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Dairy Industry

Volume 124: debated on Thursday 17 December 1987

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2.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next hopes to meet the chairman of the Milk Marketing Board to discuss the future of the dairy industry.

My colleagues and I have regular contacts with the chairman of the Milk Marketing Board to discuss various issues affecting the dairy industry.

The Minister is aware of the concern in Wales at the sale of milk quotas, which adversely affects the balance of the industry in that area and may have an effect on some processing plants. Will the Minister consider representations to introduce regulations to restrict the sale of quota outside specified regions? Will he consider setting up a special quota bank for young entrants into the industry so that they have an opportunity to acquire a quota, which at present is denied to many of them?

I am aware of producers' concerns about quota transfers, and the position is carefully monitored. However, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that, to date, less than 2 per cent. of quota held by Welsh producers has been transferred out of Wales. The idea of a quota bank has been discussed on a number of occasions, but there are considerable difficulties with it. I do not deny that one of the problems about quota is new entrants into the industry. However, the suggestion of a quota bank has been opposed by most of the industry's organisations that have considered it. As regards the effects on processing plants, it is necessary, when supply and demand are being brought into balance, to realise that there must also be adjustments in the processing industry to reflect that change.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what assurances he gave to the Milk Marketing Board about the future of the small dairy farmer? Will he accept that those farmers play a vital role in the rural communities of this country?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the small dairy farmer. I have had several discussions with the Milk Marketing Board, but that matter has not been a topic of recent discussion. However, I assure my hon. Friend that I agree with him on the general point.

Small dairy farmers in north-east Wales and in my constituency are worried and are facing difficulties. Those farmers, and not least my constituent Mr. George Blockley, are discontented and upset about the nature of the quota. What will the Minister do to help the small dairy farmer in Wales?

In the early stages of the quota regime a number of measures were taken to help the small dairy farmer. My clear impression is that the vast majority of dairy farmers want the quota regime to continue and certainly do not want it to be abandoned. The hon. Gentleman will know that in the past two years the incomes of dairy producers have risen quite reasonably.

Did my right hon. Friend discuss with the chairman of the Milk Marketing Board the problem that has arisen in relation to cheese making in this country? We are facing a shortage, with the result that the consumer, who is rarely considered by the agriculturist, is paying a high price for ordinary English Cheddar cheese.

I assure my hon. Friend that producers are extremely conscious of the needs of consumers and that marketing and meeting consumers' needs feature prominently in my discussions with farmers. I recognise that there were some difficulties during this year's seasonal trough period—August and September, when milk production drops for natural reasons — in meeting the requirements of cheese producers. We have been in touch with the Milk Marketing Board and the milk industry about that matter and the industry has agreed to changes in the milk supply and pricing arrangements that are aimed at avoiding similar problems next year.