Receipts from the milk supplementary levy are credited to the guarantee section of the European agricultural guidance and guarantee fund. They represent, however, only a very small proportion of total expenditure. The decision to defer into 1985 half of the levy payment originally due this year will therefore only marginally reduce the funds available to offset guarantee expenditure in 1984, the net provision for which is fixed in the Community budget at 18,376 ecu. The actual level of expenditure requirements to the end of the year cannot, however, be predicted with any accuracy at this stage.
My hon. Friend refers to delays in collection. The amount of levy postponed to 1985 represents only about one day's expenditure, and therefore the effect is not likely to be significant.
Does not the Council of Agriculture Ministers' approach to the milk levy illustrate once more its complete lack of financial responsibility when dealing with Community funds? Is that not one reason why the Council was not asked to approve the financial guidelines on budgetary discipline, which, presumably, it regards as not being worth the paper they are printed on?
I am sure that the recent agreement on budgetary discipline will be helpful in containing the burgeoning rate of agriculture expenditure, which has got us into so many difficulties related to surpluses and overspending in recent years.
The hon. Gentleman appears to have forgotten that Northern Ireland dairy farmers exceeded their quota for the first six-month period. The hon. Gentleman referred to Great Britain, but he should remember that it looks as though we are due for payment of some levy in Northern Ireland for the first six months. I have said time and time again in the Council that it would be intolerable if farmers in one part of the Community were asked to pay the levy while those in other parts of the Community were making no effort to stick to the rules.
During the Minister's recent and welcome visit to Northern Ireland, did he develop any greater understanding of the problems facing Northern Ireland dairy farmers? Will the right hon. Gentleman now accept that Northern Ireland dairy farmers did not receive the 65,000 tonnes and that that is causing great hardship to the Northern Ireland dairy industry?
Will the right hon. Gentleman take it from me that, instead of clearing it up, he enlarged the problem facing the dairy industry? Does the right hon. Gentleman now understand, after his visit, that it is the Northern Ireland dairy farmers who, alone in the United Kingdom, will have to pay this iniquitous levy? Will the right hon. Gentleman give a guarantee to those dairy farmers that the statement made by the Prime Minister from the Dispatch Box will be adhered to and that no money will be collected until every Community partner collects the same money from its dairy farmers?
My great disappointment when I visited Northern Ireland was that the hon. Gentleman was not able to meet me to discuss these matters. With regard to the words used on 20 November by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the payment of levies, all I can say is that I could not have said it better myself.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that when the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was answering today he implied in his reply to me that I deliberately did not meet him when he was in Northern Ireland. Is it right for the right hon. Gentleman to mislead the House? When he invited representatives of farming communities to meet him at a dinner—in Stormont I think it was—he deliberately left out the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson) and myself. If he wants to meet us, why did he do that?
The truth is that it is perfectly clear that leasing a quota would, if permitted under the regulations, allow a producer with a temporary excess quota to let his quota to another producer for a fixed term, at the end of which the quota would return to the original holder. There is an advantage in that approach, because it would make the quota system more flexible and would help to ensure that the available quota was fully utilised. At the moment that is against the rules, and there is no way that we can operate against the rules.
The Minister will know that there is widespread concern and anger in farming circles about the apparently unjust discrepancies between the decisions taken by the various panels. Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to assist farmers to assess the nature of this problem by publishing the amounts of secondary quota allocated by each of the various local panels?
We set up the tribunal because we foresaw that there might be some discrepancies between the panels. In the event of dissatisfaction, appeals can be made for a second look at those decisions by the tribunal.