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Milk Marketing Board

Volume 932: debated on Thursday 19 May 1977

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will next meet the Chairman of the Milk Marketing Board.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when he meets Sir Richard Trehane or his successor he will be told in plain terms that the dairy farmers are totally dissatisfied with the price determination that he has recently announced? Will he explain to Sir Richard or his successor, and to the House, how there will be a mere 5 per cent. increase to the farmer between now and the end of the year when the dairy farmer has had to meet additional costs amounting to 20 per cent.? is he not aware that our dairy farmers could make a substantial saving to our balance of payments if they produced more milk?

I am certain that the guaranteed price for milk was the right guarantee to give in the circumstances up to the end of the transitional stage, As the hon. Gentleman must be aware, the question of what happens after 1st January is still to be played for. I hope that I shall be able to make an announcement in the near future. When dairy farmers consider the situation, they will have to take into account the final position—namely, what happens after 1st January. I should think that that is the factor that is concerning them most. I hope to end that uncertainty as soon as possible with something that I hope will be worth waiting for.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that for over 40 years the Milk Marketing Board has provided good value for consumers and producers alike without subsidy or surplus to any degree? Will he explain why the board may have to face a court action in the European Community about its existence? If that is the case, does he understand that it explains why some of us think that the CAP is quite detestable? Will he make this clear to his follow Agriculture Ministers when he meets them in Brussels?

As for the Milk Marketing Boards, I very much share my hon. Friend's view—I think it is a view that the whole House shares—of the great value they have been to this country. I believe, incidentally, that they could be of great value also to other countries if they cared to adopt the system, as I told the House a few weeks ago. I cannot remember when it was. [An HON. MEMBER: "Last week."] No, I think it was before that. I have spoken to Mr. Gundelach and I have his assurance that he is investigating sympathetically the whole situation. I was encouraged to notice that in his speech at Cirencester last week he twice said and underlined that he had become convinced of the value of our Milk Marketing Boards.

What confidence has the right hon. Gentleman that he can overcome the stiff-necked opposition of the bureaucrats of Brussels to the Milk Marketing Board as a national institution cutting right across the whole purpose and objective of the EEC?

Confidence in stiff-necked bureaucrats, wherever they may be, is something that requires a lot more patience, perhaps, then some of my hon. Friends and some Opposition Members possess. But we shall certainly do our best to overcome the reactions of any stiff-necked bureaucrats who may stand in the way of something that is, quite frankly, a sensible and valuable arrangement.

Will the Minister appreciate that everyone on this Bench realises the difficult job that he has to do vis-à-vis Europe? But will he assure the House that the Milk Marketing Boards are sacrosanct and will not have their rights traded away as part of some larger deal or package?

As long as I am Minister, I have not the slightest intention of trading those rights away.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that not only the producer, important as his task is, is concerned with the Milk Marketing Board, but that many thousands of workers in the milk industry in this country are looking to the Milk Marketing Board for the continuance of their jobs? They are very concerned indeed and very worried. I speak with authority as an ex-trade union officer who used to organise those people. Will my right hon. Friend give assurances to those workers that the Milk Marketing Board will not be allowed to be disbanded by the despots in Brussels and that the security of these workers in the milk industry will continue?

I have on many occasions assaured the House, and I willingly reassure the House today, that it is my intention to fight to victory—I was going to say to the end—for the Milk Marketing Boards. I not only accept my hon. Friend's point about those who work in the industry. I also accept the absolutely vital necessity of preserving the liquid milk round.

Will the Minister be able to tell the present Chairman of the Milk Marketing Board that he has been telling his colleagues in Brussels that we need to extend milk marketing boards within Europe? Secondly, will he bear in mind that some of us feel that all the experience and wisdom of the present Chairman of the Milk Marketing Board should be used in the future, even if he retires from the board now?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the tribute he has paid to the Chairman of the Milk Marketing Board. I have tremendous admiration for him. He has done a very good job. As to extending the boards to other countries, particularly to countries inside the Common Market, I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It seems to me to be an experience that we have which could be of use to other countries.

Before the Minister meets the Chairman of the Milk Marketing Board, will he recall what my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) said earlier—that it is absolutely crucial to clear up the important matter of what the milk price will be after 1st January? Will he undertake that he will have made an announcement before he meets the Chairman of the MMB? Will he understand that otherwise it is nonsense to make the sort of statement he has been making—that the milk price which he announced recently only for the next seven months will mean expansion under the White Paper targets, which clearly it will not?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on his deductions, but I absolutely agree with him on the urgency of making a statement about the months that will follow transition. There is only one reason why I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the undertaking for which he asks. That is, that I am quite likely to meet the Chairman of the Milk Marketing Board very shortly—it may be as I walk out of the House on this occasion. What I will undertake is to make a statement at the earliest opportunity.