HC Deb 07 February 1974 vol 868 cc1343-7
1. Miss Lestor

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what factors tending towards an increase in the price of milk have arisen from the recent discussion of the EEC Council of Ministers.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Joseph Godber)

Detailed discussions of the Commission's proposals will take place in the Council of Ministers next week. The Commission has explained that its proposals aim, on the one hand, to ensure a labour income on the modern farm enterprise comparable with incomes outside agriculture and, on the other hand, to take account of the supply-demand situation in the milk sector.

Miss Lestor

In view of the unique situation that we face, is it not a fact that the factors to which I have referred will no longer apply, bearing in mind the Labour Party's pledge to renegotiate EEC policy, and that we have no intention of allowing milk prices to increase to the consumer?

Mr. Godber

We are interested to hear the hon. Lady's aspirations, but I fear that it will be some time before she can carry them into effect. However, such a statement is always a matter of interest to the House.

Mr. Swain

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he gave a categorical assurance to Staffordshire farmers at their annual meeting on milk prices? Will the price review be announced during the General Election campaign as a political propaganda exercise, or will it be held over so that he can report to this House—or my right hon. Friend will be able to report—before the announcement is made?

Mr. Godber

I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman's first comment but I cannot say the same for his correction. I shall be happy to report to this House after the election. However, it would be unfair to the farming community to ask it to wait until the election is over. I shall hope to be in a position to announce the price review results in the fairly near future.

Mr. Charles Morrison

Apart from the announcement which my right hon. Friend may be able to make about the price review, which we trust will be generous, in view of the continuing uncertainty about agricultural costs which could affect the whole industry, will he also undertake in the months ahead, to keep a continuing watch on the position in relation to costs, as the price review may affect them. If he feels that any action is necessary will he take it speedily?

Mr. Godber

My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is essential that this country should continue to expand agricultural production. It is essential for the health of the country as much as for the farming community. I shall certainly wish to have very much in mind the points raised by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Buchan

The Minister is telling us that he is concerned with expansion. Why will he not then admit the seriousness of the crisis now facing the dairy industry? Will he confirm that we are liable to have a milk shortage, followed by rationing, by the end of the year? Is that the reason for the election—because he does not want to admit that position to the British people? Is he trying to have the Annual Price Review issued at a period when we cannot question him, and when the British consumer will not find out that the cost of between £500 million and £600 million will come out of his pocket to pay for the ridiculous agricultural policy?

Mr. Godber

That is a strange question, with little relation to reality. I interpret from that remark that the hon. Member does not wish me to announce the results as soon as possible. It is essential for the farmers that the results should be announced as early as possible. It is my intention so to do. I hope that I shall have the full support of the hon. Member in anything that I do in that review to seek to help the farming community.

3. Mr. Lamond

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by what percentages the prices of eggs, milk, butter and cheese increased between June 1970 and the latest available date.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

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

Mr. Lamond

Does the hon. Lady realise that we are not surprised that she is coy about revealing these figures? I am satisfied that the housewives will see clearly from the review the catastrophic record of the Government over their whole period of office. I say to the Prime Minister that if he wants to——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The time for saying things is a little later. It is time for Questions now.

Mr. Lamond

May I ask the hon. Lady, Mr. Speaker, to convey to the Prime Minister the request that he should fight the election on the question of prices and not try to drag in any red herrings, like the industrial dispute, for his own ends?

Mrs. Fenner

I should hate the hon. Gentleman to feel that I am coy about anything. If he wants to know the figures, I can tell him that the price of eggs has gone up by between 114 per cent. and 161 per cent., the price of milk by around 19 per cent., the price of butter by between 21 per cent. and 26 per cent. and the price of cheese by 79 per cent. If the hon. Member knows anything at all, to judge by his estimation of what the election issue will be he must know that almost the whole of the Western world has had similar rises in the prices of its products.

Mr. Ewing

During the forthcoming election, will the hon. Lady accept a personal invitation from me to come to Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth and give the same figures and seek to defend them?

Mrs. Fenner

I do not think that I shall have time to do that.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

The hon. Lady has once again suggested that world food prices are wholly responsible. May I remind her that last year, when egg prices rose by 50 per cent., the profits of one of the largest egg producers in this country—Eastwood's—went up by 180 per cent.? Why do not this Government—I am glad they will not be coming back after three weeks—bring retail prices and fresh food prices within the scope of the Price Commission?

Mrs. Fenner

The main reason for the rise in egg prices, as the hon. Lady will know, is, first, that the return to the producers was so low that many of them went out of production altogether. She will also be aware, as hon. Members who have made pleas for the farmer clearly are, that the cost of their feed stuffs has doubled. In relation to the firm to which the hon. Lady referred, and its profit, the Price Commission looks over the whole range of profit of any one firm and gives consent only if, in the area in which it is seeking an application, that price is a proper one in the light of allowable costs.

Mr. Woodnutt

Will my hon. Friend remind our right hon. Friend that in view of what she has said—that the price of milk has risen by only 19 per cent. but the price of feeding stuffs has more than doubled over the past year—a substantial increase in the price of milk will have to be given to the farmers in order to keep them in business?

Mrs. Fenner

My hon. Friend will know that all these matters form part of the annual review. There is also a later Question on that subject.

Following is the information: The following table shows the percentage increase in average retail prices between 16 June 1970 and 11 December 1973, the latest date for which information is available:—
Item Percentage increase in average price
Eggs, per dozen
Large 114.5
Standard 140.4
Medium 161.0
Milk, ordinary, per pint 19.6
Butler, per lb.
New Zealand 26.2
Danish 21.5
Cheese, cheddar type, per lb. 79.2

Source: Department of Employment.

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