The initial release of imported meat to the trade has been made at the same average prices as under control, with a wider range between choicer and other qualities. Meat prices have already fallen substantially from the levels reached under the naturally uncertain conditions prevailing in the first day or two of free trade and are still tending to fall, There is plenty of meat about and there are many signs that the shopping public and responsible traders are seeing to it that it is sold at reasonable prices It is not intended to re-impose control.
Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that there has been a lot of sharp practice in respect of imported meat? Will he make it clear to both butchers and housewives—[Interruption.]—if the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) will shut up for a minute he will hear what I have to say—that there has been no reason whatever for any increase in the selling price of imported meat since meat was decontrolled?
Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with the chaos, disorganisation and fluctuations in meat prices which occurred throughout last week? Is he aware of what happened at Smithfield market this morning? Can he assure housewives that there will shortly be some stability in meat prices?
It is inevitable, after 15 years of rigid control, that in the auctions and in Smithfield, there should be some confusion at the outset. For example, so many butchers went to Smithfield to buy meat last Monday that it was difficult to get the meat away, with the result that too many butchers were chasing too little meat. The position has now very considerably improved and prices are tending to settle.
Is my hon. Friend aware that British housewives are buying meat today at less than any country on the Continent, in some cases at half the price charged there? Is he aware that many meat exporting countries are charging their own consumers more for the meat than purchasers in this country are being charged?
In watching the present situation, will the Parliamentary Secretary make sure that some unscrupulous butchers, in order to meet the resistance of the housewives to the high prices which are being charged, do not attempt to sell the housewife imported meat in place of home-killed meat?
Would the hon. Gentleman be surprised to know that this morning I was in discussion with knowledgeable people in the meat trade who said that there will be no hope of a return to the same prices as obtained under control prices except in the case of offal and scrag ends of meat? Does that mean that the cheaper cuts are the types which are to be available for the mass of the people, and, if so, will the Parliamentary Secretary explain how his Government came into power on promises to reduce the cost of living and not to see it increased?
Is my hon. Friend aware that there has been very little increase in meat prices in some towns in the north of England, and that some cuts today are as cheap as they were before decontrol?