HC Deb 10 March 1978 vol 945 cc784-6W
Dr. Phipps

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he can yet state what is the outcome of the examination of the functions, structure and financing of the Eggs Authority.

Mr. John Silkin

During the last year my Department in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland and the Welsh Department has been engaged in a review of the role and functions of the Eggs Authority which was established in 1971 under the authority of the Agriculture Act, 1970. This has involved the examination of written submissions by, and discussions with, representatives of the whole range of interests concerned with the work which the Authority undertakes on behalf of the egg industry.

This review has established that there is a general acceptance that the Authority can play a continuing role in improving the marketing of eggs by seeking to promote sales, undertaking research and providing statistics and that it should derive its main income from a levy on egg producers. The agriculture Ministers endorse this view.

In the course of discussions a number of points were raised concerning the detail of the Authority's work and these will be passed to the Authority for its consideration. We are sure that it will consider these ideas carefully and where appropriate implement them.

Two main issues emerged from the review. First, we received strong representations from organisations representing producers that the Authority's membership structure should be altered to provide a simple majority of producer representatives below an independent chairman and vice-chairman. Having regard to developments in the industry since the Authority was founded, and in particular the fact that the Authority can no longer, in practice, intervene in the market to support producer prices in the way the 1970 Agriculture Act envisaged, we have concluded that this would be appropriate. In its current phase the Authority must, in our view, have as its chief preoccupation the promotion of egg consumption. To pursue this aim effectively it needs the full support of the producers. We are persuaded that this support will be more readily forthcoming if producers are more fully represented in the Authority.

It is therefore our intention to bring forward the legislation needed to make this change possible at the earliest appropriate time bearing in mind the pressures on the parliamentary timetable and the need to take account of the possible emergence of a European interprofessional body for the poultry industry which the EEC Commission is currently discussing with interested organisations and which could itself have implications for the functions and structure of the Eggs Authority. Meanwhile we have asked the Authority to consider ways in which it might develop even further its procedures for ensuring that its decisions take full account of the advice it receives from producer organisations.

At the same time we recognise that the aim of improving the marketing of eggs can only be achieved if the Authority is fully responsive to consumers' needs and attitudes and with full co-operation between the Authority and those concerned at all stages in the distribution chain. To this end we have asked the Authority to consider ways in which it might establish an even closer liaison with retailer and consumer organisations. These interests are, of course, represented on the Authority itself.

The second main point of discussion was how best to use the money which the Authority spends on promotion. This was of particular concern to the British Poultry Federation. We have noted that the organisations representing producers have been discussing this question amongst themselves. In particular they have been looking at the possibility of introducing a new form of scheme which would be operated under the Authority's auspices and designed to encourage promotional activity by individual companies or producers to complement the Authority's generic campaigns. The Authority is, we understand, considering in the light of these discussions whether such a scheme can be accommodated within its programme. In doing so the Authority will no doubt give full weight to the support the scheme would attract from producers. Should a new scheme be endorsed by the Authority the Government would not wish to stand in the way of its implementation.

In conclusion we would wish to thank the Authority for the efforts it has made over the last seven years to meet the challenge which Parliament set it. We thank all those who participated in the review for their advice and co-operation and hope that the Authority can look forward to many more years of useful life with the support and co-operation of all concerned.