HC Deb 02 April 1962 vol 657 cc15-8
19. Mr. Hilton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further consideration has been given to the nature of the practical support to be given by Her Majesty's Government to the proposed world food programme of the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

25. Mr. Prentice

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what additional help will now be given by Her Majesty's Government to the Food and Agriculture Organisation to match the contribution that other countries have pledged themselves to make to the world food programme which was launched at the Food and Agriculture Organisation conference in Rome last November.

27. Mr. Darling

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to what extent it is now the policy of Her Majesty's Government to support the setting up of a world food bank, as proposed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, so that food surpluses can be diverted to underdeveloped countries and thus help countries in great need of food supplies and at the same time help to provide a sound imports policy for the United Kingdom.

Mr. Soames

I have nothing to add to my reply to the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) on 5th February, 1962.

Mr. Hilton

Since this country was the first to send missionaries to many of these countries and to teach them a better way of life, would it not be well for us now to take a positive Christian attitude towards these starving people? Will the Minister consider asking farmers in this country to increase production—many of them can do so—in order that we can send the increased food to these starving people? Will he also consider sending trained advisory agricultural officers there to teach the natives a better way of farming? Surely it is better that we should teach these people how to feed themselves than leave the countries as they are at present—a breeding ground for Communism.

Mr. Soames

The Government's contribution to developing countries has doubled over the last ten years and stands at a very high figure. The hon. Member asked whether we should not do something to help them feed themselves. Advice and equipment in this respect is included in the amount of money which is devoted to this purpose. This is quite a different story from providing food for those countries, which in the interests of the Western world as a whole would obviously come from those countries which have surplus production rather than from importing countries.

Mr. Prentice

In his original reply to me, to which the Minister referred, he said that this country will not have any surplus foodstuffs available. Can he maintain that attitude in view of the announcement that the Milk Marketing Board is about to dump 2 million pints of milk down disused coal mines, this being the fourth time it has done such a thing in six years? Does he think that this is morally defensible in view of the terrible degree of protein deficiency in under-developed areas which would be relieved by the supply of dried milk?

Mr. Soames

This is not a surplus production of milk inasmuch as we import a great deal of milk products into this country. Liquid skimmed milk is not a product which could be exported. The reason that this is having to go to waste is that the manufacturing capacity for liquid skimmed milk is not sufficient to cover the production in a handful of months in the flush of the year, and it would not be economic to provide it.

Mr. Darling

Apart from the strong humanitarian case for supporting the specific proposal for helping with food surpluses, will not the Minister give further consideration to this, bearing in mind that it might help our own import policy in that we could help to divert surpluses from other countries which sometimes are dumped here?

Mr. Soames

The Government's contribution to developing countries has increased from £80 million ten years ago to £160 million. This does not include foodstuffs because this is not the best help which we in this country can give to developing countries. Those countries which have committed themselves to this programme, such as Canada, the United States and Denmark, are all food-exporting countries.

Mr. Prior

If we stop cheap imports coming into this country, will not that encourage other countries to send those imports where they are more needed?

Mr. Morris

In view of the scandalous statement by the Milk Marketing Board that this milk will be dumped, may I ask the Minister what would be the cost of the machinery required to utilise this liquid milk?

Mr. Soames

It is not milk in that sense; it is skimmed milk. There is a world of difference. Already a lot of the good has been taken out of it. I should require notice before I could give the exact cost of the machinery required, but I am assured by the Milk-Marketing Board that it would be uneconomic to put in this machinery and to have it standing idle for the majority of the months of the year.

Mr. Nabarro

What further thought is the Minister giving to this problem? While recognising that it is not a problem for his Department alone, surely we cannot as a progressive and humanitarian nation countenance the huge wastage of valuable liquid food, which will be the subject of a Question to the Prime Minister next Thursday, without his Ministers devoting themselves to the cost of trying to turn it into useful food or even cattle feed for overseas underdeveloped countries.

Mr. Soames

My hon. Friend has always been a great exponent of the argument of handling one's affairs in an economic manner. I can only repeat that I have been told that this machinery is not there to handle the extra quantity which we get in the spring months because it is simply not economic to install it.