HC Deb 22 October 1987 vol 120 cc903-4
2. Mr. Knox

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will next meet the president of the National Farmers Union to discuss the dairy industry.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John MacGregor)

I hold frequent meetings with the president of the National Farmers Union, when a wide range of subjects is discussed.

Mr. Knox

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there have been shortages of milk for processing this summer? With further cuts in output due in the months ahead, is he satisfied that the supply of fresh milk and milk for processing will be adequate in the future?

Mr. MacGregor

Yes. I am aware that there were some problems during the seasonal trough in August and September this year in meeting some processors' requirements, but I do not think that that relates to the level of quotas as a whole. As my hon. Friend knows—I am sure that he would agree—it was necessary to scale down the quotas in December to bring supply and demand more into balance. The problem does not relate to the quotas as such. However, there is a problem in milk marketing, and I am discussing it with the milk marketing boards.

Mr. Colvin

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the controversy that surrounds the use of hormones in milk and meat production. Is he aware that while our farmers are implementing the EEC regulations on this matter, farmers across the Channel are not? Therefore, when my right hon. Friend next goes to Brussels, will he put the control of the use of hormones on the agenda to try to ensure that our continental colleagues play the game?

Mr. MacGregor

I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that I raised this very matter at the Agriculture Council earlier this week, when we were informed by the Commissioner that the Commission would be having further talks with third countries to try to solve the problems that face us on this matter. Indeed, the specific point raised by my hon. Friend was the very point that I put to the Commissioner. I asked him to give me an assurance that, whatever happens on 1 January, the introduction of the ban on implants would apply evenly across all member states, and he gave me that assurance. One other Minister in particular—from the country to which I think my hon. Friend refers—indicated that he would be in a position to do that, too. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend on this point.

Dr. David Clark

Is the Minister aware that many food manufacturers are suffering from a shortage of milk products in their processes and that, as a result, they are suffering redundancies and factory closures. Does the Minister intend to take any action on this matter?

Mr. MacGregor

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is confusing two points. There is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) raised, which I have touched upon, which caused temporary difficulties a short while ago. Let me go more widely. If the hon. Gentleman has in mind the possible closures of creameries and so on because of the reduction in supply, I am sure he will recognise that the reduction in quotas is bringing supply and demand more into balance, as would happen anyway in a free market system. We do not take special compensatory measures to assist processing industries in other products and other parts of the economy where supply and demand are being brought into balance and where the necessary adjustment needs to take place. That is what is happening in this case.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

I appreciate the details that the Minister has given on this issue. However, will he accept that in parts of Scotland where self-sufficiency exists in the milk industry the further reduction in the milk quota will not only close down creameries and cheese-making plants but will have an adverse effect on farming in general, given that farmers in some parts of Scotland have little alternative? Will he examine the possibility of a more flexible approach to areas that have achieved such a level of self-sufficiency?

Mr. MacGregor

I think that we have to distinguish between individual difficulties that arise from time to time in different parts of the United Kingdom—I can assure the hon. Lady that the problems arise in regions of England as well as in Scotland—and the overall position on the level of quotas and supply and demand generally. Perhaps the hon. Lady has in mind the first aspect in particular. As I have said, I am discussing the problem with the milk marketing boards. We are faced with very complex issues in trying to make the system operate properly, but I agree that it is desirable to try to ensure that where supplies are available they ought to be able to go to processors. However, this is a complicated matter.