HC Deb 22 February 1934 vol 286 cc502-7

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he can make any statement regarding the serious position which is likely to arise in the near future in the milk-producing industry; and, if not, when he is likely to be able to do so?


I will ask my right hon. Friend to await the statement I propose to make by leave of the House at the end of Questions.


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the desirability of increasing milk consumption in this country and the fact that one of the chief obstacles in the way of increasing such consumption is that the public cannot rely on obtaining tubercular-free milk, he will consider the desirability of co-operating at any early date with the Milk Marketing Board in instituting a large-scale national scheme for the complete eradication of tuberculosis amongst British dairy herds?


I will ask my hon. Friend to await the statement I propose to make at the end of Questions.

At end of Questions


Can the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture now make his statement with regard to milk policy?


I rise by leave of the House to make an announcement with regard to milk policy. As the statement contains a number of figures and technical details, I have arranged for copies to be available in the Vote Office for Members as soon as I sit down.

The Government has been giving close consideration to the supply position of milk and milk products in this country. As the House will be aware, there is a volume of milk surplus to present liquid requirements which is estimated to be little short of 20 per cent. of the total volume of milk sold under contract this winter, and is likely to be about 40 per cent. of the larger volume of contract supplies available in the spring and summer. This surplus milk has to find a market in manufactured form, chiefly as butter and cheese. Prices of butter and cheese are at very low levels, owing to exceptionally heavy imports and present market conditions generally. There is thus a grave danger that the price structure of the whole milk producing industry in this country will be seriously undermined, particularly when the spring and summer flush of milk comes on to the market.

An expansion of the liquid milk consumption of the country would not only be of the greatest benefit from the public health point of view but would alleviate in the most satisfactory way the difficulty of "surplus milk." If this increase in consumption is to be obtained, it must be based on public confidence as to the purity of the supply.

The Government accordingly proposes—

  1. (1) That for the two years beginning 1st April, 1934, the Milk Marketing Boards shall be guaranteed by the Government by means of Exchequer advances, minimum prices of 5d. per gallon in summer (April-September) and 5d. per gallon in winter, in respect of milk manufactured in factories in Great Britain. For milk manufactured into cheese on farms, for which the boards will have to assume responsibility, the same advances per gallon will be made. Details of the proposed arrangements will be found in the White Paper. The advances from the Exchequer are estimated to amount to about from £1,500,000 to £1,750,000 in the first year.
  2. (2) For the purpose of launching a campaign for securing a purer milk supply, the Government will provide from public funds a sum not exceeding £750,000, spread over the next four years. It will be the responsibility of the boards to continue the campaign without further assistance as soon as they are in a position to do so.
  3. (3) The Government will be prepared to contribute from the Exchequer on a pound for pound basis to a milk publicity fund for a period of two years. The Government contribution will be limited to £500,000 in either year, according to the amount contributed by the Milk Marketing Boards. The grant will be contingent on the submission of an approved programme containing, inter alia, provision for the supply of milk to schools at reduced rates.
The requisite legislation will be introduced at an early date, and, in view of the widespread interest which is being taken in the subject, the Government hopes it will be facilitated by all parties in this House.


What arrangements will be made for the repayment to the Exchequer of the advances from public funds which are contemplated?


They will be found in full in the White Paper which will be in the Vote Office. After a period of two years, the advances will be repayable in the next two years if the prices are at a reasonable level.


Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that these advances will in fact be repaid?


That must depend upon the level of prices in the world markets for the next four years, a matter on which I am unable to prophesy.


May I ask how much of the £750,000 will be devoted to advertising and how much to increasing the purchasing power of the consumer?


My hon. Friend has, inadvertently perhaps, confused the two sums. The £750,000 is to be devoted entirely to the cleaning up of the herds and securing a pure milk supply. None of that will go to advertising. Of the other sum, the £500,000 for publicity, I trust that a very substantial proportion will be devoted to the best form of publicity, namely, securing an adequate supply to consumers at, reduced rates.


As the various parts of the scheme which the right hon. Gentleman has announced will be costly to the taxpayer, does he not think that it should be accompanied by drastic limitation of the importation of unsweetened tinned milk which is now depriving dairy farmers of the market for their surplus to which they have a right?


I should be loath to enter into a discussion by question and answer, but my hon. Friend will be well aware that the entire exclusion of unsweetened tinned milk will make practically no difference to the problem. It is the large quantities of imported dairy produce of all kinds, particularly butter and cheese, which depress the price level.


May I ask what is the estimated amount of the contingent guarantee? The right hon. Gentleman did not give any figure.


Yes. I gave that in the first part of my answer. The advances from the Exchequer are estimated to amount to from £1,500,000 to £1,750,000.


Per annum?


In the first year.


Can the right hon. Gentleman inform us how soon and in what form this matter will be brought before the House for discussion and decision?


I am afraid that question will have to be addressed to the Leader of the House.


Arising out of the right hon. Gentleman's reply to my supplementary question, is he aware that the sweetened skimmed milk imported into this country is equivalent to the yield of 150,000 dairy cows?


Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that thousands of working-class homes use this tinned substitute because they cannot afford to pay for ordinary milk; and does he not also realise that the best way to increase the consumption of milk is to make it cheaper?

Viscountess ASTOR

That is what he is doing.


I will leave my two hon. Friends to answer each other.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are in this country tens of thousands of children, not only of school age but under school age, to whom milk is a necessary food, and who are unable to secure it, and, while he is in the mood to give subsidies, will he give money to enable the parents of those children to purchase milk?


I would call the hon. Member's attention to the terms of my answer: an approved programme containing inter alia"— among other things— provision for the supply of milk to schools.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if we are to draw the inference from his answer that we are not now getting a pure milk supply; and, further, can he say why the Government should subsidise an industry if he is sure we are getting pure milk?


I think it is common knowledge that the purity of the milk supply in this country is not as great as we should all like to see it. The desirability of ensuring a purer milk supply is a responsibility which is not that of one section of the community but of the community as a whole.