HC Deb 31 July 1974 vol 878 cc783-5
12. Sir John Gilmour

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimate he has made as to the level of milk production in Scotland in the months October 1974 to March 1975; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

Present indications suggest that Scottish milk production between October and March next will be around the level of the same period last year. It is Government policy to secure maximum economic production of milk in the country. The recent increase in the calf subsidy and the beef premium payable from next month will both be of assistance to the dairy sector.

Sir J. Gilmour

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that all the indications of recent months point to the likelihood of a shortage of milk? Having just experienced a shortage of sugar in Scotland, we surely do not want to have a shortage of milk. In addition, are we not likely to arrive at a situation, by the end of next winter, in which the cost of production of a pint of milk is likely to be twice that which the public is paying for it?

Mr. Brown

There are two questions here. I remind the hon. Member that production in March 1974 was 6.7 per cent below that in March 1973—I certainly do not take responsibility for that drop—so there is concern about increasing the levels of production. I know that there is a problem on the manufacturing side. I can only repeat that I have asked for detailed representations from the milk marketing boards, and they are in the process of being made. They will be given sympathetic and urgent consideration.

Mr. Baxter

Will my hon. Friend tell the House how the beef premium will help the dairy farmer? Is he aware that the keeping of cattle in a shed ready for the fatstock market, for killing, for one or two months in order to gain the advantage of the premium means that they will be eating their heads off and making no beef? It will be a costly way of manuring the fields of Scotland.

Mr. Brown

It may be a costly way of manuring the fields, but if my hon. Friend is any example of a typical farmer, he has done quite well out of it and I have no reason to doubt that he will continue to prosper.

Mr. Russell Johnston

I am glad that the Minister has been able to assure the tea drinkers of Scotland that they will have plenty of milk for their tea! But I believe that the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) mentioned sugar. As the hon. Member is very flexible and broadminded, and as this is the last day before the recess, may we please be told when we shall have enough sugar for the tea as well?

Mr. Brown

This is a warning to me not to indulge in informal discussions with the hon. Gentleman. I accept that there is some concern about the sugar situation and I hope that one of my right hon. Friends will be able to comment on it.

Mr. McElhone

Surely the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) will recognise that the Government have taken steps to keep the price of a pint of milk under control? I should say, also, that there is no justification for the statement—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members tend to be making speeches this morning.

Mr. McElhone

I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. I should say that the hon. Member for Fife, East should be aware of the point I have made about the price of milk. Is the Minister aware that our report from the Select Committee on Expenditure in the next day or two, on the subject of milk production, will bring a great deal of illumination to the hon. Member for Fife, East?

Mr. Brown

I think all hon. Members will recognise that because of the subsidies to the consumer to hold down the price of milk, there has been an increase in the consumption of milk, which I think is desirable. But it obviously presents problems for the industry, and, as I have already said, we shall give it every consideration when the detailed representations have been made.

Mr. MacCormick

Will the Minister say when these consumer milk subsidies will be applied to milk produced in the islands which are outside the scheme operated by the milk marketing boards?

Mr. Brown

We gave an extension to the islands which I thought had been received with great satisfaction. It had never been done before, and I should have thought that the hon. Member would at least have complimented the Government on taking that step.