§ 4.45 p.m.
I beg to move,That, in the opinion of this House, the measures with respect to food supply should be more energetically directed towards arresting the continuous rise in prices and ensuring that the day-to-day requirements of all sections of the community shall be fairly met through the immediate application of a comprehensive rationing scheme.I hope that the Government will understand at the beginning of this Debate that it is intended to direct the gravamen of our charges to-day against the decision which we believe to have been taken by the War Cabinet. It is ultimately our position that whilst the Minister of Food should reply to our submissions, someone who speaks with authority regarding that decision of the War Cabinet should finally reply.
Last Wednesday, the Minister of Food made an announcement to the House about food supplies and rationing. That announcement caused very great consternation, which was widespread in the trade and in the country, and was not by any means confined, as has been suggested in certain organs of the Press, to the particular trading movement with which, as hon. Members know, I am familiar. The fact is that for many weeks there had been a shortage, an acute shortage, all over the country, of butter and bacon. That shortage was accompanied, according to facts which we feel cannot be disputed in any way, by an unequal allocation of supplies. Constant representations have been made to the Minister and his officers, and the great majority of experienced people in the trade expected that, as a result of those representations, lasting over many weeks, rationing of at least those two commodities, which was, in our view, long overdue, would be readily and speedily granted and introduced. It is as a consequence of the extraordinary announcement made last Wednesday that rationing of bacon and butter would not begin until at least the middle of December, and would then provide only four ounces per head per week for butter and for bacon and ham, that this Motion is now introduced.
It is necessary, in dealing with the question of the need for equitable distribution of available supplies by a system of rationing under control, to consider 270 for a moment or two the history of the preparation for the emergency through which the country is now passing. Even the Minister, who has not been at the Department for many months, would probably have to do a long period of reading in order to saturate himself with the facts of the discussions that have been going on for years. Some of us, from one angle or another, importing, wholesaling or retailing, have been dealing with these matters for at least three years. It ought to be recognised, and it is true to say that the Minister has recognised, that the collaboration and understanding of the trade have been important and were regarded as valuable. The trade were always informed during the last two or three years, and especially when we were making the early preparations for the approval and the printing of the ration books, that the Food Defence Plans Department, as it was then called, was working on the assumption that, in any war emergency, the Government of the day might decide to put food control into operation immediately upon the outbreak of hostilities; and that, because of that assumption, plans had to be such that they could be brought into operation with the minimum of delay. I hope that the Minister will not misunderstand me.
In the light of that history, it is important to look at the fact that the consultation with the trade, at which the form of the ration book could be said to have been approved, was as far back as January, 1938. That is a long time ago. The Department have had the whole of the time since then to complete the food control machinery which was then contemplated. It is important to note that the Department, through its Minister, has announced that within a very short time of the outbreak of war the machinery of local food committees and the appointment of food divisional officers and staff have all been accomplished without serious hitch and that that side of the machinery is all ready and complete. In fact, however, instead of the assumption on which the discussions took place before the war on this matter having become a fact, we are still without any of the rationing upon which those plans were based.
What was the first experience after the war broke out? Is there anybody in the trade with any real knowledge who does not know that immediately after the out- 271 break of war there was a rush to buy almost any food of a kind which was capable of being stored procurable in grocery and provision stores? We can make excuses, of course, for the public, because the Government had invited the public to lay in stores where people could afford to do so. That policy I always regarded with great dubiety. I would much have preferred that the total resources of the country in an emergency should be under the control of those who would see that those resources were equitably distributed, not according to income, but according to human needs, which is a very different matter. It is sometimes said that we complain in this matter from the point of view of the large, organised, co-operative consumers' movement. I have a letter here from a very important private trader who is a Midlands wholesale grocer. He has a very large business and is an old friend of mine. The letter is dated 12th September, a few days after the outbreak of war. I will read a section of it, which says:For a fortnight now every retailer of food, from co-operative society managers to the smallest retail shops, has had to withstand the demand for all kinds of food which seems insatiable; not only foods which it is expected will be rationed but all kinds, canned fruits, cereals, dried fruits, breakfast foods, etc., are being bought by every class of people in quantities two and three times as large as usual when they are obtainable, and I think I am expressing the opinion of everyone engaged in food distribution when I say that food rationing should commence at once and should not be delayed for three or four weeks longer.I remind hon. Members that this letter is written by a very important, large, private wholesaler in the Midlands. It goes on:Do please urge the Government to give us rationing very soon. By so doing they will not only avoid what I think may develop into a very awkward situation from the public point of view during the next week or two, if continued, but also relieve those engaged in the distribution of food.At that time, representations to the Ministry to speed up rationing seemed to fall upon very complacent ears. Ministry officials were always very courteous. They often had to be courteous whatever their personal views because they had to be loyal to Government policy. One had to hear the usual remarks, 'It will be all right. We are getting on with the machinery." 272 I learned in a few days time that the machinery would have to be delayed. It would have to depend upon a Cabinet decision, to await the census for the National Register. It could not be speeded up because they were only able to do one job at once. What was really urgent was to have a national census for quite another purpose, National Service. It was only after continual urging that the Government agreed to have as early a date for national registration as 29th September. We were then told in the usual informal way that once the results of this census of 29th September was available, and somewhere about 9th October, a scientific and equitable distribution of food would be provided and that rationing would commence about that date. Meanwhile there were grave fears through all those early weeks of a shortage of butter and bacon. The Government took control in stages. Their first dealing with butter was when they stepped in to requisition the equal of about one week's national supply of butter. That amounted to between 8,500 to 10,000 tons. I cannot be accurate within 1,000 tons, and that figure is as near as I can compile from my information. A large demand was then being made for butter, above that which was normal, and it was obvious to anybody in the trade, that consumers who had food storage space, a cold cellar or a domestic refrigerator in the kitchen, were laying in extra stocks of butter, if they could afford to do so.
Because the whole of the week's supply had been taken off the market by the Government it was proposed to deal with the situation by having a higher price. At a meeting which took place on 12th September, before the price order was issued on 13th September, it was decided to have in future only two grades of butter, and two national maximum prices of 1s. 7d. and 1s. 5d., traders being free, of course, to sell under that price in the trade. Those maximum prices were higher than those ruling in the trade as a whole. This was an attempt to reduce the increased demand for butter by dealing with it on a price basis. I protested immediately on 12th September that to attempt to deal with a shortage of food commodities by price-fixing alone was impossible. Indeed, you would be bound, in the long run, to get a much steeper 273 rise of price unless you had a control which was effective all the way through. There was no response to my case on 12th September, in that respect. By 22nd September, supplies became shorter, and the position more difficult still for retailers.
We were then summoned to a meeting at the Ministry, not to deal with the shortage of supplies, but to consider the details of a general scheme for butter control in war-time. About 40 trade representatives were there. At the end of the meeting, an announcement was suddenly made that, in addition to the week's supply which had been taken off the market, the whole of the balance of butter in cold store would be requisitioned that night. The trade representatives, including myself, were indignant. We held an impromptu indignation meeting, and although I am so often made the butt of the competition and criticism of other traders, they did me the honour of voting me to the chair at that indignation meeting. We demanded to see the Minister. He was very courteous and met us the next morning. It fell to my lot to make the first of the statements to him on behalf of the trade. Before he could reply the Minister was called away to a Cabinet meeting. We did not complain; if the Cabinet sends for a Minister he has to go, but we never had a reply from him. His place in the chair was taken by Sir Henry French, the director of the Department. His reply was most unsatisfactory, as I told him, because I am of the same type as he is—I speak my mind. I have the unfortunate habit on those occasions of writing shorthand and taking notes. I will not quote all that Sir Henry French said to the meeting that morning, but I will quote two or three salient sentences. He said, that, of course, the emergency was not going in every direction as was originally expected and—this is important—the movement of population and of troops had destroyed the datum line principle.
It must be obvious to the House that directly stocks are requisitioned and it is left to the importer or the wholesaler to allocate the supplies as they think best and fairest without any rationing scheme, you adopt a datum line on which those supplies should be allocated to the trader. In fact, that was what was attempted to be done, but Sir Henry French admitted to us at that meeting 274 that the very fact of the movement of population into reception areas and the movement and the billeting of troops, if I may expand his phrase, destroyed the datum line principle. It is because of the effect of the datum line principle that supplies to-day are so often inequitable in distribution. After that decision of the Government and its operation complaints began to pour in.
It is the basis such as is adopted in all such control schemes often discussed in this House. When you control an article which is to be distributed through trade channels you distribute it on the basis of taking a four weeks' or three months' period at a given date and you supply the trader with x per cent., which is the appropriate amount of his ration of the total supplies, according to what he had received in that selected datum period. I hope I have made that clear. The position which I was putting to the House was that the director of the Department admitted that the very movement of population and of troops had, in fact, destroyed the effect of the datum line. Complaints began to pour in. The trade was at once faced with the reduction of supplies based upon a 50 per cent. allocation of the bulk, and ever since then there has been permanently a shortage of butter supplies. Complaints came to me from all over Great Britain.
I then attempted to put a question to the Minister on the matter, but he could not be here to answer. I wrote to him on 5th October and again on nth October. I got a reply dated 17th October which, I submit, very largely destroys in advance the case which he put to the House in his answer last week. I wish I could quote the whole of the letter, but I am not permitted to do so because it was confidential. Having given notice to him of what I want to quote, I think I may quote that part. In the course of that letter the Minister said:I am very sensible of the need for an early introduction"—that is, of rationing. Later in the letter he said:An announcement will be made as quickly as possible,275 and at the end of it he said:I can assure you that everyone in the Ministry concerned about distribution of the commodities to be rationed is as anxious as you are to bring the present difficult period of transition to an end.The Minister should realise that people in trade circles would have relied upon that letter as being virtually a promise that something was going to be done.
The following week it was almost impossible for me for three or four days to get adequate contact with important officials because the answer was always given to me that they were busy in conference with divisional and other officers. On what?—on the final perfection of the machinery for rationing. On the night of 26th October, after we had met the Minister on some other matter, Scottish directors of the co-operative movement mentioned supplies of butter to the Minister of Food and the following day, that is on Friday, 27th October, I had occasion to have a few words with the Minister again. To my utter and complete astonishment, I was requested in the afternoon of that day to see at once a very high official of another Government Department—nothing to do with the Ministry of Food—who, obviously, had not been sent by the Minister but from Downing Street. He was sent to me to ask what would be the co-operative reactions to a postponement of rationing. The House will not be surprised that in view of all my other communications to the Minister I could not understand the object of the visit. I had to press that very high, competent and discreet official, to whom of course I attach no blame at all, as to what were the reasons that we should be asked to agree to a postponement, in face of the known shortages recognised by the Ministry and which were proved by our complaints.
What were the reasons? They were not factual; they were psychological. They were questions of this sort: What would be the effect upon the population of a disclosure that if rationing were introduced the Government would not be able to provide for more than four ounces per head of butter, not more than four ounces per head of bacon—and I hope the Minister will bear this in mind when he recollects his speech about sugar—not more than 12 ounces per head of sugar, and a small money value per head for meat per week? That is what 276 was put to me that afternoon. My reply was quick, firm, and I hope to the point. I said that on balance, such an announcement of those amounts would reassure thousands of people in respect of whom I had received complaints, especially those in the reception areas who, under the present system of distribution, could not at that moment get anything like those quantities per head, and thousands of others who had been able only by going from trader to trader and from shop to shop to get supplies, and who had never been sure whether they would be able to get their requirements or not.
I make this charge now because a Member of the War Cabinet is present: the fact is that on this matter, in spite of the Government having received and considered the food report on the situation and with all those experienced persons in the Ministry, including the Minister himself, they took a decision against the advice of the Department—that is my view—and that on the psychological issue they had cold feet. It is not the first time that the majority of that Cabinet have had cold feet. Year after year for the last eight years on any important occasion the majority of those in the War Cabinet have had cold feet and have gradually led this country into the dangerous position of war. If they have no more firmness in dealing with an emergency food situation than they have shown in the last five or six weeks they will fail to lead us out of this situation, and in those circumstances the quicker they finish the better. I thought it necessary at once to inform the Minister's Secretary of what had happened. That evening the Minister made an announcement to an assembled Press conference, no doubt of his own convening. I found next morning, 28th October, in the "Daily Express" a front-page story, as if it had been based on a personal interview with the Minister, to the effect that supplies were so plentiful that no rationing was necessary. In spite of the fact that the complaints were still pouring in, not a single representative of the butter department of the Ministry of Food was able to give us any help, and not one of them was able to deny that there was no cure for the butter situation except rationing.
Now I will come to the questions which I raised last week. With regard to the Minister's statement, the first thing that 277 he said was that the Government had decided it was desirable to ration. I should have thought that in view of all the things which have been said of those of us who have advocated rationing as being the only way of getting equitable distribution, that would be a point in our favour. The Minister announced that it was desirable to ration. But when? He said, "Not yet; possibly in the middle of next month, but we will announce the date later." To-day we have no date, and, as I understand it, we are still subject to the pressure upon the War Cabinet of newspapers and others to delay the rationing still further. The Lord Privy Seal shakes his head, but all I can say is that it is common knowledge that the campaign is being run; at any rate, I know it too well because they mention me every morning and I get the full brunt of it.
All I can say is that the results seem to indicate it. If it is desirable to ration and if there is a need for rationing, why should we wait? The fact is that the Department were ready to ration. I received my ration book this week by post. The Minister has said that as soon as might be instructions would be given for the ration books to be issued. I received mine on Monday of this week, and the date of issue is given as 12th October. Of course, they were all ready to ration on the 12th October. All the books had been prepared in the local authorities' offices. The view, the preparation, the knowledge, of the Minister of Food were just overridden by the cold feet of the War Cabinet—[Interruption]— perhaps it would be better to say the feeling of cold feet among the War Cabinet.
Rationing, when it came, was to be in respect of butter and bacon only. I hope to have a word to say about other commodities as well as butter and bacon; but when the Minister was dealing in that answer with butter I was amazed, even though he had not been many months at the Ministry of Food, that he should say that butter was not a suitable commodity for storage. People who have been long in the provision trade know something about the capacity for storage of good butter. I do not know what we 278 should do without the supplies of butter that we get from New Zealand and Australia if butter were not capable of being stored when required. It was an amazing excuse to say that it was impossible to get reserves of butter because butter was not a suitable commodity for storing. It is true that in regard to bacon storing is much more difficult; you cannot cold-store bacon, already cured, for any length of time. But that is not the last word. The Minister must know as a former Minister of Agriculture that complaints have been made for some time about the quantity of frozen pigs which have been available ready for being converted into bacon. There are other means of storing potential bacon than by actually storing cured bacon. It is a pity that the Minister slipped up on points like that; and a great pity that his Department let him slip up in that way.
He went on to say that there was not sufficient time to fill the gap. The more I look at this schedule of development, the more I think that there is one other factor in the position; and I am reinforced in that opinion by statistics about the trade in butter for the current week. While the Minister says that if rationing comes in the middle of December he will be able to allow four ounces of butter per head, I believe he might not be able to allow that quantity if butter were rationed this week. Is that so? We should like an answer. As a matter of fact, it looks very much as if the trade are being kept short to enable the Ministry to put into cold storage now sufficient butter to enable them to deliver four ounces per head in the event of rationing coming in December. The Minister shakes his head, but, whereas my complaint in the past few weeks has been that supplies were not sufficient to provide four ounces per head per week, this week it is that there is not two ounces per head available. It is all very well for Ministers to sit back complacently.
I am not referring to your attitude now; I was thinking of your attitude when you made your decision.
If the Minister who is here representing the War Cabinet this afternoon repudiates the collective responsibility of the Cabinet—
§ Sir S. Hoare
The right hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I take full responsibility for the decision that was taken.
When I used the term "sitting back complacently," I was thinking of the attitude of the Cabinet. It is no good, when we have thousands of working men, for whom butter, by reason of their occupations, is one of their most urgent needs, confining them to two ounces per head of butter per week. At a meeting called in Glasgow only last Saturday by the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society, at which were representatives of all the societies in Scotland composed of constituents from the dif-erent districts and sorts of occupations, I am told by directors who were present that they had great difficulty in preventing a resolution of a one-day strike as a protest against the lack of these foods. Is that the way we are to organise for victory? It is an amazing position for us to be brought to. The first, and the most urgent, commodity for rationing is butter, while bacon is practically as important—I will say a word or two about that in a moment. In his statement last week the Minister said that if we were rationed the figure was to be four ounces per head per week for bacon and butter, provided that imports continued at the present rate. The House may have heard what I said in reply to the First Lord's statement just now, when he had to say frankly that, in spite of the great activity and the fine conduct of His Majesty's Navy and the Royal Air Force and in spite of the submarines that have been sunk, we have to prepare for the possibility of 100 U-boats being available to the enemy in January next year. [An HON. MEMBER: "Minus what have been sunk."] Yes, I want to give his statement correctly; but suppose that we go on sinking submarines at the present rate and we have sunk 30 by 1st January, there will be 70 left.
Colonel Sandeman Allen
I understood from the First Lord's statement that we have already sunk approximately 30 since the beginning of the war.
We all hope that that is true, but I happen to be in close touch 280 with the First Lord on this matter, as the House knows, and I have no confirmation of what the hon. and gallant Member has said.
§ Sir Arthur Salter
I understood the First Lord to say that we must expect about 100 U-boats in January less only the number we may destroy in the meantime, that is between now and then, without deducting also those we have already destroyed.
Let us put the net number at the most favourable figure of 70. That is more than the total U-boats at the disposal of the German Government at the beginning of September, the month in which we experienced our heaviest losses of tonnage. The House will please note that it is only on the basis of our present supplies coming in at the same rate as they have been that the Minister can promise a ration of four ounces. That four ounces is just half of normal consumption.
The eighth point in his reply last week dealt with sugar. He said—and I underline these words—that supplies were in sight, and that they would be sufficient. We have heard a great deal in the last few weeks about supplies being sufficient. If every cargo consigned to us arrives, no doubt they will be; but if the Minister used these words in relation to the actual stocks in the country, that is not true. I challenge the Minister to say whether, if rationing of sugar is introduced this week, the refineries will undertake to deliver for every rationed person more than 12 ounces per head per week. In my belief, based on some knowledge of the trade, it will not be possible.
Yes, 12 ounces per head. I would explain to my hon. Friend that I am contrasting that with the announcement made by the Minister in his reply last week of a figure of one pound per head.
I should say nearer one pound. I hope the House will forgive me if, with these continuous interruptions, I am a little longer than I might otherwise have been in making my point. At 281 the end of the supplementary questions last week, the Minister said that there was a difference between us on the facts as to the question of a shortage. He said that the cases which I had mentioned, and of which even last week I had plenty of evidence, were not typical. Let us see whether that is really so. I will quote first, not from trade sources but from the paper which is the chief support of the Government at present in opposing the introduction of rationing. Take the "Daily Express." The Lord Privy Seal smiles because I mention it; but I should say, judging from my recollections of the vacillations of policy of the Beaverbrook Press in the last 10 years, that the Government will be relying on very feeble support if they rely on the Beaverbrook Press. This morning's "Express" gives a varied number of experiences of its own people who were sent out to make purchases. Having read them right through, I say that those articles in the "Daily Express" just prove that my submissions to the Minister last week were typical. They quote some instances of where supplies could be purchased and some of shortage, and they therefore indicate that, although you can find shortages all over the country, they are unable to say that the shortage is absolutely universal, because in a few shops you can get supplies. They prove my case for me.
Our own experience is that the shortage is general in regard to both butter and bacon. If the Minister of Food has taken the trouble to examine the complaints, as I have no doubt he has done since this Motion was put on the Paper, he will know that the breadth of the area from which the complaints come is entirely national. I have myself, on this Table, complaints from over 200 towns, all to the same effect, all of shortage of butter and bacon. In some cases only these two commodities are mentioned. Others relate to shortage of other commodities as well as these two. Ever since the Minister's statement on the wireless the other night, complaints have poured in of increasing shortages in different areas, caused by the inequitable distribution of stocks, and the fact, as Sir Henry French has admitted, that the datum line being followed has been destroyed by the movement of troops and evacuation.
I was informed by the directors of the 282 Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society a day or two ago that they had been in touch with the Scottish Trades Union Congress and that they, from their experience of their workers in Scotland, were in full support of the proposal for bringing forward the date of rationing. As to the question of unfairness in distribution, I want to make it quite clear that, when I deal with supplies involving either bacon or butter, I make no charge against those who are handling the bulk supplies which were requisitioned. With regard to the actual bulk supplies taken over by the Government, I believe that, working on a datum period, which is of little value now, they have tried to allocate those supplies on that basis, but the Co-operative Wholesale Societies, for example, who have been making true returns to the Government of their total stocks in cold storage for the last two years, had the whole of their stocks requisitioned in September, and they have never received a pound of butter above 50 per cent. for the first few weeks and 40 per cent. for the last two or three weeks. The Minister in his reply last week said that all the other stocks of butter not in cold storage held by wholesalers in the country had not been requisitioned, and that in aggregate they amounted to a very considerable figure.
Here is the position that I have to put on behalf of the Co-operative Societies at any rate. They have been offered again and again in the last few weeks small supplies of butter from wholesalers who have never dealt with them before. I have one letter which says that one firm is offering bacon to the Shrewsbury Co-operative Society on the one condition that the society would agree to trade with them after the war is over.
That is what I call attaching a condition of sale to an allocation of an extra supply. Therefore, while I am very anxious that I should not make any charge against officers acting for the Government in distributing the bulk supplies requisitioned, the result of all the use of the other stocks has been most unfair and inequitable. May I support the case I have been making by a quotation from an appropriate trade paper? I am not a special advocate of 283 the policies of this paper. It is called "The Grocer." It says in its leading article last Saturday:They (the trade) know that during the past six or seven weeks supplies of some of the leading food commodities have been severely rationed to the trade and that retailers in particular have had the unpleasant duty of informing their customers that they have been unable to secure more than a small percentage of their supplies, particularly of butter and bacon and sugarThey go on to say:If supplies are sufficient and rationing is not necessary, then it is the business of the Ministry of Food to ensure that distribution is organised in such a manner that in every part of the counutry deliveries are both regular and prompt.That is not actually happening to-day. I will read another letter in support of my case. This letter was sent to me, and the Minister has seen it, but I want to put it on record. It was sent to me on the same afternoon as the Minister's reply last week. It says:In recent days I have found myself in complete agreement with the line you and the Co-operative Press have taken in expressing the urgent need for the speedy introduction of a rationing system, in contrast to the campaign conducted in many organs of the popular Press. At this moment I am naturally unaware of what Mr. Morrison's statements are going to be in the House of Commons this afternoon and over the wireless to-night, but I would like to say on behalf of my firm and family that we are 100 per cent. with you in what you are doing in the interests of the consumer.We believe that the only way of ensuring fair and equitable distribution of available supplies to the consumer is by the introduction of a rationing system. In our experience it is quite impossible for the retailer to ration his customers fairly on his own initiative, and so pass on the measure of rationing to which he himself is subject. The retailer is not in a position to know the size of each household and there is no means of stopping a greedy person from buying from more than one shopkeeper.With limited supplies and no rationing the wealthy section of the community get an unfair advantage, and some of them according to my father's experience in the last war do not hesitate to offer bribes to their tradesmen.All these aspects of the problem are, of course, well known to you, but I did not think it would do any harm to let you have the views of at any rate one of the Multiples. You are, of course, quite at liberty to show this letter to anyone you please if you think it will do good.Yours sincerely,ALAN J. SAINSBURY.284 The case therefore is proved from the private trade side as well. As to the kind of experience which is going on over this allocation, I have a letter here from one of my own societies at Sandbach. By the way this society is very short of butter, and members are running away from the shop because they cannot get butter. It says:On Wednesday, the 1st instant, a delivery vehicle belonging to the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company, Limited, called at our warehouse to make a delivery of certain goods but had no butter for us. Our customers in the shop a few yards away were threatening to make their registrations with other traders because we had none to offer. Our reason in mentioning this is because the vehicle referred to had 8 cwt. of butter, plainly marked ' Co-operative Wholesale Society' consigned to the local branch of the Multiple"—I will not give the name—opposite.They all filed across the street to buy their own co-operative butter which they had capitalised themselves out of their own savings, and which, of course, in a national emergency it may well be the necessity of the Government to requisition. But surely it ought to be fairly distributed according to needs. The same position obtains with regard to bacon as well as butter.
I come to another word on sugar, and that is the question of the datum period. If it is true what the Minister said in the House last week and on the wireless that there is no difficulty as long as you do not consume more than a lb. per head per week, I cannot understand what has been the attitude of the Sugar Commission The Sugar Commission are to be congratulated on the wisdom of the purchases which they made, and I think they did very good service to the country in the arrangement they made for supplies. But we were originally allocated supplies on a datum period for last summer, and then it was altered to October, November and December of last year. Why? I will tell the House why. Because it was important for the Sugar Commission to be able to reduce the demand for sugar which was being made upon the Commission in the last eight or nine weeks. The actual deliveries in October, November and December of last year were much lower than usual, because in the crisis over Munich in September, 1938, there had been very heavy purchases, and in the following three months they were 285 much lower. The Sugar Commission chose the datum period of October, November and December so that they could reduce the current demand on them for that commodity. It is true to say that, if you were to have rationing tomorrow on the basis of 1 lb. per head, it simply could not be managed. The Minister shook his head earlier on when I said that, and, therefore, may I read a letter I received yesterday morning in support of my argument. The letter comes from the Reading Co-operative Society, and it makes a reference to the Minister. It says:Our membership is over 42,000, and our present allocation is 615 cwts. of sugar per week.Mr. Morrison, in answer to you last Wednesday, said— 'If each customer restricted purchases to 1 lb. per week, there would be sufficient supplies.' This is very misleading, unless, after registration, supplies are adjusted to meet the new registration basis.The Minister did not say that last week by the way—Our members will definitely expect to get 1 lb. of sugar per week"—I think it is true. After what the Minister said, they are all demanding it, and will expect to get 1 lb. a week—and assuming 40,000 members register with us for sugar, on a basis of four per family, we should require not 615 cwts., but 1,428 cwts. per week.Does the Minister tell me that they are in a position, with the stocks in hand, to deliver sugar at that extra rate? I am certain that he does not. That is not merely the experience of that particular society. It is the experience of traders right through these reception areas. If you have to ration, you will not be able to produce the amount of sugar to supply more than 12 ounces per head.
Certainly. The sales were round about the 615 cwts. referred to in the datum period. The Minister has made the announcement—not the cooperative society itself, but the Minister—that if they would not buy more than 1 lb. per head it would be all right. [Interruption.]The hon. Member could not have looked at the answer which the Minister gave last week. On that registra- 286 tion, wherever they have registered, they are to get 1 lb. a head.
That part of my speech is not an argument, but a record of what the Minister said last week, and I shall be content to quote it as the fact on that particular matter. The Minister has now seen the ration books going out. You have to register for sugar. The traders are going to have a greater difficulty in the weeks between now and the dates that may be fixed for rationing than ever before. Every one of the customers who comes along with a ration book will say," I expect to get at least what the Minister now says we can have." They want at least four ounces per head of butter, four ounces of bacon and a pound of sugar. They have registered for them and they will say, "The Minister says we are entitled to have them." We shall have to tell them, "We are very sorry. The Minister has not provided us with the wherewithal to supply them." That is what we have to face in the next few weeks.
I am specially anxious to press the most urgent problems of bacon and butter, and I say that sugar ought to be rationed with them, but I am also very anxious indeed about meat. I quoted from memory rather hastily last week the experiences of the Dover Co-operative Society, but I have a letter of the 14th October which says that for the week ended 16th September, 1939, they purchased and sold 14,412 lbs. of chilled beef, and they were allocated for the week ending 14th October 879 lbs. Of imported mutton they sold 1,126 lbs., and in the corresponding week they had an allocation of 853 lbs. Of imported lamb, they has a surplus over the previous supply of 2,324 lbs. In English beef they had a surplus over their previous requirements of 3,200 lbs., and on balance that one society was 7,000 lbs. weight of meat short of its normal requirements on 14th October. How do the Government think that they are going to deal with that? What can they do with it? The Minister says that supplies are plentiful.
What is happening in the case of imported meat? For week after week we have had not more than 20 per cent. of the normal imported meat supplies 287 allocated. It may be that the Minister in this respect is still putting imported meat into storage. I recognise that imported meat is being specially used for the Armed Forces, and it is very convenient to use, especially for the Forces abroad, but if you are bound to that allocation of 20 per cent. what does it mean? It means that if you are to keep up normal consumption of meat you will have an inroad into your livestock such as has never been contemplated. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is that happening?"] It is happening. May I give the experience of the Co-operative Wholesale Society's own abattoir in the last six weeks? Their killings have been double what they were before. You may take that as the experience of the trade itself. What is the effect upon prices? I was told by the Ministry yesterday that the wholesale prices of meat were falling. I hope it may be so. But the trouble is that the retail meat trade in the last few weeks has been working under the very difficult circumstances of constantly rising prices and they have had to work on a retail price order issued by the Ministry saying that they must not exceed the ruling prices for the week ended the 25th August.
I have here a little card which I asked for this morning, which gives an actual comparison of prices as between August and October, and it shows that for English bullocks and heifers the wholesale price has been up 8.6 per cent. to the butcher, for sheep and lamb 11.9 per cent., for bacon pigs 7.5 per cent., for Argentine chilled forequarters 5.9 per cent., for Argentine chilled hinds 15.5 per cent., for Australian lamb 5.3 per cent., and for New Zealand lamb 2.5 per cent. Yet the retailers have been confined to the prices ruling on 25th August. What is happening in the markets? In the movement that I represent in the past it has never been customary to kill a cow for meat. But what has been happening in the last few weeks? Hundreds and hundreds of cows have been taken to market. Cows are not included in the controlled Ministry of Agriculture fat stock prices Order, and quite rightly not included, because we do not want to put into the regular grade of fat stock prices cows of that kind. Those cows have been fetching anything from 45s. to 60s. a cwt., when the farmer has to accept under the grading prices 288 approved by the Ministry a figure shillings and shillings less for the finest stock he can produce. The consequence has been an inroad into livestock herds, the killing of store cattle that ought in the very economy of things in relation to a long period of war to have had the further fattening required to add the weight that the nation requires for some months ahead, and at the same time keeping the land in good heart. That is the position in regard to meat.
In regard especially to the killing off in some districts of heifer calves, we are going to face an increasing difficulty in regard to milk supply. There again by a foolish and short-sighted policy it would appear that the War Cabinet has suddenly imposed its will upon the approved findings of the Government Departments. As I go about the country I find great alarm about this matter. In regard to price there are all sorts of dodges that are being adopted, especially in the wholesale trade. So far as the Cooperative Wholesale Society is concerned, in the handling of a whole beast in dealing with the retail societies it has very rarely made a higher profit per beast than 10s.; it may have been 6d. more or less. I should be very glad to check the figures at any time with the Minister. But I have here particulars of consignment after consignment in which I notice that the average profit is not 10s. but £4 4s. 11d., £2 7s. 10d., £2 16s. 4d. and £3 2s. 6d. per animal. Those are quite unreasonable profits when you are dealing with beasts of this kind upon a wholesale basis.
This is wholesale meat. There is also a practice of splitting a hind quarter into two cuts, a short cut and the other, the hind, flank and forerib. What happens then? If you were buying the meat as a whole 400 lbs. weight and you got the controlled price of 8½d. you get £14 3s. 4d., but by splitting it and selling the short of 132 lbs. at 8d. and the other piece at 9¾d. you get not £14 3s. 4d. but £15 5s. 9d. That is an extra amount of nearly 25s. on that meat, all extra profit.
I apologise to the House for having taken up so much time, and if the House desires it I will sit down, but there are one or two other points with which I would like to deal. There is a question 289 about which the Minister has been good enough to write a letter to me today, and that is tea. The Minister said the other day that there is no difficulty about tea. In a very nice tone and in his most wooing voice on the wireless he said that things are all right and that there was going to be no pooled tea. He based his statement on the assumption that there were nine months' stocks of tea in the country when the war broke out. Who told him that? I am at a loss to understand where he gets such definite information. I am as certain as I stand here that the communication in the "Grocer" this week from the Secretary of the Tea Buyers' Association is correct, and that instead of there being nine months' supply at the beginning of the war there were only five or six months' supply. In face of delayed arrival and certain losses of tea ships we are in this position: Every day since then we have had abnormal demands and for our ordinary tea consumption the country needs to turn over every day one and a half million lbs. and we are likely to be faced with a shortage of tea unless the Ministry takes proper precautionary measures, which apparently the Government do not want to do.
There is a further point which is of very great importance—that the public constantly have to meet demands for higher prices because of the mess and muddle that occurred in the dispersal of the stocks, and the price paid by the Government for handling the removal and the re-allocation, with the result that they are now unable to give sufficient allocation of the cheaper grades of tea which will enable us to make up sufficient of the cheaper blends. Instead of our being able to trade with 20 different blends of tea at different prices we are supplied by the Government with three blends, A, B and C. If you want to have a blend at a reasonable price you must have some of the Grade A blend. We cannot get sufficient of the cheaper tea. It would be far better in the circumstances, if we cannot get a better allocation, to have pooled tea.
There is very great difficulty in regard to tea in reception areas. Tea, like sugar, has been the subject for weeks of intensified hoarding by people who could afford to buy. All the stocks were requisitioned, re-allocation has been found to be difficult and the trade is still wait- 290 ing for payment for the tea which the Ministry collared. In the past the trade always had to rely upon its own efforts for financing it, and it is still waiting for payments due to the amount of hundreds of thousands of pounds, and I gather that the Government may have to pay interest on the outstanding amounts of something nearer 4 per cent. than anything else. The Government, if they wanted a reasonably quick settlement, could raise the money on Treasury Bills far more cheaply than having to pay large amounts in interest on outstanding accounts.
I had intended to say more but my time has gone. I hope that I have said enough to prove my case to the House that with shortage of supply we need further and immediate rationing. I say to the Minister that in regard to any commodity which is short it is simply impossible to take Government bulk control of that short commodity and to ration it to the wholesaler and retailer and not ration it to the consumer. It is impossible for the trader, whether wholesaler or retailer, to deal with a position of that kind. I hope, therefore, that the Government may still have the good sense, even at this late hour, to say that, having listened to the case, they are prepared to deal with the matter and to end this awful difficulty with which we are faced to-day. I speak this afternoon for the Labour Party, but also for a great body of organised consumers who have no reason to be ashamed of their movement. I have been cradled with them, I have spent my life with them, they have become one of the great social institutions of the country, they are bringing benefit to the consumers every day that they work, they have provided the largest amount of trade union employment in the distributive trades of this country, and when I speak for them this afternoon as well as for my party and for the general consumer I say that the Government have a great responsibility towards them, a responsibility which at the present time they have completely failed to discharge, and there is no reason why they could not institute next week rationing upon an equitable basis. We do not beg for it but we demand it.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. W. S. Morrison)
The Motion seemed when I read it this morning to enshrine a demand for more ration- 291 ing than has been announced, and I am bound to say that I expected from the right hon. Gentleman an assertion that the rationing proposals which I put forward on Wednesday last fell short in regard to the scope of the goods which have been subjected to that form of control, but the right hon. Gentleman, if I may say so with respect, has not sustained that position in argument. He has drawn attention to a number of difficulties with which my Department have had to deal in the 10 weeks since the war started. The difficulties have, indeed, been very great. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the fact that the society with which he is connected used to make various blends of tea, but that now, owing to the fact that war has broken out, certain measures have had to be taken and he cannot produce an equal number of blends. But there have been a number of more serious consequences of the war to which he drew our attention; the difficulties in allocating the supplies available of butter and other commodities. It is certainly true that the period since war started has been a very difficult one for food traders; of that there can be no doubt. The difficulties have been caused by a variety of circumstances, and in the case of short supplies there have been at work causes which are inevitable. In the case of imported meat there was a period when the supplies reaching this country were much below the normal, and a great portion of these supplies had to be diverted to the use of the armed Forces. That created a position of shortage. The shortage was also due to the organisation of the convoy system and the delay in the arrival of boats. But I did not gather that the right hon. Gentleman founded upon that an argument that we should now ration meat.
If I did not say so it was only because I had taken up so much time of the House; but I am anxious that it should be rationed as soon as convenient.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has cleared up that point. With regard to imported supplies of meat, if rationing had been in force it would not have cured the difficulties. What we have to look at in deciding whether it should be rationed at this moment is the convenience of the trade 292 on the one hand, and the great inconvenience to consumers on the other in not being allowed to buy an ordinary amount of meat. If I could see a shortage of meat in sight I should certainly recommend that the House should agree to compulsory rationing among the civil population, because where there is a severe shortage of this or that commodity the only equitable way to secure a fair distribution is to ration it. At the same time, we do not want to see this matter treated on the basis of a doctrine that rationing is good for its own sake.
May I ask the House in viewing this matter to see it against the background of the whole operations of the Ministry of Food? We have been talking to-day of the difficulties in regard to bacon and butter and it is only natural, when two commodities of that character are singled out for discussion, that they should fill the horizon, and that one begins to think there is nothing eaten in the country except bacon and butter, and that the whole world turns upon bacon and butter. I do not for a moment wish to minimise the importance of these two commodities, but I would not like the House to form a judgment on the whole operationsof the Ministry of Food simply on the difficulties surrounding bacon and butter.
Let me try and follow the right hon. Gentleman in his researches in the work of this Department. The Food (Defence Plans) Department of the Board of Trade was set up in 1936 as a consequence of the general policy of the Government of that time. Although we did not think that war was inevitable, confidence in European peace was severely shaken, and it was necessary to make preparations. The Food (Defence Plans) Department came into being and had to consider what should be done to improve the food situation of the country in time of war. Quite clearly from the point of view of this country, an island, with memories of the war from 1914 to 1918, planning in food defence was as essential as planning in any other form of defence. It was with that object that the Food Defence Department was set up. We had to consider not only the resources of our own island, a small but fertile island, and the policy which was adopted in 1936 was not to put agriculture on a war-time footing, such as we are doing now with all the risks of sudden dislocation and 293 the subsequent ruin which would follow if the crisis passed, but to take steps to increase the fertility and yield of our fields by measures which were consonant with an ordinary decent agricultural policy. At the same time, and as part of the same problem of defence, steps were taken to build up an unassailable position at sea and in the air. The fact that we are an island still is a dominant factor in European strategy.
On this general policy the Food Defence Department began its work. Its plans had in great measure to be conceived in a spirit of conjecture as to what the situation would be like which it would have to face. It was founded on an estimate of what the conditions of the country would be like on the outbreak of war. The Department had to take into account that a very much graver situation might confront us at the beginning of the war than the situation which has in fact confronted us, and it may be that some of the plans made were excessive. Against that I must ask the House to remember, first that it would have been much more blameworthy if the plans had failed to take into account the perils which might befall us, and, in the second place, that we are only now in the second month of the war, and when we are confronted with a ruthless and treacherous enemy it is not wise to assume that any precautions are excessive.
Among the plans were these elements. In the first place, single buying on behalf of the people by the Government, then control through the trade of the articles so bought, so that they would reach the consumer with a controlled price, and, third, rationing, in order to make sure that if there was a shortage what was available would be equitably distributed. It is due to these plans, for which we asked and received the best advice in the trade, that we have been able since the outbreak of war to effect a very marked check on what otherwise have been a very steep rise in prices. When I remember the events of the last 10 weeks and the strong urge there has been for higher prices in all sorts of supplies and the effect which in these circumstances unlimited competition for the supplies available might have had upon prices, I am bound to say that the Department in my judgment have saved many millions of pounds in the cost of 294 food to the people. In this task we have been aided by the reserves of certain essential commodities accumulated in peace time. But this matter of accumulating reserves is not quite as easy as the right hon. Gentleman imagines. The right hon. Member fell foul of me by asking why butter was not accumulated, as it could be stored quite easily. I think he and I are a little at cross-purposes. It is true that you can store butter if you put it into cold storage, but I ask the House to look at this question of storing butter in peace time for a moment and see whether, in fact, it was a practical proposition.
The policy on which we went was to secure the best food reserves available for the people which could be accumulated, and I ask the House to consider whether money would have been wisely spent if we had made this store of butter. Normally the United Kingdom takes about 80 per cent. of the world's exports of butter; nearly all the butter that is exported finds its way to our shores. We could have accumulated stores of butter in peace time only by accelerating shipments from New Zealand or Australia, or by taking out of consumption the amount of butter which was there for the public. The second course would have meant an increase in price to the ordinary consumer—the butter market is a very sensitive one and responds quickly to any diminution of supplies. It is estimated that the largest quantity of butter we could in fact have accumulated in a year was about 20,000 tons, which is equal to no more than two weeks' normal supplies. The effect on the price paid by the consumer of withdrawing this 20,000 tons of butter out of the market would have been considerable, and then when you had done this and drawn your two weeks' supplies of butter from the market you would have the difficulty of storing it, because in order to store it in cold storage you would have had to pay £10 per ton per annum. If you paid £115 per ton for butter, and assuming that you got all that back when you sold it again, you would have incurred a deadweight charge of £200,000 for storing it in refrigerators, and at the end you would have got no more butter than would have added four ounces per week to the proposed ration for a period of four weeks only. That is what would occur under a policy of storage.
295 What was actually done was to substitute margarine for butter. There the raw materials are plentiful and cheap, and it can be accumulated in vastly greater quantities than you can accumulate butter. That proposition was fairer from the public point of view. You can get the materials without affecting the cost of living, and you can store them cheaply. It is a matter of a few shillings per ton as against £10 per ton for butter. For your money you can get a much more plentiful supply of margarine; and margarine as a substitute for butter in a time of war is one to which nobody will object. That is the sort of problem which confronts one when trying to build up the best storage position to meet an emergency, and that is the answer to the point which the right hon. Gentleman made with regard to butter. If, instead of spending money, as we did, on the storage of margarine, we had spent it on butter and its storage in refrigerators, then from the point of view of food value to the public it would have been a waste of money.
§ Mr. McGovern
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why it is that large dairy companies and farmers are prohibited from turning their surplus milk into butter, when they cannot sell that milk? I can give him proof of this from Glasgow.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is another question. In time of peace it is much less remunerative to the farmer for the milk to go into butter than it is for him to sell it to the Milk Board, where the bulk of it goes into liquid consumption.
§ Mr. McGovern
May I give the right hon. Gentleman a case? A representative of Ross's Dairy Company in Glasgow informed me that they cannot put their surplus milk into butter to sell to their customers, whom they cannot supply with butter. They are prohibited from turning the milk into butter. What is the reason?
§ Mr. Morrison
That is another question. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I am not aware of anything that prevents a man from making butter for himself out of his own milk. But let me not be diverted from my main argument on this point. The argument I was making was to show that the expenditure of the Government in securing the raw material for margarine 296 was far better expenditure than anything that could be done in the storage of butter in refrigerators, and that the better product for storage against an emergency was margarine, which can be sold at about 6d. a pound, instead of butter, at about 1s. 6d. a pound.
§ Mr. McGovern
The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my question, which is one that is being asked by a large number of people.
§ Mr. Cassells
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to what facts he had regard when fixing the figure of £10 a ton per annum?
§ Mr. Morrison
That is the total cost of cold storage which the Government would have had to pay for butter of any sort. Similar considerations apply in the case of bacon, and the same problems of cold storage arise. In the case of bacon, there is a substitute, to some extent, in the meat of the country and the reserve of meat.
§ Mr. Morrison
I ask the hon. Member to allow me to look at the particular matter to which he is referring. It is really a matter which, at the moment, concerns the Ministry of Agriculture, and not my Department. When I was Minister of Agriculture, I could have told the hon. Member, but I am not quite certain of the regulations that may be in existence now.
So much for past plans. Let me now deal with future plans. It is the duty of the Government at any time to modify plans that were made in peace time in the light of circumstances as they exist when the emergency against which those plans were provided proves to be different, in some degree, from the hypothesis under which the plans were constructed. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) knows very well—for he has been helping and advising the Department for some years now, and he knows the inside secrets, if we have any—these plans did contemplate, as their summit, a rationing system, and the purpose of the rationing system was undoubtedly to act as a precaution against possible shortage and to make provision for a proper distribution in that event. I would say that a rationing system as such, ready to be put into 297 operation when there is a shortage to be provided against, is in fact a reserve of food in the country, and as such, is a proper thing to have provided in peace time. I am at one with the right hon. Gentleman in his desire to see the preparations completed and this reserve power put at the disposal of the nation for use when required. The difference between us is that I do not agree that there is any advantage in imposing rationing of any commodity before that rationing is actually required.
Let me argue that point. While I see the virtues of rationing, I see also the drawbacks of it, from the ordinary consumer's point of view. In the first place, rationing is bound to be worked out upon a mathematical calculation of the total supply divided by the number of the population, and the result is that one gets a dead-flat arithmetical figure. There is no other way of working rationing, but that dead-flat average in food does not conform to nature and reality. We do not all eat the same food or as much of one particular food as of another. The classic example of Jack Spratt and his wife is of wide application throughout this island, and that must be borne in mind. If there is a man who, because of personal taste or occupation, does not eat much meat or sugar, what he does not eat is available to supply the needs of those whose ardent desire is to eat more meat or sugar. Therefore, I think the proposition is true that we ought— and I urge this on the House—to leave the consumer the utmost amount of freedom that we can. Let us by all means proceed with the preparation for setting up the system and with the completion of the mechanism for registration, so that customers can register with retailers, and retailers with wholesalers, and so on, but—
Really, it is so difficult to listen to this. [Interruption.] If the Minister really holds that view, why does he not have courage and say to those of us who have been suffering in this way, "We will give you back your stocks"?
§ Mr. Morrison
I was going to deal with that point. It very frequently happens that we who sit on the Front Benches do not find the remarks of one another as alluring as those who uttered them thought they would sound.
§ Mr. Morrison
I will pay no further attention to that. I was about to discuss what it is necessary to do. We have to get the machinery ready; to have the registration and get the books out as a necessary method of precaution against anything that may happen, but when one comes to consider what really affects the consumer, that is, how to apply the machine to any particular commodity, I think one should act with prudence and reason, and not ask people to undergo the inconveniences of rationing unless a case is made out that there is a shortage of such a character that equitable distribution cannot otherwise be obtained.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am sure the hon. Member does not wish to misunderstand or misinterpret me. I said that in the past weeks there was a shortage of imported meat, for reasons which I stated.
§ Mr. Cassells
With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he said that rationing of meat would not have cured the position.
§ Mr. Morrison
What we were faced with was not a shortage of meat as a whole, but a shortage of one particular kind of meat, and I said that I did not think that, with the supplies of imported meat in sight, such a shortage existed as would justify rationing. The right hon. Member for Hillsborough mentioned the case of sugar. There is no doubt that the difficulties created for my Department in allocating sugar, as other commodities, have been to a great extent increased by the difficulties of evacuation, which has created quite new problems in population in various parts of the country, by transport difficulties, and so on; but I am bound to say that, from evidence that reaches me, I am convinced that the sugar allocation has improved very greatly, and that there is not now that crop of complaints which arose at the beginning.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is not my experience, viewing the problem as a whole.
I should like now to refer to one or two other points that seem to cause controversy. The right hon. Gentle- 299 man the Member for Hillsborough complained of the delay in setting up the machinery and putting it into motion. On that, the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to his own opinion, but at the present time, two months after the war began, some of the books are already issued—apparently the right hon. Gentleman has received his—whereas in the last war it was over three years before any system of rationing was introduced. There were advantages, not lightly to be gainsaid, in basing the issue of ration books upon the National Register. By that means, one substituted for a register composed of forms filled up by the householders themselves, a scientific enumeration carried out by enumerators who visited each house. There were advantages also—and this caused a delay— in getting people settled down in their new homes, so that they could get to know their retailers and find out with whom they would like to register, instead of pressing this thing on people before they had settled into their new homes.
If the House accepts my view, which is that rationing should depend upon supplies, there were advantages in giving a sufficient time for the actual supply situation to be accurately assessed. It has varied very greatly in the two months since the war started, and it took time to form a true picture of what might be apprehended in regard to future supplies. There were all the difficulties that have been mentioned many times, such as shipping; but, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman's general charge on this point, I believe that, although inconvenience has been caused by the time that has elapsed—and I do not in the least try to minimise the difficulties in which traders have been placed—the public advantage on the whole has been served by not going into this matter too quickly. The right hon. Gentleman also attacked me on the ground that it is too long to wait until the middle of December. He is as anxious as an accepted suitor that I should name the day, and he regards the time between now and the middle of December as being too long; but I ask him and the House to consider a little more realistically what is involved in this matter.
In the weeks that lie ahead of us some 45,000,000 books have to be distributed to every household in the country. Then 300 the consumers have to register with their retailers; the retailers, in turn, have to register with the wholesalers, and the wholesalers, in their turn, have to register with the importers. So the chain will be completed which will enable an accurate allocation of supplies to be made. But do not let us look at the matter too much from the point of view of the departmental store or the big multiple shop where there is a great deal of clerical assistance available which is far beyond the resources of the ordinary small shopkeeper. This is a task which has to be done by the public. The most that any Government Department can do is to estimate as closely as possible what is a reasonable time within which all these sections of the public may be expected to perform their parts of the task and so create the necessary machinery. That is what we have done and that is the basis of the estimate which I have given to the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman may think that it would take a shorter time to go through these processes, but here again, if I may say so with respect, his mind may unconsciously be coloured by the efficiency of the great trading organisation which he has mentioned himself, so that he does not fully see the difference between that picture and the picture of the ordinary small shopkeeper who has not to deal with a membership but has to rely upon his customers.
Is it not a fact that the Grocers' Federation, speaking for the small man, have been anxious to get rationing put into operation and have raised no such objection as that to which the Minister refers?
§ Mr. Morrison
I am not putting this forward as an objection. I am putting forward an estimate of the time which is reasonably necessary for the performance of this task by the public. It is not a question of answering objections.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear whether his argument is that rationing is unnecessary and ought not to be introduced, or that rationing is necessary but that it is difficult to get the small retailers registered in time to make the necessary arrangements? The two propositions are inconsistent.
§ Mr. Morrison
Those two propositions may be inconsistent, but neither of them 301 is my argument. My argument is, in the first place, that we ought to ration where there is scarcity of supplies, but not in other cases where supplies are ample, and I am now answering the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman who seemed to imply, though he did not state it outright, that the time between now and the middle of December is too long a time for bringing rationing into operation. I am pointing out that this task has to be done by 45,000,000 people and that the most one can do is to give an estimate. I suggest to the House that it would be very unwise to launch a rationing scheme with insufficient data as to the actual supplies, and that the proper thing is to leave it to the Government, in the light of the circumstances as they develop from day to day, to say what is the proper date. After all, no time will be lost by this course, because the essential preliminary movements are going on.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Will the Minister answer the allegation that has been made regarding the co-operative society, that preferential treatment has been dealt out against the co-operative society and in favour of the private trader? I would like to be clear about that.
I want to assure the House who have done me the honour of listening to me to-night, that what I said at the party meeting is, in every detail, what I said to the House. If my hon. Friend has interpreted it in a different sense from that in which I interpret it myself, he is of course at liberty to do so but I think I made it clear and I think the Minister accepted what I said, that as far as unfairness of allocation by those who control the Government requisition of the bulk supply is concerned, I made no such charge. I also made it clear that the failure to requisition other forms of supply led to an unfair distribution.
§ Mr. Morrison
All I was concerned with was to show that the right hon. Gentleman agreed, and I was very glad to hear it, that there was no suggestion that since we have had control of the butter we have 302 been allocating it unfairly, and I need not say that any suggestion of unfairness in allocation would be quite unfounded. I am aware that in the time before rationing starts there will be complaints and difficulties, but I would point this out to the right hon. Gentleman and the House. The registration of customers will give us a far more accurate picture than we have yet had, of the needs of districts and we hope that accuracy of allocation will, as a consequence, steadily improve. The trade has done a great deal of service to the people in these difficult weeks and we rely upon their continued help, while we shall do what we can to minimise their difficulties and to build up a system which will work smoothly and fairly.
Though the right hon. Gentleman did not make much reference to it I wish to say a few words on the subject of prices. I have made the claim, and I believe it can be substantiated, that the coming into effect at such an early date of food control—and food control is a much wider subject than rationing—has saved a great deal of money to the consumers. It has given us powers which otherwise would not have been available for that purpose. The Motion speaks of "the continuous rise in prices." I think that the use of that term rather begs the question. The war is not yet very old and we are doing and shall do what we can to maintain a level of prices as reasonable and as low as possible. Of course, when one considers the diversity of circumstances in the world markets and the conditions under which we have to import food, one realises that there are apt to be, from time to time, movements in those markets which even with the powers now possessed by us we cannot wholly obliterate, though we may help to check and control them. There are movements in freights and insurance and in other respects which have to be taken into consideration. Our object is to see that no excessive charges are made and, as far as we can, to secure good bargains for our own people.
Then there is the question of prices for home produce, on which, I am sure, the House would like me to say something. When we are dealing with our own farmers, we must remember that we are asking them, in the national interest, to go in for a form of agriculture which is different from their normal economic life. We are asking them to incur expenditure 303 in ploughing up and in generally transforming the balance of their agriculture from a predominantly pastoral agriculture, to arable agriculture. That is a fact which the consuming public ought to bear in mind. While the farming community has, I am sure, no desire to make claims which would be oppressive on the country, in any emergency, yet our prices to our own farmers should be such as will encourage and evoke production and supply, because everything that can be done at this time to save shipping and transport charges ought to be done. We have from time to time made statements about prices to encourage agricultural cooperation, and to-night I would like to say a few words in particular about this matter. The agricultural community, as I say, is now being asked to undertake expenditure in ploughing up. In the arable districts there has been a good deal of depression for some years past and some decline in the arable area. One of the difficulties about expanding arable production now is the inability of many farmers to meet from their present resources the extra outlay involved, or to run the risks involved in increasing production at the pre-war price level.
In view of the need for encouraging arable farming and assisting the farmers to expand production the Government have decided to ask Parliament to approve of the necessary amendments to the Wheat Act and the Orders under the Agricultural Development Act, to enable the standard price of wheat sold in the current cereal year, to be raised from 10s. to 11s. per cwt., that is to say, from 45s. to 49s. 6d. a quarter, and the standard price of oats of the 1939 crop from 8s. to 9s. per cwt., or from 24s. to 27s. per quarter. I am sorry, in a way, that we should have had this dispute about the policy of the Government over rationing. I realise that different views must be held on the subject by members of the public who are particularly influenced by the matter one way or the other. But I feel sure that both in our efforts to keep prices steady and in our resolve to use rationing in bacon and butter because there is a demonstrably short supply, but not to impose rationing for its own sake unless it is necessary—that in that general policy, we shall have the support of the House and the country.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reply to one or two of my specific questions? In the first place, I asked him to say whether or not, if sugar were rationed next week, it would be possible to supply more than 12 ounces per head for any period. I also asked him whether he was going to introduce rationing on 15th December or earlier, or whether he was going to give way to the pressure for delaying it still further?
§ Mr. Morrison
I thought I had sufficiently answered the first question when I said the other day that if consumers restricted their purchases to one pound a week, we should be able to supply that amount and give full supplies to manufacturers, and so forth. In regard to the second question, I have already explained how dependent the Ministry is upon public registration going through and that the date must depend on how that is done. It is not done by my Department but by the public at large. In regard to the suggestion which, I think, was contained in the right hon. Gentleman's question, we shall not be deterred by pressure from any source from acting as we think just in the interests of the people.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Horabin
None of us wants rationing for rationing's sake, but whether we have it or not depends upon considerations other than those to which the Minister has referred in detail. I have considerable sympathy with the Minister, because in my view he has at the present moment one of the most responsible, if not the most responsible, posts in the Government. Indeed, it may be said that if he fails to do what is necessary to feed our population during the period required by the Navy and Air Force to overcome an effective blockade of this island, then he will be failing in his responsibility and he might conceivably bring about our defeat. I would ask the Minister whether we have in this country at the present moment adequate reserves of food to meet this contingency, or, if not, whether he is taking steps now to build up those reserves? There seems to be a possibility that next spring we may be subject to a more effective blockade than we have yet experienced. It is only sensible for us to guard against any possible shortage in our food supplies, and in considering this question we must not be misled by the very great successes that we 305 have had in dealing with the submarine campaign. Hitler started preparations for his submarine campaign comparatively late, and he also believed until war broke out that England would not be one of his enemies.
In view of these facts, I think we have no ground for over-optimism. If we ignore the heavy sinkings of our ships that took place in the first two weeks before the convoy system was introduced, we find that the tonnage of ships sunk by submarines for the first four weeks after the convoy was got into operation— that is to say, from the third to the sixth week of the war inclusive—amounted to 48,000 tons. For the following three weeks it amounted to 59,000 tons, and there again, I think, we have no grounds for over-optimism. Although it is true that the Navy has been dealing extraordinarily effectively with the U-boats and destroying them at a very satisfactory rate, at the same time we have, as the First Lord of the Admiralty told us this afternoon, to consider the German rate of replacement and that at the peak of the last war they were replacing submarines at the rate of two a week. I believe that at present they have increased on that rate. In other words, our very great success in dealing with the submarine campaign is no reason for failure to keep adequate stocks of food to meet the anticipated blockade.
There is another and even more serious danger to us, and that is from air raids on our ships and ports. The raids already carried out by the Germans have not been very satisfactory from their point of view, but surely they will have learned their lesson and will use the next six months in preparing for their spring campaign by building aeroplanes more suitable for their purpose. The Allied strategy at present of avoiding offensive action against Germany may or may not be sound, but it enables Hitler, instead of mobilising his armed forces, to keep them working in armament factories and for his export trade, and we have to remember that the German armament factories are highly organised and have obtained maximum production, whereas at present in this country we are only feeling towards our maximum production. Time for the next six months is working on the side of the Nazis and not on the side of the Allies. None of us wants ration- 306 ing, but if rationing of all essential foodstuffs is necessary in order to enable us to build up adequate reserves of food, let us have rationing of everything straight away. We have to remember too that we have fewer ships to-day and that we have 4,000,000 more mouths to feed in this country than we had in 1914. I therefore beg of the Minister, if we have not got these adequate stocks, to take the people of this country into his confidence. They will rally to his side and back him up to the hilt if he does so.
I hear, though I may be wrong, that there are certain shortages. I hear we are short of maize and barley, and I am told that, so far as meat is concerned, we are living from shipment to shipment. That is another reason for considering whether we should not ration all essential commodities straight away. We must see that any supplies of food are distributed fairly among the population, and from this point of view rationing of all essential foodstuffs is highly desirable, because the present arrangements affect only those with incomes well above the average. Take butter, which has been discussed at length this evening. We are, I believe, distributing every week rather less than half our normal supplies of butter, yet for the consumer who can afford to pay 1s. 7d. a lb. there is no shortage, except perhaps in a few instances due to maldistribution. Why is that? It is because butter at 1s. 7d. a lb. is too dear for most people, and they have gone over to margarine. Why should the country use up its valuable foreign exchange and shipping space to bring in more than the allotted ration of butter for those who can afford to pay for it? At is.7d. a lb. we can cut out butter imports substantially and substitute imports of other foodstuffs for them at prices which all can afford to pay.
Another important function of the Minister is to keep down the cost of living, because food, after all, is the most important item in the budget of the working classes of this country, but I do say emphatically that it is wrong for the Minister to keep down the cost of living by depriving the distributing trade of its normal and justifiable gross margin, especially when, as we know, overheads are rapidly increasing. The wholesalers and retailers are faced by wage increases, war risks insurance, commodity insur- 307 ance, increased road carnage charges, increased freights, and the cost of A.R.P., and the interests of the secondary wholesalers, who, after all, are a vital link in the food distribution chain, have in many instances been completely ignored. Perhaps the House will allow me to quote from a letter which I have received on this subject. It states:The Cornwall Wholesale Grocers Group readily recognise the many difficulties with which the various committees are faced, but the maximum prices which have been so far fixed provide little or no margin for overhead expenses and profit. For example, the price of imported North American lard has been fixed at 42s. 6d. cwt. ex port, and if this article comes from Liverpool, cartage to steamer is incurred together with freight (advanced by 25 per cent. since the outbreak of war), marine war risk insurance 15s. per cent., and transport from Falmouth or Penzance to merchants' premises. In addition, the cost of redistribution to retail buyers has to be borne by the wholesaler. The total cost of the above service is about 4s. cwt., and the Order requires that the wholesaler resells to the retailer at 46s. 8d. cwt. If the lard is bought in Bristol, the above-mentioned charges amount to about 2s. 6d. cwt., but it has been almost impossible to obtain supplies from the latter port.Dried and evaporated fruits the secondary wholesaler has to sell at the prices he pays, plus the net cost of carriage. It is understood that later a rebate of 4s. may be allowed, but this is inadequate to cover establishment charges. On butter, cheese and bacon controlled maximum prices allow of no profit to the secondary wholesaler. If the distributing trade is to continue to function each section must have a margin sufficient to cover overheads and provide a reasonable rate of profit, and, as I have already said, the secondary wholesaler is a vital link in the distributive chain.
Lord Moulton once said that burdens borne for the good of the nation should be distributed over the whole nation and ought not to be allowed to fall on particular individuals. I think everyone in the House will agree with that, because if we are to avoid inflation, the cost of food must be kept down, and as things are the costs of importing and distributing are steadily rising, although they may not appear in the prices charged to the public at the present time.
I would suggest to the Minister, although perhaps this should more appropriately be a suggestion to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that there is a way 308 out. The British Government to-day is the biggest trading organisation in the world. It is buying and distributing all kinds of commodities, some of which influence the cost of living of the working classes and some of which do not, and to keep down the cost of living the Government should, in my view, be prepared to sell essential foodstuffs, if necessary, below cost. It is cheaper in the end to the nation to bear the ensuing loss rather than for us to start on a period of uncontrolled inflation, and I doubt whether there would be an ultimate loss, because the Government, like any other well organised business, should make up on the swings what they lost on the roundabouts by charging increased profit on commodities which do not enter into the cost of living.
After all, what we want in the handling of our finances in time of war are vision, imagination, and courage, and I feel that they are all conspicuously lacking at the present time. Finance in war should be the follower, not the maker of policy. Instead of that, at the moment policies are being strangled in the strait-jacket of unimaginative finance. I would also ask the Minister of Food whether he is trying to meet the cost of his own organisation out of the commodities with which he is dealing. Is the cost of the Ministry of Food as well as the cost of the normal trade distributing service being included in the food consumers' bill? It would appear too that the Department is profiteering to an extent which would not be tolerated on the part of the ordinary private trader. Rolled oats were selling at 12s. 6d. per cwt. when war broke out; they were quoted in the "Corn Trade Review" at 15s. 6d. on 7th September. Quite early in September stocks were requisitioned and redistributed by the Department, and eight weeks later they were invoiced to the trade at 18s. per cwt. Dried fruits were requisitioned at from 30s. to 32s. and redistributed at 40s. If that is not profiteering, what is?
I would also like to touch upon the question of organisation. Schemes for each commodity are independent and have varying terms and conditions, which do not harmonise. Sugar may be sold carriage paid, whereas dried fruit must be sold ex-warehouse price, with carriage charges in addition, and the vital functions of certain sections of the trade 309 are ignored under some schemes and not under others. There is a widespread feeling, which may be completely unjustified, which is summed up in the words of one of my correspondents as follows:We maintain that some of the advice given to the Department has not been disinterested, and the advisers have not the necessary knowledge of the details of distribution, that their interests are mainly in big business, and schemes have been worked out to suit their particular problems, without any regard whatever for the distributor, who is actually nearest in touch with the retail shop.I believe the Minister could overcome these doubts and difficulties and that he could solve difficult problems like maldistribution and the heavy burden that is being thrown on the finances of many of the distributors, if he formed a small advisory committee, composed of all sections of the trade, and asked them to make a quick survey of the present position and to co-ordinate the many schemes which he has now inside the Department. I am sure that that would result in a satisfactory co-ordination, both from the point of view of the Department and from the point of view of the trade. Finally, I believe it is necessary to have immediate rationing of nearly all our essential commodities, more particularly because of this question of our vital food reserves, and to secure fair distribution of available supplies to save shipping space and the burden on the exchanges, and to keep down the cost of living.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams
I beg to move, in line 2, to leave out from "be," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:directed to ensuring adequate supplies of essential foodstuffs and their equitable distribution at reasonable prices to all members of the community, and that the decision as to the rationing of individual commodities should be based upon the supplies available from time to time.This Amendment does not quite fit the point of view I desired to take up when I read the Motion proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Members for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander). He wanted the immediate application of a comprehensive rationing scheme, but that was not the attitude he took in the course of his speech. His complaint in detail was that butter and bacon were not being rationed soon enough. There was some 310 vague suggestion about rationing sugar at a level lower than we get it without rationing, which did not seem very intelligent; and some vague suggestion about rationing meat at a time when it does not appear to be necessary. There was, however, no argument to sustain the proposition in his Motion. One part of my Amendment is directed to controverting what he suggests in his Motion, which he did not attempt to sustain in his speech. I am not entirely surprised that he did not deal with the whole subject of the Motion. What, after all, was his speech? As far as I could make out, it was primarily a big advertisement for the co-operative movement. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] That is all right; it is quite honest to say, "Why not?" but his speech was fundamentally an eloquent and powerful advertisement for that particular form of capitalism of which he is the special exponent. I can never quite understand why people should make a religion out of a deferred discount provided it is deferred for at least six months and is called "divi" when it is paid. I have not the slightest objection to people combining in any way they like within the law for selling things to one another, but I have never understood why they should make a kind of virtue of it, and why the man who goes to the "Co-op" is more likely to play a harp in Heaven than the man who goes to the ordinary grocer.
I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman is not present, because I do not like saying these things behind his back, but he will have an opportunity of reading them to-morrow. I am glad that he has got his ration book. I have mine, and we live only five doors from one another. I hope he does not lose his ration book, but as he is on the Advisory Council of the Ministry of Food I daresay they will see him right if he does. I understand that the wholesaler's ration leaves some percentage of margin and the local "Co-op" will see him through, anyhow. When the right hon. Gentleman mentioned last week, with great indignation, that he was going to move what amounted to a Vote of Censure on my right hon. Friend the Minister for Food because of the unsatisfactory nature of what he said, he gratuitously went out of his way to say in a loud voice that he was going to do it for the whole party. I always believed that the doctrine of 311 collective responsibility applied not only to the Government Front Bench, but to the Opposition Front Bench, and that, therefore, when a front bencher announces that he will do something and says he will do it for the whole party, it is rather like the man who opens a conversation by telling you he is honest. At once you button up your pockets. It always seems to me an unnecessary thing to say, but the thought that came to my mind when the right hon. Gentleman made that remark was rather different. It was, "What is biting the Co-op?"to use a popular phrase of the day.
§ Sir H. Williams
The Amendment was not on the Order Paper then. We only had the threat of the Motion. I wondered what it was all about and what the original trouble was. I have a lot of constituents, rather more than most hon. Members, and they have a considerable capacity for writing me letters, to which I address appropriate replies. As a rule, when a subject of this kind is to be debated one expects a flood of communications, because, if the normal citizen does not write, the "circus" does. Hon. Members know what I mean by the "circus." In every constituency there are a number of people who will always be inspired to write letters provided they get a circular from some national organisation. Very often they have no knowledge of the subject, but if the Co-operative movement, or some other national movement, sends a circular out it produces a certain amount of correspondence. Curiously, however, I have not had a single letter up to now from anybody desiring rationing. That is rather significant. Most Members are old enough to remember the circumstances which led up to rationing during the Great War. Those circumstances were queues, but, broadly speaking, there has been no sign of that symptom up to now.
§ Sir H. Williams
I understand the Labour party, which unjustly takes to itself the position that it really represents the masses of the people, is coming forward here to-day and demanding in the name of the people with a capital P that 312 they desire to be rationed. Otherwise, what are we talking about? The right hon. Gentleman read a letter and he tried to impress us by saying it came from a Midland grocer. I do not know why a Midland grocer should be more important than a Croydon grocer, but the fact impressed him, and he said that that man wanted immediate rationing. Why? Because of the situation which prevailed on 12th September. The organisation was different then. I am not saying the organisation is all perfect now, and I hope the Minister will not run away with the idea that I am going to wrap him up in a white sheet, because that would not be right, much as I respect him. What was the situation then? What did the Minister tell us to do? He told us to indulge in a moderate form of hoarding, and quite rightly. There was a picture of instant raids on the outbreak of war of such a character that the normal physical means of distribution would be upset. The one thing, I imagine, about which he and the Government were perturbed was not that there would be a lack of food in the country, but that there would be a lack of the means of conveyance of food to this, that and the other district. Therefore, so far as people had the means— and obviously it was advice that could be better taken by those who were comfortably off than by those who were not—; and were able to make a certain accumulation of food in their households, they would be rendering a public service provided that hoarding did not take place to the extent that later on it would come because of individual shortages among people who had not taken any steps towards moderate hoarding.
That was the situation visualised on 12th September by the distinguished Midland grocer who wrote to the right hon. Member for Hillsborough. I should have thought he would have read us a letter dated 2nd or 3rd November. It is true that he produced a letter from a distinguished gentleman who is the head of an important food distributing organisation, for whose efficiency I have the greatest respect—the firm of Sainsbury—and they want rationing. That firm has spent a great deal of money on advertising, describing what would be rationed and what would not be, and pointing out the extreme desirability of registering with Sainsburys. That is very good propaganda. If they spend a lot of money in 313 the Press saying that Sainsburys are good fellows, that these things will be rationed and those things will not be rationed, but that whatever happens register with Sainsburys, and they write a letter to the chief representative in the House of Commons of the Co-operative Society and get him to read it out, that is the cheapest form of publicity I have met. It does not necessarily mean, however, we are to accept all that Mr. Sainsbury says.
There was a feature about the right hon. Gentleman's speech which disturbed me, and it is not a subject for frivolity. The right hon. Gentleman visits the Ministry of Food very frequently. Most of us have frequent contact with Government Departments. We are having problems thrown at us by constituents. We talk to Ministers in this House and we all know the relations which exist between Members of Parliament, Ministers and civil servants in the Departments. They tell us things, and we ought to be told, but we are told on the assumption that it is in confidence, and that it will not be used for an improper purpose. I am not going to say that anything which the right hon. Gentleman said to-day was undesirable in the sense that it ought not to be published, but he detailed a great many private conversations of Ministers and civil servants. I do not know what effect that had upon the minds of other hon. Members, but it had an unfortunate effect on my mind, because I think it is of enormous advantage to us in our duties that we should be able to speak freely with civil servants and Ministers, and sometimes obtain information, quite properly, given to us in advance, or to warn us of some course we might adopt which would be against the public interest. If one who is not only an ordinary Member but a right hon. Member, a member of the Privy Council, and who has been a member of the Cabinet, can retail in his speech odds and ends of conversations—
§ Mr. T. Williams
Is the hon. Member really justified in making this obvious attack upon my right hon. Friend concerning private conversations which were not private conversations at all, but merely ordinary conversations in the normal way of dealing with civil servants?
§ Sir H. Williams
I do not think any Member of Parliament has any moral right to get up in this House and say to 314 a Minister, "I know it is, because Mr. Smith, one of your civil servants, told me so last Tuesday." I think that position is quite intolerable.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
I listened to that part of the speech of my right hon. Friend—I believe he has been called somewhere else for the moment—in which he referred to a meeting and quoted from a letter, but he indicated that he had already told the Minister that he was going to make that quotation, and the Minister made no objection.
§ Sir H. Williams
No, I listened to that part of the speech very carefully, and at the time I commented upon it to several hon. Members who were round me, but who are not here now. I gather that it had the same effect on all of us. He quoted what Sir Henry French said on the occasion of a deputation. Sir Henry French is a civil servant, and not a Minister. He quoted what some secretary said in the passage. I did not make notes of all the things he said. I think that is a most improper attitude for a Member of Parliament to take. If we are to have the repetition in this House of conversations we have had with civil servants, then the whole basis upon which we conduct our work here will disappear.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman informed my right hon. Friend that he was going to say this about him.
§ Mr. T. Williams
He has been sent for to the reporters' room. I only suggest to the hon. Member that he is not justified in making this personal attack, since the conversations referred to took place at deputations fixed up in the ordinary way, and it is fair to assume that members of private trading organisations have retailed these conversations all over the country.
§ Sir H. Williams
What report a member of a deputation conveys in private to the organisation which sent him is a different thing from a statement made in this House, which is a sounding-board spreading statements all over the world. I am reproached because I did not warn the right hon. Gentleman that I was going to say this, but he knew, I presume, that I was moving the Amendment to his Motion, and if a thing is raised un- 315 expectedly it cannot be said that I was not entitled to say it, by the ordinary rules of this House, in the course of this Debate. It is not as though I were raising the matter on a different day. I never heard that it was necessary to warn another hon. Member that you were going to reply to his Motion, especially as my name is on the Order Paper.
§ Sir H. Williams
I have no doubt that, through the usual channels, the right hon. Gentleman knew which Amendment was going to be called.
On the occasion of the last war the criticism which could be legitimately made on this subject, as on a great many other subjects, was that we were inclined to be too late in taking action. There had then been no previous experience of a war affecting the whole social life of the community, and because of the mistakes we made on the last occasion, when we were too late, the tendency this time has been to be too early. I have not the slightest doubt that the widespread complaints— and Ministers know perfectly well my views on them, because I have approached them on all sorts of subjects— are the result of precipitate action, of starting to control things before any need for control had arisen. After all, the normal channels of trade exist because there is a reason for them, and it is a most dangerous thing to interfere with the normal distribution of commodities unless there is an overwhelming reason for doing so. If your purpose is to divert the water of a river along a number of brooks or canals, it will be realised that it is a terrible mistake if the dam is above the canals and not below, because then there are all the fields round about and nothing runs into the canals you have constructed, but that is what has apparently happened.
Then, of course, there was the rapid re-distribution of commodities in case they might be severely damaged by air raids in the places where they normally accumulate. In addition, there has been the problem arising from the evacuation. On account of evacuation I suppose that those who, like myself, live in Westminster have not had any particular difficulty in getting supplies. My grocer tells 316 me that only 40 per cent. of his trade remains, and so, naturally his supplies nave been reasonably sufficient. On the other hand, in a town on the south coast such as that represented by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) I have not the slightest doubt that difficulties will have arisen because of the large accession of population. That is a temporary problem which has nothing to do with the general question of a shortage or otherwise. Further, we know that the Secretary of State for War and the other Defence Ministers have made preparations for feeding the troops of a much more elaborate character than previously. I believe an enormous stock of food has been accumulated in France, and although the total number of our troops there—some 200,000 or more—is only a small percentage of the population, if you accumulate food to provide reserves for a long time the total may constitute a very appreciable percentage of the food reserves.
Those are all factors which have come in and have introduced certain problems which, I believe, are temporary problems. Of course, there are other problems which are of a permanent character. I imagine that as long as this war lasts we shall have a problem as regards butter and bacon, though I think it will diminish in intensity, despite the rather pessimistic views which the First Lord of the Admiralty expressed earlier to-day, because I imagine that in due course the interruption in the free flow of commerce across the North Sea which has taken place will come to an end. I imagine that our capacity for ensuring the passage of commerce across the North Sea will not be less in this war than in the Great War, and therefore I look forward in due course to some easing of certain temporary problems.
From what I have heard in the Debate to-day no case for the immediate rationing of any commodity has been sustained. We have had instances quoted, mainly from the north of the island—from Scotland—and also some from Yorkshire and Lancashire, of localised shortages. They are really the underlying cause of to-day's Debate. If the errors of distribution which have been committed, I do not know by whom, are corrected, as I understand they are being corrected, we shall get a reason- 317 ably fair distribution all over the country of all the available supplies. When that situation arises, if you find that you are approaching what I call the queue stage, then you have to ration; but do not ration before that point. Do not think that the public like rationing. Rationing is a thundering nuisance—to put it bluntly.
I want to make some suggestions with regard to rationing which would mean substantial changes in the method. I do not like petrol rationing any more than anyone else does, but there is one merit about it which is not included in the scheme of my right hon. Friend. With your petrol book you can buy petrol where you like. You are not tied to a particular pump. Registration with a retailer is a great evil. I can see no reason why we should be registered with a retailer for our sugar, butter, bacon or anything else. It is not necessary in connection with petrol, and I do not see why it should be necessary in connection with any other commodity. What is the reason for registration? A grocer has, say, 1,000 registered customers who are entitled to 12 ozs. of sugar per head per week. Therefore, the grocer must be given each week precisely 750 lbs. of sugar. Unless the Ministry know how many customers he has they cannot allocate his ration.
The Ministry of Mines have not experienced any such difficulty. You do not experience difficulty, provided you start the trader off with a stock which is outside his ration. You must ration the individual a week before you ration the shopkeeper. We all go into our shops. At the end of the week, the shopkeepers have each collected coupons for, say, 600 lbs. of sugar. They have been able to supply that out of their pre-ration stock. The shopkeeper presents those coupons to his wholesaler who then restores to him what he has sold during the previous week. It is fairly obvious that there will be fluctuations, but those fluctuations are usually moderate. Provided the shopkeeper has enough stock to meet the magnitude of the maximum fluctuations, you may have rationing without the need of registering anybody anywhere.
I cannot see any reason against this idea, which represents the greatest possible reform in rationing that you could adopt. It would cut out all this 318 most undesirable competitive advertising that is going on at the moment among retailers, who appear to think that they are to get you to register for life, or at least for the duration. I do not want to be tied to a particular shop. I am sure that if I can say to my butcher: "I think you sent me a rotten joint last week; next week I am going to somebody else," he will be more polite and considerate than otherwise—not that I have any complaint against my butcher, and I mention this in case he happens to read the Debate. I suggest that we ought to abandon the principle of registration. It may be that there is a little difficulty in connection with butchers' meat, but even there I think the difficulty can be overcome. When you buy butchers' meat you do not buy all meat; you usually buy a certain amount of bone. The price of each particular cut is ordinarily determined partly by the proportion of bone which is contained in it as well as by the particular joint of meat. It introduces a problem of rationing in connection with butchers' meat that does not exist in connection with any other commodity. It is because of the presence of bone in the meat that they desire it to be rationed by value and not by weight—if we are to have meat rationing. At the moment it is not in sight. I hope that it will not come in sight. I would plead for reconsideration of this matter. After all, what we want for sustenance is quantity of meat, and not value of meat. If the rationing of meat were on the basis of weight of meat as distinct from bone, I imagine that the average butcher could make a pretty accurate guess at the demands of his customers provided that he had in hand a small margin in excess.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan
The hon. Member has made a very interesting suggestion, and I want to understand exactly what he is trying to convey. If there is a shortage of goods at the moment, how is each trader in the country to be given an excess of all those products in order that he might carry the margin which the hon. Gentleman has suggested the trader should have?
§ Sir H. Williams
That is a simple point. Let us assume that the available supplies are so many ounces per head of the population. All right. That is the ration 319 which the butcher collects; but the ration which the consumer nominally has will be a fraction below that amount.
§ Sir H. Williams
Yes, I am. I have the hon. Member's point perfectly clearly. The hon. Gentleman asked how, if we are down to a certain ration, we could have an excess?
§ Sir H. Williams
All I am saying is that on account of the problem that arises in connection with butchers' meat and the presence of the bone it is impossible, if you are to ration by weight, to tie the butcher down precisely—
§ Sir H. Williams
I am always willing to give way to another hon. Gentleman, but if the hon. Member listens he will see that I know his point. If you just provide the retailer with a margin, but that margin is to come out of the total supplies available, it means that the nominal ration of the citizen is a little less than the theoretical ration that he will, on the average, get. If you give the butcher a small amount in excess he will be able to meet the demand.
§ Mr. Bevan
Now that the hon. Gentleman has finished that explanation I will repeat that it seems very desirable that the House should understand exactly what his proposal is. Up to this point it has sounded very interesting. I gather it is that the purchasing public should be allowed to distribute itself over the trade where and when they like.
§ Sir H. Williams
The problem is not as difficult as all that. By way of illustration I said that the trader would start off with a stock.
§ Sir H. Williams
I did not necessarily imply that the stock was a week's stock. By way of illustration I said a week's stock, but it may be only a couple of days' stock. As the trader receives his coupons so he can go and draw from his wholesaler enough of those commodities to replace them. He may do so on a daily basis. All I am trying to explain is that it is possible without difficulty to work out a scheme of rationing which does away with the necessity of tying the individual to a particular retailer, and if that can be achieved—
§ Sir John Haslam
Before my hon. Friend develops that argument I would like to intervene. I know that he is a mine of information, but I think he has a lack of knowledge of the needs of the food of the people. He compares the rationing of petrol with the rationing of the foodstuffs of the people, but in every town of any size there may be only a few hundred people with motor cars, while every soul in it will need food. Every street-corner has its shop. How on earth are you to ration them?
§ Sir H. Williams
The fact that there are, roughly speaking, 25,000,000 customers of shops and only 2,500,000 customers for petrol has no bearing upon the argument. I am in the habit of going to the grocer's at the street corner. From him I buy whatever butter and sugar I want. I go usually to a regular man. At this moment, most of the shops have supplies of those commodities Some of them have very substantial supplies. When I buy my sugar the trader gets my coupon, and when he wants to replace the sugar he uses that coupon to get his next supplies in. It is all based on the assumption that there are some stocks in the possession of the shopkeepers, and we know there are. Walk along any street you like and you will see in front of you shops with stocks now which could be the basis of rationing without registration. You may have commodities where that scheme would not work. You may have to tie people to particular shops in respect of certain commodities, but so far as the main commodities are concerned I would not like to see people tied to certain 321 shops. I think we could get much better service if we were free at any moment to take OUT trade where we desired. I do not want to prolong this Debate, but I do hope—
I understand that the hon. Gentleman has some personal charges to make against me. I hope he will not forget them.
§ Sir H. Williams
Certainly. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman's speech and I assumed he would be present to listen to the moving of the Amendment.
§ Sir H. Williams
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. In the course of his speech the right hon. Gentleman made a number of references to interviews he had with civil servants and Government Departments, and I said it was not proper to make such matters public.
So far as I know, the salient points in this connection are these. I referred to a letter of which I gave notice to the Minister, and I quoted only those parts of it which the Minister said I could quote. I then mentioned an "important phrase uttered by Sir Henry French at a meeting at which I led a deputation, with regard to certain information which was essential in the case. I have nothing to withdraw and there is nothing for which I should apologise.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Beechman
I beg to second the Amendment.
The Motion put forward by the Labour Opposition contains a proposition of considerable consequence and interest, and it is with great regret that I find the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) did not give us the benefit of his special knowledge in this matter and of his special access to facts in order to support the interesting proposition contained in the Motion. The Amendment makes the issue perfectly clear. The Labour Opposition demand the immediate application of a comprehensive rationing scheme. They wish to see a totalitarian theory of rationing applied. We on this side of the House make it clear that in our view the decision should be based upon supplies 322 available from time to time. That issue raises matters of great interest and of considerable complexity, and for my part I am seconding this Amendment because I am convinced that to carry out the scheme advocated by the Labour Opposition would be entirely unscientific in the existing circumstances. That scheme, so far from alleviating distress, would stabilise distress and would even aggravate it in the existing circumstances and certainly would not enable us to deal with the root causes of such difficulties as have arisen.
Why do they arise? We are living in a war situation in which various dislocations of all sorts have taken place. Those dislocations have not arisen from any one cause. They have arisen in the sphere of consumption, distribution and production, and it seems to me it is plain that our real task at this stage is to sort out all these causes and see where we can convert shortages, if shortages there be, into sufficiencies. In many instances that conversion can and will take place. At the same time we have to make sure that the delicate network of distribution in this country is properly adapted to the novel requirements. It is easy to say in theory, with almost mathematical precision, at what point rationing should be introduced. The time is this: when there is an ascertained absolute shortage. By absolute shortage I mean an enduring shortage and one which results from causes beyond our control. That is the first factor. The other factors are these, that you then count up and take the number of mouths which you wish to feed, but on the other side you have to ascertain the amount of food which you have available and, presupposing a shortage, make the best of a bad job and impose an all-round restriction. I say emphatically that these hypotheses do not exist. The factors which would enable us to decide how much food now exists or will exist shortly are constantly shifting, and no doubt there are some factors which make one see clearly that in certain spheres there will be an absolute shortage, for example by the cutting off of supplies from the Baltic or from Denmark. Even that may change quite swiftly in the course of the war or in the course of diplomacy. By far the most important factors in this matter at the moment are factors of a transient kind, very often of a purely local kind.
323 In order to examine the matter one must regard the whole process of the distribution of food supplies in this country. There have been great changes in the methods of shipping, the ports of embarkation, the arranging of convoys and the ports of discharge in this country. Before the war started imported foodstuffs in this country were distributed, broadly speaking, from East to West. All that has been changed within the last month or two and the country is being substantially fed from West to East. That means that there will have to be important adjustments—adjustments which can be made. This would involve adjustments by controllers of all sorts, and I have no doubt that the activities of controllers—I am not opposed to control in every respect—have been one of the contributing causes of local shortages. I hope the controllers are also controllable.
§ Mr. Gallacher
In connection with the shortage, could the hon. Gentleman tell us how it is that up in the North, where it is almost impossible to get butter in the Co-operative stores, you can get any amount of butter from the multiple dealers?
§ Mr. Beechman
I admit that there are local variations of an extraordinary character, such as that to which the hon. Gentleman has referred and I shall mention them later. I have referred to a sweeping change in this country of feeding the country from West to East instead of from East to West. In addition, children and their families have been arriving in sparsely inhabited districts. Army camps are being set up where there was nobody before, and there have been new factories. The result is that distributing centres and manufacturers find either that they have a hundred orders where there were no orders before or they are receiving no orders where they might have expected a great many. There are such changes as black-outs, which seriously affect the small shopkeeper, who knows that his clientele will not be arriving in such large numbers, and hesitates to carry the stock that he had before. There have been all sorts of shortage all over the country.
I thought that one of the mistakes that the right hon. Member for Hillsborough made was this: As the hon. Member on the Labour back benches has indicated, 324 he pointed to shortages here and there. You might get a shortage of a certain commodity in Carlisle one day and of the same commodity in Maidstone the next day, but the reasons for those two shortages might be completely different. One might be a local reason: inefficiency, perhaps, in personnel, or in some office—a Government office, if you like. The other might be a breakdown in supplies coming from abroad. A great danger, and one into which the right hon. Member for Hillsborough has clearly fallen, is to generalise a series of isolated incidents of shortage into a shortage or scarcity of a national character. It may be right, or it may be wrong—
§ Mr. Beechman
I quite agree with what the hon. Member says. There are some shortages which are serious, and they need analysis. Let me come to the shortage in bacon. This is a shortage which, to a material extent, is what I venture to define as an absolute shortage. It is no doubt for that reason that the Minister, quite rightly in my judgment, is contemplating rationing. But when you examine the shortage of bacon you see that there are many factors involved besides this question of absolute shortage. We know that supplies are not coming in from Denmark to the same extent as heretofore; that is an absolute shortage. But it goes much further than that. The shortage is due, to some extent-—and, I fear, to a great extent—to a failure in the production of pigs in this country; and that is due, to some extent, to a shortage in the supply of feeding stuffs. There is a shortage, for instance, in the supply of wheat meal. That deserves analysis. The Government, quite rightly, at the beginning of the war made large purchases of flour from abroad. The result is that the millers have been, if I may so express it, turning the mills slowly; and there has been no offal for pig-meal. Then there is the barley shortage, due partly, perhaps, to a shortage of imports, and, it might be, to the fact that some farmers were holding up barley for malting. I quite agree that that should be inquired into.
This shows that some of the shortage of bacon is due to the element of absolute shortage, and that some of it, very likely, 325 is due to other factors, which can be, and ought to be, rectified. I remember that when I went into the Army, as a boy, one of the first jobs I had was to look after a camp. Things were very different then from what they are now, and the men were complaining that they had not enough food. In order to provide them with luxuries I sold the swill from the camp every day. [An HON. MEMBER: "Everybody did."] I have since realised that many other people have done the same thing. [An HON. MEMBER:"You are making a virtue of it."] I am not making a virtue of it; quite the contrary. I was going to point out that the same thing is not being done in the camps to-day; and it should be an instruction in all camps that the swill should be saved—and properly saved, because the swill is no use if it has rusty tin cans in it—for feeding the pigs.
Colonel Sandeman Allen
On what authority does the hon. Member say that it is not being saved to-day? I have never heard of a camp where it is not saved.
§ Mr. Beechman
I have been told that there are difficulties arising, because in certain cases the swill is not kept as clean as it should be. As I have said, it should be kept clean, without any tin cans and such things.
It has been pointed out that dislocations give rise to shortages, but it seems probable that these dislocations may also give rise to surpluses. I should like to ask the right hon. Member for Hillsborough what he intends to do in regard to surpluses. In the Isles of Scilly and the West of Cornwall we are busy converting flower farms into potato-growing areas. The additional growing of potatoes is going on all over the country. I should think it highly probable that there will be a surplus of potatoes. If we are going to have a comprehensive rationing scheme, is the ration for potatoes to be 120 per cent.? Instead of a limitation of consumption, are you going to print on the ration cards, "Eat more potatoes." I think that is one of the ways in which this matter could be dealt with. We have failed to take the public sufficiently into our confidence; and a great deal more might be done by telling them, in dignified terms, what the position is. There is no need for harum-scarum advertising—"East less bacon, 326 and buy from the co-operative societies, "and that sort of thing—there should simply be a plain statement that it is desirable that more of a particular commodity should be eaten, and with supporting information. What we need is leadership and information in this particular respect.
But there is one difficulty which has to be avoided in connection with rationing. Rationing sometimes leads to waste. Something has been said to the effect that we should not compare food with petrol, and I quite agree; but, in regard to petrol, we have seen that when someone gets a ration card for petrol he thinks he should use up such petrol as that card allows. There is a danger that when people have a ration card for food they will think that they must use up their allowance. There has been a tendency in this Debate, I think—and certainly in public discussion on this matter— to confuse, or run together, the control of prices and rationing. I quite agree that one affects the other, but they are not the same thing. I think that control of prices has been absolutely essential: in the first respect, to prevent speculation in essential commodities, such as we would have had at the outbreak of the war. Secondly, the control of prices is essential to help poor producers. I know how important it is to keep up the price of fish for the sake of the poor fishermen, who are in another respect also consumers.
The control of the price of food also exists to help consumers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough and others make a mistake when they regard rationing as a true agent for distributing food in all circumstances. It is only a true agent where there is a scarcity. In other circumstances, the real agent for distributing food is purchasing power. When I hear hon. Members urging increased allowances for old age pensioners and dependants they seem to be much nearer the mark. None of us need more than enough, but you cannot buy enough unless you have the money with which to buy it. The real agent in distributing products is purchasing power. That is easily lost sight of when we talk of a rationing scheme as if it is going to do wonders in distributing commodities.
Lastly, I would call attention to the fact that the rationing scheme may be 327 the very thing you do not want to be done. It may cause a decline in production by restrictions and by giving people the impression that they cannot have as much as might be theirs in different circumstances, and it may discourage producers from producing what they would otherwise have done. Therefore, for these reasons and because I believe that in existing circumstances rationing would aggravate and not relieve the disease, I second the Amendment.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Jackson
Like all. Members when they address this House for the first time, I beg that the usual patience and sympathy will be extended to me,: only in fuller measure than usual, because I feel that my need is greater. I have the honour to represent in this House two counties, and live in another one, all three of which depend almost entirely upon agriculture for their livelihood. Therefore, I enter into this Debate tonight from perhaps a different angle from that of previous speakers. I suggest that, if proper encouragement is given to the fanning community, the need for rationing in many commodities will not arise. No one wants to see rationing for rationing's sake because its introduction suggests shortage. We all want to see a state of plenty in the land, and this can be achieved to a great extent if we make the fullest use of our land. If there is any permanent shortage of any commodities, I agree that rationing should be brought in in order to deal with it immediately. The Minister of Agriculture, in an article which was published in last week's "Sunday Times," stressed the fact that in his new plans for agriculture he has no intention of farming the land from Whitehall. We all agree that he is quite correct in giving as much freedom to the county agricultural committees as possible, and I and the House hope that he will achieve his great aim of bringing 1,500,000 acres of land under the plough. But I am afraid that though he as Minister of Agriculture is not interfering too much from Whitehall, that is not the case with many of his colleagues. In moving about among brother farmers I find a feeling of apathy and frustration is growing among them at the moment. They feel that they are not being treated seriously in this great effort, and that 328 they are not being taken into the confidence of the powers-that-be.
The need for food production, we are told, is of supreme importance, yet, just at the moment when we as farmers are asked to make great efforts to increase our production and to plough up fresh land, thousands of our young workers are taken away from us. In an area like Brecon and Radnor, where small farms are the rule, this very often means that there can not only be no increase in arable acreage, but it will be impossible to maintain the present acreage. I do not claim for farming any privileges over other industries, and I am sure that our young farm workers would not wish to escape their military obligations, but this problem should be treated quite apart from sentiment, and if food is wanted these men should be retained until others are ready to take their places.
It would be useless for me here to plead to this House that all farmers are poor or short of money. It would not be true, but I believe it to be true that the majority of farmers in this country are short of ready cash, and many have already large overdrafts at the banks and owe money to merchants. This is greatly in the way of the success of the present appeal for an increase in production in this country. It costs at least £6 or £7 or more per acre as a minimum to grow a cereal crop from plough to harvest. I know that farmers are very grateful to the Minister for the speed with which he is having the £2 an acre subsidy paid to them, but it still leaves £4 or £5 per acre to be found, and there is also the expense of purchasing new equipment. The farmer is, therefore, asked under this scheme to give credit to the Government when, in many cases, he has himself to borrow money to do so. I suggest that at as early a date as possible loans at a very low rate of interest should be made available through the county committees or other appropriate bodies. I consider that this is one of the most important steps towards obtaining increased food production in the near future, and I ask the Minister why this cannot be done?
I would like to say a word about the price and distribution of feeding stuffs. As a farmer I am sick of for ever trying to get the price of commodities raised to meet the new price of feeding stuffs. As an example of what I mean, we have 329 just had a rise of 1s. for bacon pigs. This was not very satisfactory even at the old price of meal, but the moment we get the rise the Wheat Commission choose to raise the price of wheat, so that up goes the price of meal by 15s. per ton, and once again the bacon producer is pressing the Minister in order, to obtain a further increase. I was glad to hear to-day that we are to have 1s. increase. Why will not the Minister give us a definite price on cost of production? No wonder bacon is scarce. Unless the methods with regard to bacon are altered it will soon be much scarcer. The same applies to milk and poultry, and especially, I think, to wheat. The wheat growers would very much like to have a guaranteed price for next season's crop of wheat. The Minister has given a sort of promise that he will give a remunerative price, but the farming community is, I am afraid, not too trusting in these matters, they have been let down so often in the past. It would be a great advantage to have such a guaranteed price. The Agricultural Prices Order has helped to prevent prices from soaring, to unduly high limits, but, unfortunately, it seems to have cleared off the market all sorts of lower-priced offals, and now feeders can only purchase, and that with irregularity, the most expensive feeding mixtures. I have received letters from important corn merchants and agricultural co-operative societies telling me that they cannot obtain any offals. I would ask the Minister whether this is necessary, and, if not, who is the responsible person to regulate the matter.
With regard to sheep, I agree with the Minister that they are the most easily fed of our stock and, therefore, I think he is right in asking for a large increase, but one point which he seems to have overlooked is that as light-weight early lambs are to be discouraged, these will come in very large quantities on the market in the Autumn. In our district we send from Whitsuntide onwards a large number of early lambs to the market, and I can see these being kept back to the Autumn for the heavier weights. I am, therefore, wondering how they will be dealt with I have left my most important point, to the last, and that is the position of the farm labourer. I cannot see much good coming from an increase in the production of foodstuffs unless the status of the 330 farm labourer is raised, not only by an increase in wages, but by an improvement in the amenities of his rural life. I do not intend to explore these two issues, but it must be understood by every hon. Member that as man-power becomes scarcer, through men being taken for the Armed Forces, more and more farm labourers will be leaving the land for more remunerative jobs in the towns. That is one reason why I was so disappointed by the reply of the Minister of Agriculture to my question about a national minimum wage for farm workers. I very much dislike wages being fixed by county committees, because that always tends to keep down wages to the level of the lowest and the poorest district. The National Farmers' Union, to which I belong, deals with this matter on a national disaster. I can see no reason why farm workers' wages should not be treated in the same way. I hope, therefore, the Minister will reconsider the matter. I am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not kept in as close touch with the representatives of the farm workers as he might, with benefit, have done.
I hope that my remarks have not been unduly critical and pessimistic. I know how difficult is the task of the Minister and how hard he is working to achieve success. If I have seemed to be too critical it is only because I wish agriculture to play a fine part in our national emergency. I know that the farmers do not want any special advantages and privileges. They want a clear lead, so that they may know what is expected of them, and that they may be allowed to get on with their jobs. They want a fair price for their produce, and the best elements among them are against any form of profiteering. If the matters to which I have referred are put right and supplies of suitable agricultural implements are made available, I am certain that a huge increase in output can be obtained from our land.
I am, personally, anxious that the present Minister of Agriculture should be successful in his task. He was once President of the Farmers' Union, to which I belong, and I well remember-a fine speech he delivered at an annual dinner of the union, when the present Minister of Food was Minister of Agriculture. I have never forgotten the aims that he set out as essential for the prosperity of agriculture.
331 I hope that if any good can come from such a catastrophe as the present war, one of the good things will be the realisation by the people of this country of the importance of a prosperous countryside, and that they will determine that never again shall our land be allowed to return to the neglect of past years.
§ 8.5 p.m.
Colonel Sandeman Allen
It is my privilege, immediately following the hon. Member who has just made his maiden speech, to congratulate him and to express the hope that we may hear him again in the near future. I only wish to make a few remarks in supporting very strongly the Amendment which has been so ably moved and seconded. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) spoke about people still waiting for payments for their tea. A most peculiar position has arisen. The trader gets his goods on an overdraft, a credit, with the bank. The Government have seized his stocks, and the trader is now allowed to buy his stocks back for cash. He has to go to the bank for further money in order to buy his own stocks back. Eventually he will get his money from the Government to pay back that money to the bank, and when he sells his stock he has to settle for his original overdraft with the bank. It is a peculiar position which should be remedied with the utmost speed.
There are one or two small points on the question of sugar rationing that occur to me. There have been heavy demands on stocks of sugar in the last few weeks because this year we have had an exceptional fine fruit harvest and the extra amount of jam-making has meant an extra call upon the stocks of sugar. The jam-making season is just about over and I do not suppose there will be these extra calls for sugar in the near future. I want to draw the attention of the Minister particularly to the question of meat, more especially to the imports of meat on the hoof from Ireland. That is a most useful adjunct to our food supplies in this country. There are only two ports where landing and slaughtering take place, namely, Birkenhead and Glasgow, but there are several other ports where landing takes place. The meat required for Glasgow is quite different from the meat demanded in Birkenhead or in Man- 332 chester, and the demand differs again in North-East Lancashire. It is a trade which has special difficulties and problems.
So far, I understand, Birkenhead has not been taken into the whole scheme, except possibly in one or two parts of it. Northern Ireland dealers and salesmen are going to be put on a different basis from those in Eire. That seems to me to be a very great mistake. It will throw all those dealers and salesmen out of business, and, apart from that, they know where the cattle are to be found, they know what cattle to collect and the type that is wanted. It would be unsuitable to send to Birkenhead cattle which would be suitable for Glasgow. These men have a lifelong experience of the business. It is very desirable that the livestock shipping to England should be left in its present condition. The trade knows exactly what is wanted, and it should be fixed up on those lines. The dealers living and operating in Northern Ireland have been entirely excluded from the scheme as we understand it at the moment, and that seems to me to be a very grave error. Not only that, but unless these animals are brought over here to be killed and the price paid over here, there will be a loss to the Government of £1 to 30s. per head on freight and transport. I suggest that the best way is for the scheme to start at this side of the Irish Channel and not on the other side. I should like to impress that on the Minister. I notice that he nods his head, and that makes me feel that I may possibly get a very satisfactory answer.
There is one other small point and that is the difficulty that traders are having with this control of food supplies. I believe that matters are mending at the moment, but if I had been obliged to make a speech three weeks ago I should have said that food control was about the best organised chaos that ever existed. But things are improving. I should like the Minister to remember that many firms pre working with depleted staffs. Men of the age of 30 to 35, key men in their businesses, like good citizens have joined up, and firms are deprived of the services of these men at a moment when there is extra strain thrown on the clerical staffs and when everybody is trying to get home earlier owing to the black-out. I am not going to criticise the Minister in the case 333 of dried fruits because I realise that there have been great difficulties. There is the question of obtaining deliveries. I know of one firm in Liverpool who, in order to get delivery of five hundredweight of butter, had to send a lorry to Chester, which is 37 miles from Liverpool. They had to pay the tunnel fees and for the petrol and the wages of the driver and his mate, all to collect five hundredweight of butter. That is the sort of thing which irritates and which should be unnecessary, and I hope that with reorganisation it will be eliminated.
There is also the question of the retailer of pork and pig products. He is having the dirty end of the stick. He cannot get supplies, and he is told that he should make up his losses on the pork side by going in for general butchery. What consumer is going to move from his ordinary butcher to a pork butcher to get his mutton and lamb? The pork butcher has no experience of the trade, and no ordinary consumer is going to a pork butcher for his mutton and lamb. These people will he entirely driven out of business, and at the end of the war we shall find another hatch of people who are in real difficulties, i support the Amendment, but I feel bound to point out some of the difficulties with which the Government are faced.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Cassells
I approach this problem in a thoroughly dispassionate and unbiased fashion. The Motion presumes the inadequacy of supplies at the present moment, and I submit that the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) completely proved his case, particularly with regard to butter and meat. Hon. Members opposite who have moved the Amendment as a direct counter to the Motion should at least be prepared to give the House the facts and figures which they claim justify the attitude they adopt. The Minister himself based his argument with regard to the application of a rationing scheme on one fundamental principle, and that was that you should only ration in cases where a scarcity of supply will cause inequality of distribution. I do not think there is any hon. Member who will differ from such an expression of opinion, but did the Minister himself make out any case at all to justify the view that at present there is no scarcity of supplies? His speech, coming from a North-country 334 man, who has been and I am sure still is renowned in his particular scholastic calling, was, to say the least of it, thoroughly frivolous and entirely beside the point. He never at any single time was able directly to challenge the points made by the right hon. Member for Hillsborough.
What evidence have we against the Motion? In speaking about the meat supplies the Minister said the rationing of meat would not have cured the position, and in his opening remarks he did not specifically refer to imported meat. He was challenged from this side to state categorically that there are at the present time ample supplies of meat. He hesitated to reply to that challenge. Is there any evidence from the: Mover or Seconder of the Amendment to destroy the case we are making? The hon. and gallant Member for Birkenhead, West (Colonel Sandeman Allen) referred to the position of dried fruits. I have here a postcard dated 4th November, 1939, addressed to one of the largest grocery combines in the county of Stirling dealing with this particular question. It says:Gentleman—Owing to Government requisitioning we regret that we shall be unable to make delivery of any dried fruit this year. We have repeatedly asked the Ministry of Food to let us have our dried fruits, but they have definitely refused to do so.Why? There can be only one reason, namely, the inadequacy of supplies. An hon. Member opposite hinted that in his view the scarcity of butter was a problem only in isolated areas. That is far from the fact. The truth is—I am not speaking for England at all, but I know something about the position in Scotland—that for the past two or three weeks there has been a shocking inadequacy of butter. Have we any facts to justify that? Take the position last week in the city of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. There was in the city of Edinburgh the invidious position that only one shop had an adequate supply of butter. It was a shop run by the Dumfries Meat Supply Company, a firm which, I understand, has not ordinarily dealt with butter, but evidently it got an adequate supply from some source or other. What was the immediate local reaction? The other retailers had no butter. The position was so invidious that this particular firm advertised in the Edinburgh Press inviting people to go to their premises. One hon. Member spoke about the lack of food 335 queues, but in Edinburgh, last Saturday, there was an endless queue at this firm's premises.
Why is all this taking place? As far as I can see, there is only one explanation, and it is a point which has not been touched upon this afternoon. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough, when speaking of sugar, said that the estimate was taken over the months of October, November and December. With regard to butter, the retailers in Scotland were asked, subsequent to the months of June and July of this year—and the months of June and July are of vital importance in this problem—to furnish the Ministry with details of their complete purchases of butter during that period. Thus, exactly the same trick—for it was only a trick—was foisted on our people in Scotland—and I assume in the country as a whole—with regard to butter as with sugar, the estimate for which was taken over the months of October, November and December. For obvious reasons, the months of June and July are absolutely no test period in a thickly-populated industrial area. In Scotland, in an average community, about 50 per cent. of the people were away on holiday in July. Therefore, the result was that the retailers bargained accordingly, and did not make purchases from the wholesalers during that period. The retailers were not aware of what the Government would ultimately desire. The result now is that the retailers in the seaside resorts are getting more than they need.
Why cannot the Government immediately come into the open in connection with this problem? If one is going to strike a percentage, it is no use taking an unfavourable period of time; one must take an average period of time, when the community as a whole is in the districts concerned. Hon. Members opposite have asked for evidence, and one hon. Member charged my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough with bringing forward letters that were too old to be of any use in connection with this problem. I want to make my position plain. I do not speak on behalf of any co-operative society organisation; I speak on behalf of the consumers generally in my country. I say definitely that the consumers now realise that the time is ripe and opportune for a system of rationing to be applied, not only to consumers, but also to people 336 employed in the trade. I have here a document handed to me yesterday by one of the largest retailers in the grocery business in Scotland, who, I may say, is not a supporter generally of the party to which I belong. For the benefit of the Minister, I will quote from this document. It states:We were told that the whole machinery for rationing was ready to be set into operation at the outbreak of war, yet the Minister stated last week in the House and over the radio that he did not intend to introduce rationing until mid-December. With the prospect of rationing coming into force, consumers, despite any advice given to the contrary, will endeavour to have their larders stocked with as much extra butter and bacon as they can possibly obtain during the transition period, with the result that the conditions which now exist will be greatly aggravated in the course of the next few weeks. The same will apply in wholesale distribution, as the retailer will be forced to try to obtain what extra supplies he can for his customers. The Ministry should be able to say regarding any commodity whether or not rationing is necessary, and when it is necessary it will be to the advantage of the community to put it into force right away.…If, on the other hand, there are ample supplies, then the Minister could give the country this assurance, and eliminate the idea of rationing that commodity, concentrating on a more just distribution all over the country, bearing in mind the movement of the population caused by private as well as State evacuation.The document closes with these words:It may be mentioned here that since announcements were made that there would be no rationing of tea, all tendency to hoard this commodity has disappeared.
§ Mr. R. Morgan
I gather that the document from which the hon. Member has quoted is from a shopkeeper and not from an individual who cannot get his butter or bacon. Will the hon. Member now supply us with cases where individuals are anxious that rationing should be introduced straight away?
§ Mr. Cassells
On the question of private consumers, I cannot, of course, give names, but I assure the hon. Member that during last week-end, when I was in my constituency, I made very careful inquiries, not from any political point of view, but from the point of view of ascertaining precisely what the general consensus of opinion was with regard to the application of a rationing scheme. The universal attitude is this—have we, or have we not, adequacy of supplies at the present time? That is the salient point. If the Minister had come right into the open this afternoon, laid his cards upon 337 the table, and proved conclusively that there is an adequacy of supplies, then I would not have supported this Motion, and I am sure my hon. Friends would have been only too happy to withdraw it, because the very feeling of applying the principle of rationing is revolting to every one of us. I say with all respect and candour that the Government and the House would be well advised seriously to consider the evidence which has been given from this side of the House to-day.
§ 8.30 p.m.
Mr. J. Henderson Stewart
Whatever view may be taken of the concrete proposals of the hon. Member who has just spoken and of the Opposition generally, I venture to think that the House and the country would wish to congratulate the Opposition on their choice of the subject for this afternoon's Debate. I think they have done a national service in bringing this matter to the light and already there are one or two conclusions on which we can all agree and which seem to me to be completely proved. The first is that the feeding of the population is a vital problem of the war. It ranks, as, I think, equal with the product of munitions, the provision of men and even the very strategy of war itself. In many respects indeed, as was indicated by the First Lord of the Admiralty this afternoon, the question of food supplies has become the dominating factor in this struggle.
The second conclusion is that all is not well either in the production or in the distribution of food in this country. I do not necessarily accept the whole of the charges levelled against the Minister by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) to-day. Indeed, as I listened to him pile one charge upon another, with so much combative relish, I felt that there must be a little exaggeration somewhere. But that there is confusion, indecision and lack of clear policy in the matter of food control in this country is indisputable. On that, I am in agreement with all the critics who have spoken, and that being so, I feel that it was abundantly right to bring this matter on to the Floor of the House of Commons and I congratulate the Opposition on the action which they have taken.
I am not like the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), who has only one view upon everything. I am one of those who can sometimes see both sides of a question. In this case there are two sides to the question. I am congratulating the Opposition where I feel congratulation is due to them and I am now about to criticise the Government where I feel that criticism is necessary; I cannot but feel that in that way I am reflecting the views of a great many of the people of this country.
The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough may appear to hon. Members opposite to be a simple one. Their minds run in the direction of control and regulation. The State control of production and distribution is a long-established policy of the Opposition and it is natural, almost automatic, that they should proceed to a policy of complete rationing in the case of food. But, as a general proposition, a comprehensive rationing scheme such as is proposed grinds harshly against the grain of the British temperament. It is against the instinct of the people. It encourages bureaucracy and interference by petty officials and I know that I speak for the great bulk of our people when I say that I would take an all-round rationing scheme most unwillingly. And not only I; a great many poor people and a great many co-operative society members take most unkindly to such a scheme. I am in close touch with and am regarded as a good friend of the cooperative societies in Fife. I have supported those societies on important occasions in this House. But while I have had telegrams and letters from the societies in that part of the world, all demanding the immediate rationing of all products, in no case, to my knowledge, were the members of those societies consulted before those messages were sent. In many cases, as I know personally, the members of the boards of the societies were not in sympathy and in some cases even the managers who sent the telegrams were not persuaded of the lightness of their demands.
§ Mr. McGovern
Is the hon. Member aware that the reason for that action was that consumers had been demanding that something should be done to give them supplies. If the supplies were forthcoming nobody would want this, but 339 rationing is demanded in order that supplies may be made available.
The hon. Member's interruption makes it possible for me to add this. What really concerns these societies in Fife, as every telegram puts it, is that "the treatment of the co-operative movement compares badly with the treatment of private trade in regard to supplies." That is the point. They are not concerned with the general problem of all-round rationing. To right any such grievance of the co-operative societies I am ready to give the fullest support to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough.
§ Mr. Barnes
May I make it plain that there is no demand from the co-operative movement for all-round rationing. What authority has the hon. Member for suggesting that there is such a demand?
I am not saying that it is the demand of the co-operative movement but that is in the terms of the Motion before the House. I do not know what the Motion means if that is not its meaning. As I say, on the correction of the particular injustice to which I have referred I am willing to support the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough but on the other and separate issue of universal and immediately individual rationing, with all the trouble which it would entail, I am no more convinced now than I was before the Debate began. If the time comes when that is necessary and if it is made abundantly plain that it is both wise and essential, and if I and my hon. Friends here are convinced that the maximum production is being obtained from our own soil, then I shall be willing to support complete rationing, but until that time comes I am bound to resist it.
If I were to make a general criticism of the speech of the hon. Member who has just spoken, it would be that in his zeal for the case of the retailer and the consumer he has rather ignored what seems to be the far more pressing case of the producer of foodstuffs. It was to call attention to that aspect of the matter that my hon. Friend and I put down the Amendment which appears in our names on the Order Paper. With great respect to hon. Members who represent co-operative societies and multiple stores and all other kinds of retail and whole sale organi- 340 sations, I assert that, first and foremost in any consideration of food supplies, must come the producer. I do not care what kind of distributive scheme you have, whether it is a free scheme as in peace-time, semi-control or an all-round rationing scheme, it is all dependant on the steady, and, in war-time on the increasing, flow of food from the farms of this country. That increasing flow is not taking place to-day. In the case of certain commodities there are indications that the flow is drying up, unless urgent and bold measures are taken. What is wrong? I invite hon. Members and especially those from the towns to visit farms in any part of the country, or to attend any market anywhere outside London. They will find men on the farms working hard. They will see in the faces of those men a realisation of the great responsibility which agriculture carries. But question them, and you will find everywhere a lack of confidence in their own position, in the Government's policy and in the future of the farming industry. That insecurity is reflected in diminished enthusiasm in the farm homes and in restricted production in the farm fields.
Farmers are like all other business men. Before they are prepared to sink capital, labour, and brains into their enterprise, they want an assurance that their produce will sell and that the price they gain will leave a profit. In time of peace that assurance is obtained through the judgment of the farmer himself. He judges market conditions, and the economy of his farm is arranged accordingly. But in time of war all that is changed. The normal machinery of marketing is set aside, the whole price structure is altered and in some way or other controlled, and the working economy of his farm is completely upset on account of the demands of the Government for the super-production of certain specified commodities. In those conditions personal judgment and the justification of personal risk in farming no longer obtain. The farmer having become, for all practical purposes, the bondman of the State, taking his orders from the State, the State for its part ought to guarantee the farmer against the risks or ought itself to shoulder the risks which the farmer used to bear. I admit that that is a somewhat staggering principle, but it is not a new principle. It was 341 adopted in the last War. It has been adopted already by the Government in this war. The only difference between the two periods is that whereas in the last war that principle of the State taking the risks of the farmer and guaranteeing the farmer his market was undertaken— foolishly, lavishly, wastefully often, but nevertheless undertaken fully—in this war the Government have paid little more than lip service to it and are not in fact undertaking the fanner's risk at all.
There have been statements and wireless pronouncements by the Minister of Agriculture. I must say that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is without doubt the prize broadcaster on the Government Front Bench. I have never listened to such vigorous, manly broadcasts as those that come from the Minister of Agriculture, but what have they amounted to? They have contained a stirring appeal, as he put it, to "work like blazes," but an entirely vague promise, such as "We will look after you next year or the year after, and we will give you a price that will put things right." There has been no single statement made by the Minister of Agriculture or by my right hon. Friend of a price to be given for a single specified article of agricultural produce next year. I do not think a vague promise of that kind is enough. It is not just to a great industry, with 2,000,000 people involved, directly and indirectly, in its fortunes, and it is not wise in the national interest. The result is that already there has been a diminished output, which is a very dangerous thing at this time.
Let me take three products. First, let me take milk, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Hillsborough. Milk is a product which this House has spent many hours and days in placing upon the map, as it were. We in this House have placed milk as the prime product to be fed to the rising generation. We here regard it as of first-class importance. What is happening now in regard to milk? I asked a question of the Minister of Agriculture on 2nd November. I asked whether, in view of the sale of cows and young heifers for meat, there was not a great danger of a shortage of milk next year. What did the Minister say in reply? He said, "Don't exaggerate; it is only a passing phase." It may be that my right hon. and gallant Friend was so advised, but I have taken 342 pains in the last week to make the closest contact with people in all sides of the milk trade, in all parts of the country, and I am bound to say that everywhere I find the anxiety which I expressed on 2nd November shared by the experts in the trade. In their view the possibility of short supplies, not only next year, but in December and January of this winter, is a real and serious peril. It is not surprising that farmers tend to get rid of milk and to take up other lines, because the farmer is obtaining for milk to-day not a farthing more than he did at the beginning of the war, and there is apparently no clear prospect of his obtaining any more in the future. For every other product there has been a rise in price, but milk remains stationary. There was an attempt the other day to get more money into the pool by raising the cost of manufacturers' milk, and, of course, they put up the price of butter, cheese, and condensed milk to the consumer. I hope that that will not be regarded as the only way to provide higher returns to producers of milk. It is a very ineffective way, not only because manufacturing milk represents only one-third of the total production at home, but also because with every increase you put on home prices you commit yourself to paying greater and greater sums abroad for the much larger supplies you need from overseas. That is why I urge that there must be some increase in the milk producers' returns, either in the form of a higher price for milk or in some kind of assistance to the keeping of cows.
Take now potatoes. Here is another crop which the Government want to grow in increased quantities. There are to be tens of thousands of extra acres of potatoes sown next spring. What are the Government doing to encourage that? There is a maximum price fixed for the various grades—
—and, as my hon. and learned Friend says, no minimum. The farmers are not getting that maximum price. I know that in Scotland, with a maximum price of 85s. for Kerr's Pink, farmers last week were being offered 55s. and no more. For another variety the maximum price was 90s., and the farmers were being offered from 60s. to 70s. Yet the merchants are selling those potatoes to the consumers at maximum prices, 343 and are making big money out of it. The question of quantity also arises. We have a big crop this year and what farmer will gladly plant vast new acreages of potatoes when he knows that in June next his potato pits may still be filled with this year's harvest? In the old days, before the Ministry took control, the Potato Marketing Board coped with problems of that kind and regulated production and supply, but the Ministry have abolished the Potato Marketing Board, and there is nobody now to regulate supply and demand. Unless some clear indication and an assurance as to price are given the Minister will not get the extra production.
Again in the case of cattle the demand is for large supplies. Again the contribution of the Government is only maximum and not minimum prices. Again the merchants have been using their position to underbid the maximum price, and they have been making excessive profits, often from £5 to £6 per animal. The position in Scotland is made still more difficult because our higher quality stock there, which up to the time of the war was selling at from 52s. to 53s., is now limited by Order to 48s. That is no encouragement to production. It will only result in diminished production. The same is true of pigs. I am told that there will be very few pigs next year unless the Government take steps to get feeding stuffs for these animals. What are the Government doing about that? Where are the feeding stuffs coming from? Without pigs we cannot feed the population. What guarantee is there that feeding stuffs will be supplied? If we turned our minds to the supply of bacon and started vigorously to produce the maximum of pigs, we might get the maximum of bacon and not find it necessary to ration it.
That is the whole burden of the Amendment which I placed on the Order Paper —an assurance that the maximum production of food will come from our land. It is not being produced now. The Government are putting deliberate obstacles in its way. Maximum production will come overnight if the Government will only be clear in their policy. To express in a single sentence the demand of farmers in all parts of the country, it is, "Wanted, a clear policy." Why cannot the Government say," We 344 need so many thousand acres of potatoes, and of wheat, and of barley, so many head of cattle, sheep and pigs; and we guarantee both market and price"? They must know what they want, and they ought to tell us the quantities they need and the prices that will be paid. Give us clear businesslike guidance and a plan, and I guarantee that the Government will get from the farmers the maximum production. In that way they may well guarantee, as they cannot otherwise, the ultimate victory of this country.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Quibell
We have had a very interesting Debate on the vexed question of rationing. I share the general opinion of the House that everyone regrets the necessity for rationing. None of us likes it, except on the ground of necessity in order to secure something like equality of distribution of the available foodstuffs. I support the Motion because I am sure that the facts which were given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) from his own experience can be supported by every one of us from our experience in our divisions. In my own town the experience has been precisely that of the right hon. Gentleman and of those who have supported the Motion. The society of which I have been a member for many years has a creamery attached to it. It is a very successful business. We had a certain amount of butter in stock—good fresh butter—and on 22nd September the Food Ministry requisitioned it. It was kept there for a considerable time. They requisitioned it at a certain price, but immediately they took it over they increased it by 10s. a cwt., or £10 a ton. We were then allowed to draw our own butter out of our own cooling chamber and pay the Food Ministry the increase of 10s. a cwt.
§ Mr. Quibell
If you examine every article of food which the Ministry have handled, the same story can be told. I do not know whether the Minister is so unfortunate as to surround himself with men who know nothing whatever about it, instead of having the advice of somebody who knows something about the subjects with which he has to deal. We wrote a letter pointing out to the Ministry 345 of Food that this butter was actually going bad, it had been in stock so long and needed turning over and re-wrapping at periods while it was in cold storage. A reply came from the Ministry after a good deal of time saying that our society were to send the butter to London. I fancy it was some of the butter spoken of the other day as being a little strong. They sent it from Scunthorpe to London, and I believe it found its way ultimately to South Wales where it was thought they could stand it. As a result, the society could not supply its own members with butter.
What are the facts about the allocation of this butter? During the five weeks ending 4th November, 1938, my society had 318 cwts., an average per week of 64 cwts. In the five weeks ending 26th August. 1939, they had 300 cwts., an average of 60 per week. In the five weeks ending 5th November they had 134 cwts. an average of 27 per week under the allocation, which is supposed to be 50 per cent. The point should be made that the datum period was taken at a time when in an industrial town like ours the works are closed down and people are on holiday, and, as a consequence, the datum period has worked to the advantage of seaside resorts, and against industrial centres. On nth and 18th October we received 30 cwts.; on 26th October and 2nd November, 22 cwts., a total of 134. During last week we received 22 cwts. for our 18 branches and nearly 15,000 members, while the Maypole received 12 cwts. for one little paltry shop in the High Street. The effect has been that the general public have the idea that the biggest mistake they could make would be to register with the Co-operative Society, and that the way to get a supply would be to go to a private trader.
If this were a question of the Cooperative movement versus the private trader, I should be on the side of the Co-operative movement because they have not had a fair deal. I have a letter from the Grimsby Co-operative Society telling me that the same conditions obtained there in regard to butter supplies. Surely it is a matter for complaint when you are denied butter at your own shop and are sent across the street to a little bit of a shop where you find there are ample supplies of the things you want. In our particular case the grievance was all the 346 bigger because we had sent our own butter to London and then were told to go across the street to a private shop to get butter for ourselves.
The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) has dealt with the subject of potatoes. From the confident way in which he spoke of them I feel sure he realises that there are potatoes and potatoes. If you are growing white potatoes and have a heavy crop of 13 to 14 tons per acre, and get £3 10s. per ton, you are not doing so badly, but there are others growing potatoes of the highest quality who, although they receive the highest price, £5 10s. per ton, get only four or five tons per acre. They say that the grower always has a grievance. Even the grower ought to remember that consumption must be the end of production, and that if it were not for the consumer there would be no producer. All the same, there is far too big a disparity between the price received by the grower and the price which is charged to the consumer. When the consumer is charged £11 per ton retail and the maximum price received by the grower is £5 10s., as in the case of Limestone Edwards, then the producer really has a legitimate complaint. We have tried to work the thing out on a proper basis, and we think that the difference in price between the producer and the consumer should be £4 per ton at most, but the wholesaler comes in and takes a rake-off of 25s. per ton, and by using the telephone he can in some cases get a still bigger rake-off. In short, the wholesaler gets a bigger rake-off than the farmer will make over six or seven years, and that is one of the things which ought to be inquired into.
§ Sir Ernest Shepperson
Things are even worse than the hon. Member has said. The merchants are not paying the farmers the maximum price. They are under-bidding the farmers, and therefore exploiting the producer to an even greater extent than he has explained.
§ Mr. Quibell
I agree and I know that that is the fact. Nobody ought to pay more than 1d. a pound for whites, or 1¼d. for the better quality. Theb "grouse" that the farmers have got, and it is a legitimate one, is that there is too big a difference between the price the producers get and the price the consumers pay. Next I want to say a word about the slaughtering and the rationing 347 of meat. I do not know what the present need for a rationing scheme may be, but I want the scheme to be well thought out before it is brought in. I do not want it to be like the fish scheme. The meat scheme must be re-examined or it will be a "fishy" scheme.
Let me give an example from my own town of Scunthorpe. There is a slaughterhouse there which has been condemned for the last five years. I have been wanting it condemned for the last 15 years. There is no cold storage and the floor is as slippery as glass, which is one of the worst things when an animal is being slaughtered. It has been con-condemned and a public abattoir is being built, to the approval of the Ministry. The walls at present are some five or six feet high and the scaffolding is round them. What has happened? Officials have come and selected that old slaughter-house not only for Scunthorpe —and it is inadequate for Scunthorpe— but for the district. They say, "There are 67 villages round here and all of you must bring your cattle to be slaughtered in this place," although there is no cold storage and it is inadequate for the purposes of Scunthorpe. I put up a scheme to the Ministry. I did not get an answer. I suppose none of us can expect one under two months now. It has taken me three months to get an answer from one Department. What has happened is that three carloads of so-called bureaucrats have come, with steel tapes, to inspect that slaughter-house—to find out whether it was longer this way or broader that way, I suppose. They have been three times to look at that slaughter-house, but have not consulted one local official. They came, and off they went, and that is all we knew about it. They did not even see the food inspector, or the other local officials who have had experience of the place for over 20 years.
At Barton, which is 20 miles away, they graded the cattle and slaughtered them in the last war. This time Barton has been selected as a grading centre. After being graded at Barton the cattle are to be brought to Scunthorpe to be slaughtered and then the meat is to be taken back to Barton for distribution to different places in North Lincolnshire. Talk about "Mr. Muddle." "Mr. Muddle" at work deserves a Victoria Cross. The Minister 348 should take more time to reconsider this slaughtering business, because the scheme will only produce a muddle if it is carried through as it has been intended to run it. I hope the Minister will also reconsider the muddle of the distribution of available supplies. It is maldistribution that necessitates rationing. If rationing has to come this House must not be blamed for bringing in a rationing scheme. We do not want rationing, but we want a fair distribution of the food supplies to the people of this country.
§ 9.8 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward
The right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), who opened this Debate, speaks with so much authority on the retail side of the Co-operative movement that anything he says must be listened to with respect, and when he says that serious shortages in supplies have already occurred in certain districts, one may take it for granted that something of that kind has undoubtedly taken place. At the same time, I respectfully submit that the difficulties have arisen not so much through shortage of supplies as through faulty distribution, and that the faulty distribution can be traced to three or four causes. First we had the beginnings of control. There are certain friends of mine sitting on this side of the House who take the view that any kind of control is certain to spoil distribution. I will not go so far as that myself, but at least the institution of control was certain to put many difficulties in the way of an adequate distribution of existing supplies.
Another thing is that, with the Government policy of dispersion and evacuation which has been carried out during the last two or three months, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that at least 2,000,000 people are living in homes where they do not belong. [An HON. MEMBER: "More."] Possibly it is more. That dispersion of the population must have destroyed completely the datum upon which distribution has hitherto been based. This proposition is proved to some extent by the fact that there has been very little shortage in London during the past two months. We may estimate that, as a result of Government schemes and of voluntary evacuation, something like 1,000,000 fewer people are in London than was the case this time last 349 year. This change has tended to make supplies in London more adequate and supplies in reception areas inadequate.
For example, in London, with the exception of a certain shortage of bacon during the first fortnight of the war, largely due to the fact that the ships bringing Danish bacon over were unable to run, and a shortage of imported meat during one week-end, there has been practically no difficulty in getting any reasonable quantity of supplies. So far as I am aware there has been very little difficulty in getting butter. I eat very little of it myself. If margarine were substituted I very much doubt whether I should know the difference. I have not heard other people complain of a shortage. There is not the least doubt that if the war goes on a certain amount of rationing will be necessary, but it should be left to the last possible moment. Rationing is unpopular with retailers and with consumers. It causes an enormous amount of additional work to the retailer, because the coupons have to be detached and counted and sent to the wholesaler. The purchasers feel that they are not being treated as free men in being compelled to do what they consider no Englishman should be compelled to do, which is, to buy anywhere else than in the places which he thinks suit him best. The greatest danger of rationing is that it will be interpreted abroad as a sign of weakness. All the German newspapers will be full of the news about England having to take up rationing. They will say: "England is starving." And Goebbels and the others will talk of nothing else for the next 10 days.
§ Sir A. Lambert Ward
Yes, but they will say it very much more when rationing is introduced. We have paid too little attention to German propaganda as we have heard it.
§ Sir A. Lambert Ward
Yes, I know we do. When we hear on the wireless that our food queues are a mile long, that some of our barracks are in open mutiny, that munition workers in industrial towns are on strike and that the Ark Royal was sunk at least four times during the last week, it just amuses us. We laugh. All the same, do not forget that that 350 propaganda, translated into German and dished out to the Germans, plays a very large part in maintaining the morale of the population. It appears there day and night in the newspapers, and I believe this is one of the things which have, up to the present, maintained the morale of the population.
The hon. and gallant Member has stated the case very fairly, but my concern is not with what the Germans will say, but with how we can best maintain the morale of our own people by seeing that they get justice. If you want to win the war, look after your own people.
§ Sir A. Lambert Ward
Yes, that is true, but it is best not to do anything which will encourage the morale of the Germans. It is a recognised fact that if we can do anything to impair the morale of the civilian population it will go a long way towards winning the war. That is why I say that, although rationing may be necessary, we should leave it until the last point, and should not make a present to the enemy of propaganda which they may find very useful.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
The hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down mentioned the keeping up of the morale of the civilian population, but you cannot do that upon starvation conditions. It is not a matter of wishing. Here we are facing actual fact. It is essential that the House should be aware of what is involved in our Motion, which does not mention any particular article, but saysa comprehensive rationing scheme.From the very introduction of the idea of rationing in this country I viewed it with alarm. The present ruling class in this country are more scientific and capable than they are usually given credit for being. They have landed our party with the idea that we are the war party, although they created the position-. They have done the same thing in regard to rationing. It is one of the most subtle moves, and how it is being glossed over is beyond me. One of the most powerful working-class organisations, which has maintained me all my life, fed me and clothed me, is the co-operative society. I have had telegrams from every branch in my constituency. A letter has been given to me since this 351 Debate began. It is from Dumbarton, bears the date 7th November, 1939, and says:Dear Mr. Kirkwood,On behalf of many housewives in Dumbarton I appeal to you to urge the rationing of butter as soon as possible. Co-operative members can only get a small quantity, while customers of private traders can be quite well supplied.
May I ask the hon. Member whether he is presenting an argument that there is an actual shortage of butter, or an argument that co-operative societies have not been fairly treated? There is a vast difference between the two.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
That is my contention; it was artfully done in order to suggest that it is the workers who are making this demand. The finish of this letter is:P.S.—We do not mind hardship if it is equally borne.That is the point that I have been urging all the time. This Government is a dirty Government and it deserves no collaboration. We were sent here to oppose this Government—
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I am doing it to the best of my ability. We were sent here to oppose them and not to collaborate. Every hon. Member who has risen to speak has indicated how incompetent they are. Are we to allow this to go on? No; it has gone too far. We cannot sit here and allow this Government to carry on. They know how to create any atmosphere which they desire; they have the influence and they know how to hang on to office like grim death because they know the power that they can exercise. They can organise the co-operative movement—
§ Mr. Kirkwood
—and make the working class again the victims of this hellish system and exploit them. When occasion arises—they are politicians of the first water—they have no compunction or conscience in taking advantage of anything. Attention has been drawn to the fact that every member of the present Cabinet has tried to sidetrack the workers against us and everything which we propose. I consider that this is an outstanding action of their's, and I am 352 trying my hardest to draw the attention not only of my comrades on these benches but of the country at large that as long as this Government holds sway it is a menace to the interests of the working class.
With regard to the introduction of a comprehensive rationing scheme, it is true that Members of Parliament and trade union leaders could afford rationing. It could be applied to them without doing them very much injury. I have listened to all the comments that have been made on the subject and I raised the question of rationing to the Minister of Food when he took on the job. Twice within the last six weeks I have asked him across the Floor of the House when the matter was first raised, would be make sure that the low-paid workers of this country would have an equal chance of getting food with those who were well supplied with cash, and every time he said that was another question. It is the all-important question. It is well that the House should realise that the majority of the working class to-day do not require any rationing scheme. They have difficulty because their income is inadequate. I know, because I am a father of seven children; it is no shame, it is an honour and they are a credit not only to me but to my country.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I went through the last war and I was imprisoned, deported and scorned, but although I had a hard time it was nothing compared with the conditions experienced by Mrs. Kirkwood and the children with only an engineer's income. We know what a struggle it was, but we did not require any rationing. The workers are always rationed. As for the talk about getting butter, it is too funny for words. I could tell a tale but I do not want to say anything that would appear to be in the interests of our enemy. I can say this, that to-day even in front of guns preference is given to the machinery for manufacturing margarine and for building the largest factory in this country, practically in the world. Margarine is for the workers, for the class from which I have sprung. The Government are taking advantage of these conditions, and the duty of the leaders of the workers is to give a lead and tell the workers that they should not have rations. 353 The telegrams which I have received from my own co-operative societies, this letter which I have read, and all the other evidence which has been adduced to-night go to show that the co-operative movement has been "done in." No one can deny that the co-operative movement in this country has rendered yeoman service to the country, particularly at this juncture. They will get just as much thanks as the Labour party in general have got for all their collaboration. If the time comes when the country is against the idea of rationing, the party opposite will say that it was the Labour party that introduced rationing.
Listening, as I have done to-day, to practically every speech delivered from the other side, it is clear that they consider these moves by the Minister of Food and the Minister of Transport to be nationalisation, and that they are doing all they can to discredit the idea. An hon. Member proved that when he said, "That is what comes of nationalisation." This is not nationalisation; it is paralysation. If there is to be regulation, let there be equalisation; let there be regulation and equalisation. We are being trapped into the position of doing the dirty work of the Government. That is what it amounts to: that we should introduce the idea of "a comprehensive rationing scheme." "Comprehensive" means embracing more than one article. As the writer of that letter stated to me, the co-operatives, not only in my constituency but all over Britain, are quite prepared to make sacrifices if the sacrifices are equally distributed, but they are not prepared to do so in a situation like this, where the Government are discriminating against the co-operatives. All the evidence that I have been able to glean points in that direction. I may be wrong, but that is how I see the trend of events. It seems that we have been tricked. Nevertheless, as our party are going to vote against the Government, I am voting against the Government. After all we have heard and after all the speeches that have been delivered from this side of the House, and in view of the fact that, not only on this subject but on old age pensions and everything else that we have raised, we have got absolutely nothing from the Government, I hope that all the collaboration we have had with the Government will be at an end, and that we shall start now to fight 354 them, in the interests of the working classes of this country.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Sir George Schuster
I am one of those who feel grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) for having raised this question to-day, but I am sure that he himself would say—certainly my gratitude to him is based on this understanding of his attitude—that when he brought this question up he did not mean to bring it up as a question of the co-operative interests versus the interests of any other people. He was raising it as an important national issue. It is rather unfortunate that this very important subject should, at stages in this Debate, have led into discussions which seemed to suggest that there has been some unfair treatment of the co-operative interest. My right hon. Friend himself gave a very clear explanation of the position, and I am sure that he would agree with me that, if during these past weeks there have been certain people who have been better supplied than the co-operative society, with butter for example, that has arisen because, when the stocks were commandeered, there were certain stocks either in branches or in warehouses that were not subject to the commandeering Order of the Ministry of Food. These stocks must very nearly be exhausted, and the right hon. Gentleman made it quite clear that, as far as the actual distribution of fresh allotments is concerned, it is being done with complete fairness. I think it is right that that point should be made clear.
I entirely agree, and I am glad that the hon. Member put it, if he will just add that the great mistake has been not to requisition all butter and see that all people were treated alike.
§ Sir G. Schuster
That obviously would have been the fairest thing of all, but there might have been practical difficulties in getting it out of every possible corner. However, that is only a side issue. I have been asking myself precisely what are the issues between the two sides in this Debate. I for one find it very difficult to imagine anyone who can take exception to the wording of the Amendment which has been moved. I think the right hon. Gentleman who moved the original Motion would agree that he also could accept the wording of the Amendment, 355 and that, if he wishes to support his own Motion rather than the Amendment, it is on the ground that he feels some doubt as to whether the principles which are stated in the Amendment are in practice being observed with sufficient vigour. I must confess also that I am one who feels some doubt on that subject. On the other hand I would find it impossible to support the actual wording of the original Motion because it is quite ambiguous as to what is meant by "a comprehensive rationing scheme." I am not clear yet whether the right hon. Gentleman intended to suggest that there should be a wider rationing scheme than that which was originally contemplated and which is in fact embodied in the ration books. I do not think he made it clear that he wanted anything wider than that, but I imagine what he really believes is that, as far as the two articles—butter and bacon—are concerned, the two articles as to which it is quite certain there is a very definite shortage as compared with normal consumption, it would have been a good thing if rationing had been introduced earlier. He feels doubtful whether there should not be immediate rationing of sugar, and he would like a clearer statement as to when the rationing of butter and bacon and so on is to be introduced.
I speak as one who has already expressed the view in the House that it would have been better if in the case of butter and bacon rationing had been introduced earlier. I think a great deal of unfair distribution would have been avoided if that had been done. The amount available has been about 50 per cent. of the normal consumption of butter and less than 40 per cent. of the normal consumption of bacon. Therefore, unfair distribution would have been avoided if rationing had been introduced earlier. But now that the decision has been taken, I agree with what the Minister of Food said, that it would be a great mistake to rush the actual introduction of rationing, and risk confusion. Further, if there is a date in question, I think the date that has been suggested, about the week before Christmas—I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree—is an extraordinarily inconvenient one. The shops will be very busy then, and it will be a very inconvenient date for the actual introduction of the rationing system.
356 I want, however, to turn to somewhat wider issues. A great many of the supporters of the Government have felt some doubts as to what the continued hesitation about the announcement of the rationing scheme meant or implied. We have wondered whether that hesitation is based on a real feeling that it is economically sound to delay rationing, or whether it may have been influenced by a fear that control measures are not very popular and a desire to avoid the risk of the sort of criticisms which have been directed against some of the other schemes which the Government have introduced. If because certain arrangements have failed, not because they were in principle wrong but because for various reasons they were not very well applied, it would be extremely unfortunate if to avoid criticisms of that kind, the necessity of control in cases where it really is desirable to have control were not to be undertaken.
As regards the rationing system, I want to know, if there is to be delay in any case, whether it is based on a real assurance that there is an adequate supply of the commodity in question. Not only that, but is it based on the substantiated judgment that we can afford to maintain the purchase of the particular commodity on a normal scale, without involving a sacrifice of other things which may perhaps be more vital to our success in the war? The justification for rationing may arise not only because it is physically impossible to get certain foodstuffs here but also because it may be economically desirable to curtail the consumption of particular articles, in order to release purchasing power for things more vital for our war effort. Could we be assured that rationing is to be delayed on a sound economic judgment?
Further, when the question of the necessity of some sort of limitation of consumption arises, I hope the Government will not lend themselves to any half measures. I must confess that I was somewhat alarmed by the words which the Minister of Food used about suger. He did not seem quite certain about the situation. He indicated that there was some need of rationing, but he was not prepared to introduce a full rationing scheme. I was reminded of what happened in the last war, where there was a long period of hesitation as to the full introduction of rationing. Perhaps hon. Members will recollect a cartoon which appeared in.
357 "Punch" n April, 1917, which depicted Mr. Punch at the door of the Ministry of Food and asking the commissionaire if that was the place where they controlled food; and the commissionaire answering, Well, Sir, control is perhaps rather a strong word, but we are giving hints to householders and we issue grave warnings." t is important that we should not go back to that sort of stage. That particular cartoon in Punch" as referred to by Sir William Beveridge in his book on food control, and it is rather interesting to note that he referred to it in connection with a hesitation about introducing the rationing of sugar. In a later passage, describing the course of events, he said:There was to be no escape for the country from the Derby stage in food control as in military service.I hope that we are not going to go through any Derby stage as regards food control. We have to remember that in this war we are having no Derby stage as regards military service. That is a very important distinction and it leads me to say this. If the Government feel that they can take the responsibility of delaying rationing by all means let them do so, but it is essential they should realise that they are taking a heavy responsibility, because if after having introduced military conscription the country finds itself in a condition where there is unfair distribution of food supplies or high prices without control, they will have to face very serious public feeling on the matter.
This leads me to my next point. The Motion makes a reference to a rise in prices. If one has doubts as to the Government's policy I think one is entitled to concentrate some portion of the doubt on what they are doing in regard to the control of prices. If you look at what has happened in the past eight weeks and try to find one single factor more than any other that has been responsible for a rise in prices, I am afraid one must come to the conclusion that it has been action undertaken by the Government. I want to put seriously this point to the Lord Privy Seal who is in charge of Home Defence. What has happened? What was the first thing which more than anything else caused people to try and put plus charges on their invoice prices? The compulsory commodities insurance scheme. Some scheme was necessary, 358 but there has been a unanimous feeling that the rate of premium which was charged was much higher than was necessary. The Government Department concerned, quite rightly, wanted to be on the safe side, but I wonder whether that important matter was ever considered by a Ministerial Economic Committee, if it was in existence, because it is these things which have such wide reactions and which some of us feel should be submitted to some co-ordinating authority which is viewing the economic position as a whole.
That is one thing that has happened. Let me turn to others. It is a remarkable fact that wherever the Ministry of Food has commandeered stocks they have somehow or other managed to sell them back at a price which represents a rise of anything from 25 to 50 per cent. on the prices at which they were taken over. We find it extremely difficult to understand why that has been done. Let me take the case of butter, for example. I have already referred to this matter in the House, and I will not refer to it at great length now. At the time when the butter stocks were taken over, it is fair to say that the average price at which they had been bought was something like 118s. a cwt. When the price at which the butter would be released again to the trade was fixed, it was fixed at 145s. a cwt. Now, one quite recognises that where it was necessary for the Government to buy on behalf of the country Danish or Dutch butter in competition with possible German buyers, to attract the butter away from Germany, it might have been necessary, and certainly very desirable, to pay a higher price for the butter than had been ruling. But that represents only a very small proportion of the butter. Two-thirds of our butter comes from Australia and New Zealand, and there is no obvious necessity why we, who are the only market for those countries, should suddenly consent to a rise of something like from 122s. to 145s. in the case of New Zealand butter. I have never been able to ascertain whether the New Zealand Government are getting the benefit of that rise. Indeed, I am very doubtful whether it has yet been settled what price the British Government are going to pay to the New Zealand Government for that butter. But, in any case, it is extremely difficult to understand why the price should suddenly have jumped to that extent.
359 Then one may turn to dried fruits as another example. Here we were already buying the new season's crop at a price which, allowing for duty and landing charges, represented 31s. a cwt. There was no difficulty about continuing to make purchases at that price. But the stocks have been taken over by the Government, and sold back to us at 49s. a cwt. I make no reference to the fact that the stuff we get back is very different from the stuff that was taken over from us. That is an inconvenience with which we are ready to put up. We are considering now nothing but the national interests. I could give many other examples but do not wish to lengthen my remarks. When one looks at these things, it is very difficult to understand what has been governing the policy of the Government in the matter. It is not only as regards food that these things have happened. We have seen a good deal in the Press lately on the question of newsprint, where one understands that stocks were taken over by the Government and sold back to those concerned at a price which represented something like 50 per cent, profit. We want to know why these things have happened.
To sum up what I have to say on this matter, the general feeling that I want to represent, and which, I put it to the Government, is very widespread, is that we are quite prepared to recognise that in the early days things may have been done which were not very perfectly considered, decisions may have had to be taken in a hurry, and some rise in prices —certainly, a rise represented by the rise in freights and insurance, and perhaps some further rise—was probably inevitable. In fact, having regard to the level of prices which was prevailing just before the war, it is quite arguable that a moderate rise in the general price level was economically desirable. Let bygones be bygones, then; let what has happened be taken as something which has happened and can be excused; but what we want to know is this—are the Government now adopting a policy which says, with great determination, "This initial rise has taken place, and perhaps it was inevitable, but we are definitely out to stabilise prices on the present level, and we have a concerted policy which all Government Departments and every section of any particular Government 360 Department will observe, a policy aimed at keeping prices as stable as possible and avoiding anything but absolutely necessary increases in prices?" It would be a great reassurance to the whole community to realise that the Government had a policy of that kind, and were determined to carry it out. I think this is the most important point which arises out of this Debate, because the lesson to be learned from the experience of the last war was, I think, that where you have to introduce control, it is essential to have no half-measures, and that it is only by complete control that you can effectively secure fair distribution and prevent an undue rise in prices.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
This has been a very remarkable Debate, and I am pleased that the Lord Privy Seal has been in his place to hear not only the arguments developed earlier by my right hon. Friend and other speakers, but also the remarkable speech to which we have just listened, especially with regard to prices. I hope to make one or two observations on the price situation and the reference in our Motion before I conclude. The Debate has been more than justified, and even though the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster failed to explain away many of the problems which were raised, or to deal with the causes of a good deal of the irritation which is felt throughout the country, I am convinced that neither he nor any other hon. Member who has listened to the Debate, will complain of the criticism which has been offered. It has been frank and it has been, very largely, constructive, and I do not think the German propagandist will get much comfort out of the Debate.
I wish to say at once—and I hope I speak for my colleagues in this—that we do not want rationing for rationing's sake. We want rationing, where there is a known shortage, exclusively for the purpose of securing equality of distribution and the preservation of unity among the industrial classes of this country. I hope the Lord Privy Seal will not underestimate the necessity for the latter, because I have a clear recollection of what happened in certain parts of the country during the last war. The Minister frankly admitted that there was a shortage of certain commodities. He also admitted 361 that where a shortage was known to exist, the only cure was a system of rationing. The complaint of my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members is that there has been, apparently, undue delay in applying what the Minister admits to be the only cure.
The right hon. Gentleman called upon us to look at the background of the problem. He referred to the fact that the Food Defence Committee which was set up in 1936 had done certain things. If the Food Defence Department which has been in existence for three years, had done its work fairly well, its plans by now ought to have been well-nigh perfect and the House would be entitled to expect a minimum of delay in applying any part of the policy which was called for by the state of emergency. To the extent that that department of the Government did not perfect its plans, and was not ready for the emergency, after two or three years' examination of the problems involved, we on this side are entitled to feel severe disappointment, and there is some justification for the irritation felt in various parts of the country.
The fact that the Food Defence Department have conceived the idea of unifying buying, of the instant requisition of stocks when the emergency arose, their application of a system of price control, and their recognition that rationing ought to be applied when necessary, earns for them all the compliments for that particular foresight which has brought them to this stage, but the point very largely dealt with during the Debate has been based upon the fact that there has been a shortage of butter and a shortage of bacon. There is still a shortage of butter, and there is still a shortage of bacon. I think that neither we nor our constituents in the country are entitled to complain bitterly about the shortage. That, after all, is one of the minor sacrifices that we are all obliged to face during the course of the war, and whether he be a miner, a road sweeper, or anybody else, so long as he can feel sure that he is having a fair share of the available supplies, there will be no complaint from the country nor, I hope, from any part of these benches. But we do complain about unequal distribution of essential commodities, when some districts are having 50 or 40 per cent. of the normal requirements, while in certain other towns, or in certain shops in certain 362 towns, there appear to be unlimited supplies.
The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) suggested that maybe there was only a local shortage, but my right hon. Friend produced sufficient evidence to show that the shortage is universal, and while it may have been inevitable, all that we say is that available supplies should be equitably distributed. I do not want to make many quotations, but if any further evidence is necessary, here is a simple case from my own district. It proves nothing except that there is a shortage of food. The Doncaster Co-operative Society sold, in the week ended 19th August, 15,732 lb. of butter; their supplies last week, the week ended 28th October, were 7,184 lb., simply showing that their supplies have gone down to well below 50 per cent. They serve quite a lot of customers, though I do not need to go into the numbers. I have a letter here from Edinburgh, telling me that there was no butter available in Edinburgh last Saturday. This letter is not from a Co-operative society, and it does not happen to be from a private trader, but it is from an individual well known to me and to some other hon. Members in this House, stating that no supplies of butter were likely to be available in Edinburgh until to-day—that is, Saturday. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and no butter in that great city. I have here a letter from the Burnley and District Grocers' Association—that is obviously a private traders' organisation—declaring that there is a gross shortage of both butter and bacon, and that they are ready and willing, and have communicated with the Food Ministry to that effect, for rationing to be applied at the earliest possible moment.
No further evidence is necessary, therefore, to show that there is a shortage, and a shortage that is easily explained by the Minister or by any other Member in this House who knows anything at all about the sources of our butter supplies. I have no complaint to make in that direction, but if of the available supplies the West End of London is to get more than its share and the Barnsley colliers are to get less than their share, the Lord Privy Seal and the Government will have to be ready for all the industrial problems which are likely to follow, for they 363 will simply be asking for trouble. No hon. Member who has any knowledge of public psychology wants rationing for its own sake, but I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that rationing, where a known shortage exists, is the one and only solution for it, despite the difficulty of applying a rationing scheme.
The right hon. Gentleman said something with regard to the storage of butter, that is, having purchased in advance large stocks of butter, placed them in cold storage and had them available for an emergency. I readily recognise that if 80 per cent. of the exports of butter are taken off the world's market by us, while private enterprise or competitive buying exists, obviously if competitive buyers or the normal channels were buying for the State there would have been an upward tendency in prices, apart from the £10 per ton for cold storage, and we should have had to pay much more for our butter. What a wonderful argument for an import board. If we had had in peace-time an import board, for which we have been advocating in this House almost for generations, we could have done just as well for ourselves as we are doing now in other commodities and we would not have had to face an increase in price, because the chances are we could have done with butter what we have done with certain other commodities well known to the right hon. Gentleman. That argument, however, does not solve the immediate problem, and I want to suggest that the sooner butter is rationed the better for the Government and for the people of this country, and the better for the preservation of the unity of all sections.
Bacon is another example. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there is a shortage and the cause of it. Our imports from Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Denmark are not available, and we are working on short rations through no fault of the Ministry and, perhaps I may say, through no fault of the Government. The fact is, however, that there is a shortage, and if we ask for a rationing scheme it is because we want a fair distribution of the available supplies. We do not complain of the shortage as such, but we do complain of what is happening. On the advice of the Minister of Agriculture, the Food Minister lifted the price from 12s. 6d. to 13s. per score for 364 pigs that did not exceed 10 score immediately after the war commenced. Since then he has put the price up to 14s. per score for pigs that did not exceed 10 score. If the farmer is paying slightly more for his foodstuff we have no objection, for we want the farmer to get an economical price for his commodities, but the right hon. Gentleman and his Department, on whose advice I do not know, have just fixed a maximum price for bacon. They have left the thing there and established no machinery whereby the fixation of that maximum price shall be observed.
Evasions are taking place from Land's End to John o' Groats. In the market they estimate the weight of a pig at about two or three stone heavier than it is, and pay the maximum price on the excess weight, reaching 17s., 18s. or £1 a score, instead of the price fixed by the right hon. Gentleman. Only those who are thus evading the law are able to get any pigs at all. That is why certain private stores get bacon while other retailers who will not break the law get none. Those who observe the law and charge is. 5d. per lb. for one quality and is. 7d. for another quality are honouring the wishes of the right hon. Gentleman but getting small supplies, but there are lots of private traders who are not observing those prices, and the net result is that inequitable as the distribution of butter may have been the distribution of bacon has been even more inequitable.
The disease from which the Government have been suffering for many weeks is wobbling, fear and hesitation. As an hon. Member has said, they have exercised a control which is no control at all, with the result that we are getting the worst of both worlds. Sows are being killed off because they are getting a higher price for an old sow than the Minister says they ought to get for a decent-sized pig of decent quality. Every breeding sow which goes to market to be slaughtered endangers our supplies of bacon next year. I suggest that there is not only need for expedition in the rationing of bacon, but need for the Government to make up their mind that they will buy all the pigs that are sent to market. Only when they do the big thing in control will they get a more equitable distribution of produce and safeguard our bacon and pork supplies for next year.
365 I need not waste a lot of time upon meat, but the same doubts and hesitation exist in the case of meat. The right hon. Gentleman says that we may ration butter and bacon in the middle of December, but that the rationing of meat and sugar is put off to some dim and distant future. The Minister may be right, but all I know-is that the meat situation is as chaotic as it can be. I know that officials in his Department have been working overtime to produce a scheme which includes collecting centres and central slaughtering and distribution among the meat traders' associations. Everything has been arranged in the most equitable fashion on paper, but as that meat scheme will not come into existence until there is rationing there is no meat scheme at all. Why has the meat scheme been put off to some dim and distant future? Are the Government afraid to face up to the interests? I hope that is not so, and that they have a better explanation than the one I have given, but I do know that 95 per cent. of the meat traders who met in this city a day or two ago came down heavily on the side of absolutely full control of slaughtering and distribution of meat. If that is the position, it is time, despite our hesitancy to apply a scheme of rationing, to think in terms of the meat scheme that they produced, and to get rid, once and for all, of the present chaotic system of distributing meat. My right hon. Friend told the House about old cows being sold for 55s. per cwt. while the Minister fixed a price of 48s. for the most prime beef that we can produce. We are endangering our milk and meat supplies for next year. This partial control, instead of complete control which is leading the Minister into unfortunate highways and byways, because there is no power to go the whole way.
I would ask the Minister a question based on personal observation. I have seen certain imported-meat shops chock full within the last three weeks and I have seen some, during the past 10 days that were empty. Am I right in suggesting that there is likely to be an increase in price of imported meat next Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday? If so, I shall be gravely suspicious—I say no more than that—that one of the big combines has been let in on the ground floor and that it is holding up its meat in the hope of the increase taking place. I hope I am wrong, but I merely put 366 that question to the right hon. Gentleman.
I need say little or nothing about sugar. I know that during the week which started on 19th August, as long as sugar was available, all the country people were taking in larger-than-normal surplus stocks, but the Minister did nothing. If I understand him aright, his present supply is so large that there is no doubt for a very long time about an adequate supply being available. Nevertheless, let us not leave sugar until the last moment if there is likely to be a shortage, so that people from Land's End to John O'Groats will become terribly irritated, and when there is a possibility of some such maldistribution as we have seen with regard to other commodities, during the last few weeks. We are suffering from many peace-time neglects and evasions of responsibility, which have now come home to roost. The English have done quite as great things co-operatively as they have done individually, and I am convinced that, given the same opportunity, they will continue to do so; but the present Government and their predecessors have always shied at developing the explicitly co-operative approach to these problems. It is only when a large-scale effort is imposed upon us, such as this war, that we find we are hampered by tradition.
Everything that the Minister has tried to do has been howled down by the newspapers, who say that his action is undemocratic—almost Totalitarian. Unfortunately, one all too frequently finds him surrendering to the clamour of the newspaper barons instead of disregarding the newspapers, who are more concerned with their advertising revenue than with equal distribution of food supplies. The civilisation for which we are supposed to be fighting is not a chaotic individualism or any new fashion in personal or social values. Despite all his misfortunes of the past, I hope that the Minister will avoid the narrowness of individualism in the future, while he is the greatest Socialist buyer and distributor the world has at the moment. In peace-time I have argued time and time again for a central slaughterhouse system, where nothing is lost. On some occasions I have felt I would like to slaughter some Ministers, but I would not say that I am in that mood at the moment. With such a 367 system the producers would benefit. It is just as important in time of war as in peace-time, but I am in doubt as to whether an experiment in the middle of a war would be the success it might have been if we had been wise enough in times of peace.
We have seen one of those impossible things happen in a short space of time. London milk deliveries have been so reorganised that the double delivery has been abolished. There is a sensible reorganisation. I ask the Minister to proceed with that sort of work while no one is looking. No journals such as the "Daily Express," etc., would dare to attack him if he was doing a real job of work which would benefit the producer and the consumer. I would say this to the Lord Privy Seal in particular. The Government have wobbled and vacillated and the consumers have been irritated too much during these last few weeks. Unity at home is just as important as it is abroad, and I hope the Government will take the hint.
§ 10.23 Pm.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) would like to see me in a slaughter-house. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) has criticised the Government, supported by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), who said we were a dirty Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough said we were a Government with cold feet and that when we had to take a decision we were weak wobblers. In view of these charges, I enter this Debate with some diffidence; I have never taken part in a Debate of this kind before. I have been connected with a good many Government Departments in my time but never with one of those whose affairs have been considered to-night. I do not speak with the intention of bandying words with the experts; I am not qualified to speak as an expert, but I rise as a Member of the War Cabinet to justify the decisions which have been reached and to explain to the House as simply and as clearly as I can the reasons that prompted us to make these decisions.
368 Let me say at once that we are not a party of weak wobblers searching for a way of avoiding a decision. We took our decision deliberately in the light of the facts presented to us. We waited some time—I admit this fact—before we made the decision, and I would say to hon. Members that I think we were wise not to base our decision upon the inadequate data of the first few days and weeks of the war, but to wait until it looked as if conditions were becoming more normal. If we had based our decision upon, say, the first fortnight of the war, I think we should have reached some very unwise decisions. There was bound to be dislocation at the beginning of the war. The convoy system had not been organised; the submarine attack was a good deal more dangerous that it is to-day. This is the first point I put to the House, that we were wise, before we took our decision, to collect more data than were available in those early weeks of the war. That is my answer to one of the observations made in the very interesting speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster). We did not blunder into this decision about bacon and butter. Because we had not the data on which to base our decision we waited for the data; and as soon as we had them we made our decision.
I will tell the House as simply as I can why we made this decision. I will begin by telling hon. Members the considerations that influenced us in regard to a decision in the making of which I took my collective part. I begin with the assumption, which I believe will be accepted by every hon. Member that Germany can never starve out this country. In the later years of the last war there was a grave risk of a contingency of that kind. I do not believe myself, making every allowance for uncertainties—and war is full of uncertainties—that that risk exists to-day. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough and I have both been First Lords of the Admiralty. We have known at first hand the elements of these problems. He would., I know, agree with me when I say that there will be delays, there will be unexpected difficulties; but I believe he will also agree with me—it was certainly the impression that I formed when he was speaking after the First Lord of the Admiralty to-day 369 —that it is not conceivably possible that Germany in this war would ever starve out this country.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I maintain, making full allowance tor all the difficulties that may confront us, making full allowance for the new U-boats that we know are being built in Germany, that we shall continue to get our food and raw materials, even though at times there may be dislocation and delay. That was the first assumption that was the background of the decision that we reached at this stage on the rationing question.
The second consideration that influenced us was the conviction that, while the morale of this country is magnificent, our people should not be asked to make sacrifices that the facts did not justify, that, being British and very independent, their liberty of free choice should not be interfered with, unless it was absolutely essential in the interests of public safety.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I submit that that is a case in point. That shows how very sensitive the public are to any question affecting their liberties. As far as I am concerned, I do not resent in any way the demand of the public to have these regulations reviewed from time to time in order that they may be satisfied that the regulations are necessary in the conditions in which we are actually living. That was the second consideration that influenced the Government in their decision.
The third is of a different kind. It was mentioned just now by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward). We do not desire to provide any avoidable material for enemy propaganda. If we imposed restrictions that were unnecessary they would undoubtedly be exploited in Germany and in neutral countries. We have constantly to keep in mind that if we rationed every kind of commodity we should be unnecessarily providing every kind of opportunity for propaganda by our enemies both in Germany and in neutral countries. Starting with these assumptions, let me look for a moment at the present position. I am as conscious as any hon. Member of the House that 370 during the last few weeks there have inevitably been many inconveniences to traders and consumers. I think that anybody who looks fairly at the state of affairs will see that some of these inconveniences were at any rate unavoidable. The great migrations of population; the difficulties with transport; the problems raised by the black-out and a whole number of other considerations of this kind were bound to lead to inconvenience both to traders and to consumers.
I was interested to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley, in which he very fairly dealt with the position. Indeed, at the end of his speech I was doubtful why it was right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite put down a Motion on the Paper at all. It seemed to me there was scarcely any observation that he made in the course of his speech with which I did not find myself in agreement.
Let me take one or two of them. He said very fairly that he was opposed to rationing for its own sake. I agree with him. He said that we ought only to ration when there is actual shortage. I agree with him. In suggesting a long addition to the list of the commodities we proposed to ration, it seemed to me he was accepting the Government proposal, for rationing bacon and butter, and that at present he did not contemplate any further extension of rationing. There again, I agree with him. But when we came to look at the facts of the situation, and we have to take the facts as they are, we did not see either a shortage or the likelihood of a shortage in any commodities except butter and bacon. With regard to butter and bacon we did definitely find a shortage, and on that account we are asking the House and the country to accept the rationing of these two commodities.
§ Sir S. Hoare
My right hon. Friend dealt with that question. He pointed out that it is first necessary to get the registration into operation and that there will be no undue delay. That must take some time. It is no good bringing into force the rationing of these two commodities until we have got the register in being.
§ Mr. Barnes
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer this question. Between now and the date of rationing, what steps do 371 the Government intend to take to see that a more equitable distribution of supplies takes place?
§ Sir S. Hoare
I am coming to that point. One feels rather nervous of making any promise on questions so complex as these, but my own view would be that the distribution will run much more smoothly and effectively when the registration machine is in action. One of the difficulties hitherto has been that there has not been registration, and inevitably that has given rise to a great deal of inconvenience and trouble that ought not to occur when the registration is in force.
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the point that I put this afternoon. The Minister of Food has announced that 1 lb. of sugar per head is all right, if we do not exceed it, and that when rationing comes four ounces of butter and four ounces of bacon will be allowed. I said that from the very week when the ration books are put into the hands of the trader every ordinary citizen will demand of the trader at least that minimum. Do the Government guarantee to give every trader what he requires to find that minimum now?
§ Sir S. Hoare
I hesitate to get into controversy with an expert like the right hon. Gentleman but I would, with great deference, say that I do not agree with his forecast. Let me give him the answer of a layman. I do not believe that that is going to happen. I do not believe the fact that there is enough sugar to go round and to allow everybody 1 lb. a week is necessarily going to make numbers of people who do not want 1 lb. of sugar a week go and get a pound.
Let me come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs. He seemed to think that there was some hidden hand plotting against the co-operatives. That was not the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough. He made no charge against the Government that there was differentiation in favour of the private trader against the co-operatives.
§ Sir S. Hoare
Whether it was at the party meeting or not, the right hon. Gentleman denies it. His denial of such a charge is complete.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the fact that I have had telegrams and letters from all the cooperative societies in my division, and I read one letter, telling me, and it was conclusive from my own experience, that an atmosphere has been created amongst ordinary co-operators that they were being treated badly by the Ministry of Food. That is my information.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I must leave the hon. Member and his right hon. Friend to fight it out between themselves. The main basis of my argument is that where we find a shortage, there we ration, and where we do not find a shortage, there we do not ration. At present we do not see a shortage either of meat or of sugar, and consequently we do not propose to ration meat or sugar. We find a shortage of butter and bacon, and on that account we propose to ration butter and bacon. I contend that that is the common-sense attitude to adopt on these difficult problems—not to ask the country to make sacrifices before they need make them, but at the same time not to hesitate to ask the country to accept them when we believe they are necessary. That is the picture of rationing as we see it to-day.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Do you deny the statement which I have made on behalf of my constituents, who are co-operators, and I am as good a co-operator as ever there-was? I want to give the Government an opportunity of putting themselves straight with my constituents. Is it true that the Government are victimising the co-operators?
§ Sir S. Hoare
I have never said that any statement made by the hon. Member is untrue, but there is a difference of opinion between himself and the right hon. Member for Hillsborough. I suggest that the desire of the hon. Member is the same as mine. We do not want to see any preferential treatment, we do not want victimisation, and if he will bring these cases to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food, I know that he will look into them and if there has been any differentiation or victimisation it will be brought to an end. However, I cannot believe that it has taken place.
The right hon. Gentleman is answering for the policy of the War Cabinet. Cases of hardship and shortage have been put over and over again to the Minister. Up to the present practically nothing has been done. While I agree with the Lord Privy Seal's statement that there has been no unfairness in distribution of stocks requisitioned by the Government the effect of the Government not requisitioning other supplies has led to unfair distribution, and that statement has to be met.
§ Sir S. Hoare
The right hon. Gentleman and I are dealing with different points. The point with which I was dealing was that differential treatment has been given to private traders as against the co-operators. I say that that is not the case. If there have been cases of this kind the hon. Member for Dumbarton, who is always fair, will I hope bring them to the attention of my right hon. Friend. Neither he nor I wish to see differential treatment between these two different types of traders. I have explained the reasons which led us to make this decision, and the considerations which made us restrict rationing to bacon and butter, but before I sit down, I should like, for a moment or two, to compare the position in this country with the position in Germany; and I do it for this reason, that a Debate of this kind, however careful hon. Members on all sides of the House may be, may leave a false impression in the minds, not indeed of our fellow citizens in this country, but of people in enemy countries and in neutral countries. I should like to make it clear at the end of this Debate that, judged by every standard, our position is immensely stronger than the position of Germany. Let me give the House a fact or two in support of what I have said.
Let us first remember the claim of Germany to be substantially self-supporting. For four or five years, Germany has been making gigantic efforts to make herself self-supporting, and for years past has been working to this end in an atmosphere of war. Germany claims to be substantially self-supporting, yet to-day, if we compare our position with the German position, we find that, as is admitted by almost every hon. Member who has taken part in this Debate, it is necessary for us to ration only two commodities, bacon 374 and butter, and I do not think any hon. Member on any side of the House has suggested that we should have a long list of commodities that ought to be rationed. Compare the state of affairs in Germany, in which practically everything is rationed, with the state of affairs here, and consider also the fact that even with the rationing in Germany covering all these various commodities, three people out of four, I would guess, cannot even get the small rations to which they are entitled.
In Germany, an elaborate system of rationing has been set up covering almost every kind of commodity. In addition to meat and fats, the German scheme covers, for example, bread and flour, jam and sugar, cheese, barley, rice, coffee substitutes, and milk. As regards the actual quantities, they are very low. I have them here. Let us take, for instance, the butter ration, about which they have been making a great deal of propaganda in recent weeks. They have been claiming that they have put up the butter ration to something in the nature of between three and four ounces a week; but I have been informed that they have done that only by adulterating the butter and filling it with water. Take the state of affairs with milk. Here we have no rationing of milk; in Germany, there is a very low ration—one-third of a pint per day. Whole milk is not available to ordinary persons at all. So I could go through this long list of rationed foods in Germany, there being, in addition, as I have said, the fact that the ordinary German citizen cannot even obtain the very small ration to which he is entitled.
I would ask the House at the end of this Debate to take heart from this comparison, because it shows in the most concrete and explicit way how much stronger economically we are than our enemies and how much better is our position to-day in the struggle in which we are involved. We have given to the House a plain statement of why we make these proposals and why we do not make any more extensive proposals. We take the facts as they are to-day- We shall judge our position on the facts as they are at any particular time. We hope that the difficult days of the early weeks of the war are now past and that some of these problems will become easier and not more difficult in the future.
375 The hon. Member for Don Valley made just now so reasonable a speech that I cannot believe that he and his friends are going to challenge a Division this evening. I would like to see this interesting and valuable Debate end without a Division, but if there is to be a Division—I hope there will not be—I feel sure that my hon. and right hon. Friends will on no account vote for the Opposition Motion. The Opposition Motion, if it means anything—I am not sure exactly what it means—must be a vote of want of confidence in the Government and the expression of a desire, which, incidentally they have not expressed in the Debate, that we should add all sorts of items to the rationing list, which in our view, are not necessary.
§ 10.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Barnes
I am reluctant to intervene in the Debate, at this late hour and after the Minister's speech, but I should not like the House to proceed immediately to a vote when the true issue has been obscured both by the incident between the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) and the Minister and by the reference to the conditions in this country and in Germany. The true issue involved here to-night is that the Government have imposed an unfair burden and responsibility on the traders of the country and that they have deliberately created conditions which have prevented equity prevailing among the consumers of certain commodities. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Lord Privy Seal have both admitted that if a shortage exists in certain commodities—and they have admitted that there is a shortage in butter and bacon— those commodities ought to be rationed. There has been a shortage in those two commodities since the beginning of the war. It has also been known to the Government that the shortage was bound to persist because of the inevitable interruption of supplies.
The Government intervened and took command of certain stocks from certain traders, but they did not take the responsibility of ensuring that the whole of the available stocks of these commodities should have come under their own control, and what the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs has entirely failed to grasp is the fact that certain traders have been in a preferential position, not 376 because the machinery of the Ministry in regard to stocks which they have controlled has resulted in inequitable distribution, but because, beyond that, certain traders who do not perform the function of the largest suppliers of butter in this country have got away, through the decision of the Government, with a considerable proportion of the butter stocks. You, therefore, have the position, which has prevailed for weeks now, that you have had large suppliers of the normal requirements of the population for butter supplies without butter, and you have had suppliers in the towns who have never been looked to by the consumers of butter supplies, not only with adequate supplies of butter, but flaunting the fact, and putting up posters in their windows to the effect that they have unlimited supplies of butter.
§ Mr. Barnes
Let us deal with the true position, because it affects millions of consumers. My second point is that the Government had their ration books ready in early October and are deliberately permitting a position to exist for five or six weeks in which hundreds of thousands of housewives have been put to unnecessary inconvenience in trotting about from supplier to supplier for the purpose of getting their goods. The Minister should also recognise that there is a type of persons in the community who like to flit about from shop to shop, and whenever there is a potential shortage they commence to hoard supplies of commodities in which there may not be a shortage, like sugar and tea and packet goods of that description, and by the hoarding of this selfish type of persons an active shortage is created when there is no real aggregate shortage. Our contention is that the Government have no right to put on the wholesalers, the distributors, or the retailers the responsibility of rationing their customers. Therefore, the Government, in our view, between now and the date of rationing, ought to ensure that those who have the normal trade of the country should have sufficient supplies to meet the requirements of their customers. If they cannot do that, my contention' is that they should accept the responsibility of introducing rationing of these commodities immediately, and not wait until the Christmas trade has created a further difficulty, upon which they will 377 then propose to use the excuse to postpone rationing till after Christmas. They have had these books in operation from the commencement of October, and October should have been used to get over their initial difficulty.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 104; Noes, 187.379
|Division No. 308.]||AYES.||[11.1 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Poole, C. C.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Price, M. P.|
|Adsmson, W. M.||Hardie, Agnes||Pritt, D. N.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Harris, Sir P. A.||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hayday, A.||Ridley, G|
|Banfield, J. W.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Riley, B.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Hicks, E. G.||Ritsen, J.|
|Barr, J.||Hopkin, D.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Isaacs, G. A.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Benson, G.||Jackson, W. F.||Rothsehild, J. A. de|
|Bevan, A.||John, W.||Shinwell, E.|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Silkin, L.|
|Buchanan, G.||Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Burke, W. A.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Cassells, T.||Kirkwood, D.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Lathan, G.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Leesh, W.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Cooks, F. S.||Leo, F.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Collindridge, F.||Leonard, W.||Stephen, C.|
|Dalton, H.||Leslie, J, R.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Lunn, W.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Maodonald, G. (Ince)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Ede. J. C.||McEntee, V. La T.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||McGhee, H. G.||Tomlinson. G.|
|Edwards, N, (Caerphilly)||MoGovern, J.||Viant, S. P.|
|Foot, D. M.||Marshall, F.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Frankel, D.||Maxton, J.||Westwood, J.|
|Gallacher, W.||Milnar, Major J.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Gardner, B. W.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Naylor, T. E.||Woodburn, A.|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Noel-Baker, P. J.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Parker, J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Pearson, A.||Mr. Mathers and Mr. Anderson.|
|Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Pethisk-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Gower, Sir R. V.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Courthope, Col. Rl. Hon. Sir G. L.||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)|
|Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead)||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Crooke, Sir J. Smedley||Gridley, Sir A. B.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Crockshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Grimston, R. V.|
|Assheton, R.||Crowder, J. F. E.||Hannah, I. C.|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Cruddas, Col. B.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.|
|Baillie, Sir A. W. M.||Culverwell, C. T.||Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)|
|Barrie, Sir C. C.||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral r. P. H.||Dorman-Smith, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir R. H.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Drewe, C.||Hepworth, J.|
|Beeehman, N. A.||Duncan, J. A. L.||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Dunglass, Lord||Holdsworth, H.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Eastwood, J. F.||Horsbrugh, Florence|
|Boulton, W. W.||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Howitt, Dr. A. B.|
|Brass, Sir W.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Ellis, Sir G.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southporl)|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Hurd, Sir P. A.|
|Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Emery, J. F.||Jarvis, Sir J. J.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Joel, O. J. B.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Evans, Colonel A. (Cardiff, S.)||Keeling, E. H.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Kerr, Sir John Graham (Soo'sh Univs.)|
|Channon, H.||Everard, Sir William Lindsay||King-Hall, Commander W. S. R.|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Findlay, Sir E.||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.|
|Christie, J. A.||Fleming, E. L.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.|
|Clarry, Sir Reginald||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Lancaster, Lieut.-Colonel C. G.|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Fyfe, O. P. M.||Leech, Sir J. W.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Colville, Rt. Hon. John||Gluckstein, L. H.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Levy, T.|
|Lowis, O.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Liddall, W. S.||Prootar, Major H. A.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Little, J.||Pym, L. R.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Llewellin, Colonel J. J.||Radford, E. A.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Ltoyd, G. W.||Ramsbotham, Rt. Hon. H.||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Looker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S.||Ramsden, Sir E.||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Lucas, Major Sir J. M.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Touohe, G. C.|
|Lyons, A. M.||Read, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Mabane, W. (Hudderfield)||Ron Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Rowlands, G.||Wallase, Capt. Rt. Han. Euan|
|McKie, J. H.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Maomillan, H. (Stoskton-on-Tees)||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Makins, Brigadiar-General Sir Email||Samuel, M. R. A.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Sandeman, Sir N. S.||Warrendar, Sir V.|
|Markham, S. F.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.||Watarhouse. Captain C.|
|Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Schuster, Sir G. E.||Watt, Lt.-Col. G. S. Harvie|
|Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Selley, H. R.||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)||Shakespeare, G. H.||Wells, Sir Sydney|
|Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||White, Sir R. D. (Fareham)|
|Molson, A. H. E.||Shepperson, Sir E. W.||Wiokham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Moreing, A. C.||Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Morgan, R. H. (Worcester, Stourbridge)||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwioh)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonal G.|
|Munro, P.||Snadden, W. MaN.||Winterton, Rt. Han. Earl|
|Nail, Sir J.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald||Womaralay, Sir W. J.|
|Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.||Wragg, H.|
|O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.||Young, A. S. L. (Partiek)|
|O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Spens, W. P.|
|Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Palmer, G. E. H.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)||Lieut.-Colonel Kerr and Captain|
|Paters, Dr. S. J.||Storey, S.||Dugdale.|
|Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
§ Proposed words there added.
That, in the opinion of this House, the measures with respect to food supply should be directed to ensuring adequate supplies of essential foodstuffs and their equitable distribution at reasonable prices to all members of the community, and that the decision as to the rationing of individual commodities should be based upon the supplies available from time to time.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.