§ 3.12 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps are being taken to ascertain whether Polish eggs are in fact being dumped in this country; and, if they are, how long it will be before adequate preventive measures can come into force.]
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, no question of preventive measures in the form of an anti-dumping duty could arise unless my right honourable friend 1194 the President of the Board of Trade is satisfied that material injury is being caused or threatened to the British egg producers. It has not been suggested to my right honourable friend that the current level of imports of shell eggs from Poland is causing or threatening such injury. An application was made on February 27 by the Egg Marketing Board for imposition of anti-dumping duty on the grounds that material injury is threatened by the expected dumping of imports from Poland during the egg year beginning April, 1962. My right honourable friend is considering this application and is in touch with the Polish authorities about their intentions.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, would it not also be worth taking into consideration the threat not only to the standard of living of the British egg producer, who to some extent is safeguarded by guaranteed prices and deficiency payments, but also to the British taxpayer, who, if the prices of eggs to the producer drop lower as a result of imports, has to "fork out" still more in Supplementary Estimates in order to make good the deficiency?
My Lords, under the Customs Duties (Dumping and Subsidies) Act my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade always has to take three things into consideration when he is considering applications. He has to be satisfied that produce is dumped. He also has to be satisfied that this is causing or threatening material injury to the industry concerned. And, thirdly—and this is, I think, the answer to the noble Lord's question—he has to be satisfied that it is in the national interest to impose a duty. The noble Lord can rest assured that these matters are taken into consideration when these applications are considered.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, but will the noble Earl make representations to his right honourable friend in this matter, because it appears that last year's pattern is repeating itself? Last week 4½ million Polish eggs were imported compared with ¾ million a month ago. Last year in April 70 million Polish eggs were imported. Although the noble Earl may think we are "hollering before we are hurt", surely it is in the public interest that we should shout now, 1195 rather than have to bemoan our fate next year over another £20 or £30 million on the Supplementary Estimates.
My Lords, the application is now in for the future, almost hypothetical, case. But I should not like the noble Lord to think that the imports of Polish eggs now are running higher than they were at this time last year, because the exact contrary is the case. In January this year about 1,000 boxes of Polish eggs were imported, whereas in January, 1961, there were nearly 7,000 boxes. I have later figures which I can discuss with the noble Lord later and which show that the imports of Polish eggs now are very substantially less than they were at this time last year.
§ LORD PEDDIE
My Lards, would the noble Lord give an indication to the House as to the proportionate increase in the importation of Polish eggs, comparing 1959 to the present date, as compared to the importation of eggs from other sources?
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I think the noble Earl would agree that it is not only a question of the amount of imports, whether they are from Poland or elsewhere, that has to be taken into account, but of the proportion they make up of the total egg consumption of this country. And I think he would agree that the production of eggs in this country has increased to such an extent over the last twelve months that even were the importation of Polish eggs to remain at a lower level than last year's, the effect on the price might well be far greater for a smaller quantity of imports than was the case last year for a larger quantity of imports.
My Lords, what effect various quantities of imports would have on price is, to a certain extent, a matter of conjecture. But I would, of course, agree with the noble Lord that the production of shell eggs from home sources provides almost the whole—I think, over 97 per cent.—of our total consumption. From the point of view of consumption of fresh eggs, any imports are very marginal.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, if last year's April glut of Polish eggs repeats itself this year, can the noble Earl say whether the Government will be able to take steps quickly enough to stop that from doing severe damage?
My Lords, the Egg Marketing Board, which is the proper authority to put in an application, has put in an application; and I would remind noble Lords that on occasion when the effects can be readily established the anti-dumping machinery can work very fast. I would advise noble Lords to recall what happened last year in connection with the barley application.
§ LORD PEDDIE
My Lords, may I ask a question on the current figures? What is the proportion to date of Polish imports out of the total imports during this past year?
I am not quite sure whether I heard the noble Lord aright. May I communicate with him on those figures, as I do not have them readily available at the moment?