HC Deb 30 March 1917 vol 92 cc751-4

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether his attention has been drawn to the fact that wheat purchased in Australia is to be paid for at the rate of 49s. 3d. per quarter f.o.b.; and, in view of the fact that the British wheat-grower is now obtaining up to 90s. a quarter, can he state whether the latter is extorting more than a fair price or the Australian producer receiving less?


It is not desirable, in the public interest, to state prices at which purchases of wheat from abroad have been made. It is recognised that the prices charged for British wheat are a matter of serious importance, and the Food Controller is conferring with the Departments of Agriculture in relation thereto.


Is the hon. Member not aware that the price of Australian wheat has already been stated in the Australian Press and in the Australian papers circulated in this country? He has not answered my question, why it is that the Australian wheat purchased at 49s. a quarter, after paying 15s. a quarter freightage, should be sold at 65s. a quarter here, and the British farmer is permitted to get 90s. a quarter?


Is it possible, so far as the consumer is concerned, to average the price you have to pay for foreign-grown wheat and the price which the British farmer gets?


Can the hon. Gentleman say why, seeing that the Food Controller has fixed the prices of other commodities not nearly so important as wheat, he does not fix the price of wheat, with a view to lowering it in view of the scarcity of bread?


It is rather difficult to carry in one's mind these different questions. In reply to the hon. Member (Mr. Outhwaite), as a matter of fact no wheat has been purchased by the Royal Commission on Wheat Supplies in Australia at the price he mentions. Wherever he may have obtained his figures, they are not official so far as the Wheat Commission is concerned. In reply to his other question, I may say that various consignments of wheat have been purchased in different parts of the world at varying prices, and an attempt is made to regulate the price of wheat, taking into account these different prices. It is not advisable to advertise in this House the different prices given in different parts of the Empire, because that would cause dissatisfaction and jealousy. As regards the prices of English wheat, I recognise the gravity of the present position, but I am not authorised at the moment to add anything to what I have said. I have already pointed out that the Food Controller is in communication now with the various Departments, and I have reason to believe that the matter will be brought before the War Cabinet at an early date.


On a point of Order. May I point out that I asked this question for the purpose of drawing attention to the high price of British wheat, and may I ask if an hon. Member has a right to interject without putting down a question for the purpose of causing dissension?


That is the very last thing I should desire to suggest. It would create a very bad impression.


Is not the real solution of the difficulty to commandeer all the wheat in the country?


The hon. Member should put a question down.


Is there any difference in the price of wheat obtained in the different markets—Canada, Australia, and so forth—or is the only difference that which is caused by the freight to this country?


No; that is not the only difference. There is a very substantial difference.


asked whether the whole of the last Canadian wheat crop available for export was secured on behalf of the British Government; if not, what proportion was purchased; and what price was contracted to be paid for the whole or part?


The answer to the first part of the question is in the negative. A large quantity of Canadian wheat has been purchased from time to time, at the current market prices, for the British Government and the Allies, but until the transactions are completed and the size of the exportable surplus ascertained, it is impossible to state what proportion has been secured.


Is it a fact that the Government was not able to obtain the whole of the Canadian export surplus be- cause Canadian growers saw the high prices which were paid for British wheat, and consequently felt that there was no obligation on their part to send to this country?


No, I do not think that that is a fact. The Canadian Government, I am informed, is making patriotic efforts to supply us with the wheat which we require, and I happen to know that only recently a fresh arrangement has been made with Canada to obtain additional supplies beyond what was previously expected.


Is it not a fact that the Government have taken over complete control of the wheat market and the fixing of the prices of wheat, and if that is so—


That does not arise out of the question.

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