HC Deb 19 January 1989 vol 145 cc466-7
1. Mr. Gregory

To ask the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the volume and value of liquid milk made available annually to the United Kingdom confectionery industry; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Donald Thompson)

The predominant use of liquid milk bought by the confectionery industry is for the manufacture of chocolate crumb. In 1988 about 228 million litres, worth about £40 million, was supplied for this purpose.

Mr. Gregory

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Is it not ridiculous that while the confectionery industry would like to use more liquid milk and British farmers would like to supply it, major manufacturers such as Rowntree are prohibited from obtaining the amount that they would like? The manufacturer of great British products such as Kit Kat has had to modify its machinery, at a cost of over £1 million, to take non-liquid milk. Will my hon. Friend look at this again and boost the amount of liquid milk available to the great British confectionery industry?

Mr. Thompson

I appreciate the way in which my hon. Friend works for the great British confectionery industry at Question Time after Question Time. He does a good job. I do not think that the confectionery industry in general suffers from a shortage of liquid milk. The allocation of milk for chocolate crumb takes priority over many other uses, including territorial cheese. However, I am aware of some local problems but it is for the industry to readjust in the new climate of decreasing lakes and mountains.

Mr. Martlew

Does the Minister agree that the Milk Marketing Board is taking advantage of shortages in manufacturing to push up the prices? Is it not a disgrace that Dairy Crest, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Milk Marketing Board, is now on the board of the Dairy Trade Federation which negotiates prices with the Milk Marketing Board? Will the Minister stop looking after farmers' interests and start looking after the interests of consumers?

Mr. Thompson

For the whole of agriculture the consumer is paramount because without the consumer nothing happens. The fact that the dairy industry leads in Europe is indicative of the consideration that the dairy trade gives to the consumer and to consumers' interests. Nevertheless, the market is becoming more and more competitive for milk and milk products. That is good, because rather than putting milk and milk products into intervention they should be allowed to find their own level in the market. I do not wish to interfere in normal trade between the various sections of the milk industry.

Mr. Paice

Will my hon. Friend tell the House what percentage of the forthcoming rise in the price of milk will go to the farmer and how much will be absorbed by the trade?

Mr. Thompson

A percentage always goes to the farmer—[Interruption.]—and we are under constant pressure from Opposition Members, who are now laughing so gaily, to continue doorstep delivery. Some of the increase must go to pay the man who delivers the milk to our doorstep, often before we go to work.