Mr. H. Wilson
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement about the communications he has addressed to producers of agricultural lime about the ex-works prices to be enforced by his Department; to what extent there has been consultation to ensure that the prices are fair and reasonable; whether he will give an assurance that he will not exercise his powers so as to involve dis- 18W crimination as between firm and firm in terms of their competitive position; and whether he will give an assurance that there will be no change in the policies to be followed by his Department without due notice given in Parliament.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
The Ministry recently wrote to 52 out of 341 producers of agricultural lime in England and Wales approved under the 1947 Agricultural Lime Scheme following recommendations made by an independent person appointed under the Scheme. The Scheme provides that there shall be maximum prices at which producers are allowed to offer agricultural lime eligible for subsidy. The letter concerned advised producers that it was proposed to reduce some or all of the maximum prices, for which they are at present approved, as from 1st August, 1962. These reductions—which vary from case to case—are designed to ensure that no maximum price without special justification remains approved in excess of the upper limits to approved prices recommended by the independent person following an examination of costs in the industry.
The firms concerned were given an opportunity of presenting grounds for retaining a higher price but at the same time were informed that a high cost of production or extra costs due to difficulties of production would not in themselves be a sufficient justification for retaining a price higher than that communicated to them. Regard was necessary to the availability within their marketing area of supplies from other sources capable of selling within the limits recommended by the independent person.
The new maximum prices are based upon the costs of firms supplying the same material in similar circumstances. Moreover they are calculated in such a way as to take account of the circumstances in the area concerned so that the delivered cost to the farmer does not exceed that of similar material which he can ordinarily obtain elsewhere and do not discriminate as between firm and firm.
The Agricultural Lime Producers' Council was informed by the Ministry in March of this year of the nature of the independent person's findings and recommendations and of the intention to 19W implement them. This was followed later in the month by a discussion with some members and officers of the Council. In May, the Ministry gave the Council in advance a copy of the letter it proposed to send to the producers affected. Questions concerning the maximum approved prices accorded to individual producers are not matters for consultation with the industry as a whole but with the individual firms concerned. The proposed price reductions are confined to those firms which prima facie are in receipt of approved prices at present above those at which lime supplies are generally available in their localities.