HC Deb 14 March 1956 vol 550 cc523-4

10.20 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

I beg to move, That the Milk (Guaranteed Prices) Order, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st February, be approved. This Order is made under Section 4 of the 1947 Agriculture Act. It fulfils the undertaking which was given in the Civil Estimates last year by my right hon. Friend that this provision would be made for authority for implementing the guaranteed price for milk under the 1947 Act instead of as heretofore.

The Order will bring the guaranteed price arrangements for milk on to the same basis as that for other commodities like cereals, livestock, and so on, and it will enable my right hon. Friend to implement the prices by virtue of his powers under the 1947 Act. The guaranteed price is implemented through the function of the Milk Marketing Boards, which receive payments from my right hon. Friend sufficient to enable them, in the terms of their financial agreements, to implement the price guarantees which are settled at the Annual Reviews.

The effect of the Order is purely machinery; it has no effect on either of the financial agreements with the Boards. It has no effect on the producers' price; it has no effect on the consumers' price. It is a purely machinery Order.

10.24 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Wiley (Sunderland, North)

I am sure the House is much obliged to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for the explanation he has given. I think he has indicated that the range of this debate must be severely limited. I have no intention of making it wider than the hon. Gentleman has made it. Of course we support the Order. I believe the Comptroller and Auditor General indicated in the Civil Appropriation Accounts that this would be the better way of providing for these payments.

I have two questions to put to the hon. Gentleman. One perhaps is anticipatory of a statement we shall no doubt be receiving shortly. The hon. Gentleman will remember that in last year's Price Review it was stated: No alteration is proposed this year in the standard quantities for primary proportions for each marketing area, but these will be reviewed again next year when there will have been more experience of the working of the arrangements. I wish to ask whether that review has taken place. We may know more in detail about that very shortly.

The other point I wish to put to the Parliamentary Secretary is that the guaranteed prices and the liability of the taxpayer are, of course, also related to consumption. I have indicated that I do not want to widen the debate, but I take this occasion to say that we are disturbed by the likelihood that during the coming financial year there will be a further fall in the consumption of milk. After falling appreciably during the first year or two of the previous Government, the consumption of milk then steadied, but no doubt it will fall appreciably again this year in view of the withdrawal of the subsidy. This is a matter which we on this side very much deplore.

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