§ Mr. RATCLIFFE
asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that early in 1915 his predecessor, the late Lord Rhondda, in forming the Retail Butchers' Association, made an arrangement with the National Federation of Meat Traders on behalf of the whole of the trade in Great Britain for the regular procuring and distributing the meat supplies to the people of this country; is he aware that the agreed rate of payment was to be 2½d. per lb. gross profit or 20 per cent., whichever was the smaller amount.; is he aware that this honourable understanding has been broken by his Department on three separate occasions when the gross profit has been reduced ¼d. per lb. each time and is now only ¾d. per lb., which on the present high price of meat works out at a gross profit of only 11½per cent., widen is quite insufficient for a bare living profit,; and whether he is prepared to rectify the matter as early as possible?
I am aware that an arrangement of the nature described was made when the control of meat supplies was first instituted in August, 1917. At that time wholesale prices only were controlled. The arrangement came to an end on 8th March, 1918, when it was found necessary also to prescribe maximum retail prices. I cannot agree that. the gross profit at present made by retailers of meat amounts only to 11½per cent., and I am not, therefore prepared to make any alteration to the present scale.289W
§ Mr. RATCLIFFE
asked the Minister of Food who is responsible for the fiat rate which is put on to the price of cattle, sheep, and lambs over that which is paid to the farmer; whether this flat rate at present amounts to 13s. per live cwt., which is equivalent to 16½ per cent. on to the net cost of meat to the retailer, of which only 4s. per cent. or less than one-third is paid to the farmer, thus placing the onus on the retailer of collecting taxes for the Ministry of Food on which he has no consideration or remuneration; and if the profits made by his Department on imported meat and home-killed hides, etc., are not sufficient to allow him to take off the recent advance of 2¼d. per lb. on the wholesale price of meat and what becomes of the remaining 9s. per cwt. which is not paid to the producer?
The per head charges at present payable on live stock are made in order to cover the various expenses incurred by the Ministry of Food in connection with the conversion of live stock into dead meat. These expenses include rail-age from the farm to the market and thence to the butcher, lairage and feeding fees, auctioneers' commission, market tolls, weighing, dealer's commission, slaughtering charges and insurance against tuberculosis in the case of certain grades of cattle. In order that meat may be supplied at a uniform price to the butchers, the prices guaranteed to the farmers have been fixed upon a sliding scale up to 30th June next. The figure which the farmers are at present receiving is 4s. per cwt. above the basic price, but the hon. Member has omitted to state that there is a gradual increase which amounts, in next May, to a figure of 20s. per cwt. above the basic price. The system of establishing a flat price for the meat over the whole period avoids the necessity for fortnightly increases in price to the consumer to correspond with the increases in price to the farmer. Such profits as are made on imported meat and home-killed hides have already been taken into account in fixing the maximum wholesale prices of meat.
§ Mr. RATCLIFFE
asked the Minister of Food if he is aware of the need of the application of business methods in the classification of various qualities of meat, and which classification was promised by his own Department early in the summer; if the man who produces the best class of meat is on the same level as the producer who markets old ewes, rams, bulls, and cows; 290W and when this practice will be put right, so that the public may have what it actually pays for, that is, the best when it pays top prices?
I am aware that an undertaking was given by the Ministry of Food that the possibility of introducing differential prices for meat according to quality would be carefully investigated. This has been done; but I regret that the administrative difficult in the way of the proposal have been found to be so great that it has not been possible to put it into effect.