HC Deb 14 December 1995 vol 268 cc1085-7
4. Mr. Jim Cunningham

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make it his policy to maintain the present levels of milk production. [4130]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Tony Baldry)

Yes. The Government's policy is to resist any cuts in the UK's milk quota allocation.

Mr. Cunningham

Is the Minister aware that a number of milkmen, especially in the west midlands, are being put out of business, and that there will be a shortage of milkmen very soon, because the supermarkets are taking over the business? What does the Minister propose to do about that?

Mr. Baldry

That is just competition in the marketplace, and nothing to do with EC milk quotas. At 26p for a four-pint poly-bottle of milk in our supermarkets, milk in the UK is cheaper than anywhere else in the European Community.

Mr. Peter Atkinson

Can my hon. Friend set out the Government's view on the future of milk quotas?

Mr. Baldry

Our ultimate objective is to get rid of milk quotas, because we are prevented from making the most of the UK's natural advantages for milk production by the EC quota system. So we wish to get rid of milk quotas.

Mrs. Golding

Is the Minister aware that a recent survey by the Co-operative Wholesale Society showed that 11 to 16-year-old children are consuming far too little milk and other dairy produce? Instead of working to deprive our children of milk, does not the Minister think that it would help the milk industry and the health of our nation if he stopped treating the dietary needs of our schoolchildren with such contempt?

Mr. Baldry

That really is over-hyping it. The take-up of the scheme varied greatly between local education authorities so the benefits were already spread unequally. Those benefits have never been targeted on the basis of need. We do not believe that the changes will have any effect on the health or nutrition of British teenagers.

5. Mr. Pike

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what funding the United Kingdom will receive from the EU in 1995-96 towards the cost of milk in secondary schools and school catering. [4131]

Mr. Douglas Hogg

We estimate that EU expenditure on the discretionary elements of the school milk scheme will amount to approximately £6.1 million in the United Kingdom in 1995-96. Doing away with the discretionary element will result in public expenditure savings of about £4 million.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister accept that this subsidy, unlike much of the £3 billion subsidy to the dairy industry from the common agricultural policy, is an important and essential one? Will he take more notice of what nutritional experts say and make sure that this cut does not take place?

Mr. Hogg

The scheme is neither important nor essential. We continue to subsidise milk for primary schools at a cost of about £12 million a year. As the Minister of State has just made plain, the take-up is extremely uneven: not all local authorities take up the scheme, and even in participating LEAs not all schools do so. There is no targeting of need, and the scheme is an inefficient use of resources.

Mr. Marland

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is worth reiterating that any change in policy will have no effect on primary schools, that milk will still be available to them, and that it is not the Government's objective to force-feed teenagers with milk?

Mr. Hogg


Mr. Marland

It is surely up to parents to decide whether they want their children to drink milk, and they have some responsibility in that respect. Does my right hon. and learned Friend further agree that any reduction in milk consumption at schools will make more milk available for manufacturing, for adding value and for creating wealth?

Mr. Hogg

I apologise to my hon. Friend for getting to my feet too soon. I should like to focus on two of his important points. He is right to draw attention to the fact that we subsidise the consumption of milk in primary schools. His second point is basic: it really is up to parents to encourage their children to drink milk, if that is what they deem right for them. Theirs is the responsibility; we must go on emphasising that kind of basic fact.

Dr. Strang

But surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware that only two years ago a Minister of State in the Department was telling the House what a great scheme this was, and that we should encourage teenagers to drink milk in our schools—particularly young girls, to help reduce the risk of osteoporosis in later life. The Minister knows that the policy is wrong, and that we should be encouraging teenagers to drink more milk. Will he reconsider?

Mr. Hogg

That is nonsense, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. What is more, it shows why the Labour party cannot be taken seriously when it talks about reducing expenditure and tax. The plain fact is that this is saving us £4 million which I can then spend on areas of greater priority in the agriculture budget. People should focus on schemes to determine whether they are good or bad. This one is not a good use of resources; that is why we have done away with it.