HC Deb 02 December 1982 vol 33 cc383-4
7. Mr Knox

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to what extent the United Kingdom is self-sufficient in butter; and how this compares with the position in 1979.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Production of butter represented 57 per cent. of total new supplies in 1980, which is the most recent year for which complete information is available. In 1979 it was 47 per cent.

Mr. Knox

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this increasing self-sufficiency in butter is a tribute to the British farming industry? Is he satisfied that British dairy farmers are being adequately rewarded for this improvement?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The figures show that dairy farmers—through their efficiency, good management and for other reasons—have increased production. I believe that they are being sufficiently rewarded. It is significant that, over the past year, partly for climatic reasons, there has been a further increase in production. The contribution made by dairy farmers is creditable.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Has the Minister any plans to persuade his counterparts in Europe to sell our butter surpluses to the Third world, not to the Russians?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are provisions under the food aid programme for aid to be given. In that general programme the United Kingdom plays its part.

Mr. Jay

Does the Minister agree that one of the benefits of Common Market membership is that the United Kingdom taxpayer is again having to subsidise exports of butter to the Soviet Union at about one-third of the price that we pay for it?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman also welcomes the fact that the United Kingdom consumer already receives a subsidy throughout the year and that over the Christmas period there will be an even greater subsidy.

Mr. Colin Shepherd

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is still substantial room for enhancement in butter self-sufficiency by the United Kingdom dairy industry? Will he apply the same constructive approach to the marketing of butter as he has towards other commodities?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Although we have improved our self-sufficiency in butter, we are not completely self-sufficient, but the dairy industry is also a considerable exporter. It says a great deal for some of the firms involved, not least the Milk Marketing Board, that we have had success in exporting not only outside the Community but into the Community.

Mr. Buchan

Will the hon. Gentleman answer the question put to him by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) about the general export of surplus butter? Will he confirm that during the period when the sale of butter from the EC was banned by a decision of Ministers the Commission, over a four-year period, continued to sell food, including butter, to Eastern Europe? If so, will the Minister deplore it?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

At the behest of the British Government, the Commission, under the procedures of its management committee—which are the same as they were when the Labour Government were in office—suspended sales for a period. It is difficult to know the eventual destination of some exports, because they can be traded to other countries. That may have happened in recent years. It certainly happened under the Labour Government.