asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions he has had with milk producers and retailers in relation to the import of milk from France after 1 January 1980.
I have had a number of discussions on this subject with representatives of the various interests within the industry, and have made the Government's position clear to them.
Does the Minister appreciate that there is considerable concern among producers, retailers, and, most of all, consumers, that this could be the thin end of the wedge? Is he sure that the European Court ruling is definitive? Does he expect a further ruling? If there is any threat to our daily milk delivery, what contingency plans has he made?
Obviously, when I believe that we are acting legally and correctly it would be absurd for me to announce contingency plans as if we were not acting legally and correctly. One case has come before the European Court, which examined two questions—the metric package, and health regulations. The Advocate-General made it clear that Britain was acting correctly on both counts. However, the court came to a decision only on the metric package. We are, therefore, confident, particularly in the light of the suggestion of the Advocate-General, that if we are further challenged in the European Court we shall be shown to be in the right.
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that it is adequate to depend upon the health regulations to protect our dairy industry? If they should prove inadequate, what further powers have we to protect that industry?
The reality is that we are better at producing milk—and we produce better milk—than are our competitors in Europe. Our competitors are processing milk on a different basis and, in our judgment, in many cases, without the health standards that we apply in this country. We intend to keep our health standards.
Is the Minister aware that there is real fear in the minds of thousands of workers involved in both the distribution and processing of milk that their jobs are threatened by the import of French milk? Will the Minister consider at least doing some planning so that we can stop the import of French milk in the event of our health regulations failing to deal with the problem?
The hon. Gentleman does considerable harm to confidence in the dairy industry when he constantly states that there is an immediate threat of a great deal of French milk coming into this country and undermining our market. That is not the case. Perhaps it would be better if the hon. Gentleman went around the country saying that our claims are justified on health grounds and that British milk is a lot better than French milk.