Following the changes that were introduced at the beginning of the current quota year, and the agreement by the European Council to extend the quota system for a further three years, the dairy sector can look forward with more confidence now that measures are in place to bring about a better balance between supply and demand. Average dairy farm income in the United Kingdom increased in each of the last two years and is expected to increase further during the current year.
Will the Minister tell us what steps his Ministry is taking to monitor the operation of quota schemes in other EEC countries, particularly Italy and France? Will he give an assurance to the House that the British dairy industry is not being put at any competitive disadvantage compared with its European colleagues?
Yes, I have raised that subject and consider it quite frequently. I have had discussions with my opposite numbers in those two countries and I can give an assurance that that is what we are always endeavouring to do.
Will my right hon. Friend say whether he is satisfied with the innovative record of the United Kingdom dairy industry, in view of the large quantity of imported dairy products on our supermarket shelves? Is he aware that, in my constituency and in four other constituencies, creamery closures have recently been announced?
On the first point, that is primarily a matter for the commercial organisations concerned, but I would never be satisfied that we had done everything that we should. However, in recent years, great strides have been taken, both by dairy farmers and dairy organisations, to improve marketing and to increase our exports, as well as to increase our sales in this country.
The second point relates to a different matter. It was a Dairy Crest decision to close certain creameries because, as supply and demand became more balanced in the dairy product sector, there was clearly over-capacity and, therefore, like any other industry in that position, it had to take the necessary action.