HC Deb 14 March 1985 vol 75 cc419-21
3. Mr. Hunter

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has any plans to amend the guidelines governing the allocation of secondary milk quotas; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Jopling

I do not think it would be appropriate to change the guidelines now that the tribunal has virtually completed its work.

Mr. Hunter

With a constituency case in mind, may I ask my right hon. Friend seriously and urgently to consider the familiar argument that dairy farmers who cannot economically diversify into other areas of production should receive more beneficial treatment than farmers who can diversify? Will he explain why, despite its compelling logic and natural justice, this principle has not been taken on board?

Mr. Jopling

I am at a disadvantage in that I do not know the exact case to which my hon. Friend refers. However, I have been able to use the outgoers scheme. I hope that before long those small producers who experience the kind of difficulties to which my hon. Friend has referred will have milk quotas returned to the level of production that applied in 1983 before milk quotas started.

Mr. Ashdown

Is the Minister able to tell the House why he has decided to remove himself from the capacity of providing a final review of appeals and tribunals which hand out secondary milk quotas? Is this not the Minister's own decision? Is it not a requirement which has been laid upon him by European legislation? Because of the number of anomalies now coming to light, which I grant are not many, would it not be better for the Minister to have the capacity to review those decisions?

Mr. Jopling

I recognise that there may be certain categories of producers who do not fall within the provisions laid down by the regulations but who nevertheless are in need of an additional quota. With the help of the tribunal, I am attempting to identify those categories. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the problem is to find additional quota to give to them. There is only one place from which that could come — from other farmers who have a quota.

Mr. Hicks

Where is the consistency for the smaller, exclusive dairy producer? On the one hand, he has been led to believe by my right hon. Friend that he will achieve a milk quota equivalent of at least a 40-cow herd; on the other hand, as a result of his appearance before the tribunal, he is being cut to less than that equivalent output.

Mr. Jopling

Again, I do not know the case that my hon. Friend has in mind. If he is referring to those cases where the tribunal has cut the amount of secondary quota that was awarded by the panels, I should point out that the tribunal is a judicial body over which I have no control. Farmers were warned early on during the tribunal hearings that some secondary quotas were being cut. Therefore, they went to the tribunal with that risk in mind.

Mr. Strang

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the areas where livelihoods and jobs are being hit hardest by the quota policy do not have much of an alternative but to grow grass? As the farms are relatively small, they cannot therefore earn a decent income from beef or sheepmeat. Will the right hon. Gentleman do his best to protect those areas and bear that observation in mind, especially when considering the suggested free market in quotas?

Mr. Jopling

Bearing in mind the answer that I gave a few moments ago, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that I have tried to help the smaller farmer because of the difficulties created by milk quotas. I have always made it clear, both in the House and outside, that I am sympathetic towards the possibility of getting more flexibility into the transfer of milk quotas. I have always been attracted by the possibility of leasing quotas. I intend at a very early date to push that possibility with the Council of Ministers and with the Commission in Brussels.

Mr. Cockeram

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the doubts and lack of decision in the milk industry have gone on for too long and that it is time the tribunal and the quotas were finally clarified? Farmers cannot be expected to go on any longer not knowing their ultimate quota.

Mr. Jopling

Yes, I agree. The tribunal has virtually finished its work. We have almost reached the end of telling farmers what their secondary quotas are. As the House knows, there will be a cutback on wholesale awards in England and Wales, which we believe will be at least 35 per cent. I hope that we can get the matter tidied up shortly.

Mr. Nicholson

The right hon. Gentleman spoke earlier about helping small farmers. I remind him again that in Northern Ireland he has only 1 per cent. of what he required in the milk buy-out scheme, even after a second bite at the cherry to buy out further quota. How far along the road has he proceeded, and has he any solution to the problem?

Mr. Jopling

It is true that the take-up of the outgoers scheme has been a good deal less in Northern Ireland, and that has made it more difficult to meet the problems of the small farms there. We are giving urgent attention to that matter.

Mr. Ralph Howell

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that there is now a milk register in all the countries of the EC?

Mr. Jopling

I should not like to answer for some countries in the Community. I sometimes think that the responsibility for dealing with these matters in one country is enough for any man.

Mr. Home Robertson

What has been the good of running an elaborate scheme of appeal tribunals to assess the need for secondary quota if their recommendations have to be scaled down by 42.5 per cent. in Scotland and at least 35 per cent. in England and Wales? Will the Minister now accept the need for an expanded and more flexible outgoers scheme to provide a quota to satisfy the clearly proven need?

Mr. Jopling

We would not have needed a cutback on wholesale awards if I had originally made a larger cut than 9 per cent. on milk production at 1983 levels. I had to make a judgment at that time as to how much it was fair to add to the 6.15 per cent. cutback. I took the view that 2.5 per cent. was right. When I asked the National Farmers Union if it had a better figure in mind, it was unable to give me a more suitable figure, so I acted on my judgment.

Mr. Watson

Does my right hon. Friend accept, at least in principle, the need for greater transferability of quota between one farm and another, including, if necessary, a more reasonable system for the allocation of ownership of quota between tenants and landowners?

Mr. Jopling

I understand the problem to which my hon. Friend refers, and so did the NFU in its response to the consultation paper that we recently put out. But, in terms of what can be negotiated in Brussels, we are more likely to obtain progress on greater flexibility by moving towards leasing than by moving towards sale and purchase.