HC Deb 04 May 1995 vol 259 cc430-1
13. Mr. Peter Atkinson

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to ensure that European Community milk quota rules are changed to allow trading in quotas across member states' frontiers. [20948]

Mr. Waldegrave

We proposed the transferability of milk quotas between member states during the debate on common agricultural policy simplification, in last year's CAP price-fixing negotiations and in Council earlier this year, when I advocated transnational quota leasing. The European Court of Auditors made a similar recommendation two years ago, but there is, at present, no support for our ideas in the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Atkinson

Will my right hon. Friend keep on trying—it is essential for British dairy farmers and the dairy industry that he does so? Does he agree that it is wrong that farmers in member states who cannot use their quota should keep them, while farmers in this country are crying out for more?

Mr. Waldegrave

I strongly agree with the implication behind my hon. Friend's question. It would make an inherently unsatisfactory system slightly better if areas within the European Community where it is natural to produce milk were able to obtain quota from other areas. Many other countries, however—especially the remaining countries with socialist Governments—administer their quota because they like the centralised power that it gives their governmental organisation.

Dr. Strang

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that milk quotas, combined with the deregulation of the milk industry that the Government brought into operation on 1 November, are giving us the worst of all worlds, with milk being poured down the drain when we do not produce enough to meet our own needs, with hundreds of jobs being lost in our dairy plants and with the doorstep delivery system under threat? When will the Minister address those issues?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman is plainly pulling the House's leg. He understands these issues and he knows well enough that the doorstep delivery service has been in decline for 30 years or more. Furthermore, he will remember that when he was an Agriculture Minister the Treasury would not let him devalue the green pound at home, as a result of which British dairy farmers' prices were lower than anywhere else in the European Community. When 1981 was taken as the base year for quotas, we were systemically worse off than other countries in Europe. His party, although not the hon. Gentleman as I am sure he argued against the Treasury, bears a considerable share of the responsibility for the level of our quotas.