HC Deb 20 November 1968 vol 773 cc1267-70
3. Mr. Jopling

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he intends to take to stop huge quantities of dumped and subsidised dairy products damaging the United Kingdom's domestic market.

27. Mr. Buchanan-Smith

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement regarding his discussions with overseas suppliers of dairy products.

28. Mr. Monro

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has made in the reduction of imports of dairy produce.

56. Sir J. Langford-Holt

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food why he has decided in his consultations with overseas suppliers of Cheddar cheese to lengthen the period of restraint from 1969 to March 1970; what the effect of this postponement will be; and when he expects to announce the conclusions of the discussions he is now pursuing actively.

61. Mr. Peyton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the outcome of his talks with overseas governments on the possible limitation of their exports of Cheddar cheese to the United Kingdom.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

My object in lengthening the proposed period of restraint on cheddar cheese imports is to meet the difficulties found by certain suppliers in adhering to the original programme. Negotiations are continuing and I am not yet in a position to make a statement on their outcome. Butter, near-butter and butter mixtures are already subject to quota. Apart from skim powder, the market for other milk products is at present reasonably stable.

Mr. Jopling

Does not the Minister realise that because of his total inability to make up his mind on these matters and his refusal to take decisions, the Milk Marketing Board is very seriously worried about the future of our dairy products market, particularly cheese, and that the whole industry is likely to have a most serious setback unless the right hon. Gentleman gets off the fence and makes up his mind one way or the other?

Mr. Hughes

The farmers' unions and the Milk Marketing Board support the action I have taken.

Mr. Buchanan-Smiths

How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile his claim of success for his policy of restraint with the fact that earlier this week the Board of Trade said that of the increase of £10 million in food imports last month, £3½ million was accounted for by increased imports of dairy products? Where is the restraint?

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well about the import limitation controls. I have described the measures several times, but they do not appear to have penetrated his head.

Mr. Monro

Will the Minister not realise that the dairy farmers are fed up with these delays? Can he say how many days it will be before he will produce results?

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Member must appreciate that if one is to have consultations with overseas suppliers it inevitably takes a little time. There are matters to be cleared. There are a number of suppliers. These consultations are now going on, and I will bring them to a conclusion as quickly as I possibly can.

Mr. Peyton

Does not the Minister think the time for talking is over and that the time for action has come, and that this country's doors are open, this being the only open door market in the world? Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that this inundation of cheese which is coming in now is undermining the industry very severely indeed? Would he not now agree to receive a deputation of those Members of Parliament who represent the industry in order to hear and understand their views?

Mr. Hughes

I would, of course, be very pleased to receive a deputation of hon. Gentlemen opposite and my hon. Friends on this matter, but I am taking action which will produce the quickest possible results. If I proceeded to take more formal action, asking for a more formal procedure, that would take much longer.

Mr. Manuel

Does my right hon. Friend recognise the fact that we on this side of the House are very keen to limit imports where possible, but also, will he realise that he has a great duty to the consumers in this country not to limit imports to the extent that the consumers, through paying higher prices in the shops than they are now, would be much poorer than the farmers generally?

Mr. Hughes

I am indeed conscious of the consumers' interest in this matter in my capacity as Minister of Food. We are constantly watching prices. The price of cheese has remained relatively stable, though I recognise that there is a problem of overstocking at the moment.

Mr. Stodart

Is the Minister aware that, compared with those of other countries with similar problems, his efforts hitherto have been absolutely paralytic and that till he takes action which brings results the new policy he enunciated last Wednesday totally lacks all credibility?