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Dairy Industry

Volume 21: debated on Thursday 1 April 1982

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the state of the dairy industry; and if he will make a statement.

I believe that both sides of the industry can look to the future with confidence. In particular, the decision that my right hon. Friend was able to take last week on the spring review of liquid milk prices demonstrates our intention to provide them with as firm a basis as possible for planning their commercial operations following the Binder Hamlyn review.

Can the Minister assure the dairy industry that there will be no further increase in the co-responsibility levy in the next few years and that, in the long term, he will abolish it?

It would be a brave Minister who gave an undertaking for the next few years. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and as my right hon. Friend made clear at the Dispatch Box in last week's debate, we are strongly opposed to the principle of co-responsibility as proposed by the Commission. It is one matter on which we are negotiating in Brussels and I am glad to know that we have the support of the House.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing concern about the imbalance between the livestock sector, including dairying, and arable areas in the United Kingdom? Will he take account of that fact when negotiating the current EEC farm price proposals?

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. One unfortunate feature of recent years has been that there has been no relative advantage for livestock producers in proposals from the Commission in Brussels. I am glad to say that in the proposals that we are considering this year we see a difference, with lower price increases for arable products.

Although I welcome the Minister's statement that the Government are opposed in principle to a co-responsibility levy, will he make it clear that in practice there is no way that they will continue to accept levies that discriminate against British dairy producers?

The worst aspect of the co-responsibility levy, as proposed, is that it discriminates against the more efficient and larger producers. We are opposing that in the negotiations, and we have the strong support of the Danish and Dutch Governments. I hope that we shall see improvements in the course of the negotiations.