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The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): The most recent figures available show that the average price for milk delivered in November 2004 was 19.6p per litre. Milk prices in 2004 were consistently above those in 2003there was a little narrowing towards the end of the yeardespite last year's price support cuts. Farmers have also been paid a dairy premium of 0.78p per litre of quota partially to compensate them for price reductions, which have not as yet happened because the market price is above the intervention price.
Mr. Robertson: I am grateful to the Minister for that response, but over the last 10 years, farmers have seen their share of the retail price of milk fall from 60 per cent. to 40 per cent. That perhaps explains why two of the largest dairy farmers in my constituency have given up producing milk, and I suspect that more will follow suit. A short while ago, the Secretary of State said that it would be regrettable to introduce a fuel transport obligation because that would suck in imports, but if farmers are going to go out of business, that is surely what is going to happen with milk. When I meet my farmers in the near future, what can I say to them? Given the current dire position, what hope can I give them for the future?
Alun Michael: In the first instance, I point again to the Milk Development Council's report published in August, which has two extremely interesting tables. One shows the prices and margins over the last 10 years, while the second goes back 20 years and more. They demonstrate that the variations have increased the take from supermarkets in the last 10 years, but that the margins are closer if we go back over 20 years. These are complex issues.
The hon. Gentleman should also bear in mind the fact that the production of milk remains, with some variations of a couple of per cent., at the level it was before the decision of some producers to go out of the market. As I said, it is a complex issue, and in an earlier answer I underlined the great difference in profits that resulted from the efficiency of the top quartile of producers compared with the lowest quartile.
Ann Winterton (Congleton)
(Con): There are no more efficient dairy farmers than those in Cheshire, especially in
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Congleton[Interruption.]and, perhaps, Macclesfield. Many of them have been forced out of milk production because of farm-gate prices and many more remain in production only because of the cheap labour of their families. If we want a living and working countryside, we have to ensure that dairy farmers remain profitable and that there is transparency in the figures produced by the processing and retailing sector. The 18p highlighted in the report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has to be accounted for.
Alun Michael: It seems that the hon. Lady does not believe in a market-related industry. It was an interesting intervention, but I am not sure what she is arguing against. As I said earlier, and wish to reinforce, we are working with the industry so that it can achieve long-term sustainability. For some producers in the lowest quartile, the cost of production means that their businesses are not sustainable. Improving that situation is one of the issues that the forum led by Lord Whitty is seriously addressing with enthusiasm and vigour, as indeed it should.
The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): The Department commissioned a review of local authorities' performance in regulating air pollution from industry, which was published in April last year. The Environment Agency assesses annually the performance of each installation it regulates.
Mr. Prentice: I wonder how that squares with the situation in Colne in my constituency, where Macadam's garage has been illegally spraying cars for months. A woman came to see me and described how her front room smelled as though it contained 20 open tins of varnish. It has been like that for months, but the Liberal Democrat-controlled council seems powerless to act. Surely the powers are available to prevent people from allowing such harmful emissions into the air and to provide redress for the people who have been affected.
Mr. Morley: I know that my hon. Friend has been very active in representing the interests and the concerns of his constituents in that matter. As I understand it, the powers exist for the council to use, but it appears that it has become entangled in a complex legal situation of double jeopardy. The council could take action under the Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000 and could seek an injunction to stop any illegal activity. We are giving advice to the council and seeing whether we can assist.
Wednesday 19 JanuaryOpposition Day [2nd Allotted Day]. There will be a debate entitled "Government's failure to give value for taxpayers' money", followed by a debate entitled "Government's failure to understand the needs of farming and rural communities".
Mr. Heald: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business. He announced that the remaining stages of the Railways Bill will be taken on Thursday 27 January, but that will clash with the Committee sittings on the Road Safety Bill. Will he look again at that problem, which could cause considerable inconvenience for Members on both sides of the House who wish to attend both debates, including Ministers and Opposition spokesmen?
Those are not my words, but Herbert Morrison's. As far as I am aware, the Government have stuck to that principle, starting with consideration of the Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 and continuing through 16 other constitutional measures.
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Will the Leader of the House repeat his assurance that the whole of the Constitutional Reform Bill will have its Committee stage on the Floor of the House?
In the Chancellor's absence, may we have a statement from the Chief Secretary on the trade deficit, which for this year is now a whopping £53.2 billion? At one time Chancellors resigned over such news: now they leave the country.
May we have a debate about round-the-clock drinking? Police chiefs have attacked the plan, saying that it will cause a huge strain on resources. Is not there a danger that the staggered hours will mean more hours of staggering about by binge drinkers, who have become such a feature of our national evening culture? Is not that a major health issue and a major cause of crime, and should not it be a major concern for the Government?
Finally, may we have a statement from the Prime Minister on his U-turn about changes in the law on householders tackling burglars? The Prime Minister said that he would support reform; now he says that he does not. Is not it the case that, as the Chancellor once said:
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