HL Deb 19 March 1963 vol 247 cc1001-3

2.35 p.m.


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 whether they are aware of the discontent felt by egg farmers at the prices they receive for eggs as compared with prices charged in the shops; and whether, in view of the importance of the matter to all concerned, they will state current prices to farmers and current prices charged in shops per dozen eggs for large, medium and standard sizes.]


My Lords, I understand that the prices per dozen paid by the Egg Marketing Board to producers last week were 3s. 9½d. for large, 3s. 3½d. for standard and 2s. 11½d. for medium. The Board's wholesale selling prices for eggs were 4s. 4½d. for large, 4s. 2½d. for standard and 3s. 10¾d. for medium. According to information collected by the Board, retail prices last week ranged generally from 5s. 0d. to 5s. 3d. for large, 4s. 9d. to 5s. 0d. for standard, and 4s. 6d. to 4s 9d for medium. The margin between farm and shop prices at the present time is largely explained by the fact that the Board are temporarily not supporting the farm price of eggs but are, in effect, securing repayments of past advances to producers. It will be appreciated that if the Board pay producers well above market levels—as they did in the early part of 1962–63—they must recover the money later, and this is an example of the circumstances which make it hazardous to compare farm and shop prices at any one time of the year.

Both in present and in ordinary circumstances, the spread of prices between farm and shop is difficult to measure because of the interposition of the guarantee arrangements, but there is no reason to think it excessive in relation to the range of distributive operations requiring to be carried out on this fragile and perishable commodity. These include collection from the farms, grading and packing, transportation and wholesale and retail selling. In any case, I must stress that present prices, largely due to a fall in production as a result, mainly, of heavy fowl pest slaughterings and the remaining effects of the severe winter, are unusually high for the time of year.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that his Answer leads me to hope that we may at some time be able to discuss with a certain amount of detail this whole distributive system? Is he further aware that I do not dissent from the prices that he has given, because those which were given to me, for farmers, were 3s. 9d. for large eggs, 3s. 1d. for standards, and 2s. 11d. for mediums, leaving, I think, only a halfpenny between us? I do not know whether your Lordships' laughter is a compliment or not. But, leaving that aside, is the noble Lord aware that egg producers from all parts of the country feel this matter very strongly, and that they have given to me a figure of 5s. 6d. or 6s. 0d. per dozen for eggs in the shops? Furthermore, and in conclusion, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that egg producers feel that this gap is far too large? I should be glad if the noble Lord felt able to comment on that particular part.


My Lords, I think I have already commented on it, and have explained it by saying that earlier in the egg year the Egg Board were paying uneconomic prices to producers: in August, 1962, for instance, the wholesale price for large eggs was 3s. 4¾d., and the producers' price was 4s. 2½d. The money that was lost by the Egg Board in that process is now being recovered, and that explains the discrepancy in prices. I think that most egg producers must be aware that their present winter of discontent, which the noble Lady has described, is a consequence of the fairly charitable summer.


My Lords, will the noble Lord agree with me, as a last word, that it is the consumer who always seems to be at the wrong end of these particular prices?


If I may answer another question of the noble Lady, she mentioned a price of 6s. as that being charged for a dozen eggs. I do not know whether—it may be so, but, of course, it may not be—that is for eggs which have passed through the Egg Marketing Board.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend first: Are the egg producers hens? And, secondly, is he aware that his original Answer will be included in every future anthology of English prose?


I should like to think so; but, in fact, within the meaning of this Act, they are egg producers at one remove.


My Lords, would my noble friend say what is an "egg year"?


Yes, my Lords. The egg year begins, in fact, on April 1.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether the egg year begins at Easter?


Not Parliamentarily speaking, my Lords.

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