HC Deb 25 June 1984 vol 62 cc672-5
5. Mr Raffan

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will now make a detailed statement on the arrangements for dealing with special hardship cases in Wales resulting from the European Economic Community milk quota scheme.

20. Sir Raymond Gower

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what progress has been made in completing arrangements for dealing with cases of hardship arising from the milk quota scheme of the European Economic Community.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Milk producers have now been informed of the categories of special cases that will be considered for award of additional quota. Further details in the form of regulations will be laid before the House as soon as possible. We have also introduced an outgoers scheme to assist smaller producers. It is hoped to announce detailed arrangements for the scheme at the end of July.

Mr. Raffan

It is now almost three months since the milk quota scheme was announced, yet its details are dribbling out with agonising slowness for the farming community. Will my right hon. Friend tell me when the producer-retailers will receive a provisional quota? At present they are completely in the dark. When will the outgoers scheme begin? Will he assure us that if it does not release sufficient extra quota for the small 40-cow dairy farmer, it will be extended?

Mr. Edwards

On 20 June we wrote to producers giving guidance about the arrangements for direct sales. I hope that it will be possible to lay before the House the necessary order for the main quota scheme within the next week. I have already said that we hope to announce detailed arrangements for the outgoers scheme at the end of this month.

Sir Raymond Gower

Does my right hon. Friend agree that some of the worst difficulties have arisen not because of the change of policy but because of its suddeness? When he considers the matter, will he pay special attention to the difficulties of those who, encouraged by Ministers, expanded their business with bank overdrafts or other forms of credit and who are now in a tricky position?

Mr. Edwards

It is because the problems of expanders have been recognised that a main aim of the quota scheme is to help them. That category is covered. I hope that the leavers scheme that I announced will assist those in that position. We recognise the difficulties that many producers face in making this adjustment.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that Welsh dairy farmers will be adequately compensated for lost business caused by this Government's agricultural policy?

Mr. Edwards

Clearly, the leavers scheme, which I have described, will be of particular value to Wales because of its emphasis on the small 40-cow unit. That will be of great benefit. The hon. Gentleman talked about the policy of "this Government", but I agree with the Farmers Weekly, which on 8 June pointed out that the other parties were the severest critics of EC overspending. It said that they would have attacked the absence of a dairy surplus control policy with the same gleeful venom that they display against its implementation, and that they do not suggest an alternative lifeline to dairy farmers, but argue loudly and often incoherently that they seek to give the impression that they are.

Mr. Ron Davies

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is a glaring inconsistency in the Government's handling of the dairy industry? During the past three or four years small dairy farmers have been encouraged to embark on the farm and horticultural development scheme, but under the the new proposals many of those farmers who have committed themselves to many thousands of pounds of capital investment face cuts of 9 per cent. Will the Secretary of State say specifically when those farmers will be told whether they are special cases, and if they are, by how much the quota will be extended? Will he assure us that if that information is not available by the end of the summer the Government will accept responsibility for paying the super levy, to allow an even period of transition for the farmers who are most directly affected?

Mr. Edwards

I have already said that we hope to lay the necessary parliamentary order within about a week, although it must then pass through the House. Therefore, it is unlikely that applications under the quota allocations scheme will be received before the middle of July. I am as anxious as is the hon. Gentleman that we should then deal with the applications as quickly as possible, and we are ready to set up the panel system as soon as possible. It is extremely important that people should have the fullest information before September, when the first tranche of levy becomes payable, although the payment is not due until about the middle of the following November.

Mr. Harvey

Can my right hon. Friend guarantee that there will be no further large cuts in quotas in subsequent years so that dairy farmers, having absorbed the present blow with great difficulty, can plan with confidence for the future?

Mr. Edwards

My hon. Friend knows that another 1 per cent. cut is built into the present arrangements, which were phased over two years. I cannot go beyond the agreement that has been reached.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Secretary of State aware of the grave uncertainty at present, with banks putting pressure on farmers who do not yet know their quotas? In those circumstances, will he now give an assurance that no farmer who, during the past couple of years, increased his milk output on the advice and with the agreement of Ministry officials will be allowed to go to the wall?

Mr. Edwards

The people whom the hon. Gentleman described are those from whom we shall expect applications under the quota scheme. Until we know the number of applications and the amounts involved we cannot say whether they will come within the 2.5 per cent. that has been set aside under the rules of the agreement reached in Brussels. I take the opportunity of saying publicly what I have said to many banks privately: as we shall be laying the orders soon and operating the scheme as quickly as possible, I hope that they will not press too precipitately those customers who are still not fully aware of their position.

Mr. John David Taylor

As it has been revealed that Southern Irish milk producers cannot produce enough milk to take up the quota allocations for the Republic of Ireland, will it be in order for Welsh producers, as distinct from the Milk Marketing Board, to export milk to the Republic?

Mr. Edwards

I have no evidence that Europe will ever return to having no substantial surpluses, and we must consider this matter on a Europe-wide basis.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Is it not time that the Government paid less attention to the better-off farmers, who have waxed fat for so long, and instead paid more attention to the less well-off farmers, so many of whom are in Wales and who are suffering badly as a result of the new quota system? Why is there no parity in this Common Market arrangement? Why should Eire have such a good deal? Is there not also a need for a bit of chwarae teg for Welsh farmers?

Mr. Edwards

It is precisely because I agree with the hon. Gentleman, at least on the fact that smaller farmers are especially important for Wales, that we have introduced a scheme that will be of special benefit to those with 40 cows or fewer. They should be the first priority in the reallocation of quota.