HC Deb 10 July 1925 vol 186 cc828-32

This is not the first time that there has emanated from the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) a suggestion of far-reaching value which may be destined to have the greatest effect on the well-being of this country, but it is the first time I have ever heard an hon. Member belonging to his party have the courage to rise in his place and advocate an increase in the taxes on alcoholic drinks, not as a party measure, but as a national measure; and there are many of us in all parts of the House—I think they are not confined to this side— who believe that, until something of that kind is done, we cannot hope to compete with nations like the United States of America. I merely say that in passing, as I rose, not to deal with that subject, but to deal very briefly with the question of food.

It is only by the exigencies of Parliamentary time that we have the opportunity of raising this matter with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade at all. I want, first of all. to ask him whether he can see his way to make some change in the methods of collecting statistics in his Department with regard to food. In the first place, we find that, in almost every statistical return relating to food that is available to us, it is grouped with drink and tobacco. I fail to see anything in common between food, drink and tobacco, and I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he could not see his way to separate them in all statistics for which his Department is responsible.


They are separated.


They are not separated in many important statistics, and I should be very glad if the hon. Member for Heading (Mr. H. Williams) could give me instances, which I have failed to find, in which they are separated. I also want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary why it is that the Ministry of Labour is responsible for preparing statistics relating to retail prices of food, while the Board of Trade is responsible for preparing statistics relating to wholesale prices of food. It seems to me that at the present time, when many charges are being made on the subject of profiteering, we are totally unable to bring these two classes of figures together. I have searched everywhere in order to find some sort of comparison in official returns between the wholesale and retail prices of food. I have made a most careful examination of the Report of the Royal Commission on Food Prices, but it appears to me that in that Report, not only do they not give us that information, but they seem to have studiously avoided bringing these two figures together, although in their terms of reference that was the most important task with which the Commission were charged.

I do not on this occasion propose to enter into the question of food prices at length, but there is one particular form of food to which I would ask the hon. Gentleman to devote some attention. I refer to the article of food known as "fish and chip potatoes." Those who are fond of this article of food, among whom I count myself, have been greatly disturbed at the deplorable rise in the price of fish. In the constituency which I have the honour to represent, this is a staple article of diet, and a very-excellent diet it is. I have been going into the figures, and I find that fish has risen in price in country districts, since the beginning of the War, by 101 per cent., but in town districts—big districts like London—it has risen by 131 per cent. I should have thought that in towns, with the large quantities that are handled, and the facilities for distribution and for the manufacture of ice, and whore every other standing charge in connection with the storage and distribution of fish is much lower than in country districts, there is no reason whatever why the increase should be 131 per cent. as compared with 101 per cent. in the country. That seems to me to be prima facie evidence that the fish merchants and buyers at the docks—I am not making any charge against the small dealers— are taking advantage of the fact that in the towns fish is an essential article of diet among the poor people, who have no weapon of pressure at all in order to keep the price down. I desire to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he will go into that figure and make some recommendation to the Food Council, powerless though it may be, to take some effective measure to meet the situation, and give them a chance to tackle the question of the excessive prices of fish in the towns. Potatoes, the other component of this staple article of food, have gone up in the towns since the War by 132 per cent. far higher than the usual increase on articles of food. Bread, which has gone up quite sufficiently, is up by 83½ per cent., but fish and chip potatoes have gone up to a degree almost unequalled in any other article of food. This is not because the farmer is getting too much money for his potatoes. He is getting far too little. He is selling his potatoes at an absolutely uneconomic rate, and there is little wonder that he is unable to make his farm pay. It is not because we are paying too little for our potatoes in the restaurant. The truth is that there is come large body of middlemen who are squeezing the farmer at one end and the consumer at the other.

Notice taken at Eleven minutes before Three of the clock that 40 Members were not present; House counted by MR. SPEAKER and, 25 Members only being present—


I will now leave the Chair until 4 o'clock.

At Four of the Clock, the House was again told by Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. JAMES HOPE), and 15 Members only being present,

The House was Adjourned by Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, without Question put, until Monday next (13th July).