asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is aware that the wholesale price of English Cheddar cheese has dropped since November, 1956, from 280s. to 135s. per cwt. without any corresponding fall in retail prices, and that home cheese output has nearly doubled in the last two years and Commonwealth producers are selling in this country at 33 per cent. below c.i.f. cost; what directions he has given to the Milk Marketing Board regarding the sale of cheese produced from surplus milk; and what steps he proposes to take, by price control or otherwise, to ensure that the present plentiful supplies are reflected in much lower prices in the shops.
Though no official retail prices for cheese are available, my right hon. Friend's information shows that the retail price of English cheddar cheese has reflected the fall in the wholesale price. He has no powers to give directions on these matters to the Milk Marketing Board.
Is the Minister satisfied that we have reached saturation point and the lowest retail prices in respect of cheese supplies? If so, will he tell us what he proposes to do about surplus milk? Is he aware that Dominion producers are already saying that they cannot sell their dairy products here and, thus, cannot buy our manufactures? Is it not time the Minister told us exactly what he is going to do about milk supplies here and whether, if necessary, he will propose a quantitative restriction on imports so that there may be some sensible arrangement?
The question about milk is primarily a matter for the Milk Marketing Board. With regard to cheese, I would not accept that we have reached saturation point. I hope that the steps which have been adopted and others which may be taken to popularise cheese will give better results.
Does the hon. Gentleman realise the importance of promoting the consumption of dairy products? Does he realise that to lower retail prices is the best method of doing it?
I realise absolutely the importance of encouraging the consumption of dairy products, and particularly of English cheese, and I hope that hon. Members themselves will set an example in that respect, for I think that that is the most effective way to do it.