HL Deb 25 July 1966 vol 276 cc599-601

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will indicate country by country the maximum tonnages of butter to be allowed into the United Kingdom during the current butter year; and whether they will admit a quota from the U.S.S.R. either during the current butter year or in the next one.]


My Lords, I have here the figures for which the noble Lord has asked. As they are somewhat lengthy, it might be more convenient if noble Lords were to refer to the announcement published in the Board of Trade Journal for March 18, 1966, or to the Answer given by my honourable friend in another place on July 7, 1966. I regret that the Government see no possibility of allocating an import quota for butter from the U.S.S.R. during 1966–67; nor is it likely that they will be able to do so next year. This is because there is a world surplus of butter, and the amount which our traditional suppliers (of whom the U.S.S.R. is not one) would like to send us is much greater than we need. So far as we can see at present, this situation is not likely to change next year.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his reply, and for giving us the references to enable us to find the detailed list of participating countries, may I ask whether he would not agree with me that the quotas are under our control and under nobody else's control? Would he, therefore, not further agree that we should surely make changes from time to time, so as to admit new suppliers who could participate in the regular growth of butter consumption in this country? We should thus enable the Soviet Union, among others, to sell us more butter, particularly as they have given an assurance that they will buy more consumer goods from us if we take their butter?


My Lords, may I answer the last question first? It does not follow, simply because they have given us an assurance that they will buy more consumer goods, that that will happen; there is nothing at all to stop them from buying more consumer goods from us now. Nobody knows better than the noble Lord that the imbalance we have with the Russians at the present moment is something in the nature of £72 million, and the accent should be on our selling to them rather than on buying from them. I would say, too, that it is very difficult to upset the arrangements with the traditional suppliers of butter to this country, such as Australia and New Zealand, and I must ask the noble Lord to be patient. But this question gives me an opportunity of congratulating the noble Lord on the work that he is doing in this field with the London Chamber of Commerce, and his visit to Russia was no exception.


My Lords, are we to infer from the Minister's statement that there is absolutely no quota of butter from the U.S.S.R. and that there will not be in future years? Could this matter not be looked at again?


My Lords, of course it could be looked at again, but the answer would be the same. I have outlined the position for the next two years, and I do not know about the position after that. But for 1966–67 there is no change.


My Lords, what on earth is a "butter year"?


My Lords, this is a "sticky one" for me to handle, and I think the answer resides with the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord very much for his kind remarks about the work I am doing?