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Volume 19: debated on Sunday 4 April 1982

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proportion of the recent milk price increase will be paid to the farmer; and how this proportion will change after 31 March 1982.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

Of the extra revenue generated by the increase, the Milk Marketing Board will receive about 73 per cent. I cannot yet say how this proportion will change as a result of the spring review.

I am grateful for that reply. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the profit margins of both the producer and the dairy trades industry are under severe pressure? Will he bear in mind, in any future increase in the price of a pint of milk, that our unique doorstep delivery is vital not only as a social service but to farmers?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We have struck, through the Binder-Hamlyn negotiation, a sensible and objective balance between the different interests. Only if the dairy producer and distributor prosper will the housewife and the consumer be sure of a proper and continuing service.

I am pleased to hear the Minister's remark about a continuing service. Is he aware, however, that the increase in milk prices will affect consumption in my constituency, where there is mass unemployment and where masses more people are on short-time working? They will find difficulty in meeting the price of milk. What is the Minister's view of the effect of the increase on lower-income groups and the unemployed?

I invite the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the fact that the increase in the retail price of milk in January was the first for a year and that it amounted to only 8 per cent., well below the level of inflation. If the hon. Gentleman does not want milk producers and distributors to be able to recover their costs, I hope that he will have the courage to say so.

My right hon. Friend will have heard the European Commission's latest proposals on co-responsibility. Will he make it clear that these proposals are completely unacceptable to the House and to our dairy farmers? Does he agree that the whole question of co-responsibility levies should be re-examined as a matter of urgency?

We have the gravest reservations about what has been proposed by the Commission and supported by other countries on the co-responsibility levy. The effect is to discriminate against more efficient producers in the Community, including our own. It is significant that other countries, notably the Netherlands and Denmark, share our view strongly.

Does the Minister recognise that the objective must be to maximise the consumption of milk in the interests of consumers and producers? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he is doing enough to defend the doorstep delivery side of the industry, which has had a difficult time and is still under long-term threat from possible bulk imports of milk from the Continent? What is the Minister's stance on the doorstep delivery system?

The Government are absolutely resolute in their defence of doorstep deliveries and of the tremendously good service that it provides for consumers. It is significant that the results of the Binder-Hamlyn review were agreed by both sections of the industry. I hope that this underpins the future of doorstep deliveries. The House will be aware of the strong stand that the Government are taking on milk imports in relation to the threats made in the European Court.