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Dairy Farmers

Volume 594: debated on Thursday 12 March 2015

The dairy industry is a vital part of food and farming and of our national life. With farmers struggling with low prices, we are doing all we can to help with cash flow. We are working with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to help farmers delay their tax payments; we are urging banks to treat dairy farmers sympathetically; and we have prioritised dairy farmers for payments from the Rural Payments Agency.

I am grateful for that answer. My right hon. Friend will know that Shropshire has some of the most productive and best dairy farms in the whole country, and I very much hope to invite her to visit Shropshire after the election, when she will continue to be a great Secretary of State. Will she explain what additional help she is giving to dairy farmers to ensure that more milk is used in our schools and hospitals, and exported?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend about how productive dairy farmers in Shropshire are. We want to see more dairy products sold here in Britain and overseas. That is why we launched the Bonfield plan, which will open up £400 million-worth of business across the public sector. I strongly encourage schools, hospitals and caterers to use the balanced scorecard, so that they can buy from great producers in Shropshire.

May I applaud the work the Secretary of State and her Department have done on exporting dairy and other products? What urgent action can she take to rebalance the relationship in the supply chain between the very small dairy producer and the often very large processor in this business?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Since 2009, we have seen a 50% increase in dairy exports. There is still more to do, however, which is why we have appointed our first ever agriculture and food counsellor at the Beijing embassy—China will be the world’s largest importer of food and drink by 2018. There is, of course, more work to do, and we have given the Groceries Code Adjudicator further powers, including the power to impose fines of 1% of turnover.

A key plank of the Government’s assistance to dairy farmers is the LEADER programme. After the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs failed to answer pleas for advice on the Isle of Wight’s application, will my right hon. Friend agree to an urgent meeting, so we can discuss this matter with Ministers?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and he is right about the vital support the LEADER programme brings. DEFRA Ministers are already looking at this issue, and I would be delighted to discuss it with him.

With milk at 20p a litre, farmers across Wiltshire are suffering most dreadfully, and many of them are going out of business, but they accept that it is a question of worldwide supply. They ask me questions, however, about whether the Irish quota is larger than it need be, and about whether milk products, particularly cheese, are being re-imported from Ireland—possibly illegally across a porous border—and depressing British prices.

Currently, 50% of the dairy products consumed in Britain are imported. I want to see more British products produced and sold in this country. That is why I am pushing the European Commission for compulsory country of origin labelling to make sure that British consumers can go into supermarkets and find out which products are from Britain.