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Milk Quotas

Volume 77: debated on Thursday 18 April 1985

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects producers to be told of their positions as far as final milk production is concerned for the year 1985–86.

The Milk Marketing Board for England and Wales will be notifying producers of their 1985–86 quotas within the next few weeks.

Obviously, that is an improvement on last year. Can the Minister say that the Government have finally decided not to pay farmers the full quota allocated to them through the claims made at the tribunals? Is that decision final, or will the Government rethink their position and inform the farmers at a later date that their quotas have been increased by extending the outgoers scheme so that the extra quota allocated can be paid in full?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has in mind farmers with development claims who are looking for secondary quota from the tribunals. As he knows, that comes out of the reserve that we held back from primary quotas. Since the tribunals awarded the amount that they did, it is necessary this year to cut the awards by about 35 per cent. We do not yet know what the final position will be for next year, but I do not expect it to be much different. As to the outgoers scheme, the hon. Gentleman will know that, as milk producers become accustomed to quotas, they are more anxious to stay in milk production. Therefore, there is still some capacity left in the outgoers scheme.

Does the Minister realise that the rough justice handed out in some cases by the quota tribunals, on their admission, as a result of the rules which they have had to operate, has meant much hardship for many farmers? Will he now confirm publicly what I understand he said privately: that he will sift through those cases to ensure that something can be done to assist such producers?

The tribunal process is a judicial one, and we made it clear from the outset that it would not be possible for us to intervene or interfere in the decisions about individual producers. That remains the case, but we knew from the outset that some difficult cases could not be covered by the regulations. We have made it clear that we are reviewing those cases, but without commitment, because it depends on having additional quota available to give to those whom we think deserve it.

Is my hon. Friend aware that a great many farmers believe that those countries in the EC which have no proper milk register are unable to operate a proper quota system? Will he tell the House which countries of the EEC have a proper overall milk register for quota system milk?

We made it very clear in the Council from the outset that the new system that has been introduced in the Community must be applied fairly and equally by all member states. We continue to insist on that, and that is why we took the decision that we did earlier about the payment of super levy. On the particular question my hon. Friend asked,I am endeavouring to get precise information on registers, but there is evidence that the vast majority of member states are now applying the quota system. It is quite significant that more than 20,000 dairy producers in France, for example, have come out of dairying in the past year.

Will the Minister take this opportunity to accept the specific recommendation m the report of the Select Committee on Agriculture that Government compensation should be given to farm workers who lose their jobs as a consequence of these quota schemes? Can he give us any reason why this second search which is now taking place for outgoers to release quota for needy cases should be any more successful than the first one?

We shall obviously give our considered reply to the Select Committee's report, but, as we have made clear frequently in the House, the outgoers scheme is not a redundancy payments scheme and was never designed to be so. There are statutory redundancy payment arrangements, as the hon. Gentleman knows. On the hon. Gentleman's second point, it is important to recognise that we set ourselves, as the objective of the outgoers scheme, the yielding of enough quota to enable us to help all cases of exceptional hardship and all small milk producers to get back to 1983 production levels. I believe that the rate of progress we are making brings us very close to achieving that