HC Deb 30 October 1975 vol 898 cc1740-4
7. Mr. Ridley

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has for the future of the dairy industry in Great Britain.

Mr. Bishop

The Government's conclusions on the possible development of milk production over the next few years are set out in the White Paper "Food from our own Resources".

Mr. Ridley

Is the Minister aware that the system of the gentleman in Whitehall who determines the milk price has now been shown to have been a failure over many years? He has always been too slow and too stingey, with the result that there has been a fall back in production. Has the Minister drawn the right conclusion—that it is time to return to a free market in milk as the only possible way to equate supply with demand?

Mr. Bishop

The hon. Gentleman's suggestion is rather novel, because the industry has been well served over the past 40 years and the Milk Marketing Board has played an important rôle in the regulation of our milk supplies and so forth. The expectation of the monthly milk cheque by our farmers is one sure thing that gives them confidence. The changes in the green pound and the other measures to which I have already referred are also likely to increase confidence in the industry.

Dr. Edmund Marshall

What size of national dairy herd do the Government wish to have?

Mr. Bishop

I remind my hon. Friend of the objective of our White Paper, which is to increase milk production in the period up to the 1980s by about 620 million gallons. We must be judged on our policies on the longer-term prospects.

Mr. Boscawen

Does the Minister realise what a pathetic answer he has given? Does he not know that the milk producers regard the White Paper as a sick, palsied joke? When will he do something about it? What about the people who produce cheese and other products and who are being thrown out of work in many areas because of the Minister's policies?

Mr. Bishop

If the hon. Gentleman reflects, I do not think that he will say that the answer I have given is pathetic. Soon after coming to power in February last year my right hon. Friend increased the returns for the milk industry by approximately £100 million. There have been a number of changes since then. The change that we announced in the House only a week or two ago amounted to giving another £50 million to the industry. I should not have thought that I had given by any means an inconsiderable answer. I am sure that it will instil and increase confidence in the industry.

9. Mr. Michael Latham

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is satisfied that his recent announcement on the milk price will enable the recent decline in production to be halted.

Mr. Bishop

As my right hon. Friend indicated in his statement on 15th October, we are sure that the further increase in the guaranteed price of milk will help to meet the milk producers' difficulties.

Mr. Latham

Has any significant number of farmers facing the practical problems of recovering from disasters during the last few months expressed any view to the Government other than that their recent action is far too little and too late?

Mr. Bishop

It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to sneer about it being too little and too late. It is a general comment which I identify with most Oppositions on these matters. In the four changes in the green pound since we took office, compared with no change in the green pound when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power, we have recognised the needs of farmers and milk producers in relation to the needs of consumers. Having awarded another £50 million only a few weeks ago, I can hardly think that that will do nohing to inspire and restore confidence in the industry over a period.

Mr. Tomey

Does my hon. Friend agree that the guaranteed price system, which was in operation for years before we entered the Common Market, would have been more advantageous to the milk producer than tagging along behind and accepting this stupid common agricultural policy into which the Tory Party took us?

Mr. Bishop

I note my hon. Friend's comments on that matter. In any changes affecting milk in the Community we want to reserve those aspects that have served this country very well over the years.

10. Mr. Bulmer

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has considered means other than price for helping milk producers.

Mr. Bishop

Milk producers do benefit from the existing measures to assist farmers, notably capital grants, the disease eradication programmes and the advice of the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service. As indicated in the White Paper, "Food from our own Resources", we are prepared to consider whether there are further measures which it would be right and practical to take in furtherance of the Government's policy objectives.

Mr. Bulmer

In the light of Shelter's research into the agricultural tied house, which has shown that those who are promoting its abolition are both ignorant and unrepresentative of the farming community, will the Minister withdraw any support for a policy which is wholly damaging to the dairy industry?

Mr. Bishop

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the consultative document which was issued some months ago. Consultations with the industry ended in October. The industry's submissions are being considered. We have also made it clear that we do not want any changes likely to be harmful to the industry. At the same time, we want to give farm workers the kind of security which others enjoy and to which they are entitled.

Mr. Tomlinson

Does my hon. Friend agree that in the action taken in recent years, particularly the recent announcement made by his right hon. Friend, dairy farmers have been protected more against cuts in their real living standards than the vast majority of ordinary working people?

Mr. Bishop

I appreciate my hon. Friend's comments. There have been continuing reviews of these problems and we have been responsive and sentitive to them. Changes which have been brought about between annual reviews have given the industry the kind of support that it needed.

12. Mr. Peter Morrison

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what alternative employment has been provided for creamery workers now that the supply of milk to these factories has been substantially reduced.

Mr. Bishop

I understand that manufacturers of dairy products are making every effort to retain as many workers as possible. The provision for alternative employment opportunities is a question for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

Mr. Morrison

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is agreement on both sides of the House that something must be done to reduce the level of unemployment? Does he accept that those who are made redundant in the countryside find it virtually impossible to obtain other work? Does he also accept that his answers earlier today will give those without jobs in the countryside absolutely no encouragement at all?

Mr. Bishop

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern. The situation varies in different parts of the country. My right hon. Friend has been in touch about this matter with the workers, the trade unions and the manufacturers in the industry. I am satisfied that employers have done their best to keep redundancies to a minimum. However, I feel sure that the recent announcement about guarantees for milk will help to bring about an upturn in milk production and thereby eliminate this problem.