The September census return for England and Wales showed a continuing decline in the pig population. My Department, however, undertook an experimental sample inquiry on a small scale early this month. In view of the experimental nature of this it might be misleading to rely to much on the results without more experience of the methods involved. But the indications from the inquiry are that the downward trend in the breeding herd has been reversed. This experimental survey also showed an apparent intention among producers to increase the numbers of breeding stock further. Consumer demand will continue to govern the supply of pigs to the various markets, including the bacon trade.
§ Mr. Hurd
Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether, if we can get our pig breeding numbers established at about the level of the last June census, he considers that will be a fairly satisfactory level, and whether he intends to continue month by month this sample census, which seems to be very valuable?
As regards the first part of the supplementary question, I am not going to be a prophet in this matter. I said several months ago that I thought 1624 that the position disclosed in the middle of last summer concerning the pig population was not unsatisfactory. As regards the future, the next thing to which I am looking forward is seeing the December return, and I will then consider whether it will be useful or not to continue the monthly samples.
Mr. T. Williams
Is it not the case that the position of the pig industry has not been very satisfactory over several months past, and does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the observation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few months ago about Gadarene swine is to some extent responsible for the short supply to the bacon factories at the present time, and also for the high price which the housewife is paying for bacon?
I cannot say that I think that the trend over the past nine months has been unsatisfactory. A year ago we had the position in which we had too many pigs of the wrong quality, and the result was then that there was a very low market return and a very high liability on the Exchequer.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
In the interests of economy and Government expenditure, could not these periodical censuses and tests of the markets be dispensed with, and the production of pigs left more and more to the law of supply and demand and price and market mechanism?
The essential thing is that the number of pigs required is being, and will continue to be, decided by the level of demand.
I am afraid that I shall not have another opportunity for some time of answering them on T.V.
§ 29. Mr. Willey
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the number of pigs on agricultural holdings on the latest available date; and the number on the corresponding date last year.
The latest quarterly census, on the basis of a one-third sample, was taken in September last. From this the total number of pigs on agricultural 1625 holdings in England and Wales was estimated to be 4,898,000. The corresponding estimate for September, 1954, was 5,693,000 pigs.
§ Mr. Willey
In view of those figures, will the right hon. Gentleman not seek an escape by referring to the pilot survey he has mentioned but realise that there is a muddle in the pig industry and that confidence has gone out of the industry because of the failure of the right hon. Gentleman set up an orderly market?
I disagree with both conclusions of the hon. Member. Although I say I am not putting too much value on the pilot test which is being carried out, it does indicate quite significantly a reversal of the recent trend.