HC Deb 21 March 1922 vol 152 cc234-6
46. Mr. HURD

asked the Prime Minister if he is aware that many dairy farmers and smallholders are threatened with bankruptcy by reason of the low prices now offered for their milk by the milk companies, in many cases those prices being no more than one-third of the pre-War price, while taxes and wages, and all costs of production are greatly increased; that there is no corresponding reduction in price to the consumers; and-whether he will appoint a small Committee, representing consumers, producers, and middlemen, to sift out the causes of this state of things with a view to its amelioration?

93. Mr. A. HERBERT

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether his attention has been called to the fact that, while on 1st April the price of milk to the London public will be 2s. a gallon, the farmers in certain districts will receive only 6d. of this amount, the railway companies 2d., and the distributors 1s. 4d.; and if he proposes to take any steps in this matter?

The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Sir Arthur Boscawen)

I have been asked to reply. I am aware that prices now being offered by wholesale milk dealers are much lower than those paid under contract a year ago, but I do not think that in any case a figure less than one-third of the pre-War price—which in 1913 averaged 9d. a gallon delivered in London—or anything approaching this has been offered. In any case it does not follow that the producers will accept the prices offered. The price of milk is a matter which must be settled by bargaining between the producers and buyers. The best way in which farmers can bargain on equal terms is by cooperation among themselves, and individual farmers would be well advised to consult their representative associations before entering into contracts. In any case I do not see how the Government could intervene, since such intervention would mean the re-introduction of food control.


Is it not the case that it is not a question of a desire that control should be re-established, but rather that all sections of the public should have before them the whole of the facts, instead of the confused statements now put out by various Departments?


I sympathise with the desire of my hon. Friend, but I do not see what a Committee such as he proposes could inquire into. As a matter of fact, the prices have not yet been settled in most cases. In a very few cases only they have been settled. Next Thursday, I understand, there is to be a meeting between the representatives of the principal distributing companies and the chief farmers' organisations, to discuss the whole question, and I think a satisfactory solution is far more likely to come in that way than by any form of Government intervention.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the margin between the wholesaler and the retailer very often is 6d. and 8d. per gallon, where it was only 2d. and 2½d. when it was under control, and also that, where the farmer in a good many cases to-day receives 1s. 2d. and 1s. 4d. per gallon, the milk is sold retail to the consumer at 2s. 6d. and 2s. 8d. per gallon?


Is it not the fact that at all events the London wholesalers have fixed their price? I have had a list given to me this morning in which the price for May, June and July is fixed at 7d. per gallon, from which carriage to London has to be deducted.


I understand that that is a figure which has been offered, but I have studied this matter very carefully, and I can assure my hon. Friend that in very few cases have these offers been accepted up to the present. With regard to the question put by the hon. Member for Heywood (Mr. Halls) the only answer to him would be the re-introduction of milk control. These controls, however, were abolished by general agreement, and I think that no body of men objected to the controls more than the farmers themselves.