Mr. William O'Brien:
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement about the future arrangements for milk marketing in the United Kingdom and the changes he intends to make.
The Government intend to introduce legislation this Session to facilitate the transformation of the milk marketing boards into non-statutory organisations.
The Minister's reply gives rise to some concern. We are looking for an assurance about the continuation of the services provided by the milk marketing boards. Will the Minister assure me that the cherished and ever-demanded supply of milk to the doorstep by the usual milk roundsmen will continue and that there is no fear of the British housewife and family losing that delivery?
The change in the status of the milk marketing boards has no effect on the delivery of milk at the doorstep. That would be endangered if the milk marketing arrangement continued not to allow British milk producers and sellers to achieve the maximum market. Doorstep delivery is unaffected by our decisions.
Is the Minister aware of the growing fear that a threat to the doorstep delivery of milk is one of the things that will flow from a restructuring? Is he also aware that the Freedom campaign—Friends Electing for the Delivery of Milk—has been formed to protect the delivery of milk and Britain's delivery men and women, and that it aims to collect 5 million signatures? Will he give an undertaking that he and his Department will back that campaign and ensure that the delivery of milk to the doorstep is safeguarded?
As a user and an enthusiastic supporter of the doorstep delivery of milk, I wish the campaign well. It is not signatures that the campaign wants, however, but the willingness of consumers to order milk at the doorstep. The best way we can help doorstep deliveries to continue is by buying at the doorstep. That is for the consumer to decide and she can do so under the new system as under the present one.
As my right hon. Friend is aware, many milk producers go to great lengths and are successful in adding value to the raw material by producing locally branded yoghurt, cheese and ice cream. Whatever changes may be made in the milk marketing arrangements, will my right hon. Friend ensure that existing milk producers can continue with that processing and can expand their current efforts?
One of the purposes of our policies is to ensure that those able to add value to milk will be able to get the milk that they need, so that we shall no longer be in the absurd position of not having enough milk for high value products but still putting butter into intervention. I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome the changes that the milk marketing boards, the Dairy Trade Federation, the Commission and the Government are seeking to produce.
Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that the statutory milk marketing boards have ensured the availability to the consumer of milk of the highest quality in Europe—with the possible exception of the Danes, to whom we have a lot to be thankful for? Will he bear it in mind that it is absolutely essential, under any new marketing arrangements, that that high quality of milk is preserved for the benefit of the British people?
The proposals, which result from the milk marketing boards deciding that changes are necessary, and which have clearly been endorsed by the fact that the majority of milk producers wish for such change, will defend Britain's position of producing the highest quality milk in Europe. I hope that we shall then be able to raise standards throughout the rest of Europe; that is one of the great advantages of our enthusiastic membership of the Community.
Does the Minister recognise that, just as farmers who are remote from areas of consumption are worried about the prices that will result from the changed arrangement, consumers fear that the delivery of their daily pinta on the doorstep and its price structure will be threatened? Consumers fear that they will not necessarily receive their daily pinta at the same price if they live in areas remote from the points of production.
The hon. Gentleman should remember that under the quota system we have less milk than we need for our national requirements. Therefore, producers even in remote areas need not be concerned, as they might be if there were an overproduction of milk in this country. The hon. Gentleman must also accept that the way to defend the daily pinta is to buy it on the doorstep and not merely to talk about doing so. Too many people who are keen on the daily pinta buy their own milk somewhere else.