asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will estimate the effect of the European Economic Community milk quota scheme on the numbers of (a) bankruptcies among dairy farmers, (b) redundancies among farm workers and (c) redundancies in the dairy processing and distributive industries.
The effects of the quota system on producers, farm workers and the processing and distributive industries will depend to a large extent on how producers and dairies decide to adjust to the new arrangements.
Moreover, since production beyond the level of individual quotas is not prohibited it is not possible to say what will happen to production levels until the individual decisions taken start to work through the system.
In view of the Minister's inadequate answers about the milk quota scheme, does he agree that the Government have not thought through properly the effect on all sections of the industry of this milk quota scheme, not only regarding bankruptcies and farmers going out of production, but the fact that gross unemployment will result in the distributive and processing industries, including those arising from the closing down of creameries? Is he aware that it has already been announced that some creameries will close as a result of the scheme? What will he do about it? Will he compensate the distributive side of the industry as well as the farmers?
The effects of the quota system for milk must be dealt with by each group to which the hon. Gentleman referred. We have no plans at present to provide compensation.
Will my right hon. Friend introduce a provisional quota as a matter of extreme urgency to deal with those unfortunate farmers in my constituency who have been happily producing milk for years but who, because of a bureaucratic technicality, have been given no quota by the Milk Marketing Board? They have no hope of surviving until all the rules about special cases are finalised and published.
We are moving forward very quickly and I hope that within the next few days we can give much more detail about this scheme. However, if my hon. Friend has any special cases in mind, he should have a word with me about them.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Smallfarmers Association appreciates the way in which he listened to its representations and the way he acted? Will he bear in mind that from now on, when listening to representations about milk quotas, the National Farmers Union may not necessarily be speaking for the majority of dairy farmers, and that the Farmers Union of Wales and the Smallfarmers Associaion may have views very different from those of the NFU?
I was glad to meet a delegation led by my hon. Friend and to hear those farmers' point of view, as I am glad to hear the views of any organisations which represent groups of farmers who wish to visit my Department.
If the hon. Gentleman examines the statistics he will share with me much pleasure in the fact that during the past five years the cost of food has increased more slowly than have prices in general —[Interruption]—It is no use the hon. Gentleman scoffing. It is one reason why the Labour party lost the last election.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that 1983 was an especially bad year for dairy farming in Derbyshire, and will he consider the case for giving Derbyshire special treatment? Will he accept the gratitude of farmers in my constituency for the fact that he has agreed to meet a delegation to discuss this matter?
Can the Minister give one of my farmers a simple answer to a question? He has farmed milk for 20 years, but, unfortunately for him, he sold his farm 12 months ago and moved to a new farm. He has 70 cows and no quota. What is his position? How many cows will the Minister allow him to keep?
Although I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the help that he announced for smaller dairy farmers, does he accept that many small to medium-sized dairy farmers fall between every conceivable stool in sight? This applies especially those who cannot diversify because their land is fragmented.
I am especially worried about those farmers who do not have alternative enterprises. That is why I thought it right, as I said to the House yesterday evening, that we should give the first priority to farmers with fewer than 40 cows. To return them to 1983 production levels will take rather less than 1·5 per cent. of the quantity of milk produced, and after that we can examine our second priorities. I suspect that the farmers described by my hon. Friend would come within that consideration.
During the period when the Labur party was in power the cost of food more than doubled. Bearing in mind that, during the past five years, the increase in the cost of food has been less than half the increase during the period of the Labour Government and that food prices have been increasing more slowly than prices in general, I believe that the hon. Gentleman has a real cheek.