HC Deb 02 July 1962 vol 662 cc11-3
8. Mr. C. Royle

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will state the comparative prices which livestock realised in auctions in the weeks ending 19th May and 23rd June; and if he will take steps to notify the public of any changes which have taken place.

9. Mr. Darling

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the recent movements of meat prices.

Mr. Soames

Wholesale beef prices declined gradually from the beginning of the year until towards the end of May, when they began to rise. Market prices for cattle in the week ending 19th May were 138s. 2d. and in the week ending 23rd June, 145s. 7d. per cwt. liveweight. Wholesale prices of home produced lamb have been falling gradually as numbers increased. Prices for sheep in the same two weeks were 40.5d. and 33.5d. per 1b. deadweight. Pigmeat prices have been falling with the increase in home production and with the seasonal slackening of demand. Auction prices for pork pigs in the same weeks were 34s. 8d. and 31s. 8d. per score deadweight. Recently bacon prices have been firmer. Fatstock market and wholesale prices are readily available for those who wish to make use of them. They are regularly quoted in the agricultural and local Press and in some national papers.

Mr. Royle

I am much obliged for those figures, and I apologise to the Minister for having demanded such a long list.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in relation to the figures he has just given, wholesale prices at Smithfield Market in May rose by an average of 20 per cent. and this 20 per cent. was in no way passed on to the general public? In view of his implied threat to the retail trade on 22nd May—if I may put it to him in this way—would it not have been better to have awaited the present figures which he has just given, and will he do something to alleviate the concern in the retail trade as a result of that implied threat? Would it not be better to wait until we have the report of the committee of inquiry which he has set up?

Mr. Soames

I was not talking in terms of an implied threat. What I said, which is still true today, was that we expected that during the later summer months, when we had a considerable increase in the number of cattle and sheep coming on the market, there would be a considerable falling off in wholesale prices as we had last year, though this would come some months later this year than it did last year, and we expected to see a corresponding drop in the shops when that time came. Meanwhile, during May, as the hon. Gentleman has said, the grass having come considerably later this year than it did last year because of the weather, wholesale prices have been firm and the prices in butchers' shops have been realistic in relation to the wholesale prices.

Mr. Darling

Although it may be true that beef prices are realistic in the sense that wholesale prices have gone up and, therefore, retail prices should follow, is it not a fact that, although pig prices in the markets are down, retail prices of pork have not come down to anything like the same extent even taking into account the fixed costs in wholesaling and retailing? If this situation continues, will not the Minister have to ask for increased money to pay for the increased subsidies by an additional Estimate? Rather than wait for this committee of inquiry, ought we not to take action now to deal with the situation? Why not have a system of guaranteed prices working throughout the trade?

Mr. Soames

I do not quite know what the hon. Gentleman means by a system of guaranteed prices working throughout the trade. If he means control of the prices of meat throughout the trade, we should not countenance that at the present time. I look forward to the results of this inquiry being very helpful for the long-term future. As regards this year's Estimates, I learned last year how difficult it is to make accurate forecasts, but, so far, in the first quarter of this year, I have no reason as yet to suppose that the estimates we have made for the current year will be falsified by events.

Mr. Royle

Reverting to the Minister's reply to my supplementary question, does not he think that, after saying things about possible decreases in prices, he ought to give similar publicity to increases in prices?

Mr. Soames

Movements in wholesale prices and the prices at Smithfield Market are readily available for anyone who wants to publish them.

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