HC Deb 31 January 1974 vol 868 cc602-3
10. Mrs. Joyce Butler

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will ensure that the milk subsidy is increased in line with permitted increases in the retail price of milk.

The Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Anthony Stodart)

In deciding the future level of the retail price for milk the Government will take full account of the interests of milk producers, consumers and the dairy trade.

Mrs. Butler

While that consideration is taking place, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether any studies are being made of the probable effect on the health of the elderly and of children of even a small increase in the price of milk, which will lead to reduced consumption of such an essential food? The farmers can speak for themselves, but will the Minister act for consumers, who have no powerful body to represent them?

Mr. Stodart

A continuing study is being made of that matter. With regard to the rest of the hon. Lady's remarks, I do not wish to go further than I have already gone.

Mr. Charles Morrison

My right hon. Friend's reply was to some extent reassuring. Is he aware that if full account of increased costs to farmers is not taken at the annual price review there is a real likelihood not only that the production of milk products will be cut but that supplies of liquid milk will be endangered? What will the Government do about that?

Mr. Stodart

My right hon. Friend and I are most anxious to see that there is a fair and right award. We recognise the immense problems that the increased cost of feed has caused. I am not prepared to anticipate the result of the review.

Mr. Buchan

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that we are facing a major crisis and that there is a danger this year, for the first time, of a possible shortage of liquid milk? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a number of small dairy farmers are facing bankruptcy? Is he aware that foodstuff prices have been escalating above the already intolerable figures? Would it not be more sensible to announce to the farmers, without waiting for the price review, that the Government accept the policy which the Opposition have been advocating of an immediate subsidising of imported foodstuffs?

Mr. Stodart

No. I do not think that the last suggestion has the substance about it which the hon. Gentleman seems to think it has. I have already said that we fully recognise the problem. I ask Labour Members not to exaggerate the position excessively. There was a report on the radio yesterday morning to the effect that 85 per cent. of the cows being slaughtered were in calf. We have done the most careful research, and have found that that is not so. The position is not anything like that.

Mr. Ralph Howell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the past four months butter stocks in Britain and the EEC have fallen by 50 per cent? Is not that an added reason for the confidence of dairy farmers to be restored at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Stodart

I should have thought that there was some merit in the butter mountain's being slightly less high than before.

Sir G. de Freitas

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen a letter from Northants farmers pointing out that because of the enormous cost of concentrates they will go bankrupt, and no more liquid milk will be produced in Northants?

Mr. Stodart

First, I must complete my answer to the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan). There is not even the remotest likelihood of a shortage of liquid milk. There will not be such a shortage. I think that there could be a remarkable recovery very quickly after the review is announced.

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