Bill Cash: we have reached a point at which much European legislation—the call for federation and all the rest of it—has now become utterly absurd

During a Westminster Hall debate on Dairy Industry, Bill Cash made the following speech:

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) on securing the debate, which is essential.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) said, Staffordshire has one of the largest dairy farming industries in the country. I used to be the Member of Parliament for Stafford—now I am the Member for Stone—but I remain a Staffordshire MP. Dairy farmers work incredibly hard, and I was pleased to meet my dairy farmers at the Central hall rally a few weeks ago. I have had several meetings with them over the past few weeks and I entirely agree with all their arguments, which extend not only to the cost of milk and the price that they get for it but to TB and how, as a result of the legal decision in the High Court this week, we will be having further progress on that shortly. I also regard the ombudsman in the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill, which I am glad that the Government have brought in, as important.

It must be 10 or 15 years ago that I spoke to the Office of Fair Trading, calling for fair competition in milk prices, so I have some history on the issue. As long ago as 1984, the by-election that got me into Parliament for the first time was completely dominated by milk and that has lived with me ever since. I have had great pleasure working with dairy farmers, who are wonderful people and work incredibly hard.

I congratulate the Minister, whose constituency of Somerton and Frome includes the villages that my wife’s family comes from, and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), on their new posts. I welcome them to tricky problems on such things as nitrate vulnerable zones, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton, or the potential for compulsory codes and various other European Union measures—people will be familiar with my concern over those. It is one thing to hope, as in the notes that we received today, that people might be able to amend grassland derogation, to promote the principles of better regulation and to deal with and reverse the nitrate vulnerable zones, but there is only one way of reversing them—as my right hon. Friend the Minister will acknowledge—which is by negotiating, which might be almost impossible, or by applying the notwithstanding rule, the use of which I have advocated for many years to override European legislation. That is what the National Farmers Union is calling for, which I am pleased to commend, because we have reached a point at which much European legislation—the call for federation and all the rest of it—has now become utterly absurd. There is also the question of public procurement contracts. I said that it would be a good idea if we in Parliament ensured that we paid a sustainable and fair price, because that would give a lead, and would demonstrate our commitment to our dairy farmers.

I believe strongly—and I commend my hon. Friends the Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) and for Stafford for joining me—in encouraging the prospects for dairy farming activity in export markets, and joint ventures. In India, I met an Indian businessman who is running a company called Milky Moo. He is coming over to see Staffordshire farmers, and I am happy to invite my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford to join us if Milky Moo needs experience and knowledge. Believe it or not, its milk production includes contracts with 10,000 farmers, and it expects that to rise to 100,000 farmers in that part of India in a few years. It is a huge business, and we can offer a lot of expertise. Some of the briefings we received contain sound advice, and the naming and shaming of those who are not prepared to co-operate in the new voluntary code is an important aspect of where we need to go.

That is all I need to say. I agree with so much that has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House. This is a very good demonstration of the fact that Parliament is working very hard for the dairy farming industry, and the fact that so many hon. Members have turned up is a great tribute to their determination to do the best for their farmers.

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