HC Deb 21 October 1982 vol 29 cc488-9
4. Mr. Knox

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to what extent the United Kingdom is self-sufficient in butter and cheese.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Production of butter and cheese represented 57 per cent. and 70 per cent., respectively, of total new supplies in 1980, which is the most recent year for which complete information is available.

Mr. Knox

Do not the figures show considerable scope for further expansion by the United Kingdom dairy industry? What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to encourage that expansion?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The United Kingdom dairy industry has already responded to the stimulus that the Government have given. We have seen an increase in production both this year and over recent years. Its marketing in the United Kingdom and abroad shows it to be an extremely lively and effective industry.

Mr. Stoddart

Is the Minister aware that many of us are worried about recent press reports that the French Government are to block the importation of New Zealand butter if sales of cheap butter to Russia do not go ahead? Will that not have a catastrophic effect on the New Zealand economy, renege on assurances given during the passage of the European Communities Bill and—most important to me, as I have an Anchor butter packing station in my constituency—mean a loss of jobs in Swindon and the surrounding area?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I wholly share that anxiety, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will express his appreciation of our achievement this week in Luxembourg of 87,000 tonnes of butter for 1983. That was agreed at the request of the New Zealand Government, who have publicly stated that they welcome the Council's decision.

Mr. Moate

Would we have the power to veto future arrangements that might reduce the importation of New Zealand butter?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The original protocol and special conditions agreed for New Zealand imports were on a degressive basis, which the New Zealand Government have accepted. I agree that, for a host of reasons, New Zealand butter is of particular importance. We shall continue to work in close co-operation with the New Zealand Government over what happens after 1983.

Mr. Buchan

May we have a categoric assurance that the agreement for importing New Zealand butter is not contingent on the French demands to sell off rock bottom surplus butter to the Soviet Union? New Zealand is, after all, an old trading friend and Commonwealth ally.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I managed to resist the attempt this week by the French Minister at the Council of Ministers to make the agreement conditional on the sale of butter to the Soviet Union. Agreement has been reached in principle. Various procedures have been followed through. The agreement should go through simply as a "procedure" point at a future Council of Ministers.