HC Deb 19 March 1981 vol 1 cc421-2
14. Mr. Alton

asked. the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he satisfied with the present state of the dairy industry; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peter Walker

Yes, Sir. I believe that the United Kingdom dairy industry can continue to improve its structure and efficiency in response to prevailing economic circumstances. In view of a point raised by the Opposition Front Bench, I am pleased to say that slaughterings in January 1981 are 21 per cent. down on the high level of January 1980.

Mr. Alton

Would it not be beneficial to consumers and producers if the co-responsibility levy were abolished?

Mr. Walker

As a matter of principle, it is better to have a reduction in price than a co-responsibility levy. The super levy proposed by the Commission, which will prevent and stop increases in production, and therefore decrease surpluses, has considerable merit.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will my right hon. Friend take every opportunity to remind the Opposition Front Bench that if the dairy industry is strangled by the debt carried over from the under-recruitment when the Labour Government were in office it will not be able to play its part in the recovery of the engineering industry in the Midlands, which used to provide such a large market?

Mr. Walker

One of the important arguments for keeping British agriculture in a position of some prosperity and expansion is that otherwise many jobs in manufacturing, in the agricultural machine industry and in food processing will be at stake.

Mr. Newens

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that he will in no circumstances agree to any package deal with our partners in the EEC that involves accepting concessions in the dairy trade that are damaging to milk rounds in order to gain advantages in other spheres?

Mr. Walker

Yes, I can give that absolute assurance. One of the most important features for our dairy industry is the continuation of the doorstep delivery service. I shall not take action that undermines that service.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I recognise the difficult job that my right hon. Friend is seeking to do within the EEC to achieve reform, but is he aware of the dire plight of our dairy and livestock industries? Far from expanding, the dairy herd is being reduced and the incomes of dairy farmers are dropping dramatically. Will my right hon. Friend give some assurance to the industry that it has a future, following the negotiations that are taking place within the EEC?

Mr. Walker

Three positive green pound devaluations and a substantial increase in the price of liquid milk have helped. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that in January slaughterings were 21 per cent. down on the year before and the number of heifers in calf was up on the previous year. The price of a dairy cow is substantially higher now than a year ago. Those factors demonstrate that there is a degree of confidence in the industry.

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