HC Deb 17 January 1985 vol 71 cc503-4
12. Mr. Ashdown

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will consider the possibility of reopening the file on milk quota applicants who have accepted decisions handed down by his Department and from local panels and have subsequently discovered that different criteria have been applied for later decisions which could have enabled a successful appeal.

Mr. Jopling

The system allowing for appeals against departmental and local panel decisions was devised to minimise variations and to be as fair as possible. It is also important to let producers know their secondary quotas as quickly as possible. Now that the local panels have virtually completed their work and the time alloted for appeals to the tribunal is past, I do not think it would be right to ask them to go over the ground again.

Mr. Ashdown

Will the Minister reconsider that decision? He has said that he wishes to see justice done. Does he think that it is just that many farmers have accepted their quotas, without reference to appeal, on the basis of information given to them by his officials which has subsequently proved to be wrong? Is he aware, for instance, that one of his officials wrote to my local farmers on 4 November saying that cow variation numbers could not be taken as the basis of appeal, yet every subsequent appeal on that precise basis has been successful? Does he believe that that is fair or just?

Mr. Jopling

If the hon. Gentleman has a particular point that he would like us to consider, we shall do that. He should recall that the tribunal issued guidance to local panels on the criteria that were to be used in reaching decisions. It was recognised that, given the numbers involved, some variation in approach to different cases was inevitable. That is why the system of local panels with the right of appeal to the tribunal was devised.

Mr. Hayes

If my right hon. Friend wishes to see justice done, will he remember that there are a large number of producers who feel aggrieved that the quota runs with the land, rather than with the producer, particularly when the producer has built up the business personally without the help of the landowner?

Mr. Jopling

I am aware of that problem. It is a matter that is not appropriate to this question, but my hon. Friend will recall that we discussed it at considerable length in the House when I first announced the outgoers scheme last summer.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Is the Minister aware that there is unrest? In a reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) he referred to the fact that there was a proposal by the Commission for change. Could he be more forthcoming and tell the House wherein lies the problem so that we have to wait until February for a decision that could go a long way to ease the problem?

Mr. Jopling

I do not think that I can add anything. Again, this is a question that does not follow the main question. This was a proposal that was put before the Council on Monday. It was discussed on Tuesday. It was generally recognised that there were many complications which should be studied by the special committee on agriculture. I hope that it will get on with its work as quickly as possible and that it will be possible — I cannot guarantee it — to have a conclusive and final discussion about the matter at the February Council.

13. Mr. Strang

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimates have been made on how European Economic Community milk production will compare with the aggregate quota for the current year; and what is the comparable position in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Jopling

On current trends, deliveries to dairies would be close to the wholesale quota at the end of the present marketing year, both in the United Kingdom and in the Community as a whole. However, I would obviously not wish to make precise forecasts at this stage.

Mr. Strang

Are we not in danger of getting the worst of all worlds? On the one hand, hundreds of jobs in the United Kingdom may be destroyed as a result of the cutbacks here, while, on the other, because the scheme is not working sufficiently effectively throughout the Community, we shall continue to make a disproportionate budget contribution towards the huge EC surplus.

Mr. Jopling

The hon. Gentleman may not have seen, but should study, what has already been done in other countries in the Community in getting production down to the quota for those countries. For instance, up to the end of December Germany had cut by 6 per cent. on last year, the Netherlands by 5 per cent., Denmark by 6 per cent. and Belgium by 5 per cent. Of course, the United Kingdom has cut by 8 per cent., largely because of the drought that we had last summer.