HC Deb 20 October 1952 vol 505 cc666-72
3. Miss Burton

asked the Minister of Food what action is intended by the Government concerning the black market in eggs; and if he will make a statement on the recent inquiry into this matter.

4. Sir I. Fraser

asked the Minister of Food whether he has now completed his investigation into the present method of egg control; and whether he will make a statement on changes in the system.

10. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Food what action has been taken, at his instructions, by his Department to deal with the black market in eggs; and what success has attended these special efforts.

19. Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

asked the Minister of Food whether he will now decontrol the sale of eggs.

21. Mr. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Food what changes he now proposes to make in the arrangements for distribution of shell eggs in the United Kingdom.

Major Lloyd George

I hope to be able to make a statement early in the next Session.

Sir I. Fraser

Will my right hon. and gallant Friend bear in mind that it is beyond human nature to suppose that men will not sell eggs which they do not themselves want to eat or buy eggs that they do want to eat at whatever is the appropriate price for the deal at the time?

Miss Burton

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that from the grey or the black market some restaurants and hotels can get any number of eggs that they wish but the law-abiding housewife with her ration book gets one miserable egg a week? Will he do something about it?

Major Lloyd George

It is not one egg a week; the average is two eggs a week. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is no good hon. Gentlemen opposite saying "No" because the figures show that the allocations average two a week. These are figures which hon. Gentlemen opposite were very happy to accept when they were given by my predecessor in the last Parliament. All these points which are raised by hon. Gentlemen opposite and hon. Friends of mine show the tremendous difficulty of putting this straight. It is one of the most complicated schemes to put right that there could possibly be. All the points which have been raised are very much in our minds.

Mr. Nabarro

Will my right hon. and gallant Friend bear in mind in the course of his further inquiries that in the last three years it has cost the nation £1,500,000 per annum in administration to cope with only 45 per cent. of all the eggs laid in and imported into the country?

Mr. Dodds

I object to my Question being grouped with the others, Sir. My Question asks what action has been taken by the Department to deal with the black market in eggs and what success has attended its special efforts. I am asking not what is to be done about the issue of eggs but what action has been taken.

Major Lloyd George

I have just outlined what action will be taken.

Mr. Dodds

I want to know what action has been taken, not what action will be taken.

Sir W. Smithers

Before my right hon. and gallant Friend makes his statement, will he remember three short points—that he might as well try to control the weather as control the distribution of eggs; that controls are the cause of shortages; and that if consumption is restricted production is restricted?

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman adequately explain why it has taken so long to hatch out a policy on this subject? Is he aware that in many parts of the country it has been possible for a long time past quite legitimately to obtain eggs over the ration, whereas only a few miles away the people are limited to the ration?

Major Lloyd George

It is well known that people who have 25 hens or fewer are allowed to sell their eggs. That explains a good deal of it, but, as I said before, the scheme as such is not regarded by me as satisfactory and that is why I am looking into the whole thing to have it put right.

Mr. Dodds

As the Minister has not attempted to answer my Question, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

11. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Food the number of eggs issued per ration book for the three months ended 27th September, 1952; and how this compares with a similar period in 1951.

Major Lloyd George

An average of 18½, which is the same as for the corresponding period of 1951.

Mr. Dodds

But did not the housewives expect a better performance from a business man's Government than this, and is not this a desolate and miserable story?

23. Brigadier Clarke

asked the Minister of Food if he will reconsider the classification of a second-grade egg, and pay more attention to size and less to spots of dirt.

Major Lloyd George

I have no reason to suppose that the present standard of classification for quality, which is the same as that used for the National Mark Scheme before the war, is causing any general dissatisfaction.

Brigadier Clarke

Does my right hon. and gallant Friend appreciate that by the regulations that now exist an egg the size of a marble will command top price, whereas the biggest egg the Minister can lay will be second-grade as long as there is a spot of dirt on it?

Major Lloyd George

Dirt is a most potent cause of deterioration in eggs, and the washing of eggs drives dirt into the egg and causes more rapid deterioration. All these standards have been accepted before the war and have been accepted also by the National Farmers' Union.

Brigadier Clarke

If we could do away with this rationing system we could sell eggs more quickly and it would not matter what dirt was on them.

Mr. Norman Smith

Can the Minister say why a very large, double-yolked egg should be classified as a second-class egg?

Major Lloyd George

It must have had one of the defects mentioned. It must be dirty or have a few blood spots or some of the other things I have written down here. That is what makes it second-class.

29. Mr. Osborne

asked the Minister of Food how many eggs passed through the packing stations for the first nine months of 1950, 1951 and 1952, respectively.

Major Lloyd George

The numbers of millions of eggs which passed through the United Kingdom packing stations in the first nine months of 1950, 1951 and 1952 were 4,295, 3,923 and 3,790 respectively.

Mr. Osborne

I did not get all the figures, but does the average fall over the three years indicate a smaller production of eggs or does it uphold the allegation made so widely that more eggs are going on to the black market?

Major Lloyd George

No, Sir. There were fewer hens laying.

Mr. Manuel

Is the Minister aware that most people in Scotland get only one egg per ration book per week, and would be try to discover what is happening to the rest of the eggs that are not going to the packing stations?

Major Lloyd George

As the average over the whole country is two per week, I find it extremely difficult to know how I. as a Welshman, could be persuaded to give Scotland more than one.

Mr. J. Henderson

In view of the fact that over 1,000 million fewer eggs passed through the packing stations in 1951 compared to the number which passed through in 1950, and that according to the figures given today there will be still fewer for the first nine months of 1952, will the Minister review the whole scheme and inquire what his 500 enforcement officers are doing that there should be such a substantial decrease in the number of eggs going to the packing stations?

Major Lloyd George

My hon. Friend has his figures a little mixed; he had better look at the figures I gave in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The actual drop in the number of eggs is the same as the fall in the hen population. As far as the enforcement officers are concerned, he referred to the total in the whole of the Ministry. As there are 350,000 egg producers in this country, he will appreciate the difficulty. That is why I have decided to go into the scheme to see if we can do anything to put it right.

Mr. Snow

Is there not a weak link in this chain of distribution through the packing stations in that farmers can give three months' notice of their decision not to send eggs to a certain packing station but are not under an obligation to say where they are going to send their eggs?

Major Lloyd George

All the points that have been raised are part of the general investigation into the scheme which I am now making.

Mr. Peyton

Would the Minister consult the Minister of Agriculture as to whether there is not far too great a difference between the spring price of eggs, which is the flush season, and the price in winter, which is the period of the year when only an artist can get his hens to lay?

Major Lloyd George

I am always in the closest consultation with my right hon. Friend in this matter.

Mr. Royle

Is it a fact that the hens have gone off laying owing to the shock of the return of a Tory Government?

35. Mrs. Mann

asked the Minister of Food the number of eggs supplied per ration book during 1950, 1951 and 1952, and the amount of feedingstuffs for poultry supplied during these years, including that supplied to poultry keepers with 25 hens or fewer.

Major Lloyd George

As the reply contains a table of figures I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mrs. Mann

In view of the former reply that many million fewer eggs are being sent to the packing stations, can the Minister say whether the amount of feedingstuffs has increased or decreased?

Major Lloyd George

Perhaps the hon. Lady would look at the reply. I have tried to save time by not having to quote the figures, but I would say that the amount of feedingstuffs supplied for poultry roughly corresponds to the number of eggs produced.

Mrs. Mann

As the Minister has indicated that this amount of feedingstuffs includes poultry keepers with 25 or fewer poultry per head, who are not required to send their eggs to the packing stations, is it possible that the only way a housewife can now get eggs for her family is to become a hen wife as well as a housewife? Is the Minister aware of the great dissatisfaction throughout the whole country regarding this question of eggs? Is it not possible in this jet-propelled age for the wit of the Minister to devise some means of getting eggs to the people?

Major Lloyd George

I do not know why the hon. Lady should get so worried about this now, because it is exactly the same situation as last year and the year before.

Mrs. Mann

Utter nonsense.

Major Lloyd George

The hon. Lady has more than once said that to me, and on both occasions she has been wrong. I am making a statement, which can be proved, that the figures are based on exactly the same basis as last year, and that is the basis taken by the then Government, which the hon. Lady supported and never criticised.

Mrs. Mann

On a point of order. Is it in order, Sir, for a Minister to give a confusing reply relative to the general distribution of eggs, which may find themselves in the black market, and particularising them as having been distributed to housewives?

Mr. Speaker

There is nothing out of order in what has occurred. I think we are referred to a table of figures later on.

Following is the information:

Average number of eggs supplied per ration book Amount of feedingstuffs supplied for poultry Tons
1950 120 1,400,000
1951 102 1,455,000
First nine months of 1952 78 1,000,000

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