§ 4. Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)
If he will make a statement on the prospects for dairy farmers. 
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nick Brown)
Dairy farmers will have welcomed the announcement on 30 March, the more so given current difficulties in the sector. They will receive some £22 million in agrimonetary compensation, which is the maximum we could draw down. We have lifted dairy hygiene charges at a cost of a further £1 million a year, and dairy farmers will also benefit from the changes we are seeking to the over-30-months scheme weight limit.
Other positive factors in the sector are the approach taken by the successors to Milk Marque and the forthcoming generic promotion of milk that will be undertaken by the Milk Development Council.
§ Mr. Paterson
Ten to 12 dairy farmers in my area apply to get out of farming every week by trying to sell their quotas. That is partly because of the Government's bungled negotiation with the European Union, which deprived my farmers of a market for bull calves in France, where they are worth £150, so that they have to send them to hunt kennels for humane slaughter for nothing. What will the Government do to take responsibility for that, having arbitrarily deprived Britain's farmers of a viable market for bull calves?
§ Mr. David Drew (Stroud)
One cannot underestimate the problems in the dairy industry with ridiculously low pricing. That is a legacy of crazy economics and, dare I say, an absurd structure. Will my right hon. Friend do what he can to encourage greater collaboration and co-operation in the sector so that we can have an effective dairy industry that can achieve things locally and internationally?
§ Mr. Brown
My hon. Friend is on to the right point. The 1992 changes in the structure of the dairy industry introduced by the then Conservative Government led to an adversarial casting of the supply chain in the industry, which haunts it to this day. I do what I can to draw the supply chain together, because the ultimate answer to dairy farmers' problems lies in the market place and in securing a premium from the working of the supply chain.
§ Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall)
Can the Minister clarify the situation as regards his discussions with the European Union on the over-30-months scheme? Is he negotiating for removal or raising of the weight limit? Is that matter on the agenda for tomorrow's beef management committee meeting?
§ Mr. Brown
Discussions are under way with Commission officials. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman which management committee will deal with the changes that we are seeking as that is still a matter for discussion. The costs of the change that the Government propose will 491 fall wholly on the domestic taxpayer, so no EU money is involved. As to whether the Government's proposal is to lift the limit or increase it, it is to lift it.
§ Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)
May I welcome the announcement of the agrimonetary compensation—the £22 million that has been secured? It is £22 million that was never secured by the previous Conservative Government. The removal of the dairy hygiene charges will also be welcomed in my constituency. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is necessary to work with the supermarket chains to ensure a fair market for farmers and to ensure a more realistic level for the price of milk so that some farmers who are facing great difficulties can have a secure future?
§ Mr. Brown
My hon. Friend summarises the position well. He is right to point out that the previous Conservative Government never paid out a penny in agrimonetary compensation, although the Conservatives have called on me to pay it out. For the avoidance of doubt, with your indulgence, Madam Speaker, I should make it clear to those on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench that when I said that the Government intended to lift the weight limit I meant that they intend to remove it, as I can see that they are discussing the matter.
§ Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)
Potentially far more important than the immediate amount of cash made available in the package of a fortnight ago is the possible change in attitude towards the way in which the regulatory regimes and the costs are applied. With that in view, have the Government now abandoned the policy of full economic cost recovery for inspections and the way in which the regime is applied to farmers?
§ Mr. Brown
As the right hon. Gentleman will know because he follows these matters closely, the Government are carrying a considerable amount in charges that could have fallen on the industry—not only the charges that I mentioned in an earlier answer, but the cattle passport charges, which are carried by the taxpayer and not the industry.
§ Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands)
Is the Minister aware of how pleased my dairy farmers in Staffordshire are that the area has been identified as a hot spot for the badger culling trials? He will be aware that the area has been plagued by a massive increase in bovine tuberculosis, which has hit many dairy farmers hard. Can he say whether the Minister responsible in the other place will soon visit my constituency to enter discussions with dairy farmers?
§ Mr. Brown
The Government remain committed to the Krebs-Bourne trials. We are determined to see them through. I am pleased that we have been able to announce the additional matched triplets, which will be a reassurance to dairy farmers. The Government are determined to do everything that they can to combat bovine TB. I am sorry that I cannot say anything about the movements of the Minister in another place, but I hope that my hon. Friend will receive a ministerial visit soon.
§ Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)
How can the Minister talk about dairy farmers getting more out 492 of the marketplace after the Government's incompetent handling of the Milk Marque issue, which has caused the fragmentation of farmers' market position? Does he accept that the waiving of the hygiene charges that he trumpeted will equal £30 or £40 to the average dairy farmer, which is not exactly a life saver? Does he not understand the crisis in the industry? As my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) said, dairy farmers are going out of business in droves. Is it not clear that soon the only source of bullshit will be Downing street? [Interruption.]
§ Madam Speaker
Order. That comment seemed to me and to the House to be unwarranted. It is unacceptable to me and from what I see it is also unacceptable to hon. Members. I hope that we shall employ higher standards in our exchanges and I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw those remarks.