HC Deb 06 May 1999 vol 330 c1080
11. Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

When he intends to publish the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report on the selling of milk in the United Kingdom. [82368]

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

As I said earlier in reply to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), I expect to publish the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report before the House rises for the summer recess.

Mr. Winterton

Does the Secretary of State accept that dairy farmers in England, especially those in Cheshire and my constituency of Macclesfield, face grave uncertainty about the Government's intentions and plans for the future of Milk Marque? Does he agree that, because they deal with a perishable commodity, it is essential that dairy farmers have the right collection and distribution organisation to enable them to get that perishable commodity to the market?

It is quite wrong that Milk Marque should be held to ransom by the big boys in the dairy trade. That is not good for our countryside. In the face of what I would describe as the tragic fall in milk prices, strict quotas and the threat of increased milk imports, will the right hon. Gentleman seek to respond before July to the report by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission? The industry is in crisis and we should do something to help an essential and vital element of the countryside.

Mr. Byers

I understand fully the concerns raised by the hon. Gentleman. He may be interested to know that some 200 right hon. and hon. Members have made representations on this issue, and they will need to be considered when we examine the recommendations in the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's report. We will do that. I am conscious of the uncertainty, which is certainly not helpful to the industry, and I will do all that I can to publish the report as soon as possible. I give an assurance today that that will occur before the House rises for the summer recess. However, as I said in my evidence to the Trade and Industry Select Committee, we will need to take account of the many representations received before we publish our response. We must recognise and consider that information properly if we are to discharge our legal responsibilities. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will publish as soon as we can practically do so.