HC Deb 08 May 1986 vol 97 cc239-40
3. Mr. Colvin

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the estimated revenue for 1986–87 from charges to farmers for statutory services; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

Estimated receipts for all activities of my Department are published in the Supply Estimates 1986–87, class IV, but our data do not distinguish receipts from charges to farmers, whether direct or indirect, from charges to other persons and organisations.

Mr. Colvin

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. When will the charges to nursery growers for growing season inspections be announced? The delay is causing considerable difficulty to nurserymen such as Hilliers in my constituency, who are heavily dependent on the export trade. If the charges are too swingeing there will be minimum export orders, which will only hand business to our continental competitors. Why cannot nurserymen such as Hilliers be licensed to carry out their own inspections, just as the seed trade does?

Mrs. Fenner

My attention has not been drawn to any particular difficulties, but we hope to circulate the provisional proposals to trade and producer interests within the next few weeks. On the question of licensing, the EEC directive requires Government certification, so inspection must be done by the Government.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—Give me a break.

Mr. Alex Carlile

He has never seen a cow.

Mr. Banks

Yes, I have. There are plenty on Wanstead Flats. Will the Minister consider charging farmers the storage costs of their overproduction which results in beef and butter mountains? We have beef and butter mountains in my constituency of Newham, North-West. Why do the Government refuse to give me the address of those mountains? Are they embarrassed or afraid of food riots in Stratford?

Mrs. Fenner

There is commercial confidentiality about giving the names of storage depots, and any payment for storage is part of the general EEC instruction.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

Is my hon. Friend aware that many farmers in the Weald of Sussex, and particularly dairy farmers, resent the introduction of charges for statutory duties? I find it extraordinary that my hon. Friend cannot say how much the Exchequer saves by introducing such charges. If the Ministry cannot say how much is being saved, why introduce the charges in the first place?

Mrs. Fenner

We proposed the charges because there is an identifiable and substantial benefit to customers in cases where we now charge, or propose to charge. A precise estimate of the savings is difficult, because in some of the areas in which charges will be made we do not yet know the scale of demand for the service. Consequently, we cannot estimate the income.

Mr. Randall

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable feeling in the industry that statutory functions carried out in the public interest should be funded by the Government? Is she aware that many farmers are worried that the Minister will thrust on the industry the £2 million per annum cost of implementing the milk and dairy regulations? Furthermore, is she aware that there is considerable concern in the already hard-pressed dairy sector of the industry?

Mrs. Fenner

Assertions that statutory work is solely for the public good are wrong. Where there is private benefit, we expect the recipient to pay. The high quality and reputation of the products that are involved in the milk and dairy regulations work help to maintain consumption and thus benefit the producers' returns.

Mr. Livsey

In view of the statutory obligations that the Ministry has for testing, will the Minister comment on the contamination of milk in becquerels per litre in the high rainfall areas of Britain and compare them with those levels found in Holland, where the cows have been housed?

Mrs. Fenner

The levels in Holland are a matter for testing in that country. I can only reassure the hon. Gentleman that we tested in many spots in the entire United Kingdom. The figures that we announced are accurate. He will have seen that although the National Radiological Protection Board had marginally different figures, it had tested at fewer points than we had.

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