HC Deb 19 February 1951 vol 484 cc864-6
9. Mr. Ralph Morley

asked the Minister of Food what have been the results of his discussions with the repective trades on high fish and rabbit prices.

40. Mr. Chetwynd

asked the Minister of Food whether he will make a statement on the imposition of price controls on rabbits following his conversations with the trade.

Mr. Webb

Although it is not yet possible to draw final conclusions of the effects of the recent heavy landings of fish, I am glad to say that the consumers are already getting some benefit from them. Many prices are still high—principally of quality fish which remain scarce, but the retail price of cod has fallen between 2d. and 3d. a 1b.—and in many cases to around the old controlled level. However, since the heavy landings began just over a week ago, I have been carrying out a detailed investigation to find out how far and how widely the retail prices reflect the substantial fall which took place in the price at the ports. That survey will take account of the price over last week-end and during this week, and I will base any further action on the evidence it produces.

As to rabbits—prices remain high, but there has been no marked general upward movement in the last two weeks. In some districts, indeed, there has been a fall in price. Supply remains short owing to reduced supplies from overseas suppliers, and continued unsuitable weather for home trapping. Even in the most favourable circumstances of good supply, as all experience has shown, it is very difficult— if not impossible—to impose an effective control over rabbit prices. In present conditions, it would, as I have already said, be an even more hazardous undertaking. A controlled price which went at all seriously below the price now prevailing, would stop all overseas supplies coming in (these account for about 50 per cent.), and thus drive the remainder into underground trading channels. In these circumstances, I should only be justified in taking the risks of imposing controls if, (a) present prices went any higher; and (b) if any considerable increase in supplies failed to effect a reasonable reduction in present prices.

Mr. Morley

If his survey of fish prices is not satisfactory in the near future, will my right hon. Friend consider imposing price control on fish?

Mr. Webb

I thought that that was the implication of my answer.

Mr. Chetwynd

Can my right hon. Friend say how long he is prepared to wait in the case of rabbits? Could he explain the connection between the price charged at home and the imported price? I think he said that if he imposed price control at home he would prevent rabbits being imported. Can he say why?

Mr. Webb

I can give no time table for rabbits. I have given an indication that during this week I hope to be able to take a decision, one way or the other, about the price control on fish.

Mr. Baldwin

Is the Minister aware of the high cost of catching rabbits, that at least 50 per cent. of the value of first sale goes to the catcher, and that if a sale price is imposed the next step will be the gassing of rabbits and then the consumers will not have the benefit of rabbits at all?

Mrs. Castle

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is just now when meat is so short, that the high price of fish causes the greatest amount of hardship and difficulty to the housewife? Could he not reimpose controls, at any rate temporarily, pending improvement in the landings of fish?

Mr. Webb

I cannot add to what I have said about this. I am aware of the unfortunate concatenation of circumstances which has brought about a high price in fish at a bad season for fishing, when we have a shortage of meat. That is one of the embarrassments of the Minister of Food. But I am quite satisfied, on the most careful examination, that it would have been imprudent to have acted in any other way about the control on fish.

Captain Crookshank

Is not the short answer to all this to hurry up and get some more meat, instead of forcing people to buy expensive alternatives?

Mr. Webb

That is the short answer, but not at any price.

42. Mr. De la Bère

asked the Minister of Food whether, in view of the high prices and scarcity of rabbits, he will now consider further arrangements for supplies from Australia to assist in connection with the small meat ration.

Mr. Webb

Rabbits may be imported freely from Australia by private traders under open general licence. I assume the hon. Member is not suggesting that my Department should re-enter the trade.

Mr. De la Bère

In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has been so pleasant to me on Question 41. I will not burden him further on this one.