HC Deb 01 February 1984 vol 53 cc244-5W
Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the circumstances which led the Court of Auditors of the Common Market to claim that the Milk Marketing Board had misapplied £460 million in subsidies and payments which the board had reclaimed from the Common Market.

Mr. Jopling

The European Commission has reached the final stages of the clearance of the 1978 and 1979 accounts for the European agricultural guidance and guarantee fund. Within the Commission the question has been raised whether Community funding of United Kingdom expenditure in the milk sector should be refused, because of certain pricing arrangements operated jointly by the milk marketing boards and the dairy trade on which the Commission has just decided to open proceedings in the European Court. The Directorate General for Agriculture, with the support of the legal services, recommended against such a refusal in its proposals on the 1978 and 1979 accounts. At a very late stage, however, the Financial Controller—not the Court of Auditors—recommended that all United Kingdom expenditure in the milk sector in these years—some £450 million—should be disallowed.

I should regard it as intolerable if the Commission were to adopt this proposal. It would be completely without precedent, and I do not think it justified in any way. The Commission has authorised the milk marketing boards under the rules laid down and has not attempted to withdraw that authorisation.

Even though the issue has arisen at too late a stage for proper consultations to take place, I have of course spoken to the Commissioners concerned and I understand that the Commission will be considering the matter very shortly.