HC Deb 06 May 1999 vol 330 cc1069-70
1. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

When he will publish the recommendations of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in respect of Milk Marque; and if he will make a statement. [82356]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Stephen Byers)

The report from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on the supply of raw cows' milk in Great Britain has now been received. I expect to publish it before the House rises for the summer recess.

Mr. Heath

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, but the delay and uncertainty caused by his inability to publish the report are having the gravest consequences for the dairy industry. Somerset dairy farmers in my constituency have already suffered enough this year. Will the right hon. Gentleman deny the rumour now sweeping the industry and give an absolute assurance that the report has not been delayed for political convenience connected with the Welsh elections, and that it will not be delayed until the summer recess? We need an answer now.

Mr. Byers

The report was not received until the beginning of March. It is receiving detailed consideration and will be published before the summer recess. The timing is not for political reasons, but to ensure that full and proper consideration is given to the recommendations.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I am afraid that the Secretary of State's response to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) was not good enough. Given that dairy farmers are suffering their worst crisis for 60 years, with average incomes having fallen by more than 60 per cent. in the past two years alone, and as the Government's botched common agricultural policy negotiations in Brussels mean that Britain's milk producers cannot expect to receive any increase in quota until 2006, does the right hon. Gentleman not understand the keen interest and anxiety with which the MMC's verdict on Milk Marque is awaited by dairy farmers in my constituency? He has had the MMC report for more than two months—70 days, to be exact. When will he stop dithering and announce a decision?

Mr. Byers

There is no dithering. The report is being considered and we shall publish it as soon as it is practical to do so. That will be before the summer recess.