asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the average price per dozen for eggs of standard grade received by producers in the month of January, 1962; and how the figure compares with that for January, 1961.
The minimum price to producers declared by the British Egg Marketing Board for eggs of standard grade averaged 2s. 10·8d. in January, 1962, and 3s. 4·1d. in January, 1961.
As the February figures must have become available since this Question was first put down, would my right hon. Friend care to give me them? In any case, will he continue to work closely with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade on the question of importation from Poland? Despite the favourable answer given by the Minister of State, Board of Trade in a Written Answer on Monday, a great deal of misgiving still exists about the possibility of this importation affecting the British egg price.
My hon. Friend asked specifically for the January figures in his Question, and there is a later Question on the Order Paper asking for the figures for the first quarter of the year, or the first two months, which will cover my hon. Friend's point. As to the levels of imports, it is most important that we should keep the matter in proportion. The figures for January, 1962, show that 2,032,000 boxes of home-produced eggs went through the packing stations, compared with 1,879,000 in January, 1961. This is an increase of about 8 per cent. in home-produced eggs going through the packing stations. During the same period total imports amounted to about 72,000 boxes, compared with about 125,000 boxes last January.
Is the Minister aware that the position is even worse than has been stated, because the current packing station price for standard eggs is now half-a-crown a dozen? Will he explain how an egg producer with, say, an overhead charge of 37s per cwt. for pellets, can possibly produce eggs at the present price without subsidising production out of his own pocket?
There is a later Question which takes us up to the present prices.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on current egg supplies and the measures being taken to prevent a repetition of the market collapse which occurred last spring.
During the first nine weeks of this year ending on 3rd March, packing stations in the United Kingdom handled 3,867,000 boxes of eggs, accounting probably for about two-thirds of home production. This figure is 11 per cent. higher than that for the corresponding period of 1961. According to trade sources, imports to 3rd March were 133,000 boxes, which is slightly less than half the total during the corresponding period last year.Although prices fell at the end of February this year the average price for the month was little lower than usual. There was a fall at this time last year too, but it was by no means a collapse. Prices compared favourably with previous years. Some fall in prices in the spring is to be expected.
Will my right hon. Friend recall that the real trouble last year came in March and April and at that time the British Egg Marketing Board was in funds, which enabled it to cushion the home producer to quite a useful extent, whereas this year I am afraid that its funds are not so good? Will he keep that in mind as home production will increase in the next few weeks and we cannot afford to take seasonal surpluses from other countries at this time?
As my hon. Friend knows, representations have been made to the President of the Board of Trade on this matter by the Egg Marketing Board and he has already told the House that he is considering these facts.
Will the right hon. Gentleman now explain how it is possible for a British egg producer to sell eggs at half-a-crown a dozen to the packing station and make any profit on the transaction in view of the very heavy overheads he has to bear at the moment?
The rate of increase of home production of eggs does not lead one to believe that it is an unprofitable venture for the efficient producers who produce in large numbers.
Will my right hon. Friend in future—
I am sorry, but I called another hon. Member. I did not in fact see the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) rise.