HL Deb 05 May 1954 vol 187 cc355-7

2.42 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether a comparison has been made during the past year between the port prices for the ingredients of the standard pig meal and the prices charged by compounders to farmers for their compounds; and, if so, how the fall in the price of the ingredients compares with that for compounds.]


My Lords, the comparison for which the noble Lord asks cannot be made at all exactly, since there are insufficient statistical data available. The best estimate we can give is that when the present basic price of pigs was determined, following the 1954 Annual Review, the average port price for ingredient feeding-stuffs, as used for the formula, had fallen since April, 1953, by about 6d. per cwt. more than the fall in the corresponding price for pig compounds delivered to farms. This difference was taken into account at the Review, at which the level of compound prices was considered, and any similar difference there may be during 1954–55 will similarly be taken into account at the next Review.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his answer, which I am bound to say I do not think will convey very much to the many pig-keepers throughout the country who are interested in this question. As I understood the noble Lord on a previous occasion, he indicated that this port price index was just a means of measuring to what extent the price of feeding-stuffs to the pig-keeper had risen or fallen. The point of my Question, surely, is: is it an accurate index? Does the rise or fall in this port price index correspond to the rise and fall in the price paid by the pig-keeper, on which the price paid to him for his pigs is based? I am bound to say that the Answer is not very informative. May I ask, therefore, whether figures can be given—perhaps in a Written Answer—showing the corresponding figures between the port price index and the price charged to the farmers by, say, the leading compounders in the country?


My Lords, the noble Lord seems displeased with my first Answer because it does not give information to pig-keepers. I was addressing myself to the noble Lord's Question, not to pig-keepers; and to the best of my ability I have answered the Question on the Order Paper. I can answer his supplementary question, which was whether or not we were satisfied that this was a proper and useful index, and was an accurate index, by saying: Yes, we are.


May I ask whether, with the fall in the port price, there was any corresponding fall in the compounders' price? As I understand it, that is what the noble Lord asked, and that is what I venture to think was not covered by the Answer.


My Lords, I answered that question. Up to the Annual Review of 1954 there had been 6d. less fall in the compounders' price than in the price of straights at the ports, according to the formula which we use, and that difference of 6d. was taken into account when deciding prices at the Annual Review, 1954.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that some of us study these prices ex-mill? We study the prices of the different classes of pig-food every week—we have to do so—and we have found no real corresponding fall in the period during which pig prices themselves have been falling to the extent which is suggested in the Answer. The Answer shows only that 6d. has been taken into account. None of my local friends in the industry feels that he has been sufficiently recompensed in the adjustment of prices to make up for this difference between port prices and mill prices of feeding-stuffs.


As I have explained on previous occasions, this formula is only an index; it is not necessarily meant to represent, and it does not represent, prices at which the farmer buys feeding-stuffs. The noble Viscount seems to distrust my figures; he does not, apparently, believe that in fact the price of feeding-stuffs has gone down. May I give him the actual figures? At the time of the 1954 Annual Review the port price of ingredients averaged over the sixteen weeks to February 20 was 29s. 2d. per cwt., a fall of 4s. 4d. compared with April, 1953. The decline in the delivered prices of compounds between April, 1953, and February, 1954, appears to have been (it is difficult to get accurate figures) somewhere in the region of 3s. 9d.


May I ask the noble Lord whether what he has said does not mean, in effect, that one does not know how long this discrepancy of 6d. had prevailed? Does it not mean that pig-keepers were paid 6d. less, because the price they received is based on the index for the same period, which, in effect, was an imposition on them because the price they received was supposed to be related to the price they paid for feeding-stuffs?


The noble Lord will appreciate that the actual price which the farmer pays for compounds also covers the compounder's marginal profits and so on, and is not necessarily all the price of the feeding-stuffs. The noble Lord will forgive me for saying this, but I have already explained twice that the difference of 6d. was taken into account at the Annual Review, and therefore no one has been a penny the worse off.


May I put it to the noble Lord that taking it into account in the Annual Review is not retroactive? If the farmers have been getting a price based on that 6d. discrepancy, the fact that it is taken into account at the Annual Review does not recoup them for what they have lost in the period when the 6d. discrepancy was in operation.

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