HC Deb 12 April 1962 vol 657 cc1499-500
37. Mrs. Butler

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what arrangements he is making to convert surplus milk into dried milk powder to be made available to developing countries where children are suffering from protein deficiency.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on 5th April, it would not be worthwhile to install additional processing plant to deal with the small temporary surplus of skim milk that may occur. I understand that the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief has discussed with the Milk Marketing Board the possibility of transporting skim milk to Northern Ireland for processing. But in view of the very high transport costs and the technical difficulties that would be involved it has been agreed, very reluctantly, that the operation would not be justified.

Mrs. Butler

There will be great concern at that reply, especially since the news that this milk was to be processed in Northern Ireland received a warm welcome from the public. Is it still too late to find some means of financing the transport so that the milk can be utilised for children who are suffering desperately from deficiency diseases in the famine areas? Cannot something be done, perhaps by the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, to help in this matter?

Mr. Vane

I naturally understand the feelings of the hon. Lady about this matter, but we must keep it in proportion. The cost of new plant in order to dry skim milk could be hundreds of thousands of pounds, and the volume of skim milk concerned is only small and of a temporary nature.

Mr. Peart

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate the concern that exists about this matter. We are dealing with a surplus product and methods by which it might be used and disposed of. Will the Government, despite the hon. Gentleman's answer today, keep this matter in mind with a view to doing more work regarding the best ways of using this product?

Mr. Vane

Certainly, and the Milk Marketing Board is, naturally, very concerned to find some practical outlet for all the skim milk, but this seems to be proving an insuperable difficulty.

Sir C. Taylor

Will my hon. Friend ensure that everyone has the correct impression about this product? It is not milk but skim milk which results from butter-making.

Mr. Peart

So what?

Mrs. Castle

Are not the figures which the Government keep giving us rather misleading? Is this expenditure of hundreds of thousands of pounds not a once-and-for-all expenditure for plant which could be used indefinitely, year after year, to deal with a surplus which although it may seem fairly small to us will, none the less, be recurring? Might it not also increase in years to come and would not such expenditure really be economical so that good protein food could be given to people who are starving?

Mr. Vane

This is a bulky commodity and a highly perishable one, and it is misleading to try to represent this particular small seasonal surplus as something of very great moment.