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European Community (Milk Surplus)

Volume 986: debated on Thursday 19 June 1980

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals, other than that of a price freeze, he has put forward to the Council of Ministers to reduce the milk surplus in the European Economic Community.

I am prepared to consider any measures to reduce the surplus on a Community basis and have put forward a number of proposals, including retention of the United Kingdom butter subsidy and placing greater responsibility for the disposal of surpluses upon those who create them.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am most disappointed with his reply, because he has not answered my question at all? I asked him what proposals he had put forward. May I ask him to study the Howell report of 1979 to the European Parliament? Will he ignore the principal recommendations of the report and instead study the minority report? If he studies the minority report of the Howell report he will have the answer to the milk surplus problem.

I have looked at the reports of both Howell Major and Howell Minor. I find them very interesting reading. The whole of Europe is talking about nothing else.

I find some contradiction in the Minister's reply to the question. He talks about solving the problem of the surplus in relation to the Community, and then talks about the countries which are responsible bearing the burden. That seems to be a contradiction in terms. Does he agree with me that if we freeze prices we shall only encourage the producers to increase production, and in any case, because of the technical developments in the industry, is not there likely, inevitably, to be an increase?

Yes. The point that the hon. Lady has made is very important. One of the great problems in terms of milk has been that when one has put a light freeze on prices, it has increased production, not decreased it. The hon. Lady is perfectly right about that? I mink that the most important thing that has happened in recent weeks is that a number of countries, particularly Germany and France, which have created a great deal of the surpluses concerned are now, for the first time, having to bear a great deal of the bill. It seems that they are taking a much greater interest in the problems of surpluses than before.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the doorstep delivery in the United Kingdom is not only a vital social service but also a maximum contribution to minimising any milk surplus to the EEC? What, therefore, will he do in about two years' time on the expiry of the health regulations under which we can prevent bulk imports of milk from, say, France, which undoubtedly, if it happens, will very quickly destroy the doorstep delivery here?

I believe that if the French have to abide by the health standards that we apply here, with the transport cost involved and the higher efficiency of our dairy industry as compared with theirs, there should be no fear of such imports.

As Britain contributes nothing to the European milk surplus, does the Minister agree that the best way of dealing with it is to lay at the door of the French, the Germans and the rest, the cost of the disposal of their surplus?

Yes, Sir. That is why I was interested in the Commission's proposal—a unique proposal this year—that those individual nations that add to the surplus should meet the cost. But another way of doing that is a rearrangement of the budget, whereby Germany and France for example will bear much more of the cost.