare quota, will he bear those areas very much in mind?

Mr. Jopling

I am well aware of the problem to which my hon. Friend refers and I am also aware that Somerset is in particular difficulty. However, if one compares the milk production figures for 1983 with those of 1982, one sees that Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire were 2.3 per cent. up.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

Will the Minister be as prompt to condemn violence and criminal damage by dairy farmers protesting against Common Market policies as his Prime Minister has been to condemn violence on picket lines? Will he bear in mind that the £600 from his scheme to pay small farmers to take cows out of production and send them to the knacker's yard is £600 more than fishermen got when they were made redundant by the Common Market?

Mr. Jopling

I am sorry that the hon. Member is not able to be a little more welcoming to the scheme, which has been widely welcomed throughout the country and which will assist a very small minority of milk producers who want to go out of production to do so, so as to bring the bulk of small milk producers back to the level of production which they enjoyed in 1983.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

Will my right hon. Friend accept that perhaps the worst feature of the situation is the continuing uncertainty? In his proposals for quotas, will he pay particular attention to producer-processors?

Mr. Jopling

In regard to the direct sellers to whom my hon. Friend has referred, we hope to be able to send guidance to them in a very short time. We have had a major difficulty about this because the Commission's figures were inaccurate. It did not translate its own figures into the regulations. We sorted this matter out finally only last Monday and we hope that in a very short time we can give guidance to the direct sellers.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

When I was visiting a cattle market in Wiltshire recently, some of the farmers said that the scheme the Government were introducing was simply an attempt to buy votes. That is not so, is it?

Mr. Jopling

It is only the right hon. Gentleman who could have such extraordinary thoughts. All I can say to him is that if we succeed, as we intend, in bringing 40 per cent. of milk producers—those with 40 or fewer cows—back to their 1983 patterns of production that will be much more important than anything to do with votes.

Mr. Farr

While I welcome the fact that the House will have the opportunity to discuss my right hon. Friend's proposals, may I ask whether he is aware that there they will be of critical importance to many producers? Will he consider tabling them, not as an order which cannot be amended, but rather in the form of a discussion document on which sensible suggestions from both sides can be made, because a number of important cases will have to be debated?

Mr. Jopling

I understand perfectly my hon. Friend's point, but there is a real dilemma, which I am sure he will understand. It is very important that at the earliest moment we get the forms and the final details of the scheme to milk producers so that they know the position. I think the House would wish to proceed by the quickest method so that we can clarify the situation and let all milk producers know their position.

Mr. Ashdown

The Minister has said frequently from the Dispatch Box and in letters to me and others that his decision on milk quotas has been a long time in the making. Why, then, were his officials, speaking through the Milk Marketing Board, saying to farmers in Somerset as late as February of this year that they should produce as much as they could?

Mr. Jopling

I notice that in a letter which the hon. Gentleman sent me dated 31 May he accused me personally of having said that. I had no recollection of doing so. I am interested to hear him say today that it was some nebulous official. Therefore, it would be better if he got his facts right.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Since it is now more than two months since the regulations were supposed to apply, from 1 April, is it not disgraceful that there should be so much confusion and so little detail about the application of the scheme? Since we apparently share an objective in trying to protect small producers, why did the Minister not accept the scheme which I put to him, that they should be allowed to produce up to their 1983 quotas and that there should be re-allocations on a sliding scale to larger producers? Why did the Minister not do that instead of introducing a half-baked scheme which he has said is widely welcomed, although I have no record from the farming press of that being so? It has been condemned as Jopling's milksop scheme turned sour.

Mr. Jopling

I urge the hon. Gentleman to read a good deal more of the farming press. If he reads the reports of the statements made by the president of the Farmers Union of Wales, he will find that it would not have been possible to give a warmer welcome to the scheme. I did not take up the hon. Gentleman's scheme because I thought that my scheme was much better. I was prepared to put £50 million where my mouth was.