HC Deb 20 May 1974 vol 874 cc12-3
10. Mr. Peter Morrison

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what consultations she has had with the National Farmers' Union and other agricultural interests about the subsidies for milk, butter and cheese.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I myself have had no such consultations. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has the primary responsibility for matters affecting the farming industry and the National Farmers' Union has made its views known.

Mr. Morrison

Does the Secretary of State agree that future supplies of milk are in jeopardy and that as a result home-produced cheese will be in very short supply at the end of the year? What does she intend to do to overcome the problem?

Mrs. Williams

I understand from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture that there is expected to be an increase of the order of 20,000 tons in British cheese production in the coming year, so that the hon. Member's remarks would appear to be inappropriate if that were so. I am aware that there are difficulties in the farming industry, but they did not arise only in the last 10 weeks.

Mr. Jay

The Government have so far continued and even increased the import taxes on butter and cheese introduced by the previous Government. Would it not be more sensible to remove them before increasing subsidies still further?

Mrs. Williams

That is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) will address the point to him.

Mr. Michael Latham

In view of her subsidisation policy, will the Minister give a categorical assurance for the record that there will be no shortage of any of these products by the end of this year?

Mrs. Williams

That is a question which no one from any party could ever answer, because none of us can tell what the harvest will be. [An HON. MEMBER: "Cheese harvest?"] To the best of our knowledge all the foods we have subsidised are subject to a very low figure of elasticity of demand. In the case of milk a reduction of 1 per cent. in price leads only to a 01 change in volume.

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