Dairy Farming Debate

Neil Parish MP, who is chairman of the Dairy All-Party Parliamentary Group, spoke in Westminster Hall debate on dairy farming.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) on securing this excellent debate. I want to make the case that, across the west of the country, on the grasslands throughout the country and on my own grasslands in the Blackdown hills and Exmoor, dairy farming is important not only to dairy farmers but to the whole farming industry; some 60% or 70% of our beef cattle come from the dairy sector. From the time that a cow goes to the bull, or is inseminated, it is three years before that heifer comes into milk production. We cannot turn milk production on and off overnight, which is why it is a special case. We have too much supply and not enough demand, but we have to do something about it. The Prime Minister and other Ministers are taking this seriously, and one of the keys is public procurement and ensuring that, by not always having to buy the cheapest milk, we can get our own production into our schools and prisons, or wherever it might be; let us ensure that our own milk and cheese is in there.

On retailers and the groceries code adjudicator, I am delighted that a statutory instrument is being used to introduce substantial fines for supermarkets. Not all supermarkets are bad, and many have done a good job, but many are driving down milk prices, not for liquid milk but in the processed cheese market for their own-label cheese, which needs to be investigated thoroughly. The European Commission has a role to play in intervention. The Commission must up the intervention price, buy milk powder and cheese and put them into storage, thereby taking them out of the market. Once the market recovers, and it will, the Commission can let that cheese and milk powder back out into the market, which will not cost a great deal of public money. We have to take action. Standing around and wringing our hands is no good. I understand from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that there will be a milk summit, which is absolutely right. We must sit down with everyone and thrash this out, because we cannot destroy our dairy herds and then expect to pick them up over night—that just will not happen. I am delighted that this debate has taken place, but let us see some real action.

Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 4 February 2015, c83WH)