HC Deb 10 June 1976 vol 912 cc1650-2
6. Mr. Peter Morrison

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much cheese was produced in the United Kingdom in the first quarter of 1975 and 1976.

Mr. Bishop

United Kingdom cheese production in the first quarter of 1976 was 43,000 metric tons. In the same period of 1975 it was 55,700 metric tons.

Mr. Morrison

Is the Minister aware that more cheese, particularly higher-class cheese, could have been produced in the United Kingdom in the first quarter of this year were it not for the policy of the Milk Marketing Board—and this at a time when cheese is flooding in from overseas? What does the Minister intend to do about it?

Mr. Bishop

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that cheese is in considerable surplus in this country. The area of production is a matter for the producers, and in this the Milk Marketing Board plays its part. The United Kingdom's share of the cheese market has increased from 40 per cent. in 1968 to 67 per cent. in 1975.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend say how much British cheese is being exported to Common Market countries? Is he aware that it is impossible to find British cheese in Common Market countries? In most European countries there seems to be a myth that our cheese is appalling. It is the best in the world.

Mr. Bishop

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support, which I hope will continue. As will be seen from the White Paper, we expect greater home production in the future.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Will the Minister use his influence with the Chairman of the House of Commons Catering Committee to ensure that good British Stilton is not priced so high that it is beyond the pockets of most hon. Members?

Mr. Bishop

That is not a matter for me. It is a question of consumer choice.

Mr. Dalyell

Without being inquisitive, may I ask which are the higher-class cheeses?

Mr. Bishop

I am not sure that people always have to work out the economic reason for buying a particular cheese. It is a matter of consumer choice and preference.

Mrs. Renée Short

Would it not help British cheese producers and our balance of payments position if we controlled the import of luxury cheese from France and Italy?

Mr. Bishop

My hon. Friend may think that there is some merit in that suggestion, but the system has to be competitive. If we did that, the danger is that others would reply in the same way and this would seriously affect our exports.