HC Deb 30 October 1975 vol 898 cc1730-1
2. Mr. Moate

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the present level of butter production in the United Kingdom.

The Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. E. S. Bishop)

In the first eight months of this year, the latest period for which figures are available, United Kingdom production of butter was 35,323 tonnes.

Mr. Moate

How can the Government expect people to "buy British" when the Minister of Agriculture has done his best to ensure that there is very little of this country's fresh butter for the housewife to buy? Is it not a remarkable achievement on the part of the Government that this country, which is so rich in dairy resources, produced virtually no butter whatsoever in September, very little in October, and throughout the whole of year will produce only 6 per cent. of our total consumption? What steps will the Minister now take to restore the fortunes of our dairy industry?

Mr. Bishop

The hon. Gentleman will realise that the industry decides the allocation of milk for different purposes, and he will know that butter is not the most profitable of the outlets. The decline is due not simply to the fall in milk production but to more milk being used for liquid consumption and for cheese and for other products. My right hon. Friend has made a very substantial increase in the guaranteed price to the industry.

Mr. Jay

Will my hon. Friend confirm that that aid for the private storage of butter is being paid out of public funds in this country, and that as a result some thousands of tons of butter are now kept in storage away from the consumer?

Mr. Bishop

I am unable to confirm that allegation. What I will say is that butter has not been one of the priority manufactures of milk products for some years, and we are producing more cheese now than ever before.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Is the Minister aware that many dairy producers in this country believe that they have lost the butter market to their counterparts within Europe? Will not the Minister agree that the dairy producers in this country need another 5p or 6p per gallon to cover their costs of production?

Mr. Bishop

The hon. Member should realise that since we have been in power the guaranteed price of milk has gone from 26.27p per gallon to a level of over 40p per gallon now, an increase of 52 per cent. I feel sure that this will give encouragement to our dairy producers.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that once a farmer has gone out of milk production and is no longer, together with his employees, working a seven-day week, it will take more than a small adjustment in the price of milk to get him back again? Does not the Minister yet realise that the country simply cannot afford the foreign exchange to import the butter now being imported because milk production has dropped so catastrophically?

Mr. Bishop

The hon. Gentleman should be aware, and the House should be aware, remembering the depressed state of the industry two years ago, that my right hon. Friend has probably done more for the dairy industry than has been done for any other group in our national economy. I feel sure that the action he has taken will help to restore the confidence which is necessary for increased production, as indicated in our White Paper.

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