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Column 159insulated and the many roofs that need to be brought up to modern insulation standards. As the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire said, probably three quarters of British homes now have roof insulation, but only a small number have the 6 in roof insulation that is recommended by the Government and which will become mandatory for house building from April next year. The Minister may say something about that. The hon. Gentleman's figure of 15 per cent. would coincide with my estimate of the proportion of the total United Kingdom housing stock that currently has 6 in insulation.
I should like the Minister to say when he can reasonably expect 50 per cent. of houses in the United Kingdom to be insulated to the 6 in standard. When does he expect 25 per cent. or 75 per cent. of United Kingdom houses to be insulated to the 6 in standard? Does he expect that to be achieved within 10 years, 25 years, or is that a totally unrealistic target, given his budget for energy efficiency work? Cardiff is not the only energy action city. There are many. There are five in Wales alone. I do not know the figure for the United Kingdom. Neighbourhood insulation schemes are run by a
non-profit-making company in Newcastle, Neighbourhood Energy Action, and a good outfit it is. The problem is that a major catastrophe has engulfed neighbourhood energy action programmes up and down the land. I do not think that I am exaggerating--that is as I understand it from people working in the sector.
By and large, programmes will grind to a halt. They cannot cope with the change from community programme funding to employment training funding. Apart from Hull, most cities are not able to find volunteers under the current rules for benefit payment. Obviously, the major impulse for neighbourhood energy action insulation programmes has not come just from householders wanting insulation, and wanting insulation done on the cheap. It has been a by-product of the benefit system and of high unemployment. It is certainly now running into the sand. By and large, people are not willing to operate just for benefits-plus.
The previous scheme under community programme rules, whereby people got £20 a day for three days' work was not wildly popular, but it was not too bad. Most schemes are running into heavy weather. The phrase "grinding to a halt" is not an exaggeration, although I am told that Hull is an exception. I hope that the Minister will say something about that.
If the benefits-plus system is not working for the people who operate energy insulation schemes, we must think of something else, otherwise the momentum and the skills that have been built up among supervisory and estimating staff and in the production of insulation material will reach a serious crisis.
We need to consider what we must do about the elderly. The elderly are major beneficiaries of neighbourhood energy action schemes. They are the most vulnerable group. In general, they spend about twice as much of their weekly income on heating in the winter as the population in general spend. On average, pensioners spend about 15 per cent. of their weekly income on heating. The figure is much higher for those who do not have gas central heating. They would spend about 20 per cent., maybe even
Column 160more. It is not unknown for pensioners to spend 25 per cent. of their weekly income on heating. They hit a severe crisis if there is a really cold winter. In January and February, pensioners go through an extremely difficult time. The phenomenon is almost uniquely British.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire mentioned building standards, which are extremely important, and discussed what we should do with buildings erected before the first world war to completely different insulation standards and to buildings built since then but with very poor cavity wall insulation or none at all. Such buildings are frequently inhabited by pensioners, who find it extremely expensive to keep warm in them. Hypothermia among the elderly is a largely British phenomenon. It is not found in Scandinavia, where building standards are much higher and where pensions are higher in relation to the cost of fuel. In Britain, the death rate shoots up in winter. Objective sources estimate that an additional 15,000 to 20,000 winter deaths occur in Britain. They do not occur in Germany, Scandinavia or Holland because they are caused by a combination of poor building standards, inadequate pensions and high fuel prices. Cot deaths, too, may be related, but I shall confine my remarks to hypothermia, which is an almost uniquely British disease.
The Government do not yet seem to have adopted with any enthusiasm the EEC proposals under which it is hoped to introduce trials for an energy labelling scheme for houses in Cardiff just before Christmas. The scheme is to be conducted on a voluntary basis and in Cardiff alone. We need to know whether the Government are willing to consider introducing such arrangements. In Denmark an energy surveyor has to affix ratings to houses so that people know whether they are getting an energy-efficient house.
Such a scheme would probably be desirable in this country. We have a history of voluntary arrangements in this country, but when a crisis hits we opt for intervention, and perhaps the time has come for the Government to introduce a scheme for labelling houses--a kind of MOT test of their ability to retain heat or to be heated to a reasonable, civilised standard without costing the earth. A large number of small houses are still built without a central heating system being installed. Heating is supposed to be added by the occupier. Nothing in the building regulations for England and Wales--Scotland is different--says that an adequate heating system must be installed when a house is built, which is a major omission. I hope that the Minister will touch on at least some of the topics that I have raised.
The Minister of State, Department of Energy (Mr. Peter Morrison) : Even at this rather late hour, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) for raising this important subject. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) for participating in the debate, which gives me an opportunity to reaffirm in strong terms--very strong terms--the Government's commitment to energy efficiency. It is a firm commitment, which has been demonstrated in a range of effective programmes ; it has produced results and we intend to build on it in the future.
Column 161I hope that the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire will accept that the commitment of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to energy efficiency is genuine. The hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend may not agree about everything, but I am sure that he would accept that she always speaks with commitment and conviction. I hope that I do not need to spend too much time on the reasons for being committed to energy efficiency, many of which have already been mentioned. The primary reason is straightforward and economic. It resides in the extent of the opportunities for energy efficiency improvement. The size of the national energy bill, some £38 billion a year, and of the estimated savings, nearly £8 billion a year, is staggering. In industry and commerce alone, the total expenditure on energy last year was nearly £10 billion, which suggest that a savings potential of nearly £2 billion is achievable. Much of that can be achieved simply through low-cost, good housekeeping measures, and the rest by investment and good pay-back periods.
The narrow economic argument is not the only reason for being interested in energy efficiency, as all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate have said. Another particularly important and topical issue is the environmental consequences, and clearly energy efficiency measures which help to minimise these consequences must be part of an overall package of measures to deal with these problems. There are wider benefits relating to energy efficiency and perhaps I may enumerate some. Energy efficiency provides a valuable insurance policy against possible upsets on the supply side. It helps make the best possible use of our indigenous resources, leads to better growth and competitiveness, helps to create jobs, and brings social benefits in improving living conditions, especially for older and low income groups. However we consider this, there are no shortage of good reasons for taking energy efficiency seriously, and the Government do precisely that.
In the domestic sector the Energy Efficiency Office has done much to build up an awareness of the importance of energy efficiency in the home through its publicity programmes. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire was generous enough to refer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) when he was Secretary of State for Energy. We have provided consumers with practical information on how to save money by saving energy and we have worked with others--recently, I took an initiative with building societies--to reinforce this message.
We have been giving special attention to the problems of pensioners and low -income households. We have supported the development of over 450 community insulation projects which install draught proofing and loft insulation for people who would find it difficult to take these measures themselves. Over 500,000 homes have been treated under this scheme.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West raised his concern about the translation of the community programme to the adult training programme. The Training Commission and my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Employment are directing themselves to this matter.
Under the homes insulation scheme operated by the Department of the Environment and the territorial departments, the Government have helped around 3.5 million people to install loft insulation, which over 90 per
Column 162cent. of homes now have. This scheme has recently targeted on low-income householders to ensure that help goes to those who need it most.
The hon. Gentleman asked some detailed questions, and I am assured that these matters are for my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of the Environment ; I shall ensure that they receive copies of his points, to which I am sure they will reply.
Mr. Morgan : The Minister's point about the number of homes that already have loft insulation is valid. The problem is that complacency has frequently set in among householders who have their 1 in or 2 in of insulation, which was all that was recommended 10 or 15 years ago. Now that the Government have decided to go for 6 in of insulation as a recommended standard, it seems time to stir the pot again and tell all those householders who think, "Loft insulation, we've got it," that it is time to have another look to see if they should increase it.
We operate a range of programmes aimed at industry and commerce. The monitoring and targeting programme aims to develop energy management systems for 40 sectors of industry and commerce. Twenty-five such systems have been developed already, and have been installed on some 600 sites. They are producing savings averaging around 10 per cent. in the companies that install them, and total savings from this scheme amount to nearly £100 million.
The demonstrations programme aims to help new energy efficiency technologies get into the market place. More than 350 projects have been supported and savings amount to nearly £200 million. Our research and development programme aims to help innovation by developing new energy efficiency technologies. One hundred and twenty-nine projects have been supported of many different types, including industrial plant and process and building services and design. However, our main objective is to get relevant advice direct to the consumer, which means activity in the regions through our network of regional energy efficiency officers. They help market our schemes, set up seminars and workshops, visit major energy users and point them towards sources of advice and practical help. In short, they bring the energy efficiency message home to those who can most benefit from it. We shall be providing our regional offices with more resources and better support in the future.
The programmes of the Energy Efficiency Office can be judged by their direct result. As I have already said, more than 500,000 low-income households have been treated under community insulation projects. Savings of nearly £100 million per year are being made through the monitoring and targeting programme, and savings of nearly £200 million per year are being achieved through the efficiency demonstration scheme. Furthermore, savings of more than £200 million per year have been identified through the former energy efficiency survey scheme.
Overall, therefore, the savings attributable to the activities of the Energy Efficiency Office amount to more than £500 million a year, and more than 4 million consumers have been directly helped by our programme. Far from being insignificant, the resources devoted to
Column 163energy efficiency by the Government have been considerable, and they have risen substantially since 1983. Taking account of direct expenditure by the Energy Efficiency Office, the homes insulation scheme and community insulation projects, some £42 million in total was spent in 1983-84, while in 1987-88 expenditure on those programmes had doubled. The total spent in that year was some £84 million. To be honest, that compares with very much less when the Labour Government left office in 1979.
On a wider economic basis, the results are also very impressive. Despite the considerable fall in energy prices since 1983, there was a 7 per cent. improvement--worth more than £2 billion--in the efficiency with which energy was used across the economy between 1983 and 1987. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire was concerned about the rate of improvement, and I can tell him that, in the United Kindom, which was previously well below the European average, it is now twice that average.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North referred to the energy audit. We are opposed to what the Commission was proposing as a draft directive ; I was at that Council. We were opposed to it because there are no sanctions, so it would be ineffective, and it would require the householder to pay an average bill of about £200. I do not believe that that would be either acceptable or desirable in the way that it is presently proposed.
The Energy Efficiency Office has succeeded in establishing energy efficiency as a key issue, and raising awareness of its importance among consumers. Against that background, we have been considering where we can continue to be most effective. I hope that all hon. Members will agree that there is simply no point in spending taxpayers' money unnecessarily to subsidise people to do what they already know is in their interest.
Mr. Speller : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making a valid point about how much the Government have tried to do over the past years to encourage people to use energy efficiently in their homes. However, I have yet to see any sign of the gas or the electricity authorities showing an interest in reducing the demand for their products. I understand the economic illogic of that, but I have yet to see them saying that they would like to promote energy efficiency to the individual housewife.
Mr. Morrison : I think that my hon. Friend is perhaps less than fair to the gas and electricity industries--I shall deal specifically with the electricity industry in a moment. In my travels over the past 18 months, I have seen both industries running competitions to promote precisely what he and I would like to see--energy efficiency. I do not believe that my hon. Friend has given a totally fair critique of the industries, but no doubt they will read this debate carefully and pay attention to what my hon. Friend has said. I hope that all hon. Members would agree that there is no point spending taxpayers' money unnecessarily to subsidise people to do what they already know is in their own interests. Therefore, we must consider carefully what the Government do to ensure that everything is properly directed. That is the background to the review, the results of which were announced in June.
Column 164The review concluded, among other things, that, since awareness of the need for energy efficiency was now fairly high, there is now less need than in the past for high-profile advertising programmes, expensive razzmatazz and the breakfasts to which the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire referred.
Hence, the case for large amounts of expenditure in this area now seems less compelling.
It is that firm base of achievement that allows us to move forward to a new phase in our activities. In that new phase, the emphasis will be on targeting key areas of energy use, and offering specific advice and technical support. We shall be developing new schemes with that objective.
One aspect of targeting means local delivery in response to local needs. In the new phase, much more attention will therefore be given to the work of the regional energy efficiency officers. We will be strengthening the financial and advisory support available to them, allowing them to offer a better service to industry and commerce in their regions.
One example of the more targeted approach to which we are moving, is the recent "Heat is on" campaign aimed specifically at three major energy-using sectors--chemicals, ceramics and metal. Those three sectors alone account for around half of industrial energy use, and we have tried to bring together the advice and support the EEO can offer from its various programmes to help consumers in those sectors. Meanwhile, other important work continues.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North referred to combined heat and power and I heartily agree with him about its potential importance. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have provided strong support and encouragement for the development and application of economic CHP technology.
The Energy Efficiency Office has supported 25 research, development and demonstration projects featuring CHP plant in industry, buildings and communal heating schemes. We have also provided substantial funding towards studies to evaluate the feasibility of citywide combined heat and power district heating.
I believe that privatisation of the electricity industry will provide growing opportunities for private generation, including CHP. Our aim is to ensure that all economic sources of electricity supply will have fair access to the market.
For the first time independent generators will be able to compete on an equal footing with the two major generating companies being created from the CEGB. After privatisation the Director General of Electricity Supply will be able to investigate anti-competitive practices, and the privatised companies will also be subject to general competition law.
The Government will therefore be fulfilling their proper role--of providing fair market conditions. The CHP producers will be able to compete freely with other forms of power generation. The future of CHP will then depend not on further public funding but on whether it can compete successfully. I have every confidence that it will be able to do so. In view of its high thermal efficiency and
Column 165versatility to which my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North referred, CHP will be well placed to take every advantage of the new opportunities.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West was concerned about electricity privatisation. In our proposals for the privatisation of the electricity supply industry, we have taken full account of the need for energy efficiency while balancing it against the primary objective of introducing competition and private sector disciplines. I do not believe that it would be right to require the industry to subsidise energy efficiency on the part of its consumers. That would be an unwelcome return to over-regulation, and it would force the industry to act uncommercially, so undermining the key objectives of privatisation.
What we have done in the Bill, however, as the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire knows, is to require the Director General of Electricity Supply to promote the efficient use of electricity, and we intend, in the licence, to insist that the industry tells the consumer how best to pursue this objective. I think that that answers the point made my my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North. Turning to the greenhouse effect, the need to maintain sustainable economic development while protecting our natural environment is one of the most important challenges facing the world today, and the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire is right to refer to the relevance of the greenhouse effect to our debate. However, we have to see this issue in a wider perspective. Fossil fuel burn is one important producer of carbon dioxide emissions and so contributes to the greenhouse effect, but other gases in the atmosphere also contribute.
At the same time, it has to be said that the United Kingdom accounts for only around 3 per cent. of world carbon dioxide emissions, and the problems are as yet imperfectly understood.
Column 166The time scales of the exact effect on world climate patterns and the possible rise in sea levels are uncertain. The United Kingdom will continue to play its full part in reducing these uncertainties as quickly as possible through co-ordinated international research. The Government will take whatever action is shown to be necessary as our understanding develops, but I also accept that we need to take action now where it is sensible to do so. It is clear that there is no single, simple solution, whether in energy efficiency or in nuclear power, but it is also clear that both these things have their part to play.
The Government certainly recognise the links between energy efficiency and the environment. All means of producing energy have some environmental consequences, and energy efficiency helps keep them to a minimum. That is one good reason among many for promoting energy efficiency.
We have had a useful debate, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising this subject. I hope I have also been able to demonstrate the Government's full-hearted commitment to energy efficiency. The fact is that we have provided much more support for energy efficiency than any previous Government. And we have not simply thrown money indiscriminately at the problem. Our programmes have been built up carefully to ensure the maximum effectiveness and impact. We have an excellent record of achievement, and we are building on that firm basis to target our activities even more effectively.
Our programmes have directly benefited industry and commerce, low-income consumers and old-age pensioners, as well as bringing wider social and environmental advantages. This is a record of which the Government can be justly proud, and I commend it to the House.
Sir Hal Miller (Bromsgrove) : I welcome to the debate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department with responsibility for the subject we are to discuss.
Contrary to some reports, I have at no time been lobbied by the National Farmers Union or by any producer organisations connected with the egg or poultry industries. I also want to make it plain that I have never sought, publicly or privately, the resignation of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), whose services to the Department of Health I much admired and supported. I welcome the speedy reaction of Ministers and the open and responsible action they are seeking to take. Only a fortnight ago, I rolled out of bed at 7 am and groaned as I heard the radio report of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary's remarks. I stopped an hour later in the Cotswolds for breakfast and appreciated the extent of the worry that had been caused to housewives. I realised what a problem we had on our hands. But no one could have foreseen the rapidity with which it developed or the size that it assumed.
The test of the measures announced by the Government is whether they will restore the housewife's confidence in eggs. Anything else that we do for producers is merely applying sticking plaster. The test must be whether we are doing enough to restore the confidence of the housewife. I wish to resolve the uncertainty in the shopper's mind.
The plain fact is that the housewife suspended her purchase of eggs. Institutional purchases subject to the Department of Health had already been suspended after letters from the regional health authorities to homes and hospitals. That could account for about 12 per cent. of egg consumption, and some people put it as high as 20 per cent. That was a serious blow. But this is a cyclical industry. There was a poor start to 1988, but matters improved in the middle of the summer, with a reduction in chick placings, and the industry was looking forward to 1989 following a successful Christmas season. It is ironic that the housewife suspended her purchases precisely in the week when normally most eggs are sold.
To give the House an idea of what is involved, I quote figures supplied by the central egg agency in my constituency. In the corresponding week in 1987, egg producers shipped more than 13,000 cases. This year, the figure was just under 6,900. In the following week in 1987, the figure was 9,100. This year it was 1,500. That is not a drop of one sixth, but one sixth of shipments. In the week just concluded, instead of 9,100 in 1987, the figure was 2,100. That is a serious decline by anyone's standards. I shall not bore the House with all the prices, but at 30 November the price for grade 2 eggs--that is what my wife buys--was 55.56p per dozen. The week before last, the price was 28p and last week it was 26p. It does not need much imagination to understand what has happened. If we compare those figures with the production cost, which should be put at about 45p per dozen, the consequences for the producer are all too clear. One can understand the producers' feelings of anguish and anxiety, because the exact nature of that with which they have been charged has never been properly defined. Those who have carried out tests regularly have been
Column 168tarred with the same brush of suspicion as the producers of contaminated eggs. They regard that as most unfair, quite apart from being most damaging to their reputation and business. It is worth bearing in mind that many of those businesses are family businesses which have been built up over the last 20 years and involve exactly those people whom it has been the Government's business, to encourage with such success.
My concern has been to identify, define and locate the risk so that we can deal with it. We have already dealt with similar problems in agricultural food production. Outbreaks of foot and mouth disease, swine vesicular disease or fowl pest are confined to the farms where they have been reported and no movement of animals or feed is allowed on or off such farms, while the rest of the industry can continue its work. The housewife's confidence, which is all-important, is not affected because she knows that the necessary measures have been taken to confine the trouble to where it has been identified and located.
I hope that we shall achieve this in the case of salmonella enteriditis which is prevalent in our laying flocks. I do not necessarily believe that it is prevalent in eggs. The extent of its prevalence must be put into context. I have had an answer today confirming that there have been 49 outbreaks affecting 1,000 people arising from the consumption, not the production, of eggs. That leaves wide open the question whether it is in the distribution chain, in the storage or in the kitchen or perhaps comes about through human infection.
The former Department of Health and Social Security's figures show that there were 450 outbreaks of salmonella in 1987 affecting 26,000 people, of which at least 20 per cent. were traced to people returning from holidays in one of our EEC partner countries which I had better not name here. That compares with 49 outbreaks affecting 1,000 people of which it is believed that 70 per cent. involved free range hens and eggs. Those people who seek to blame all this trouble on battery producers--we should remember that many producers have both battery and free range hens--have been wide of the mark.
Let me return to the uncertainty that surrounds the matter. Are the tests being carried out satisfactorily? Do they define whether the disease is present? Can anyone tell us what the risk and effect is? So far, we have heard of about 49 outbreaks in 1,000 people, but we have not been told whether they felt off colour for a day, whether they were seriously ill or whether they were mortally affected. When this suspicion is about, the prudent housewife wonders whether she should buy eggs. The Government's advertisement does not help her make her decision. It says, in effect, "Buy eggs, but beware", but of what is she being asked to beware? Those 49 outbreaks must have been identified to be reported. I presume that they can be located from that identification. Action should be taken to confine the disease to the place where it has been located. I have learned from a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that under an order that some of us may have a little difficulty in pronouncing called the Zoonoses Order 1975, powers exist to
"restrict the movement of animals, birds or their products, including eggs, from any place where salmonella has been found present".
Column 169but that there is a perception among the public--rightly or wrongly--that the fowl that lay our eggs are fed a somewhat unsuitable diet? The perception has nothing to do with candour or movement. However, until the industry in which both my hon. Friend and I have a constituency interest, can say that our fowls' food is such and such, we will never get faith back in the chicken or egg markets.
Sir Hal Miller : My hon. Friend has a great deal more experience of these matters than me. I will consider feed in a moment, but if my hon. Friend will forgive me I want to finish the point that I was making about the need to explain to the people what the outbreaks are, where they took place and what action is being taken to contain them.
I referred to other agricultural products which could be confined to the affected farm. As my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) will be aware, one must consider the feed that is given to pigs. One must consider its constituent parts and also its preparation on the farm.
The tests are very important for the responsible producers who undertake them. If 60 or 70 per cent. of the industry is undertaking the tests why should its products be tarred unfairly with the brush of suspicion if the tests are adequate? If they are not adequate, why can we not have a test that is adequate? As well as the producers carrying out tests, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is also carrying out tests. The Ministry station in Wolverhampton responsible for the midlands has carried out tests on more than 100 farms, but it has not found one positive result. The producers in my constituency who have carried out tests have produced similar results.
I want to give priority to restoring the housewife's confidence. That must be the acid test. On that basis, I was a little disappointed that the health measures about the food and monitoring came at the end of today's statement from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I am grateful to Ministers for introducing the voluntary codes with such speed. However, I had hoped that we could have heard that it was the Government's intention to proceed to a statutory code for better enforcement. The housewife wants to know that there is statutory protection available for food to allow her to feel confident when she buys food for her family.
The Minister's statement alludes to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North about monitoring animal feed and strengthening controls relating to imported protein. There have been rumours that unsuitable elements have entered the food chain through feed preparation-- even including offal and, some suggest, diseased offal or deceased birds. That aspect should be brought out more into the open, so that the public may be confident about what is going into the chicken, and therefore about what is unlikely to be contained in the egg.
The housewife is paramount in all of this, but I turn now to the producer. I ask my hon. Friend whether the balance between the two short-term measures announced today is fixed and final, or whether I can persuade him to give more attention to the desirability of culling more hens from the laying flock. My constituents strongly believe, as I do, that there will be a stepped decline in egg
Column 170consumption and that the only way to restore market order in the medium to long term will be to reduce the flock.
As I said before, earlier this summer producers had already taken steps to reduce their laying flock. They now believe that more hens than the 4 million mentioned in this afternoon's statement should be taken out. If necessary, they might be prepared to accept a lower payment for them, provided that not just the hens are taken out but the associated equipment. In other words, they are asking for a lever scheme to reduce the size of the laying flock.
Over the past two weeks, I have tried to ensure that definite information will be made available about the nature of the risk, that it will be confined to the affected farms, or that, if it is not possible for it to be so confined, that a slaughter policy exists to ensure the removal of that risk. All those measures are designed to restore the confidence of the housewife, who alone can determine the producers' future.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : I welcome the opportunity provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) to debate the important matter of the salmonella that has allegedly contaminated this country's egg production.
The egg producers whom I represent and I welcome the speed with which the Ministry acted to save the industry. It took only two weeks for a decision to be made, to devise a workable system for producing £17 million of aid, and to help the culling of 2 million birds and the purchase of 15 million eggs daily. Not only that, but my right hon. and hon. Friends have produced a seven-point hygiene plan for tackling the problems of salmonella.
If the matter could rest there we could say that the whole industry was safe and the problem was solved, but I hope that my hon. Friends will continue to pursue the policies that resulted in today's announcement. I do not feel that the public--as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove has said--are clear about the position. In my view, two aims should now be vigorously pursued : first, to inform the public that eggs are safe to consume, and, secondly, to take further measures to protect the industry.
Mr. Speller : I hope that my hon. Friend does not mean that it is more important to say that eggs are safe to eat and thus protect the industry than to remember those who consume the product. Does he agree that our hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) was perhaps a trifle defeatist? Our aim must surely be to get the egg industry up and running again and to give confidence to the housewife. We can do that only by starting at the root of the problem--the feed--and then making people confident enough to eat what has been fed on it.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was asked on Friday afternoon, when he made a statement, whether he agreed with the comment by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) in a television interview that most egg production in the country was affected by salmonella. He made it clear that that was not correct. We have got to
Column 171push that message, but so far the advertising campaign that has unfortunately become necessary to impress it on the public's mind has been surrounded by too many reservations. The fact is that 13 million eggs are consumed per day--or were ; the figure is only half that now--and there have been only 1,500 cases of salmonella and about 50 outbreaks. We understand that the source is roughly 10 farms in the whole country. The message to the public is that they have a 200 million to one chance of catching salmonella from eggs, and that if they cook the eggs correctly they reduce that chance to virtually nothing.
The media do not seem to have got that message very clear. They are being extremely confused by the barrage of expert opinion that has suddenly come forward. Tonight on the 9 o'clock news we heard again from Professor Lacey of Leeds university, who repeated that salmonella had made egg consumption dangerous. But he does not seem to be producing any evidence.
The Department of Health laboratories have reported from their research on 40 cases that they have traced the cause back to eggs. I understand that a private health investigator called Mr. North, who was interviewed on television this evening, says that he is investigating those 40 cases afresh, and that in his view they have a common factor--poor handling of food, in this case eggs. He has drawn the conclusion that the salmonella cases investigated by the Department of Health have much more in common with the mishandling and poor storage of eggs than with their production.
Ministers in both the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Health, together with their research scientists, must consider that factor. A classic case of salmonella poisoning has been reported this week. Turkey, which had been frozen, was served at a dinner, but because it had not been properly cooked 40 of the guests suffered from salmonella poisoning. That proves the point that handling, storage and cooking have an important role to play. The results of research into salmonella in eggs, where salmonella has been excluded, have not been published. The Department of Health is in possession of evidence that is based on research to which hon. Members have not had access. If the results of that research were to be published, it would help to reassure the public that eggs are safe to consume. Those who are connected with agriculture, health and hygiene could evalute the quality of the research and draw appropriate conclusions. At the moment, there is far too much confusion. Ministers could play a major role in helping to solve that problem by publishing the results of the research.
Ministers are also pursuing the aim of protecting the industry by making it ready for the day when the demand for eggs recover. I feel sure that that day is not far off. Britain's egg-producing industry is 99 per cent. efficient. We want it to remain just as efficient. Ministerial plans will help the industry to remain as productive and as able to meet demand as it was in the past.
We must also try to protect jobs. Twenty people in my constituency who were employed in the egg-producing industry have already lost their jobs. That is a disaster in an area where there is high unemployment. Eggs will be imported. If there is less control over the hygienic production of imported eggs, that will increase, not
Column 172decrease, the chances of salmonella infection. Not the least important point is that the cost of eggs, an essential food, will rise.
Today some of my hon. Friends seemed almost to resent the rescue plans that Ministers have introduced to protect egg producers. My hon. Friends forget that Ministers are also protecting consumers. It is in the interests of consumers that the industry should be able to provide adequate, cheap and hygienic supplies of eggs when demand recovers. It is as much in the interests of consumers as it is in the interests of the industry that my hon. Friends should support the measures that Ministers have introduced. Probably the most important factor is that it is in all our interests that the British egg-producing industry should remain strong and able to provide this most important food.
I was sad about the hysterical reception of the statements about egg production. The industry is geared up to meet a high demand. The 50 per cent. drop in egg production in my constituency and in many other parts of the country was felt almost immediately. Chickens cost 50p a week to feed. Chicks are constantly being born to replace the egg-laying birds. It is a very intensive industry, with high overheads. The drop in demand has had a disastrous effect on producers. We have witnessed the immediate results.
We must not forget that the egg-producing industry needs cereals. There will be a knock-on effect. If egg production is reduced, the cereal mountain will grow larger. The effect will work its way through our agriculture industry.
I repeat, and I hope that the press will bear it in mind, that the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service has recently carried out research across the country involving thousands of eggs from 106 different locations and did not find one case of salmonella. Samples of eggs have been taken from producers in my constituency and not one case of salmonella has been found. I understand that eggs with salmonella have been found in 10 farms in the country. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will confirm that that is the case so that we can reassure the public that salmonella is limited to that number of outlets. At least that will give some reassurance.
Regrettably, we have lost a Minister because of this matter. It is quite clear that what was said by the Department of Health has led to the crisis in the egg-producing industry. We have lost an able Minister who has made a major contribution to the House, and politics will be poorer for not having her at the Dispatch Box. But there is one clear lesson. What we say as public figures will be taken notice of and we must be extremely careful in our statements. At this stage, we can be clear and careful in our statements and repeat the message that there is a 200 million to one chance of catching salmonella from eggs. That is less chance than I have of being killed on my way home, driving my car through the streets of London. I would be safer eating half a dozen eggs than driving three or four miles to my home. Every time we step off a pavement we are in more danger of being killed than we are of catching salmonella from eating an egg. Those are the statistics, yet people are not afraid of getting into their cars to go to work or of walking on a pavement.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove and I will be saying to our constituents that on Christmas day, before our turkey and Christmas pudding, we shall enjoy a plateful of eggs florentine in the
Column 173safe assumption that we will not catch salmonella. At the same time, we shall be helping and supporting the egg industry in Britain. I hope that the rest of the House will feel able to do the same. 2.38 am
Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly) : If I were the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind), I would not bet on my chances of survival-- especially if he is in front of me when I drive home at 4 o'clock this morning.
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) on his good fortune in winning a high place in the ballot, which allows us to debate this important subject at an early hour, and his wisdom in choosing a subject which is to the fore of public attention. I very much welcome the way in which he introduced the debate. It was measured and rational and made a pleasant change from some of the remarks that we have come to associate with those who have commented on the egg industry in recent weeks. I also extend my personal welcome to the Minister, who I understand has come hot-foot from Brussels. He has also brought back a cold. I am sure that he would have wished to have returned in different circumstances, but we welcome him nevertheless. He is doubly unfortunate in that he has a cold and he also has to answer for the actions of his ministerial colleagues. I suspect that his task will not be easy.
The subject for debate is the egg industry. I make no apology for turning my attention to this afternoon's statement from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. That statement was welcomed by the hon. Members for Bromsgrove and for Lancashire, West but I suspect that the hon. Member for Bromsgrove queried the effectiveness of the statement and has looked more carefully at the details of the statement than he could have at 3.30 this afternoon. If he has, I suspect that he has reached the same conclusions as I have. The scheme announced by the Minister is deficient in each of its three components.
The three principal objectives of the scheme are to reduce the egg surplus, to reduce egg-laying capacity and to reassure the housewife about the safety and wholesomeness of eggs.
The Minister announced that the first measure will be to "provide a payment to egg packers for the destruction of surplus eggs for a period of four weeks from 21 December. The payment will be at the rate of 30p per dozen eggs on up to 1.1 million cases." Optimistically, the Minister continued by saying that that "will tackle the overhang of eggs in the system."
As a result of the events of the past couple of weeks there are now more than 400 million surplus eggs, many of which have been in the hands of producers for several weeks.
If we compare the £17 million which has been made available with the Minister's first commitment to pay 30p per dozen up to 1.1 million cases, we get some idea of the magnitude of the problem. Thirty pence is the minimum amount necessary to produce a dozen eggs, taking into account food and limited packaging. The cost of 1.1 million cases would be £9.9 million but, 1.1 million cases covers fewer than the current surplus of 400 million eggs. Therefore, the first bite of that £17 million is £9.9 million to remove 1.1 million cases of eggs.