HC Deb 21 July 1976 vol 915 cc1771-2
3. Mr. Fairbairn

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the estimated cost to Scottish housewives and farmers of implementing the EEC policy concerning skimmed milk; and if he will make representations to the Council of Ministers that it be rescinded.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Hugh D. Brown)

Any increase in farm feed costs attributable to the EEC scheme for incorporation of skimmed milk powder cannot be separately estimated, but it is a minor element in recent price movements. It has had no effect on retail food prices. The scheme is part of the continuing Community effort to achieve a better balance between production and utilisation in the milk sector.

Mr. Fairbairn

I regret to say that I find that reply rather unsatisfactory. Does the Minister regard a figure of between £7 and £10 a tonne as an insignificant amount? Does he appreciate that egg producers have to pay this amount, which often makes their egg-producing in Scotland unprofitable? Does he appreciate that if he could persuade our old allies, the French, to drink milk instead of wine, the Scots would not have to feed their hens on it?

Mr. Brown

The hon. and learned Gentleman gets carried away with his own eloquence. Since he wrote to me a month ago, his estimate of the increase has gone up from £4.50 a tonne to, as he just said, between £7 and £10 a tonne. In fact, the figure is £1.50, so he is wrong again, as he usually is.

Mr. Buchan

Does my hon. Friend agree that, despite what may or may not have happened in the present situation, it is the proposals for the future that are giving us cause for anxiety—levies on milk products, on milk itself, and on protein imports? Above all, in operating this, will he fight to preserve the two milk marketing boards in Scotland?

Mr. Brown

Yes, I can give an assurance about the milk marketing boards. Our position has been clearly stated. We have always said that we want to ensure a policy that is designed to concentrate production in those areas of the EEC, such as the United Kingdom, which are best suited to milk production. As my hon. Friend will know, the decisions on what happens after October have been postponed. There should be decisions in September.

Mr. Welsh

Is the Minister aware that the scheme is simply not being effective in reducing milk powder stocks? What guarantees has he had that the scheme will end in October?

Mr. Brown

As I have said, the current scheme is due to end in October—[Interruption.] I am being asked a factual question. What I am saying is that this obviously depends on the level of production, which has been seriously affected by drought in some parts of this country and in Europe. What will take the place of the scheme after October will depend on various factors.