HC Deb 02 November 1995 vol 265 cc380-1
6. Mrs. Ann Winterton

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he has taken to end the trade in black market milk. [38926]

Mr. Baldry

Following investigations by MAFF and the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce, three producers have been successfully prosecuted for offences associated with illegal trading in milk. Cases against seven other producers are before the courts and further investigations are in progress. These cases demonstrate the Government's determination to stamp out black market trading in milk.

Mrs. Winterton

Cheshire farmers will be pleased that the matter of black market milk is being dealt with as it is, but is not the real problem the fact that the United Kingdom was dealt a bad hand in 1984 when quota allocations were made by the European Community and the fact that we are restricted to producing only about 85 per cent. of our liquid milk requirement? Is not only one of the ways forward the matter of being able to transfer quota across national boundaries? Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he and the Government will put the matter before the European Commission to ensure that Cheshire farmers and other milk producers in Britain are not further disadvantaged in the future?

Mr. Baldry

I hope that my hon. Friend will take back to Cheshire farmers the clear message that black market traders in milk will not get away with it. They will be detected, prosecuted and punished. Not only do they face the risk of penalty imposed by the courts, but the intervention board will impose a super-levy of 30p a litre on all undeclared deliveries of milk. I suspect that that will greatly exceed any fine imposed by the courts. The court fine and the super-levy will represent substantial penalties on any farmer tempted to indulge in trading in black market milk.

Britain has never been self-sufficient in milk. When the quota was set in 1981, it in large part reflected the fact that the Labour Government in the mid-1970s did not adjust the green pound in a way that encouraged dairy farmers. I hope that my hon. Friend will remind her dairy farmers of that fact. Of course, we continue to press in Brussels for intra-Community trade in milk quotas as a means of allowing quota to go to those parts of the Community—

Madam Speaker

Order. These answers are inordinately long. Back Benchers must be given an opportunity to ask questions. Such long answers from Ministers restrict Back Benchers' opportunities.

Mr. Connarty

Is not one of the problems the fact that 70 per cent. of milk quotas in the United Kingdom both for sale and for lease are held by non-producers? The idea of quotas to help the producers and farmers has become so distorted now that quotas are just a commodity to be traded for cash. They are not about farm incomes and preserving the farms of this country.

Mr. Baldry

That does not offer any excuse for trade in black market milk. We have always felt that we would wish to get rid of milk quotas altogether, but, so long as internal support prices in the Community encourage the production of dairy products for which there is no market, it will be difficult to do away with quotas altogether.