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Cows (Milk Yield)

Volume 978: debated on Thursday 14 February 1980

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what the average milk yield was of each milking cow in the EEC (a) in 1973, and (b) at the latest date for which information is available.

In 1973 the average milk yield per cow throughout the Community was 3,582 kilogrammes, or 765 gallons. In 1977, the last year for which complete information is available, the comparable figure was 3,846 kilogrammes, or 822 gallons.

Bearing those figures in mind and appreciating that the point has been touched on by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture in answer to an earlier question, do I understand the Government's position to be that they are not prepared to tolerate any discriminatory proposals and measures of the Commission with regard to United Kingdom milk production?

Last year at the price fixing, we resisted absolutely any measures that would discriminate against our producers. The Commission has come forward with proposals which again would discriminate against British milk producers. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall fight equally strongly this year.

Will the Minister confirm that the cost of each of those Continental Community cows will next year run at the rate of 45 deutschemarks per month, 25 French francs per week, or £1 every two and a half days? Will he recognise that that is not in the national interest?

Will he run the risk of incurring the displeasure of the Conservative members of the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament, who may well endorse this absurd arrangement?

I am glad to note that the hon. Member's knowledge of international currencies is as good as my knowledge of the metric system. We acknowledge that one of the biggest problems in the EEC is that of the milk surplus. It is absolute and total nonsense to say that a major part, not only of the agriculture budget, but of the total EEC budget should be taken up in relation to this. We shall be supporting all sensible measures that do not discriminate against our industry. We shall try to contain and reduce that surplus.

Will the Minister of State agree that it is absolutely grotesque that each of the 25 million cows in the Community should have cost the taxpayer over £100 a head last year? Will he further agree that it is absolutely imperative to have a complete freeze on the price of milk as long as it is in surplus, and that effective non-discriminatory measures should be taken at the next price fixing, to end the surplus at long last?

The use of the word "grotesque" comes ill from the hon. Gentleman. If anything was grotesque, it was the efforts of his Government and his right hon. Friend, the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin), the former Minister of Agriculture and himself when they were conducting these affairs. I remind the hon. Gentleman that at the last price fixing we achieved the lowest level of price increases that there has been.