HC Deb 05 February 1985 vol 72 cc885-97

Amendment made: No. 10, in line 5, after 'discontinuing', insert 'or reducing'. — [Mr. MacGregor.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[Mr. MacGregor.]

1.27 am
Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

It is extremely late, and I shall not detain the House for long. I do not normally speak on agricultural matters for the very good reason that my party is full of experts on agriculture. They have made several notable speeches today, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells), who discussed the administration of milk quotas.

The Government should count themselves lucky that such a small proportion of right hon. and hon. Members represent agricultural constituencies and that even fewer members of the public understand what has gone on in the milk quota system. If it had happened in any other suject that was understood by the urban electorate, there would have been a real sense of outrage, considering that in recent years taxpayers' money, not just Government exhortation, was put into schemes to expand milk production, some of which I have seen in my constituency recently. A few years later, we are putting more taxpayers' money into schemes to stop people producing extra milk. That is an Alice-in-Wonderland position. The first moral, which the Minister will acknowledge, is that there must be longer-term planning at European and domestic levels of the production of agricultural commodities.

Secondly, although the Bill is designed to bring relief to the smaller herds, the smallish herds on single-purpose farms will be most hit by the quota scheme. The larger farms with varied production can divert some production and acreage from dairying to other disciplines. That is not the case with farms, such as the one I visited in my constituency, with between 50 and 100 cows, which are a single-purpose unit. It is impossible for them to diversify into another form of production. The hardship of the milk quota system has fallen disproportionately on smaller farmers. The scheme should have been changed so that those with large lush acreages had more taken from them and a greater opportunity to diversify into other forms of agriculture.

Thirdly, the House should be extremely worried about the tribunal or panel system, which has been erected to cope with the difficulties that have arisen. In our political system it is normal that with tribunals, there is either a system of appeal or ministerial override and responsibility in the House. In this case there is neither. Once a tribunal has made a decision, the decision is not open to discussion with the applicant, his Member of Parliament, his accountants or legal advisers, nor is the Minister responsible in the House for it. That cannot be healthy for our democratic system. The Government came into office dedicated to abolishing quangos. Yet they have set up a new system of quangos, which are entirely unanswerable.

The Government have a sorry record. I do not blame the Minister for that, because he is relatively new to the Department. During the past five years the Government's record does not bear close examination. In agricultural constituencies throughout the land there is a genuine sense of outrage at the way in which they have been treated.

1.34 am
Mr. Wigley

I shall speak briefly on Third Reading because of the significant effect of the dairy saga in Wales. In Gwynedd, especially in Dyfed—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will address himself not to that point but to the Bill. This is not Second Reading, but Third Reading.

Mr. Wigley

As I said, I am addressing myself to Third Reading because of the significant effect that the saga has had on Gwynedd and Dyfed, and the fact that the Bill does nothing to alleviate that, as it was intended to do.

Earlier we heard of the great likelihood of an insufficiency of resources to meet the needs and to safeguard the interests of dairy farmers. In Scotland more than 40 per cent. of the expected additional quota is being cut, and in Wales and England a cut of 35 per cent. is likely. There is no provision for financial compensation for that shortfall from what has been shown to be the necessary level of additional quota to make farms viable.

In my area, many farmers have waited for weeks to discover the results of those tribunals. They do not know where they stand, and now there is the additional uncertainty that, even if they receive an additional quota from the tribunal, it may not be granted to them. The farmers in my area want the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to go to Brussels and insist that additional quota is made available to Wales, because there is no provision in Wales for alternative farming. The land and the climate do not allow it—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. On Third Reading, hon. Members must address themselves to what is in the Bill. This is not a Second Reading debate. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will address himself to what is in the Bill.

Mr. Wigley

The Bill's failing is that it does not make the necessary provision to meet the problems of my constituents. It was put forward on Report as though it were doing so. It is not. That is why the House divided a few moments ago, and that is why there is great consternation, sometimes leading to riots, as we saw in south and west Wales in recent months.

This subject should not be treated lightly, even at this late hour. It is a matter of great concern to hundreds of producers in Wales, and that is why the Opposition are not satisfied with the Government's proposals. We expect further steps to be taken; at the very least, Ministers should return to Brussels to ask for more quota. In those circumstances, we should reject this inadequate Bill.

1.36 am
Mr. Geraint Howells

After visiting dairy farmers in the county of Dyfed in west Wales over the weekend to discuss the outgoers Bill, I was dismayed by the apparent irregularities and anomalies that are being revealed by the quota allocations. I deplore the devastation caused to the dairy industry by the Government's policy of the imposition of milk quotas without thought, consultation or foresight.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned relevant and important matters during our debates on the Bill. Many farmers who bought their farms in 1983 are in dire trouble, and I am worried that the Bill does not cater for the needs of farmers who bought their farms then. Yesterday, I had the privilege to visit a dairy fanner who had moved from Yorkshire to Pembrokeshire. I am sure that the Minister will not deny a Yorkshireman a living in Wales. He was determined to buy a farm just outside Fishguard, so he came down from Yorkshire and had a word with the local bank manager, who said that he would not allow him — [Interruption.] I am trying to make a case for the people for whom I feel sorry. If the Government do not do something in the near future, many of those who bought their farms in 1983 will go bankrupt.

I visited that farm and met the Yorkshireman, who is aged about 30, and is married with two children. They were crying. When I saw the child turning to its mother—[Interruption.] If hon. Members do not believe what I am saying, the name of the person concerned is a—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not question what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I hope that what he discussed with his constituent relates to the Third Reading of this Bill.

Mr. Howells

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I am sure that many Conservative Members respect my views — I feel sorry for the young men who will go bankrupt within the next few years through no fault of their own. They were the unfortunate ones who took heed of Government advice to expand and to produce more milk. They moved from one farm to another. The farmer who moved from Yorkshire invested over £300,000 in his farm in Fishguard, and unless he has a substantial quota he will not survive. However, it is more than likely that he will not get it. The net result is that he and his family will have to sell up. The stock that he brought with him from Yorkshire, which is worth about £65,000, will have to go, he will become bankrupt and he will move back north.

There is no point in saying to those two or three farmers who have moved into Wales and to the local people who bought farms in 1983 that there is nothing in the Bill to cover for their needs. If the Minister and other hon. Members do not believe that this serious situation exists in west Wales, I invite the Minister to come and see for himself, with the Secretary of State. He will not need police protection this time, there will be no demonstration, and I assure him that he will be able to talk to these families and discuss the problems that will arise in the future. Next year it will be too late. The farms will have been sold and many of these people will have become bankrupt.

I hope that the Minister at this late hour will do something tonight about these people who are worried about what will happen tomorrow morning. Many dairy farmers have to go to the bank every fortnight to explain how they stand financially. It is a great shame that the Government have introduced such a Bill, because it is causing a great deal of concern to those living in west Wales. I am sure that the day will come when the Minister will regret ever having introduced the quota system in Britain.

1.41 am
Mr. John

An apt summary of the Bill at the end of our consideration of it is that it makes the worst of a bad job. It is not the Bill that has created the undoubted hardship and suffering about which Opposition Members have spoken. It is the agreement of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the quota system on milk which has caused the problem. The hardship would continue even if the Bill were defeated, and might well be exacerbated.

The scheme, which is partly legitimised by the Bill, is regarded now on all sides as a bungled job. Indeed, the Ministry itself recognises this in at least two respects with regard to the future. First, by the amendments that have been moved, the Ministry has recognised that a mistake was made in not including a scheme for partial surrender of milk quotas as well as whole surrender. It has laid down the statutory framework to do this in future. Secondly, by statement the Ministry has resolutely set its face against the repetition of the quota system in the restriction of cereal production. We have it on the authority of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that he will rely on the price mechanism rather than on what is enshrined in the Bill.

The reason why I go further and say that the Bill makes the worst of a bad job, granted that the initial agreement at Brussels was a very bad job, is that the decision is a national one. The scheme enshrined in clause 1(1) is a national decision and not a Community one. The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) conceded that the scheme arose from a national decision. It is this provision of the Bill which has restricted the payment of £50 million over the five years of the scheme. On Second Reading and in the debate tonight, it would have been simpler and more straightforward if the Government had taken the opportunity given by the Bill and by the quota system to realign the dairy industry in accordance with modern requirements as they are now revealed. The Bill fails to do so from the point of view of the outgoers because it gives them no lead or direction on whether the Government want them to remain in or go out of dairying, or, if they want them to remain in farming, what other form of occupation in farming and agriculture they want them to carry on.

Because the Government have not accepted amendment No. 7 on the surrender of quota, many of those who remain in dairying will not have adequate quota to make their holdings viable, whereas the aim of a Government faced with a surplus of dairy products is to ensure that those who remain in dairying have adequate quotas whereby they can carry on viable businesses and purchase sufficient supplies to service those quotas. We have heard about the apeal that led to cutbacks done on the basis of the milk available rather than need.

Those are the reasons why the Bill does not settle either the shape or the form of farming. Many of those who remain in farming will do so not because of the golden future that they see, but because—I believe that this is what the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) was saying—they cannot afford to get out of the system in which they are now trapped.

There are many examples of debts, to which clause 1(1) does not address itself. Mention has been made of Dyfed, and of overdrafts of £250,000 and, indeed, of over £1 million because of expansion. Perhaps the warning signs were there, but they were masked by Government encouragement for expansion. As a result, many people have got into alarming debts. The Bill has little or nothing to say to those people. It has nothing to say about the destruction of their life's work.

The scheme is described as an outgoers scheme. In fact, the Bill does not deal with all those who are going out. We have had this argument before, and I do not propose to rehearse it at length. I hope that the House will remember that people who are employed withing the dairy industry—directly in dairying, in transport, feed production and so on — will be made redundant as a result of the scheme. In particular, the most immediate and direct effect will be on employment in the creameries.

That is why I say that the Bill gives backing to a scheme that is inadequate, and miserably so. It was agreed in haste in Brussels. The Minister went out there saying that he was not prepared to agree to a quota system, and came back trying to sell it to the House. It is a monument to the failure of the Ministry. It talked about farmers not heeding the warning of recent years, but it has not heeded the warning of recent years. It has been a Mr. Magoo style of politics in which the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food went on believing that its will would prevail over that of its partners until it bumped into reality at Brussels and had to adopt a system that it freely confessed in its response to the Select Committee it still did not like and want.

Because the anxiety is so keen, as hon. Members have said, in the agricultural areas, because the uncertainties felt by dairy farmers are still so great, many of whom have claims still in the pipeline, and because of the hardship that they have faced and do face, I believe that there is a duty on the House tonight not to add to that uncertainty unless what is before it s totally repugnant. The scheme is certainly inadequate. It is certainly puny, too, but no one can gainsay that the principle of compensating those who are forced to go out of milk production by a Government scheme is correct.

While we have the gravest reservation about the adequacy of the scheme and we believe that another, better scheme will have to be devised when the results of this one become known, we would be wrong to take away from the producers who are still awaiting adjudication of their claims to go out from the dairy industry the protection of clause 1(1). The quotas will remain whether or not the Bill is passed. We would take away the ability of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and food to compensate for that scheme if we voted against the Bill, and it was not passed. Therefore, we shall not divide the House. Nevertheless, I hope that the milk producers will never again be put into such a position by such an ill-considered Bill, and such a helpless, half-thought-out scheme as that to which the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food consented in Brussels.

1.50 am
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

I wish to speak in the debate because I am concerned about the fact that the endorsement of the Bill will effectively endorse the considerate waste of public money that has gone into the dairy industry as a result of the Government's incompetence over the past two or three years. That is why the Bill is of concern not just to rural Members of Parliament but to all Members.

Like my hon. Friends, I have been out and about talking to the farmers in my constituency. I have come across a farmer with a large farm. I support the purpose of the bill, which is to protect the small farmer. That large-scale farmer was able to set up a new dairy venture two years ago, for which he received no less than £250,000 of public money to invest in a new milking parlour and for which he now cannot get a quota to produce an economic throughput of milk. If that is not an example of Government incompetence and misuse of public funds, I do not know what is.

The House has every reason to be concerned at the way that this issue has been handled by the Government and the misuse of public funds that has gone into the scheme which the Bill represents in terms of future compensation.

In the circumstances, the House has to realise that the Government are asking us to support a move that will effectively condone the misuse of public money on a huge scale. One farmer getting £250,000 is indefensible. As there is merely barracking from the few Labour Members who are here, the Liberal party is representing the real opposition to the Bill.

1.53 am
Mr. MacGregor

We have had many opportunities to debate milk quotas recently, and I do not think that the House will wish me to go over the whole issue again at this hour of the night. Nor do I think that you, with your sharp eyes for order Mr. Deputy Speaker, would allow me to. I shall confine myself to what the Bill is about, and will not stray much more widely.

Had the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) been present for more of the debates that we have had on milk quotas, he would realise that, as usual, the Liberal party is speaking with two voices. I have been urged to spend more and more money on the outgoers scheme by that party, but he is now complaining about the misuse of public funds through the outgoers scheme. He should be more consistent and listen to the debates.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the number of Liberals here tonight is the largest that we have seen after midnight since they propped up the Government of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan)?

Mr. MacGregor

I gave way to my hon. Friend because, unlike some hon. Members who have spoken at the end of the debate, he has been sitting patiently in the Chamber throughout the debate.

On the three points made by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel), I say to him with great respect and not in any antagonistic sense that if he had attended rather more of our agricultiure debates he would have understood some of the points that he criticised. First, he said that there had been considerable inconsistency in the Community's general approach to the dairy sector. It is not the sole responsibility of any one member state and it is certainly not the sole responsibility of this Government.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that schemes have been introduced at Community level which have not been thought through and which therefore have hot been effective. The previous scheme which was designed to encourage people to get out of the dairy sector was ineffective. That scheme was negotiated at Community level, and we do not always get what we want at Community level. The difficulty about the scheme was that a five year time limit was placed upon it. Therefore, a considerable number of people were able to get out of dairying with the help of public funds and were then able to re-enter it before the quota system was introduced.

I was always very critical about that scheme. I go further. I take the right hon. Gentleman's point that there was inconsistency about the considerable encouragement of dairy expansion schemes while the attempts that were made to cut back on the surpluses were ineffective. Nevertheless, it was entirely right that United Kingdom farmers should have the opportunity to take advantage of these schemes. They enabled farmers to become more efficient and effective and to update their businesses and expand. It was right that they should have this opportunity while this remained the Community's approach. The Government would have been very heavily criticised if they had taken a purist view and said, "We are not going to let our farmers have the benefit of Community subsidies while farmers in all of the other member states enjoy them." The United Kingdom Government have consistently argued for price restraint in the dairy sector. If their warnings about the need not to have big price increases year by year in the earlier price reviews had been heeded, probably it would not have been necessary to introduce the quota system. But we were unable to carry the other member states with us. When the original Community reform proposals of the Commission relating to milk were made known we made it clear that we should have to consider getting a quota system into a form that would be acceptable to United Kingdom producers.

There were illogicalities and inconsistencies in the previous approach. Although attempts were made to restrain production, they did not work. Because production increased to the level that it did while the consumption of many dairy products was falling, and surpluses were therefore rising and the cost of disposing of those surpluses was going through the roof, something had to be done. The result was the quota system. It is interesting to note that no Opposition speaker has referred to the fact that the costs of disposing of the dairy surpluses with which we were faced when my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) and I attended the discussions about reforms in the Council of Ministers were very substantial and indefensible. I hope the right hon. Gentleman recognises that we had to take painful decisions. We did not like having to take them, but we were faced with the real probability that Community money for agriculture would run out altogether if something was not done.

On the right hon. Gentleman's second point, he quite rightly referred to the fact that it is the smallish herds on single purpose farms that are hardest hit, but he has failed to take into account the fact that the Government agree with him about that. The primary objective of the outgoers scheme is to help the small producers who wish to stay in milk production. I believe that it is the most effective way in which we can help them.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) repeated a point that he has made in Committee about which he knows I am convinced is wrong. He says that we were wrong to start giving the offers to the smaller producers to come out. The objective was to help the small producers who want to stay in. But the scheme was oversubscribed and we could not make offers to everyone. Therefore, we took the view that as the smallest producers with no other option may wish to have the opportunity to take up the outgoers scheme — it is entirely voluntary and would depend on their individual circumstances—it was right to give them the choice first to do so. But if none of them had taken it up I would not have blamed them and we should then have gone on to the bigger producers.

Mr. Geraint Howells

I am sure that the Minister is well aware that the Government, as a result of their proposals, have got rid of 241 small dairy producers in my county to try to help another 250 producers. It is a great shame that all the pressure has been put on the small producers.

Mr. MacGregor

I have told the hon. Gentleman many times that there has been no pressure whatever. His figures are slightly too large, but I do not quibble with that. We simply felt, and I think that small producers are grateful, that we should give them the opportunity first and it was up to them to decide. We have constantly emphasised that the real purpose is to help the small producers who wish to remain in dairy farming.

The hon. Gentleman should recognise that the small producers in Wales are being helped by the outgoers scheme because fewer small producers are taking up the option. About 13 per cent. are taking up the option of the outgoers scheme, but Wales will benefit from 25 per cent. of the quota to be reallocated. There is a considerable swing to small producers in Wales as a result of the scheme.

The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale talked about the tribunal and panel system. The dilemma that we face was brought out by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), who urged us to get on with the scheme because all producers with secondary applications want to know where they stand. I agree. We have been eager to get them to a position where they know where they stand as quickly as possible.

Equally, we wanted a fair and objective scheme based on individual circumstances, properly assessed by a group of experienced people, not by ministerial fiat, so that the scheme could be seen to be fair and so that every producer was given a fair hearing.

Of course there are discrepancies in panel judgments, but there is an opportunity to appeal to the tribunal and it is the tribunal which takes a national view and can iron out any of those problems. Given the need to reach decisions as quickly as possible, the large number of producers making secondary applications and the need for a fair system, I think that we got the balance right. I should like to pay a considerable tribute to the members of the panels and tribunal who, in all the circumstances, have done an excellent job.

Mr. Penhaligon

Will the Minister confirm that the reality is that if a constituent came to his Member of Parliament and that Member went to the bother and effort, as we all have done for individual problems, to raise an individual case on the Floor of the House, and if it were presented so articulately that the Minister was convinced of the justice of the case, the Minister has drawn up the regulations in such a way that when the appeals procedure that is currently going on is completed the Minister could do nothing about it?

Mr. MacGregor

We set up the system bearing in mind the need to reach decisions fairly quickly. If we had followed the route that has been suggested with endless opportunities for appeal, we would be going on into next year and the year after and that would not have suited the producers who want to know where they stand. This was an unusual operation in order to deal with the situation.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson) described the outgoers scheme as a complete disaster in Northern Ireland. That is putting it much too strongly. As he will know, 161 producers, representing 10.5 million litres in a full year, have already accepted the outgoers scheme. So there is already a considerable acceptance. But I agree that the response to the outgoers scheme has fallen short of our targets and been disappointing. It has not been a complete disaster, but it has been disappointing.

In conjunction with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as I said on Second Reading, we are continuing to look for ways to deal with the difficulties that arise from that poor response, but we are not yet in a position to reach decisions. We are still waiting to discover the final position on the England and Wales outgoers scheme. In the meantime, the scheme is to be reopened in the Province for two weeks from 11 February to see whether it is possible to bring in a further quota.

The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) talked about the payment of a superlevy. We have said clearly that until the system has been operated fairly and properly in all member states we shall not pay superlevy, but we are ready and in a position to do so. What happens in Northern Ireland will depend upon the outcome of—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister said that he had taken into account what I said earlier, but now he is discussing Northern Ireland, and the Bill specifically says that it does not extend to Northern Ireland. The Minister must wait until an order for Northern Ireland comes before the House.

Mr. MacGregor

A tiny part of the Bill does affect Northern Ireland.

Mr. John David Taylor

As a result of the Bill, will the free quotas be exchangeable within the United Kingdom and therefore transferable to another region of the United Kingdom-Northern Ireland?

Mr. MacGregor

We are straining at the rules of order, but the Bill includes a clause about Northern Ireland. Perhaps I may refer to it, without straining your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Nicholson

Northern Ireland is included in the Bill and we shall be presented with an Order in Council on which we, representing dairy farmers in Northern Ireland, will riot be allowed to make one comment. That is ridiculous. I should like to say much more, but I realise the time of night.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Clause 6 states than an Order in Council shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House. That indicates that there will be an opportunity to discuss the Northern Ireland application of the measure.

Mr. MacGregor

I have responded to the argument because I recognise the importance of the outgoers scheme to Northern Ireland. A proposal will be coming before the Council of Ministers to give the possibility—in the first year only — to adjust quotas between regions. If that becomes part of Community regulations between now and the end of March, it will give us the opportunity, if we produce short of quota in England and Wales, of adjusting to Northern Ireland. It might be helpful to Northern Ireland producers.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) to explain the progress of the outgoers scheme. A total of 3,888 producers in England and Wales have been invited to become outgoers — that is, those with up to 387,000 litres. Already 1,252 have accepted, surrendering quota of 154.4 million litres. That is 10 million litres up on the time when we last debated this measure.

First year payments have already been made to 1.046 producers at a total cost of £3 million. A considerable number of producers are in the pipeline—those who are still special case applicants who have been offered the outgoers scheme but who have been told that they do not need to make a decision until they know about their secondary applications, and those in the latest tranches who have still four weeks, or less, to make up their minds.

There ae 832 producers in categories with quotas of 190 million litres. If all accepted, we should obviously be over the top of our target of 289 million litres, but we know hat all will not accept. We are taking a calculate risk.

There is another good reason or moving in tranches in making offers. Many people are worried about the effect on the beef market if everyone took up the outgoers scheme straight away. That is why we have staggered the tranches and why the scheme has gone well and has not had the effect on the beef market that some people were afraid that it would have.

All the signs are that we shall get the 289 million litres and be able to meet all exceptional hardship claims this year. Obviously we shall get less quota this year than next—because many of the outgoers have already used up a considerable amount of their quota — but exceptional hardship claims will be met, and for the small producers we shall be able to meet our pledge next year of getting them back to their 1983 production levels up to 200,000 litres.

This year they will not be paying any superlevy, so it is next year that counts and we will be able to meet our pledge because of the success of the scheme, which suggest that the incentives are sufficient to encourage enough people to take advantage of it.

The outgoers scheme is successful. It is achieving its objectives in a way which is not disrupting the beef market, and in a way which will enable us to help all small producers who wish to stay in, and it has enabled us already to help those who have decided voluntarily to get out.

I agree with the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) that it would be foolish for hon. Members to oppose the Bill tonight because it is giving a beneficial advantage to many producers and is helping us to restructure the dairy industry in this difficult situation. It would be a grave mistake, therefore, for hon. Members to try to throw the Bill out because that would prevent us from going ahead with the proper authorisation for the rest of the payments under the scheme and would not enable a future Government, if they so wished, to introduce another scheme. Dairy producers would not understand it if hon. Members attempted to oppose the Bill tonight, and on that basis I commend the measure to the House.

Mr. Ashdown

I apologise to hon. Members for delaying them and I apologise to the Minister for having failed to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, before he spoke because I should have liked him to have answered some questions.

Despite the Minister's blandishments, my hon. Friends and I will vote against the Third Reading. I have no doubt that the Bill will get through and that a scheme, though massively flawed, may be better than none. But the reality is that the measure is totally inadequate and requires us to lay a marker saying, "We at least regard it as inadequate and disruptive to the industry." If we do nothing else, we shall be laying a marker calling on the Government to produce a better measure.

The Minister claims that dairy farmers will not understand why we are voting against the Bill. That is not my experience. Dairy farmers understand that the Bill is flawed and inadequate. I could give many examples of those flaws, but I will confine myself to three.

First, whatever the Minister may claim, the Bill will result in fewer small family farms than were previously within the British farming infrastructure. The Minister said that many small farmers had agreed voluntarily to take the outgoers scheme. He is right. They had no alternative. The imposition of milk quotas reduced many of them to below viability, and if he comes to my constituency I will take him to a number of farms in precisely that position.

One farmer in my constituency has had to dispense with his own son on the farm. He was training him with a view to taking the farm over in due course—[Interruption.] His son was working as a labourer on the farm, learning the business, but he had to go. He had to cause his son to leave the business as he was able no longer to run the farm as a viable unit with the son as a labourer. He had no option but to take the outgoers' scheme. The Minister spoke of choice and of farmers exercising their own free will in taking the outgoers' scheme. The reality is that many of them have been forced to do so.

The Bill is not increasing the number of small farms in Britain. It is not giving asssistance to small family farms, which is part of Liberal farming policy. That is a sector of farming that needs positive encouragement. Whatever the Minister says about the freedom of choice that has been exercised, he cannot deny that the sum total of the effect of the Bill will be fewer family farms and fewer small farms. That cannot be in the best interests of the British farming community.

Our second reason for voting against the Bill stems from the Minister's remarks about the need to have a degree of flexibility between lump sum payments and instalments. That is what he wishes for the future. The Bill provides him with the opportunity to give the farmer the choice of accepting instalments or a lump sum payment and he has refused to allow him to have it. We know why.

The Minister wants to have that choice himself. The choice will be dictated by the needs of the Treasury and imposed by the Minister and not by those of the farmer in the light of the business conditions in which he finds himself. The Minister wishes to retain flexibility for himself rather than giving it to the farmer — [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) seems to want to intervene from a sedentary position. If he wishes to intervene, I shall gladly give way to allow him to do so.

Lastly, and fundamentally, the Bill will remove certain rights from tenants in a way which will undermine their ability to be able to continue farming. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) asked the Minister who it was who had a veto over these provisions and the Minister gave a pleasant but opaque answer. The reality is that landlords will have a veto over the operation of the Bill in so far as it affects tenants.

I have given three fundamental reasons to show why the Bill is inadequate. It does not meet the needs of the farming community and in the end a Bill will have to be introduced that does that more effectively.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)


Mr. Ashdown

That is why we shall oppose the Bill.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 113, Noes 14.

Division No. 93] [2.18 am
Amess, David Key, Robert
Ancram, Michael King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Ashby, David Lang, Ian
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Lawler, Geoffrey
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Lightbown, David
Bellingham, Henry Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Bevan, David Gilroy Lord, Michael
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Macfarlane, Neil
Boscawen, Hon Robert MacGregor, John
Bottomley, Peter Maclean, David John
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Major, John
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Malins, Humfrey
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Marland, Paul
Bright, Graham Mather, Carol
Brinton, Tim Merchant, Piers
Brooke, Hon Peter Meyer, Sir Anthony
Bruinvels, Peter Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Buck, Sir Antony Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Budgen, Nick Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Burt, Alistair Moate, Roger
Cash, William Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Chapman, Sydney Moynihan, Hon C.
Chope, Christopher Murphy, Christopher
Coombs, Simon Nelson, Anthony
Cope, John Neubert, Michael
Couchman, James Newton, Tony
Dorrell, Stephen Nicholls, Patrick
Dover, Den Norris, Steven
Dunn, Robert Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Durant, Tony Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Pawsey, James
Fallon, Michael Portillo, Michael
Favell, Anthony Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Gale, Roger Roe, Mrs Marion
Gregory, Conal Rowe, Andrew
Gummer, John Selwyn Sackville, Hon Thomas
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Harris, David Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Skeet, T. H. H.
Hayes, J. Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Hind, Kenneth Soames, Hon Nicholas
Holt, Richard Speed, Keith
Spencer, Derek Waddington, David
Spicer, Jim (W Dorset) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Stanbrook, Ivor Watts, John
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Wheeler, John
Stradling Thomas, J. Whitfield, John
Sumberg, David Whitney, Raymond
Taylor, John (Solihull) Wilkinson, John
Terlezki, Stefan Wolfson, Mark
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Wood, Timothy
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Yeo, Tim
Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Thurnham, Peter Tellers for the Ayes:
Tracey, Richard Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Trippier, David Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.
Twinn, Dr Ian
Alton, David Penhaligon, David
Ashdown, Paddy Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Bruce, Malcolm Steel, Rt Hon David
Howells, Geraint Taylor, Rt Hon John David
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Wigley, Dafydd
Kennedy, Charles
Maginnis, Ken Tellers for the Noes:
Nicholson, J. Mr. A. J. Beith and
Parry, Robert Mr. Michael Meadowcroft.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.