HC Deb 05 August 1924 vol 176 cc2716-8
3. Mr. WELLS

asked the President of the Board of Trade if, in view of the sudden increase in the price of bread, he will state the storxage capacity for wheat and flour in this country, and the amount of wheat and flour at present in stock?


There is no means of estimating accurately the total storage capacity which might be made available for wheat and flour in case of necessity. It was reported by the Royal Commission on Wheat Supplies that, at one time in 1917, between 14 and 15 weeks' supply of grain and flour was held in this country, in addition to stocks held by bakers and retailers and on farms. As regards the second part of the question, the stocks reported as held in the granaries at the ports on 1st July, 1924 (the latest date for which information is at present available), amounted to rather over 1,000,000 quarters, being greater by more than a half than those similarly held a year earlier. This, however, amounts only to a small proportion of the aggregate amount of wheat and flour in this country at any time.


With regard to the first part of the question, has the right hon. Gentleman made any inquiries as to whether an increase may be apprehended to-day or during the week?


An increase of what?


In the price of bread.

Commander BELLAIRS

Surely the information as to storage capacity was obtained during the War, and we have later information from the Royal Commission?


I am sorry to say that I cannot find any later information than 1917 that will give an authoritative estimate. That was, of course, a comparatively late period in the War.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at this time of the year the wheat supplies in this country are shorter than at any other time, and that in the winter time farmers hold about 15,000,000 cwts. of wheat in stock on the farms? Now we have not got those stocks, and does it not seem advisable to bring forward some scheme whereby the reserves of wheat should not be allowed to go below a certain point?


The last suggestion raises a very large issue of policy, which has been frequently investigated, and has never been found either desirable or practicable hitherto. With regard to the estimate of the total amount of wheat and grain in this country, I would remind the hon. Member that, whatever may be the actual position of the farmers' supplies in this country, they amount to only a small proportion of the available stock from which the country is fed.

5. Mr. WELLS

asked the President of the Board of Trade if, in view of the increased imports of wheat and flour from the Argentine owing to the favourable rate of exchange, he will state what additional area is now under wheat cultivation in that country as compared with last year?


The Argentine wheat crop is harvested in the early part of the calendar year, and no definite information is yet available regarding the acreage under wheat cultivation for the purposes of the next harvest. According to official statistics published by the Argentine Government, the wheat area harvested in that country in the cereal year 1023–4 amounted to 17,216,000 acres, an increase of 1,276,000 acres as compared with 1922–3.


Has the right hon. Gentleman considered any scheme for the erection of elevators?


That does not arise.

Captain Viscount CURZON

From the statement which the right hon. Gentle man made just now, that the Government have no more recent record than that for 1917, are we to understand that no steps have been taken to safeguard the archives of the late Ministry of Food?


That does not arise. This question relates to the Argentine.

9 and 10. Lieut. - Colonel Sir PHILIP RICHARDSON

asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) whether the estimated excess in the Argentine wheat crop this year exceeds 5,000,000 tons; and whether this excess is equal to the estimated shortage in the North American crop;

(2) whether, taking the estimated wheat crop of the world this year into consideration, there is anything to account for the recent rise in price beyond the action of speculators on the market in North America?


Should the more authoritative of the recent estimates of the forthcoming harvest in the United States and Canada be realised, the wheat crops of those countries will fall short of last year s yield by about 5,000,000 tons. The estimated total quantity exported or available for export from Argentina from the last crop is also about 5,000,000 tons. The amount by which that crop exceeded the preceding one was 1,500,000 tons. No estimate can at present be formed of the Argentine crop now in the ground, but it is reported that the area is larger than last season and that prospects so far are satisfactory. It is the uncertainty as regards the Canadian crop which had led to the recent rise in prices, but I would remind the hon. Member that the Canadian crops of 1918, 1919 and 1920 were below this year's official estimate. As I have already stated in reply to similar questions last week, the present available information does not indicate that there need be any apprehension as regards supplies in the near future.