HC Deb 25 March 1976 vol 908 cc610-2
6. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, what is the present level of stocks of skimmed milk powder in the United Kingdom.

31. Mr. Marten

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement about the current size and cost of the skimmed milk powder mountain.

Mr. Peart

Stocks of skimmed milk powder in EEC intervention stores on 11th March were 1,158,000 metric tons, of which 29,000 metric tons were held by the United Kingdom Intervention Board. These stocks have accumulated over several years as a result of the operation of the system of intervention purchases and sales by which the common agricultural policy underpins the market. As these transactions take place continuously, it is not possible to state the total cost of the balance in store at any one time.

Mr. Winterton

Will it not cost British farmers at least an extra £28 million to pay for the 60,000 tons that will be imported if the incorporation scheme is accepted? Is it not particularly unfair to poultry and pig farmers, and does it not make a nonsense of the Government's policy to peg costs?

Mr. Peart

I do not agree. The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating. The figure is 40,000 tons. I agree that there is a problem. I do not like the incorporation system, and I said so in Brussels. I am in touch with the trade and I want to make the procedures as smooth as possible for the trade.

Mr. Marten

Does not this mountain illustrate the absurdity of the intervention system? Was not the Minister's decision in Brussels to agree to these regulations contrary to the wishes of the House, and why did he make it?

Mr. Peart

I am rather surprised at the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question because he is a member of the Scrutiny Committee which said that further consideration of proposals need not delay adoption by the Council should such adoption prove necessary in the course of negotiations to achieve a satisfactory settlement of the whole package.

Mr. Marten

I disagreed.

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman may have disagreed, but his Committee did not, and the Chairman, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman) took another line.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify the deposit scheme? Will there not be 12 categories of the level of deposit for the import of soya and protein before there can be equivalent withdrawal? What will these categories be? How much money will be required? What will be the duration of the scheme? What are the terms for repayment?

Mr. Peart

I cannot give that information. Talks are continuing on this subject. I shall be only too pleased to follow up the matter with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Buchan

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the skimmed milk and price proposals will ensure the continuation of a mountain of skimmed milk? Bearing in mind that skimmed milk costs about four times as much as any other additive, will not the cost of incorporation in the poultry industry alone add about £6 million, which will have to be borne by the British consumer?

Mr. Peart

I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that I criticised the scheme. I am anxious that we should have a working scheme. I know that there are problems, but it is a once-for-all scheme and I hope that hon. Members will not exaggerate the problems.

Mr. Jopling

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins)? He is unable to give details of a scheme which is already in operation, and that is intolerable. I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to turn his mind in favour of the scheme until the House has had a chance to debate it. Will he also turn his mind to the possibility of renegotiating the scheme if, as seems likely, it has the universal condemnation of both sides of the House and of the trade?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman knows that I presented the scheme and I was prepared to debate it, but, because of events in the House, we were unable to proceed. This is a matter for the Leader of the House. I do not dissent from what the hon. Gentleman said, but I believe that it would have been wrong for me to hold up the whole package of the price review by sticking firmly against the scheme.