Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever the previous justification for the levy might have been, the introduction of milk quotas and the super levy have rendered it completely unnecessary? Does he hold out much prospect of getting rid of it in the near future?
I hope that when we reach the next price fixing in the early months of next year we shall be able to obtain a cut in the levy in the context of a tough prices policy.
Is the Minister aware that farmers in Northern Ireland will pay almost £7 million this year in co-responsibility levy on top of £5 millon in dairy quota levy? Will the Minister assure the House that he will add his weight to the abolition of the co-responsibility levy, as it is now unnecessary after the introduction of dairy quotas?
I am intrigued to hear the hon. Gentleman's comment about the level of dairy quota levy that might be payable in Northern Ireland for this year, because he is making assumptions about the amount of milk likely to be produced between now and the end of March. As I said, we are opposed to the co-responsibility levy and will seek a cut.
As the dairy quota scheme seems to have overtaken the co-responsibility levy, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the scheme is being operated adequately by other member countries, particularly France, in the way that Britain is honouring it?
I have no grounds for supposing that the co-responsibility levy is being improperly or illegally implemented in any member state. If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence of that, I hope that he will send it to me with the greatest possible urgency.
The problem that we must face is that if we were simply to scrap the levy without at the same time operating a firm prices policy we could create possibilities of there being incentives at some future time to increase milk production in the event of the quota scheme being abandoned. I still hope that at the end of the five-year period we shall be able to abandon the quota scheme and return to a market that is managed, as it should be, by the discipline of price.