HL Deb 07 November 1972 vol 336 cc229-31

2.40 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, while appreciating the necessity to do everything possible to help industry in Northern Ireland, whether they realise how grossly unfair to the mainland egg producer, already facing bankruptcy through over-production, is the decision to subsidise the Northern Ireland egg producer by a further £1.25 million in the year ahead.


My Lords, the recently announced assistance to egg producers is part of the Government's policy of maintaining employment in Northern Ireland. We are aware that egg producers in all parts of the United Kingdom are going through a difficult period, but the Northern Ireland Employment in Agriculture Scheme has been devised to prevent any expansion of egg production in the Province. It should not therefore add to the difficulties of egg producers in Great Britain.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that reply, may I say that it has hardly convinced me? May I ask him whether he is aware that the chick placements for egg-laying in Northern Ireland have gone up since 1968 by over 25 per cent.—in fact by neatly 30 per cent—and that egg exports have increased by 17 per cent. in the last three years? This is before this new assistance is given. Is it not almost certain that there will be a further increase and is not that very undesirable?


My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, the aim of this subsidy is to maintain employment in Northern Ireland. A large number of people are dependent on agricultural employment, and it was to provide special assistance for a limited period of 15 months that this scheme was introduced. It is true that there has been some concern expressed on behalf of egg producers in Britain that they might consequently be at a disadvantage as against egg producers in Northern Ireland. I understand that as a result of explanations by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary in another place this criticism has to a large extent now been met. The figures given by the noble Loa' in his supplementary question are not accepted by my Department. but I do not think the House would want me to go into the details now.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, while I welcome the assistance to the employment position in Northern Ireland, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, is on a relevant point: that the danger to the poultry farmers in this country is that as the reduction of hatchings has been so steep in recent months—30 and 40 per cent. in July and August—the industry here will be contracted to a point where this winter there will be a serious shortage of egg production and that this will probably be permanently filled by supplies from the Continent?


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, is expert in this field, and one of the aspects of my Office that I fir d most interesting is learning about thing; of this kind. I should not care to cross swords with him, but I understand it is a fact that Northern Ireland is now producing very much the same proportion of the total of United Kingdom egg production as it did five years ago. So there is no relative expansion, and there are restrictions carefully built in to this particular scheme.