HC Deb 22 October 1987 vol 120 cc904-5
4. Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what information he has about the level of dairy farmers' incomes in relation to previous years.

Mr. MacGregor

Average dairy farm incomes in England and Wales increased significantly in real terms in each of the last two production years. Provisional information for 1987 will be published in the annual review White Paper early next year.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

It is good but modest news to hear of the increases, as my right hon. will surely agree. Will he also agree that the modest increases have been swept away, not only by last week's hurricane, but by the persistently bad weather throughout the year? Therefore, will he undertake, as a matter of extreme urgency, to identify, with the National Farmers Union, those who, without financial aid, will face bankruptcy?

Mr. MacGregor

With regard to my hon. Friend's introductory remarks, the increases in the past two years, on average and taken across the board, have been quite significant. I am, of course, very sympathetic in relation to the losses to farmers and others as a result of storm damage, and so on. The long-standing position, however, is that farmers normally bear the cost of bad weather. The vast majority of them insure against such costs and I see no reason to depart from the principle that the Government do not compensate in situations of this kind. Nevertheless, in my hon. Friend's part of the world some farmers have lost a very large number of trees and the environmental impact has been considerable. In those cases, the Forestry Commission is giving advice to farmers and forestry grants are available. In addition, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment stated yesterday, I am discussing with the commission whether any additional grant can be made available in the circumstances.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my right hon. Friend accept that although dairy incomes may have increased on average, those of smaller dairy farmers have plummeted drastically? Is he aware that one such farmer on a county smallholding in my constituency has been able to keep the wolf from the door only as a result of family income supplement and child benefit? Will my right hon. Friend consider the position of smaller dairy farmers, especially in relation to quotas? Is he aware that no further reductions in quota can be tolerated if we are to retain the smaller farmers of this country, particularly in the north-west of England?

Mr. MacGregor

As my hon. Friend knows, when quotas were introduced special arrangements were made to assist smaller producers both in terms of the quota and in other ways. I am anxious that there should be as much flexibility as possible within a quota system. That is why I fought hard to bring back the quota leasing system—not the transfer or purchase of quota—which has been successfully achieved for this year and is once again available to producers. I hope that this will assist small producers who are particularly pressed.