The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)
The latest six-months period for which final figures of imports are available is that from December, 1960, to May 1961, when imports of beef totalled 142,000 tons compared with 158,500 tons in the same period a year earlier. We estimate that the figures of imports for the six months to 30th June, 1961, will show a reduction of about 12 per cent. over last year.
A lesser quantity came from South America this year than in the same period last year. It would be over-hasty to assume that the present market price is made or governed by imports this year in view of the reduction.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
Can the Parliamentary Secretary say how much came from the Argentine and how much from the Commonwealth?
In this last period of six months there has been a reduction in imports of meat from Australia and from New Zealand. A year ago almost a quarter of our meat came from Australia and New Zealand. This year there has been a reduction in the amount from Australia, from the Argentine and from Uruguay.
I think there is a Question more closely related to that later on the Order Paper to which my right hon. Friend will be replying.
§ 28. Sir A. Hurd
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to what causes he attributes the continuing fall 1451 in the market prices of beef cattle compared with last year; and what estimate he has made of home-produced and imported supplies of beef for the rest of this year, and of the effect of the lower market prices on the cost of the Exchequer subsidy.
§ Mr. Soames
The main reason for the fall in market prices of beef cattle seems to be the abnormally high rate of marketing of home produced cattle. But there are a number of other factors, as I explained in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) on 20th June. I expect total supplies of beef during the next six months to be slightly higher than for the same period last year. The lower market prices will undoubtedly increase the cost of the guarantee but by how much depends on the extent to which prices recover during the rest of the year. There has been a distinct hardening in market prices for fat cattle over the last week and there is reason to hope that this improvement will continue.
§ Sir A. Hurd
Could my right hon. Friend say to what extent the extra charge falling on the Exchequer by way of subsidy for fat cattle is being offset by lower prices for housewives when they go to buy meat in butchers' shops? Has he had consultations with butchers about this? Can he do something to popularise the cheaper cuts of English beef which would, or should, give very good value at today's prices.
§ Mr. Soames
Yes, I have had consultations with butchers' representatives on this matter. There are a number of cuts which are considerably cheaper in the shops than they were at this time a year ago. There are some which the butchers are finding it extremely difficult to sell, even at exceedingly low prices. On other cuts the reduction has not been so great, or in some cases even not at all. I believe the fundamental reason for the fall in wholesale prices was the extra number of cattle coming forward from our own farms during these past eight weeks, the increase of which over last year has been quite striking.
§ Sir C. Osborne
Is my right hon. Friend aware that my younger daughter a few weeks ago sold some young beasts in Leicester Market at £4 10s. a hundred- 1452 weight against £8 a few months ago? She and young farmers complain that the Government are paying a big subsidy which is going largely to the butchers while housewives and farmers do not get the benefit. Will my right hon. Friend look into that?
§ Mr. Soames
I could not say that I was aware of the financial transactions of my hon. Friend's daughter. I hope that if she markets beasts in the future she will find there is an appreciable hardening of the market. The butchers are fully aware—I have had long discussions with their representatives—of the need to try to increase the purchase and consumption of meat by lowering prices, but, of course, they have to sell the whole beast and to think of the prices they charge for the different cuts.
§ Mr. Bullard
Will my right hon. Friend please recall that when some time ago I asked him about the effect of increased imports of beef from Yugoslavia on the cost to the Exchequer of the beef subsidy he said that the effect was purely marginal? Will he bear in mind that in the present rather depressed state of the beef market any importations have a considerably depressing effect on prices quite out of proportion to the quantity? Will he take steps to see that importation from this source—which I think is a new one from the British point of view—is curtailed?
§ Mr. Soames
What matters from the point of view of the market is not the source of imports but the amount of meat coming on to the market. Over the last six months the rate of imported beef coming on to the market was 12 per cent. less than in the previous year.
§ Mr. Shinwell
In view of all the suggestions about wage restraint, is it not a shocking suggestion to come from a Minister, a member of the present Government, that prices of beef should rise? Is that the way to deal with wage problems?
§ Mr. Soames
The right hon. Member must have misunderstood me. I did not suggest that. What I said was that I had spoken to the butchers and they are well aware of the need to increase the consumption of beef by lower prices where possible.