HC Deb 22 July 1963 vol 681 cc1025-8
4. Mr Webster

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will introduce a new grade of quality milk.

25. Mr. Peart

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the proposed introduction of a new milk grade.

Mr. Soames

It is the function of the Milk Marketing Board, as the marketing authority, to put forward proposals for a new grade of milk, after consulting the dairymen in Joint Committee. We have been having discussions with the Milk Marketing Board about their proposals, but I do not believe that the House would accept from me an Order permitting the sale of a new grade of milk to consumers at a price higher than normal, unless it was to be significantly and recognisably different from ordinary milk, and its higher quality could readily be checked.

Mr. Webster

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this is a highly complex problem involving the relative merits of a fixed-quality top grade, or a floating-quality top grade, and that in some cases some distributors do not wish to distribute this, but that it is vital to proceed with this system, and we hope that it will be successful?

Mr. Soames

It is a question of whether we can first of all devise arrangements to satisfy the conditions which I, and I believe my hon. Friend, regard as necessary.

Mr. Peart

Discussions have been going on now for nearly two years. When will the Minister make up his mind? Is not he aware that the Milk Marketing Board is not hostile to a new quality grade and neither are the producers? What is the delay?

Mr. Soames

As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, this has been talked about for a long time now, but it was not until February of this year that specific proposals were put forward by the Milk Marketing Board, and the Board was advised of our comments during the first week of April. Discussions are continuing.

Sir A. V. Harvey

As the dairy industry is now functioning without a subsidy, why does my right hon. Friend have to come into it at all? Cannot he leave it to those concerned to work out their own future?

Mr. Soames

If my hon. Friend means by that that he thinks that we should stop controlling the price of milk, I must remind him that, since the Milk Marketing Board is the only seller of milk in this country, it is a protection to the consumer which we should not lightly abandon.

Mr. Peart

The Minister said that negotiations are going on. Can he tell the House when these negotiations are likely to be completed so that he may make a really positive announcement?

Mr. Soames

It is not a matter of negotiations. I do not think that I used that word.

Mr. Peart


Mr. Soames

I said that the Milk Marketing Board put forward specific proposals in February and we told the Board in April of the difficulties which we saw in those proposals. We are still in discussion about whether they can be altered in order to meet the need. I could not give an estimate of when the discussions may be concluded.

9. Mr. P. Browne

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will consider means whereby the income of the small milk producer can be increased to a level commensurate with the capital and labour employed.

Mr. Soames

The Government increased the guaranteed price for milk by ½d. a gallon at the Price Review, and the standard quantity on which it is paid was also raised, reflecting increased liquid consumption. The chairman of the Milk Marketing Board is reported to have said that the pool price to producers is likely to be at least 1d. a gallon more this year than last. Over the year, this would give a substantial increase in the return to producers, and indicates that the balance between production and consumption is now improving.

Mr. Browne

This, of course, is because so many small farmers have been driven out of milk. Is my right hon. Friend aware that, over the past several years, the pool price per gallon of milk has gone down and that, in spite of the farmers' increased efficiency, costs have risen faster than their efficiency? Does he really think that the very small increase which was given this year in the Price Review is adequate to ensure that these small farmers remain in business?

Mr. Soames

As my hon. Friend knows, the reason why the pool price has been reduced has nothing to do with the guaranteed price but arises from the amount of milk which was being produced over and above that which was required for the liquid market. It is this which has been getting out of balance and has led to the reduction of the pool price to the producer. It was for this reason, not wanting to start the vicious spiral again, that we put on just the ½d. at the Review. In fact, things are going very much as we foresaw at the time, with the happy result that, as I have said, the Milk Marketing Board will be able to give an increase of at least 1d. on the pool price this year, an outcome which is, perhaps, more satisfactory than my hon. Friend might have thought at the time.

28. Sir H. Studholme

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the movement of retail milk prices, in relation to the cost of living, over the last three years.

Mr. Soames

Since 1960 the average price of milk has risen slightly less than the cost of living generally. Comparing the first six months of this year with the first half of 1960, the rise is 8½ per cent. for milk and 10 per cent. for the cost of living.

Sir H. Studholme

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is correct or not, as I have heard stated, that we are getting a better price for our milk in this country than any other European country, except Sweden?

Mr. Soames

It is difficult to assess this because of the service which is given as well as the actual providing of the milk—the service of delivery on a door-to-door basis which we enjoy in this country which very few other countries have. Certainly the price of milk in this country is as high as any in Europe.

Hon. Members


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