§ 7. Mr. Clapham
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when United Kingdom farmers were first informed of new EC advice on milk quotas.
§ Mrs. Gillian Shephard
The Ministry issued a supplementary guidance note on 6 December, reflecting the European Commission's clarification of the circumstances in which producers may retain their existing butterfat base when converting direct sales quota to wholesale quota.
§ Mr. Clapham
I thank the Minister for that answer. Is she aware, however, that that supplementary guidance note is backdated to July and that it has caused great hardship? Let me give her an example from my constituency. I met farmers at my surgery a fortnight ago and I was told by one farmer that he had applied to change his milk quota from direct sales to wholesale and he expected that the measured butterfat level would be applied, only to find in December, when he received the supplementary note, that a level of 3.8 per cent. was applied, which meant that he had to provide another 70,000 litres of milk to meet the quota.
Does the Minister agree that that is unsatisfactory and that the 1993–94 guidance note should continue until the end of the milk year? Will she also tell the House whether 411 dairy farmers in other EC countries received their supplementary advice note at an earlier date than dairy farmers in the United Kingdom?
§ Mrs. Shephard
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman that it was unacceptable that the European Commission issued a note of clarification eight months into the quota year. We issued our note of clarification following the Commission's as soon as we could. The Commission's note came to us on 25 November and I have taken up the issue of that lateness with it, and with the Commissioner himself, in the strongest terms.
I know that the hon. Gentleman has been in touch about his individual constituents. Three hundred and eighty producers are affected; 53 have applied to retain their existing butterfat base and, of those, 41 have been approved. We are handling the matter as sympathetically as we can. I think the hon. Gentleman also knows that we responded to the British National Farmers Union request to extend the deadline for quota leasing until the end of December. The situation is absolutely unsatisfactory and I shall continue to point that out to the Commissioner.
§ Mr. Fabricant
Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is some concern among farmers in my constituency of Mid-Staffordshire about the intent of the Council of Ministers and the possible cutting of milk quotas in the United Kingdom? Will she confirm that she will resist all attempts by the Council of Ministers to cut those quotas?
§ Mrs. Shephard
We avoided a quota cut for the current quota year—indeed, we achieved an increase of 0.6 per cent.—and we will certainly resist any proposal for a quota cut in Britain in the coming year.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
Can the right hon. Lady assure me that United Kingdom farmers who live in Northern Ireland will not be placed at a disadvantage under the present modified scheme, as they definitely were when milk quotas were first announced and introduced, and subsequently?
§ Mrs. Shephard
I think that the right hon. Gentleman will have heard that I said that the whole matter was being dealt with as sympathetically as possible. I shall draw his concern to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and I am sure that equal sympathy will be extended to producers in Northern Ireland.