HC Deb 02 March 1964 vol 690 cc886-90
2. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he intends to renew Statutory Instrument, No. 973 of 1963, fixing the retail price of milk.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Scott-Hopkins)

The maximum prices prescribed from 29th September, 1963, onwards continue until further notice and no renewal of the Order is necessary until those maximum prices are altered.

Mr. Digby

Is there not a lot to be said for not renewing these Orders at all and for allowing the Milk Marketing Board to fix the price? Will my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary ask his right hon. Friend to consider this point during the Price Review?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

As to the second part of the question, I think I should leave that to my right hon. Friend. I am sure he heard what my hon. Friend said.

Dealing with the first part of the question as my right hon. Friend said in reply to a Question by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner) on 3rd August, 1962, he and the Secretary of State for Scotland have accepted the advice of the Thorold Committee on this issue, namely, that the Government control of price levels and distribution margins should continue for a further period. There seems to be no reason to change that view.

23. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is aware of the shortage of milk for manufacturing purposes in the South-West, and that this is causing redundancy and other difficulties in milk factories; and what improvement in the situation he plans, bearing in mind the shortage of dairy heifers.

Mr. Soames

A decline in the quantity of milk available for manufacturing is usual at this time of year, and fluctuation in throughput is a normal hazard for creameries. Less milk is going to manufacture in the South-West than a year ago, but this is mainly due to the aftermath of last year's hard winter, and the poor hay and silage crops of last summer. My hon. Friend refers to a shortage of heifers, the December census in fact showed 12,000 more heifers in calf than in December 1962. The level of milk production will be one of the factors to be taken into account at the Annual Review, but my hon. Friend will not expect me to anticipate its outcome.

Mr. Digby

Is my right hon. Friend aware how serious the situation is in the South-West and that in the case of Cheddar, that very excellent cheese which is made in the South-West, virtually none has been made since November and that there is a lot of hidden unemployment in milk factories, which is quite a setback for English cheese?

Mr. Soames

Milk produced in the South-West in the last quarter of 1963 was 105 million gallons compared with 115 million gallons in the equivalent quarter of the previous year. Of that 105 million gallons the amount going for liquid consumption was 73 million gallons, which leaves over 30 million gallons for manufacture; so it is not true to say there was no milk going for manufacture out of this total production of 105 million gallons. In fact, there were 30 million gallons not sold for liquid consumption.

Sir C. Taylor

Can my right hon. Friend say when the Annual Review will be published?

Mr. Soames

I could not give the precise date.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the Minister aware that some of the remarks he made about milk producers on 25th February have caused very great resentment in Scotland, especially his statement that farmers are not so badly off? Is he aware that this is a ludicrous description of the small farmers in South-West Scotland?

Mr. Soames

This is very wide of the Question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby), but, of course, the hon. Gentleman will doubtless realise that the reverse of this coin of less milk going for liquid than last year was that in January of this year the pool price received by farmers was, in broad terms, 3d. higher than it was in the same month last year.

Mr. Digby

Is not the point that much less milk is going to manufacture in the South-West than in some other areas, and that this area is being robbed of liquid milk thus making it particularly difficult for factories in the area?

Mr. Soames

The distribution of milk is a matter for the Milk Marketing Board.

Mr. Hughes

In view of the very unsatisfactory nature of that Answer, I beg to give notice that I shall raise it on the Adjournment.

31. Mr. Steele

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the average price per gallon of milk paid to producers in 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, and 1963, respectively; and what were the agreed distributors' margins for the same years.

Mr. Soames

As the reply contains a number of figures, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Steele

Do not the right hon. Gentleman's figures show that the situation with regard to producers has remained almost the same over the past five years but that the average price paid to distributors has gone up every year? Why has he a policy which means, in effect, that increased costs are taken into' account with regard to the distributor's margin but nothing is done for the producer?

Mr. Soames

The two problems are totally different. The reason why the producer's price is not higher than it was some years ago is largely owing to the fact that the production of milk has been exceeding the demand for it and a higher proportion has been having to go to manufacture and, therefore, the pool price has been reduced. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the problem of distribution of liquid milk.

Mr. P. Browne

Would not my right hon. Friend nevertheless agree that there is a really good reason for increasing the price of milk to the producer at the Price Review?

Mr. Soames

Now my hon. Friend is asking!

Mr. Peart

Why are so many thousands of registered milk producers leaving the industry?

Mr. Soames

I do not believe that agriculture is the only industry where in recent years there has been a considerable shift of emphasis from one type of production to another. If the hon. Gentleman's conception of the agricultural industry of the future is one in which there is absolute sterility and everybody is producing what he is now and nothing more, then I think he is making a great misthake.

Mr. Peart

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my idea about the industry is to give at least the small producer a fair deal.

Following is the reply:

Figures are not readily available for calendar years, but for financial years the average prices paid to United Kingdom milk producers and the average margins allowed for liquid milk distribution—including bottling, heat-treatment and delivery—were:

Year (April-March) Guarantee Price Producers' Prices Distributive Margins
per gallon per gallon
s. d. s. d. s. d.
1959–60 3 2 11½ 1
1960–61 3 2 1
1961–62 3 2 1
1962–63 3 2 9 1 10½
1963–64 (estimated) 3 2 10¾ 1 11¾

The Producers' prices relate to milk sold for all purposes including manufacture, and the two series of figures are not, therefore, directly comparable.