HL Deb 03 November 1966 vol 277 cc685-7

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the very low prices currently being paid to producers of beef and lamb, they will take steps under the Prices and Incomes Act to induce butchers and retailers to lower their prices.]


My Lords, my right honourable friend has had assurances from representatives of every section of the meat trade that they will co-operate fully with him in carrying out the policy of the White Paper. I am sure that in dealing with a commodity in which differences of quality and cut are so important, and where there are such rapid fluctuations on the first-hand market, we shall get the best results if we can make the voluntary arrangements work. Retail prices of many cuts of beef and lamb are reported as having been reduced in many shops, and housewives will certainly find it worthwhile not only to compare prices between shops but to price different cuts in the same shop.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that reply, which I rather anticipated, may I ask whether he is aware that since the beginning of April producers' returns have fallen by about 32s. per live cwt., whereas the price to the butcher has fallen by something like an average of 52s., and that this represents a bonus to the retail trade of £20 16s. 0d. per average 8 cwt. beast? Is the Minister further aware that the drop in the price of lambs for the retail trade represents about £2 3s. 4d., as I have worked it out, per 40 lb. lamb? Does not the noble Lord consider that the public, who are paying the subsidy, and in view of the fact that the farmers are having to suffer this considerable drop, are entitled to some reduction in price in the shops? Further, is the noble Lord aware that in some country districts where there is a town with only one butcher's shop, housewives have to take a choice of buying their meat from that butcher's shop or of paying 5s. in bus fares in order to buy at a supermarket in a big town?


My Lords, I hope that both wholesalers and retailers will take note of what the noble Lord has said He is most knowledgeable on this subject. I sincerely hope that they will. It is not my job to speak for the butchers or the wholesalers, but they say that they had their margins squeezed in the period preceding the freeze and are therefore not in the best posture at the moment to absorb the S.E.T. To some extent that is their excuse in this matter.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that another aspect of the low level of prices returned to the farmers for carcase meat is that it is having a seriously discouraging effect on the general tone of production, and may well prejudice the increased supply that we want from our own farms as the overseas supplies gradually become more difficult? Will the noble Lord tell us what action Her Majesty's Government are thinking of taking to cure this position?


My Lords, this is straying far from the original Question. I rather expected this from the noble Lord. I will certainly bring what he says to the notice of my right honourable friend, who is, of course, anxious, as we all are, to get over what I think is a purely temporary difficulty.


My Lords, arising from many years battling in another place, may I ask whether my noble friend is aware that a great many people are disturbed at the prices received by what I might call primary producers and prices paid in the shops? Is he aware that for many years many of us have said that these bear no relation at all, the one to the other? Might I ask whether I am right in saying that this Government have at last decided to do something about the price of fruit and vegetables? I think they have referred this matter to an Inquiry. Is my noble friend aware that I should like to support the noble Lord opposite on this matter, on which I have much less knowledge than he has?


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the support that she has given to the noble Lord opposite. We all have the same thing in mind; namely, to secure a reduction in the price of meat to the housewife. This is what we are after. So far as the margins are concerned, I agree with my noble friend that this has been a matter which she has raised continuously and continually over the years. The only body that has looked into it recently has been the Verdon-Smith Committee. They have suggested that, taken over a period, the margins of the retailer were not too high; but I personally have some doubts, as has my noble friend.

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