HC Deb 16 February 1978 vol 944 cc643-5
5. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many producer-retailers of liquid milk there are in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Mr. Strang

As at March 1977, there were 3,388 producer-retailers in England, 672 in Wales, 420 in Scotland and 10 in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Winterton

I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for that reply and for those figures. However, will he indicate to the House his right hon. Friend's view on the proposals that have come from the Commission for the future of the Milk Marketing Board, which in this country is so vital to the consumer and the producer? Does he not think that it is appalling that the future of the Board should be left in this position, so late in the day?

Mr. Strang

The hon. Gentleman should recognise that that appalling state of affairs must be laid at the door of his party rather than at the door of this Government. While we regard the proposals put forward by the Commission for the future of the Board as a satisfactory basis for negotiation, we share the industry's concern that they are in need of significant improvement.

Mr. Noble

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a large concentration of producer-retailers in my constituency and that they are very anxious about the present situation? They have small herds and small holdings. What guarantee will he give to them that their present producer-retailer type of trade will be allowed to continue in the future?

Mr. Strang

I know that my hon. Friend is particularly concerned, on behalf of his constituents, about the proposed ban on the sale of untreated milk. There is a very high proportion of producer-retailers in the Yorkshire-Lancashire area. The Government are giving consideration to this issue and will be having consultations with the interested parties in the very near future.

Mr. Boscawen

Is the Minister aware of the serious apprehension amongst dairy farmers in Somerset that his right hon. Friend will sell out to Brussels over the producer-retailer issue for liquid milk sales and that the Milk Marketing Board will be driven the same way as the old Egg Board?

Mr. Strang

Bearing in mind that the Conservative Front Bench's main criticism of my right hon. Friend has been that he has been intransigent in Brussels, it is a bit rich for the hon. Member to suggest that my right hon. Friend, of all people, is likely to sell out the national interest in this matter.