HC Deb 25 July 1935 vol 304 cc1993-5

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is in a position to make a statement with regard to the policy of the Government in relation to imports of milk products, having regard to the expiry in August next of our obligation under Schedule A to the Ottawa Agreements?


Yes, Sir. The Government have given careful consideration to this question. The position of the home industry is safeguarded for the present by the provisions of Sections 1, 2 and 3 of the Milk Act, 1934, under which Milk Marketing Boards are guaranteed, by means of Exchequer advances, standard minimum prices for milk sold, or used, for manufacturing purposes. The Government have in mind, however, the fact that these provisions expire at the end of March next, and they propose to review fully the dairy produce situation before that date in the light of our obligations under trade agreements and of the recommendations of the Reorganisation Commission for Milk for Great Britain, whose report, it, is hoped, will be available before the end of the year.

I am, however, in a position to indicate generally the policy of the Government with regard to the problem created by butter and cheese imports. The Government are of opinion that if conditions should warrant continued assistance to the home industry, such assistance could best be afforded by a system of duties or levies. The possibility cannot be excluded that, in addition, some regulation of the market may be desirable in the general interest of producers in certain cases or at particular times, but, as in the case of meat, the Government would not regard as a satisfactory permanent arrangement a system under which the responsibility for the regulation of the market would rest on them alone. In accordance with the Ottawa Agreements, the incidence of any duty or levy upon foreign and Empire supplies respectively would be so adjusted as to maintain the existing preferential margin.

The position with regard to milk powder and condensed milk (skimmed and whole) will receive separate consideration. An application for additional duties on foreign imports of these commodities has been submitted to the Import Duties Advisory Committee by home interests. Future policy with regard to both foreign and Dominion imports will be considered when the report of the Import Duties Advisory Committee on that application is received.


Is the reply to that question intended as an electioneering leaflet for the National party?


Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the decision of the Import Duties Board is likely to be reached?


I am afraid not.


Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that no new duty on butter or cheese will be imposed while the House is not sitting; and that the House will have an opportunity of confirming or rejecting such a proposal?


I said we would deal with the situation after the present arrangements expired at the end of March.


Have the Government already decided that, in future, the burden of any assistance that may be required for the dairying industry, will be transferred from the Treasury to the consumers of butter and cheese?


No, Sir. I do not think my hon. Friend would be justified in interpreting my answer in that way. I said we should proceed by a system of duties or levies, and the question of the particular shoulders on which these fall is, as my hon. Friend knows, a subject of very vigorous controversy at the present time.