12 May 1999
Byers denies dithering over milk report

By Isobel Davies

TRADE and industry secretary Stephen Byers has denied that the government is dithering over the Competition Commission report into milk marketing.

There had been rumours that the report would be released last week. But speculation is now mounting that it will be another month before the government is ready to announce its decisions on the future of milk selling arrangements in the UK.

As a result, uncertainty still plagues the dairy industry.

Denying that the government is dithering, Mr Byers said the report will be published before parliament goes into the summer recess.

Answering questions in the House, he said, “There is no dithering. The report is being considered and we shall publish it as soon as is it practical to do so.”

He said that the delay was necessary because there had been more than 200 responses to the report, which all needed consideration.

The prospect of another months wait has brought a stoic response from the dairy industry.

Milk Marques managing director Paul Beswick said, “There is no alternative to wait for this MMC report.

“But this will not lessen our resolve, nor distract us from running our business.

“We are clear what we are fighting for and we must be able to operate in a competitive market without constant dialogue with the competition authorities.”

Jim Begg, director general of the Dairy Industry Federation said, “The continuing delay is frustrating but it is better that the government publishes the right outcome rather than a quick response.”

But Michael Lambert, NFU milk committee chairman, said that he hoped that it will not take a month: “If it is delayed this long, then it is bad news. Everybody wants to get it out of the way.”

The danger with the situation dragging on is that more people will leave Milk Marque. And looking at this months milk cheque, there is a danger people will get out of dairying altogether, he added.

Meanwhile, the House of Commons Agriculture Select Committee has announced that it will be holding its own inquiry into the marketing of milk.

The inquiry, which is not expected to start until after the MMC report is finally released, hopes to build upon the MMC recommendations.