§ 31. Viscount CURZON
asked the Prime Minister what is the total amount of wheat which has been bought or is held by the Wheat Commission on behalf of the Government; what is the present value of all such purchases; whether it is still the policy of the. Government to purchase wheat; if so, will such wheat be sold at the market price or at the purchase price; and, in view of the constant and probable further fall in the price of wheat, can the Government remove all restrictions whatever upon the price of wheat?
§ 110. Sir J. REMNANT
asked the Minister of Food whether the world's market price of wheat is well below the subsidy level at the present time; and what immediate steps the Government propose to take to remedy the grave injustice of the existing high price of bread?
§ The MINISTER of FOOD (Mr. McCurdy)
I have been asked to reply to these questions. It has already been stated that so long as wheat is being bought for the Government it is clearly undesirable to make public announcements as to the quantities and the prices paid. Such information would be beneficial to sellers and might seriously pre- 2399 judice the Exchequer. It has also been announced that the policy of the Government is to decontrol wheat and flour as soon as possible, and the methods by which the prices of wheat and flour may be brought into day-to-day relation with the movements of the world markets without unnecessary losses to the Exchequer and to distributors, and serious disturbance of trade, are receiving careful consideration. It is obviously impossible to predict the future course of markets, and the Noble Lord who refers to the constant fall in prices overlooks the wide fluctuations that still prevail. Within the last fortnight the average quotation for No. 1 Northern Manitoba wheat, c.i.f. United Kingdom ports, fell to 93s. 6d. per quarter, subsequently rose to 108s. 6d. on Tuesday last, and to-day stands at 104s. I must again point out that wheat not yet shipped cannot at the earliest be available for use as bread flour much before the middle of January.
§ Viscount CURZON
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can answer the third and fourth parts of my question, namely, whether it is still the policy of the Government to purchase wheat, and, if so, will such wheat be sold at the market price or at the purchase price?
§ Mr. McCURDY
I think when the Noble Lord reads my answer he will find that it does in effect answer his questions. It is the policy of the Government to discontinue the purchase of wheat as soon as practicable, and for that purpose we are considering what steps are necessary in order to ensure that the transition from Government purchase to private purchase may be accomplished without unnecessary losses either to the taxpayer or to the trade.
§ Mr. PEMBERTON BILLING
Is it a fact that the right hon. Gentleman's Department are making a profit out of these transactions?
§ Mr. McCURDY
The last question has been answered a good many times. The trading transactions of the Ministry of Food during the period, I think, of the last three years have amounted to something like £1,000,000,000. The object of the Ministry was to make neither profit nor loss, but we did, as a matter of fact, make a profit of one-tenth of one per cent. As regards the question as to when the decontrol of wheat will be accomplished and Government purchases cease, I can only repeat the answer I have already given, that the matter is receiving immediate attention, in consultation with the trade, with a view to considering when that course can safely be taken without injury to any of the vital interests concerned.
§ Mr. BILLING
Having regard to the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has just made, that the food control is not being conducted with a profit to the Ministry, and as it is proved that it is not being conducted with profit to anyone else in the country, will he consider decontrolling food altogether?
§ Mr. McCURDY
One of the problems which has to be considered in fixing a date for the decontrol of wheat is the assurance that the milling industry will be in a position to undertake its responsibilities. There are agreements entered into with the milling industry during the War which have to be honoured, and the conclusion of which requires some negotiation, and it is quite impossible to contemplate the conclusion of these negotiations, with due regard to the trade interests affected, within any such period as the hon. Member suggests.