European Community (Milk Quotas)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:49 pm on 3rd July 1984.

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Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North 4:49 pm, 3rd July 1984

That is not what was at stake. The hon. Gentleman ought to reflect on what he has just said. If I have misinterpreted his words, he will correct me; but he is almost saying that, in order to protect the sheepmeat and beef premiums, the Minister gave more in terms of milk. That may well be the case. In the event, despite the efforts to settle the common agricultural policy, the general budget discussion was not concluded. We had to wait until the meeting at Fontainebleau a few days ago before it was settled. Two things happened before the settlement was reached, although it was not to our advantage. First, the Government had to concede an increase in own resources of 1 to 1·4 per cent. Hardly had the ink dried on the paper when Gaston Thorn said that 1·4 per cent. was not enough and that 1·8 per cent. was needed to keep the Community solvent.

The problem for the future of agriculture and of the CAP is that such a growth in own resources will take the pressure off the move for reform of the CAP. If we do not reform it this year, we must do so in the future. We may be forced to put off consideration of other commodities until, once again, the Community runs into financial crisis, and a panic decision will be taken.

The view that that should not be allowed to happen is well summed up in the editorial of the current issue of the Country Landowner. Hon. Members know that I am totally addicted to that publication. It says: Never again must the future of a major industry be left to compromises reached at midnight by exhausted politicians trying to meet an arbitrary deadline. That is why the Minister has had trouble this year, and that is why, unless we examine the matter generally and on a long-term basis, we shall face difficulties in later years.

Coming to the draft regulations, the least uncomplimentary thing that can be said about them is that they will provide a feast for the lawyers and paradise for them in terms of interpretation. The other factor to bear in mind is that they are enabling regulations. Regulation 5.2 states: The Minister shall, by advertisement published in the Gazette and farming press, announce … the regions into which the United Kingdom is divided for the purposes of article 1(2) of Council Regulation 857/84 (which deals with regions), and … any change, in respect of any quota year, of the regions into which the United Kingdom is divided. Regulation 5(3) states: The Minister shall, in respect of each quota year, announce by advertisement published in the Gazette and the farming press — …the implementation of a formula, and … the allocation from the national wholesale quota of a regional wholesale quota. It goes on for several pages.

The first major point is that, once the regulations return to the House and have been adopted, there will not be an opportunity for further parliamentary scrutiny of the decisions. Whatever complaints people have about the regions or the quotas, it simply remains for the Minister to publish those decisions in the Gazette and farming press. We really should have proper parliamentary scrutiny.

I understand why the Minister cannot produce in the regulations any details of the formula, of the regions, or of other matters. That would mean the whole lot being produced each year. I hope that the Minister will at least consider an amendment to the regulations, so that they will state The Minister shall publish in the Gazette and fanning press details of the formula for consultation for 30 days and thereafter subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament", or such form of words as the parliamentary draftsmen use to cover the point.

The point at issue is simple. The Secretary of State should publish his quota schemes, give 30 days' notice of consultation, and bring the final details to both Houses for approval. After that, they can be published in their final form.

The second major point that the Minister touched upon, although not satisfactorily, is that the regulations fail to cover the transfer of a producer's quota from retail or direct sales to wholesale sales, and vice versa. That issue has been raised with me in almost all representations, whether from the Aberdeen and North-East of Scotland Milk Marketing Board, the Scottish NFU, the English NFU or farmers in Wales. They have all made the same point.

The NFU, for example, is particularly concerned at the position of direct sellers. It has pressed for reasonable terms for individual quotas. It believes that the regulations will permit that. I believe that the regulations do so, although they do not recognise problems facing direct sellers who wish to increase sales to satisfy market demand. As matters now stand, individual producers cannot reduce their deliveries to the Milk Marketing Board in order to increase sales without incurring levy charges on the over quota of direct sales at the end of the milk year. The NFU considers it vital that quotas should act only as production control and that direct sellers should be able freely to interchange direct sales and wholesale quotas, always within the fixed total.

The NFU says—and the Opposition will continue to press the point—that the Government should introduce sensible arrangements to interchange the two types of quota. The NFU goes on to say that if such an interchange is not allowed, both existing and potential direct sellers would be tempted to break what they regard as a totally unacceptable restriction.