§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morgan (Doncaster)
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House regrets that the prices of controlled foodstuffs have been fixed so high that large numbers of the population are unable to obtain their requirements, and is of opinion that energetic, measures should be taken forthwith to restore the balance between the purchasing power of the people and the cost of living generally.I see the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food in his place, but I shall not apologise to him for once again having him on the carpet, as it were, from this side of the House. We feel that this is a pertinent and timely occasion on which to review the working of the machine which he has inaugurated and which has such immediate effects and consequences on the lives of the masses of our people. We hope from this 53 Debate to secure some modification of his attitude towards the problem of the cost of living and to find that such changes as may be made will be in the interests of that section of the community which is out of touch with and out of the range of essential foods and utilities of life by reason of the prices fixed or the supplies available. This relates in particular to the most needy section of the community.
We have had a most useful reminder from that eminent authority who is so often quoted, Sir John Orr, of the fact that we still need to deal with the condition of at least one-third of the people of these islands. If the right hon. Gentleman will revise his rationing and price-fixing with his eyes on that section of the community he will spread his benefits well in all quarters; but we are not satisfied that that will be the case at the present time. Therefore, this Amendment is brought forward to ventilate certain aspects of that approach to the problem. As I indicated at the outset, I have not come here—to misquote Shakespeare—to badger Caesar but to raise him in the public esteem of this country. [Interruption.] Well, at least, to raise his office in that way. I do not necessarily mean the right hon. Gentleman himself; but, having accepted his office as an inevitable concomitant of the war situation, we have to make the best possible use of it.
There are certain directions in which I would ask for his attention. I suppose that the object of the existence of the Ministry of Food is that we may at least do better than we did last time, and that we may improve our hold upon the food situation as compared with that of the last war. Actually, taking into consideration all the factors now operating—and I will discuss them in a moment—the cost of living has risen at a greater rate during the period of this war than on the last occasion. Fortunately for us, the figures for last time are recorded in Sir William Beveridge's great book "British Food Control," and they show clearly that food prices rose in the first few months of the war by 24 per cent. That is in relation to the same period from the beginning of the war as that with which I am now dealing. When we look at the Board of Trade Journal for March, we find an estimate for the food position in August last. Taking the food position in 1930 as the 54 index of 100, it is there stated that wholesale food prices stood in August last at 90.4 per cent., and that by this February they had risen to 126.4 Per cent. That is to say an increase of 36.4 per cent. in that period. Hidden behind those figures is also the fact, which was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that subsidies began to operate in this war at an earlier stage than in the last war, and that 12 points in the cost of living were accounted for by the hold that the Exchequer had placed upon certain price levels. If that hidden factor in the cost of living were removed or disturbed, it would disclose that the position is actually considerably worse than it was in the last war.
The Board of Trade Journal shows that the cost of industrial materials has risen by about 27points;and there are, of course other factors working in favour of the right hon. Gentleman at the present time which were not operative on the last occasion, in spite of the already adverse comparison. The Ministry has had the advantage of the storage policy which has been developed. We thought that storage had been practised to a greater degree than it actually was. Unfortunately, we discovered that we were very soon out of our wheat, and that we were borrowing from France at quite an early stage in the war. We are now busily paying her back with frozen meat, and this fact must affect the price position at the present time. Then there was the matter of control, which was not brought into existence until at least the middle of the last war. Whether the machinery of control is more effective now than it was then must be related to the outcome. In regard to sugar, this was a very difficult problem during the last war. Then, at the outset, we were drawing 80 per cent. of our supplies from Central Europe, but this time our sugar supplies are fully assured and we have been able to start off without any disturbance. We have had the benefit of the Treasury subsidy.
§ Mr. Holdsworth (Bradford, South)
The hon. Gentleman is comparing one period with another and claiming that things are worse. Why not compare other things in the same period? We have had fewer sinkings.
§ Mr. Morgan
We have had more control of the sea this time. I am not trying 55 to put up a bad case but to take a thoroughly balanced and reasonable view in approaching this question. I take it to be the function of this House to do so, and I have no intention of attempting to exaggerate the position, but to present a balanced view of the situation. This time, the Minister has drawn more rapidly upon home stocks. The meat position is being maintained at this moment entirely by the home supply. I am not talking of the Services. He is exhausting the pig and poultry population. It is true that he has great reserves upon which to draw. He has twice the number of pigs and a very largely augmented poultry population, but he is taking a big bite out of the national larder. He will find this out six months from now. Against all this he has to deal with his two problems of shipping shortages and the sterling position in coping with the food problem.
The extraordinary thing is that these food increases are not due to the prices paid to farmers. There is a lag in this matter, related in all probability to the Minister's own policy. While the general rise in wholesale prices is about 40 per cent. the fanners' prices are up only about 26 per cent. Price levels have risen from 93 points to 116 per cent. compared with a year ago, when they had risen from 88 to 116 per cent. The farmer is actually about 14 per cent. down in his returns at the present time. I have taken that aspect of the matter as being a matter of deliberate policy. The Minister has made it clear to farmers and to other bodies who approached him for price increases that the price level of food commodities in this country as paid to the farmer affects his capacity for negotiating with other countries, and that if undue rises were to occur here his bargaining power would be affected. That may be true but I am sorry that we cannot all share that view.
One of the changes that have become essential is that at the earliest moment we should offer indisputably permanent and well-founded prices to our home suppliers. They should be sufficiently remunerative to attract labour and to draw out supplies. A farmer put it to me yesterday in the country when we were discussing what was being done; he said: "You cannot flog a bony nag into a gallop if it has been starved of oats for 56 years." That is hew the matter appeared to him. The two difficulties in the way of the Minister in relation to shipping and sterling have to be dealt with, but you must take a risk. You must, at an early stage, secure an increased home output of foodstuffs without eating into your reserves. In other words, a vast reserve of home supplies would be the most effective supplies that you could have. An abundance of supplies would do more to check an upward movement of prices than all the controls.
If there is a sufficiency of supplies in the market, you have at your disposal a factor that can control those tendencies from other quarters. I do not mean that farmers should be given this, that or the other, but I warn the House from these benches of a fact of which the Ministry should become aware. The announcement that 1,300,000 acres have been ploughed up may awaken in the town mind the idea that something has happened to the land, but the Minister may still have to accept the consequent fact that he will probably have fewer potatoes in the ground than was the case last season. One can enumerate other commodities. There is an abundance of meat in this country. The Minister has had to make two price corrections, one, to prevent a large number of sows finding their way into his slaughterhouses, and the other to deal with the position of cows. He will find that his meat supply is being augmented by supplies that will not be renewed. That is something which he has to take into full account. Sugar beet is also a factor which must be taken into account; there will not be the sugar from the home acres, unless the season is favourable and the labour is there.
This is nothing but a sober survey of what I feel is in front of us. On 8th February the Chancellor was in the House and told us that he was putting up £50,000,000 a year in subsidies to keep down the price levels of bread, milk and meat. I have sometimes wondered why either Minister in charge of the food situation did not seize on that opportunity, with the Treasury in that mind, to ask for the use of such a vast sum or some part of it to capitalise a real drive in home production. A sum of £25,000,000 in the hands of some kind of home food trust would have done more to hold prices down, because it is not only 57 what you have in hand but also what you have in prospect which affects price conditions very often. Farmers are still asking what is to happen to feeding-stuffs. They want to know what the Minister means when he says "66 per cent. assured." Does that mean 66 per cent. as for cattle, pigs and poultry which were on the farms in September, or does it refer to the depleted cattle, pigs and poultry in the next few months? It makes a difference. If the Minister refers to what was on the farms and in the byres in the autumn, the farmers will be able to have a full ration, but if they are to be rationed on the basis of the present livestock population, then the position of the farmers is not necessarily improved. That point should be cleared up as soon as possible, because it will make an enormous difference. The farmer is also alive to the fact that whatever the Minister was able to say a few months ago about the difficulty of getting feeding-stuffs; the Argentine has a bigger maize crop than it has ever had in its history, and the farmer would like to know what arrangements are to be made to get it at something like the price of 15s. to the 480 lbs. now being quoted.
I now want to look at the instrument which the Minister is using and which he himself has created. Is it capable of carrying out its policy of food control? In the Estimates I see it is a token Vote of £10. Does that mean that the cost of maintaining this Ministry is to be thrown entirely upon the consumer, that it has to he made to pay its own way, that in the end the Treasury will have a profit-and-loss account and will take the profits if they are there and will pay up if the losses are there? In the meantime the cost of the whole administration is £5,000,000 a year, with thousands of employés; is that to be inserted in the price levels which the consumers are having to pay for butter and bacon? Is that what is behind the token Vote to-day? I want to know what classes of consumers are really sharing in this cost. Are the Services really getting their supplies at net cost—supplies, for instance, of meat from the Argentine and other commodities? What loss is incurred by selling on that basis? Is that also being inserted into the cost of the butter, bacon and meat of the needy consumers whom I have in mind? It would be interesting to know what is the price policy of the Ministry of 58 Food in regard to the Service Departments.
I should also like to know who is paying for the kind of machinery which has been created. We find, for instance, that the commodity departments of the Ministry are all manned by wholesale interests. They are predominantly lifted out of the trade into a Government Department but on a fixed remuneration basis; that is to say, the trade they represent starts off with the agent importer, who gets a maximum percentage of all that comes into the country on a percentage basis of his own turnover before the war. He maintains his percentage interest in the transaction, and he will get up to 2 per cent. on that commodity, whether it passes through his books or not. Say the Ministry's turnover is £800,000,000 a year and there is 2 per cent. on that; halve it and call it £400,000,000 and you are soon running into £8,000,000, £10,000,000, £15,000,000 or £16,000,000 a year as commission to people who are secure for the whole of the war, as if they were still in business but on a better footing than they were before.
There is then the wholesaler type who can have margins such as they did not enjoy before the war. Take bacon as an example. I have seen this week a circular asking the trade to take up Canadian backs. Stocks have accumulated to such an extent that this bacon is being offered at 118s. per cwt., and the second wholesaler is to get it at 130s.; that is a margin of 12s. to the first wholesaler, who before the war was ready to work for 5s. or 7s. per cwt. margin. If he is being paid 5s. too much, he is being paid ½d. a lb. on the prices of bacon which the people are too poor to buy. It is not right that we should have a hierarchy of wholesalers and agents who are having the first pull, with their positions assured, when other people are having their businesses sold up. There must not be these assurances and guarantees to the wholesale interests in the country at the present time. I have seen butter in shop windows at 1s. 6d. a lb. when other shops are selling it at 1s. 7d. It is a clear indication that a penny a lb. can be saved by doing away with a certain kind of transaction inside the organisation. That is an aspect of things which should be dealt with before it develops too far.
Here is an extreme case which happened in Somerset last week. The 59 Ministry of Food have worked out to a nicety the cost of driving a pig to the station. If you take it so many miles, you get so much, and if you take it further, you get an increase. A farmer had 82 calves taken from a Somerset market. I think they were going to Bristol. The contractor used to make a charge of 30s. but to his amazement he found that on the basis of so much perhead per calf he got a cheque for £16. That was a matter which was in the hands of the National Farmers' Union Committee last week. That is the type of cumulative effect of these charges. It is this kind of thing which we have really to discuss, because it has its bearing upon the charges made to the housewife and to the inability of the Minister to meet the position without loss if he has to cut the trading in a commodity with which he is dealing. This will prove to be a test of whether or not the Ministry is effective. In referring to what is known as the Rhondda Ministry, there the trade was not put in the heart of the Departments; it was a Civil Service institution. The present Ministry will have to be judged in comparison by results.
Let us take margarine as an example. There is Mr. H. Davies, formerly a director of Lever Brothers and Unilever; he is the chief. The director is Mr. J. P. Vandenburg. The director for cooking fats distribution is Mr. J. L. Salter, and the director of oils and fats is Mr. Knight, also of Unilever. That is the department which is dealing with margarine. The margarine department is doing its best to keep butter prices up. It has obtained a price of 9d. when the Minister was originally suggesting 6d. The sales of margarine are just double. The Department in the Ministry is manned by members of the margarine trust. That is a simple fact and should be looked into. We should assess whether that kind of machinery is likely to have the influence on the position that one would like.
Next let us take bacon. Here is an amazing story. At the head of the bacon department of the Ministry is Mr. Bodinnear, who was the brains behind the bacon scheme and who did his best to get the bacon industry into his hands at that time. His concern then secured the bacon control by nine votes out of 14. Now he is in charge of the bacon scheme. The first thing he did was to 60 put out of business 500 men whom he had been wanting to put out of work for a long time. He may not have wanted to do it; he may have done it in the interests of the Ministry, but that is precisely what he was trying to do before he entered the Ministry. The two events may not be related, but I would like an explanation from the Minister. Under Mr. Bodinnear we have another gentleman, Mr. Louden, handling imports. These people are serving in these departments with as high motives as any hon. Member in this House, but it is a dangerous principle to introduce into a business, because the gentleman in charge of imports, Mr. Louden, who was in charge of the Canadian bacon before the war, is now surrounded by bacon from Canada. Yet in London to-day there is a deputation of Danes facing a mandate from the Government that they should cut their bacon imports by 30,000 cwts. a week to make room for Canadian bacon. That is precisely what they were doing before the war to get the Danish bacon out of the market. The Danes will take coal or war loan in payment but the Government say they do not want the bacon.
There is a long-term contract with Canada. Canada is represented in the Ministry by the man who was in charge of Canadian bacon before the war. In charge of distribution is a Mr. Warren. He is the head of a great distributing house, and he is anxious to keep the distributive margins as high as possible. He may think that that is the only way to do business satisfactorily, but the fact is that margins in bacon distribution are unduly high compared with pre-war. This head of a great distributing house has prescribed the price; nobody can budge from it, but if they do, they lose their licence to sell. They are given no limits in which to move. They would work for less than a 12s. margin, but they are prescribed. That is not the way to preserve the integrity and structure of the wholesale machine which some people have in mind after this war is over. It is worth while looking into, because it does affect the price of bacon. It makes it difficult for people to buy bacon. I say, without hesitation, that the moral effect of all this sort of thing on the trade is distinctly bad. There is uneasiness, not only among the public but among members of the trade. It is felt that little men may be 61 driven out, and that discrimination may creep in. One must allow for such people having as honest a standing in this matter as I or anyone else could claim to have, but the "Economist" the other week reminded us that:For a number of important trades one dominant personality is learning how his competitors run their businesses. There is not the slightest need to suggest that any of the controllers are consciously grinding their private axes; most of them are keenly anxious to avoid anything of the sort. But it will be so fatally easy at the end of the war to suggest that an official control shall merely be transmuted into an unofficial 'ring'— without any hampering duty to a supervising State. To endow the representatives of a trade with legal powers inevitably creates suspicion in the minds of his customers.That element is entrenched in the Ministry of Food at present; and the time has come for some kind of overhaul. The Minister has laid down his own price policy. He said, in the Debate on 8th February:so to work prices that you avoid as far as you can the instability and the sudden jump which upset budgets and put out the calculations of the housewife. It is essential to try and retain the stability of the whole price structure of these essential foods."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1940; col. 544, Vol. 357.]That is precisely opposite to the policy of the Prices of Goods Act. According to the Minister, that, you must not give the customer any advantage of a day-to-day change; you must take the long view, and peg prices to the figure at which you mean to hold them. But according to the Prices of Goods Act people are told that they must have no regard to the future position, but must sell on a day-to-day basis. That raises an aspect which comes more into the province of the Board of Trade. In bacon before the war, you could get Canadian backs at1s. 1d. wholesale, and at between 1s. 2d. and 1s. 3d. retail in the shops. Now they are about 1s. 3d. wholesale, retailing at anything from 1s. 8d. to 1s. 10d. The Minister has withdrawn certain cuts, and has also reduced the price by about 2d. per lb. But the net result has been to reduce rationing to a farce. You could take rationing off butter and bacon tomorrow, and it would not make a pennyworth of difference, because your price levels are serving as the corrective. Yon have the well-to-do of this country authorised to cat up the crumbs that fall off the poor man's table; that is the extraordinary situation. They can take the 62 rations that the poor man cannot get. That is not a satisfactory working out of the Minister's price policy. He has lost sight of one-third of our people, who are not getting what should be the minimum amount for everybody.
Now the Minister is facing the possibility of his stocks deteriorating. His Department have sent out a notice asking firms to deal with these accumulated stocks of slimy Canadian bacon. These people are offered a price to do the Minister's washing. But the advantage is not to be passed on to the public: it is the second wholesaler who is to get the advantage of the reduced price; that is the only conclusion one can draw from the Minister's statement that he does not want to disturb his price levels.
Let us take sugar. Somebody is getting 3¼d. a lb. on sugar. Sugar is well in the grip of a great combine; of course, they have their representatives in the Ministry. Sugar to-day costs about 1d. a lb. in the world markets; we are paying 4¼d. Part of the object of this Amendment is to persuade the Chancellor to take off food taxes, to whatever degree he finds it possible, in the next Budget; for food is necessary to the running of the war, and it seems farcical for the State to tax itself in such a manner. But sugar is one of those things which are not dietetically necessary in large quantities, and it may be found desirable to allow the present position in regard to sugar to continue, provided that the money is used for some good purpose. You have something like £30,000,000 from sugar; and, if the Government are sincere in wanting to avoid the stimulation of this dread spiral, they might use that money for such a purpose. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, on 8th February, told us that he wanted to stop increases in the price of bread, milk and other things; but the Minister has now announced an increase in the price of milk, in order that the farmers may have another 2½d. a gallon. Does that mean that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has withdrawn his offer to subsidise milk to the consumers? Is he going to take back his £230,000 a week?
Milk is already as dear as it was in the last days of the last war. That fact is not sufficiently realised. You cannot afford to make it any dearer than it is now. But there is an indication of a change in Government policy in regard to milk. I hope 63 that the Minister will clear that matter up. He is getting at the housewife in two ways, by raising the price of milk. Not only is the price of liquid milk being raised, but the manufacturer will have to pay the full price. Butter and cheese are going up in price. A certain proportion of housewives have been getting very cheap milk from the farmers in order to make these processed foods; and the increase in the price of milk, therefore, will hit them twice. At the risk of conflicting with some people's views, I say that the milk margin is already too high. Some great institution—I do not care whether it is combine or co-operative—should be put in charge of the milk distribution of this country, because in that way the cost could easily be cut by 4d. per gallon. The Minister has a faint smile on his lips, because this is reminiscent of something which happened about 15 months ago. I wished he had stuck to his guns at that time, because if he had, we should now be in a better position to deal with this matter.
I come to butter. The Minister once associated my name with a piece of news which appeared in a paper. I had nothing to do with what has occurred to-day. I had no idea that something was being put into a certain journal. I wish it were true, and that the Minister would announce a cut in price, because he would then cut his stocks. The manager of a large store told me that he had a ton of butter in his store. He said, "I approached the local food controller about it and asked him whether I might get rid of it in some way." He said, "No, you cannot do that; you must cut down your orders for supplies for your registered customers." This man said, "Not blue-pencil likely; I will stick to what I have got, or you will have me down on a lower allocation in the future." "Then," said the food controller, "when this stuff looks like getting rancid, come and see me again." That is going on in scores of towns all over the country.
The price of butter is 1s. 7d. a lb. If the butter goes bad, the Minister will lose the whole 1s. 7d. If a loss has to be faced, it would be better that the loss should be through cheapened consumption. If the price of butter were cut by 3d. a lb., you could sell six lbs. to the present one lb., and still be in pocket. 64 You would also save a 1s. worth of margarine, which does not spread as well as butter. Also, butter will be made available to a type of consumer who ought to be met in this matter. It is a glaring outrage on the social conscience to think that the only way you can deal with surplus butter stocks is to put up an announcement that it is a patriotic thing for the well-to-do to eat the butter that the poor cannot buy. It is a dreadful thing, and a damaging thing for the people of this country.
§ Mr. Morgan
If that statement is related to the facts of the situation, it is as good as a fact. It is a well understood thing that such a notice has been put up.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Mr. Lennox-Boyd)
If the hon. Gentleman was referring to me, may I refresh his memory? I was dealing with the question of whether the State would be justified in subsidizing butter when there was an alternative available, in contrast to the position in respect of other commodities which had been subsidised. I made no plea to the well-to-do to eat up the butter that the poor cannot afford. To say that, is completely to misrepresent what I actually said.
§ Mr. Morgan
I think that the general understanding of what the Minister said was to the effect that the well-to-do should keep off margarine, and let the poor have it, while they themselves have butter. I have done no more than paraphrase. That is the impression that was given.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I do not quarrel with the hon. Gentleman's summing up of the situation in his second statement. It was the first statement to which I took exception.
§ Mr. Morgan
My first statement was as to what I know to be the impression left on the public mind. That is not a satisfactory way of dealing with the matter. We should approach this butter question quite seriously, get these stocks cleared up, and have a fresh start.
65 Look at what has happened with regard to meat. You have taken all the best meat for the Services, and have told housewives that they must take the poorer cuts of home-produced meat if they are to feed their families at 1s. 10d. a head per week. Home-produced meat is dear, and the price of that affects the whole lot. It is a pity that there is no representative of the Board of Trade present. [Interruption.] I beg the Parliamentary Secretary's pardon; I am pleased to see the hon. Gentleman here in that capacity. Take the announcement which was made in this House the other day by the Minister of Supply. He announced frankly—and we like him for it; it is exactly the sort of thing we wanted to hear—that the home market must make up its mind that it was to have only half of the supply of wool available. I feel about that matter in this way. If it is a good thing to keep luxury articles out of the country, we should not import them, but we should also keep luxury articles out of our shop windows. If there is to be only half the wool supply, I suggest that there ought to be a limit—I am not saying that we ought to have the German system of rationing the number of suits—put upon the cost of a suit of clothes to say five guineas or six guineas or something like that as the maximum.
§ Mr. Morgan
And it would do them good, but that is only an idea. I went into a shop yesterday and said, "What is the position with regard to blankets?" and the shopkeeper replied, "Last year I paid 25s. a pair wholesale, and I am now being asked to pay 60s., not for the same kind of blankets, but because the others have been pushed out." I asked why and he replied, "Because under the machinery of the Prices of Goods Act it pays to make the higher grade stuff because the turnover is sure, and if your prices increase you may pass them on. They are not making the low grade stuff. Sheets were 6s. 6d. a pair last year, and the same kind of sheets are now 13s."
This is the kind of thing that is beginning to show itself in the homes of the people. Agricultural labourers boots, which were formerly 12s. 11d. per pair, are now 17s. 6d.; and children's boots, formerly 3s. 11½d., are now 5s. 7d. That 66 is the kind of thing that is happening in the country districts. If there is to be only half wool, half cotton, or half of anything there must be a maximum price for a shirt of, say, 15s.; a suit five guineas or six guineas; and a pair of shoes, 30s. There must be maximum prices so that the same kind of stuff that we on these benches wear or that is worn in the streets shall apply all the way round. Conditions should not exist such as those of which a boot manufacturer told me. It was announced that the price of "K" boots was to go up, and I was disgusted to learn of people going into his shop and buying five pairs of "K" boots at a time because the word had gone out that leather was to go up in price, so much so that the "K" people in Kendal refused to take any more orders. The Prices of Goods Act is a farce. It will not function. The Government will have to approach the problem in a new way. If it is true that the Ministry of Supply has got us down to half our wool supplies, and we are to be cut down in these various directions, they will have to adopt another method to meet the position.
My last word is on rents, and I will quote the view of a leading magistrate who has recently been transferred from Greenwich Police Court to Tower Police Court. This was in last week's "Times." He said:There is one thing which worries me—the question of rents. It was a serious problem before the war, but since it has been aggravated. I think the only solution is an Act of Parliament which would require landlords to be satisfied with a rent giving interest at 5 per cent. on their capital invested in property.Why 5 per cent., if other people will take 3 per cent.? Why not a cut in rent? The Halifax Building Society—all honour to them—have made the first move. They have told all investors in their building society that the interest is to be 3 per cent. Why not extend the payments of the Sinking Funds by 10 years to enable the charges to fall?
§ Mr. Morgan
I know, and I am coming to that point. They have left it consequentially as the logical deduction from their first move, that they must now make their second move and make some 67 kind of reduction to the borrower. It is the building societies which have put up the rents all round. People have to pay large sums of money for repayment and rent, while leaving too few other houses available for people who only want to rent. Rents are now over 60 per cent. higher than during the last war. If we had a cut in rents, it would save a good many of the inquiries that we have to make from these benches.
§ Mr. Holdsworth
I am sure that the hon. Member is misrepresenting certain movements. It is impossible to make a reduction in mortgage rates, because the difference between the two is taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That is the reason, and the only reason for the proposed change.
§ Mr. Morgan
I accept the hon. Member's explanation, because I am speaking to the Front Bench opposite, who need to be told the hon. Member's point. Here is a direction in which the proper treatment of the rent position would be a very great help. Corporations and municipalities come in here, and the Government must meet them. If there were to be a cut in rents, it would mean a new series of hardship cases, but there would be fewer landlords or landlords' wives coming before hardship committees than there were soldiers' wives or recipients of public assistance over the question of rent. The system that we have now of giving relief to hardship cases all round is doing little to straighten out the position, but is rather putting a premium upon high rents. We want everybody to work, and if the country as a whole benefits, then the community must benefit. There must be a more original approach to the question. Mr. Keynes may have his schemes, but we also have to approach this cost-of-living business with more ideas in our heads than we have hitherto had.
I have about finished, and I must apologise to the House for taking so long. I hope that both Ministers realise that if they fail in these two directions there may be no withholding the demands that must rise from organised labour for increases of pay. Whether or not this vicious spiral is set in motion is very largely in their keeping, plus, of course, the fact whether or not their representations to the Government are heard and acted upon. Nothing 68 could withstand such a demand if it has to be made. With the initial momentum of food prices rising at a greater momentum than during the last war, we have our warning. I hope that the Minister will be able to clear that up. But if that is the case, plus the original percentage of increase, plus the figures the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave us that he was cutting down the cost of living by 12 points by his policy, which was questioned on this side of the House, the Minister will have to take such steps as I have indicated to keep prices down within the means of people who need to buy the essential commodities, in order that his own rationing scheme shall not become a farce. Sugar is the only thing we are not really rationing at the moment. And even there a large number of people are not buying their full ration. You are not selling your full 12 ounces of sugar per head. And in particular, if the Minister would at an early date announce cuts in price by which to clear his butter stocks, he would find that it was the most economical way of meeting the situation instead of disturbing a lot of people, including the trade itself.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Dobbie (Rotherham)
I beg to second the Amendment.
It deals with the cost of foodstuffs, the difficulties of certain people in meeting and obtaining their requirements and the policy of the Government to take measures to restore the balance between the purchasing power of the people and the cost of living limit, and I desire to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan) upon the admirable way in which he has placed the case before the House. If hon. and right hon. Members go into the Lobby to-night to vote in accordance with the merits of the case, the Government will have sustained their first defeat in the Lobby since the commencement of hostilities. The first charge of the Government in all the circumstances is the protection of the standard of life of the people of the country with the lowest monetary resources, and up to the moment the Government undoubtedly have lamentably failed, which I believe to be the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the people of this country. There has been a serious muddle in the system of control and a large amount of 69 waste of valuable food, which would have been a crime even in peace time. The cost of living has been allowed to rise at a much greater rate even than during the last war, when there was far less pretence at control. I estimate that the workers' food supply has risen in price from the level of last August by over 23 per cent., and a considerable amount of that increase is due to the muddle and chaos caused by the inadequate and inefficient action of government control.
One remembers the unfortunate effect of the Government's muddle in connection with the marketing and distribution of fish. Here the position was so bad that the marketing scheme had to be abandoned, but not until a very large amount of public money had been wasted. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster has dealt pretty exhaustively and thoroughly with the scandal of bacon, but there have been instances quoted in the Press of large consignments having been commandeered and immediately invoiced back to the dealers at an increase in price of from 20 to 30 per cent. I am informed that there have been large quantities of bacon transferred to the Smithfield Animal Products Company at Stanwell for destruction. That is a scandal, especially at this time, when, as has been so well illustrated, the price of bacon is such that the overwhelming majority of the working classes of this country are unable to buy it at all. Bacon need not be rationed at all so long as it remains at its present price. It was recently reported in the Press that stocks of bacon and butter were in danger of rotting because so many workers are unable to afford these foods at present prices. There must be something radically wrong with the efficiency of Government control. There ought to be an immediate inquiry into the whole of the circumstances, but the country does not want any further exposures of waste and extravagance such as were recently made in the organisation of the Ministry of Information. I hope that as a result of this Debate, the Government will take the necessary steps to hold some kind of inquiry that will instil some degree of confidence into the minds of the workers of this country. I can assure the House that the Government are slowly losing the confidence of the people in regard to the control of the food supplies of the country.
70 A timely warning was given by Sir John Orr in his admirable little book, lately printed, which I believe the Minister will have read. If he has not, I advise him to do so. Sir John Orr says that unless the Government devise a system by which the one-third of the population which has to go short of essentials can get the food which is at present denied them there will be trouble on the home front. This war, he says, will be lost or won in the houses of the people. Time after time, from this side of the House, we have warned the Government that the home front is equally as important as the overseas front, and unless the Government realise this, there is great danger confronting them. The depressed one-third of the population about whom Sir John Orr talks gets no benefit at all from rationing, because, as the hon. Member for Doncaster so well illustrated, prices make it impossible for them to buy butter or bacon. Hence the surplus of these foodstuffs. The Government should fix prices in relation to the purchasing power of our poor people and pin them at that level. We should produce or import milk, vegetables, potatoes, bread, butter, margarine and oatmeal in abundance to ensureour people getting a reasonable supply of food. The depressed third of the population are the wives and dependants of the men overseas who are standing in the valley of the shadow of death; they are old age pensioners, unemployed, casual workers and the low-paid labouring class of this country. Sometimes I think members of the Government, especially members of the Cabinet, are too far removed from the struggle through which the working class of this country have to live. I hate to think they do not care, but I sometimes think they do not, and I know that they do not know of the struggles of the poorer classes. These people are reading and thinking about the struggles they have to make to keep body and soul together, and it is making them take a keener interest in politics.
Last week I was talking to a meeting of soldiers' dependants, old age pensioners and people who could, generally, be classed among the depressed one-third about which Sir John Orr talks. To my surprise, the wife of a soldier who has six children produced to me a list of things that are necessary for people so that 71 they may live. She showed me the increased prices for sugar, butter, margarine, bacon, cheese and potatoes and then showed me her wages. She told me that her husband was oversea and that she would probably never see him again, and then she told me of a speech made by a Member of Parliament. On 19th October last, according to the OFFICIAL REPORT, the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) said:as long as prices inside this country do not reduce us to actual starvation or to riot and revolution they do not very much matter…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th October, 1939; col. 1155, Vol. 352.]This woman said to me, "Is that the opinion of the Conservative Government?" and I said, "I do not know." Then she said, "Is it the opinion of the Opposition?" and I said, "No." She then said, "I will believe you if you will make that statement in the House, and challenge the Government, and in the name of the Opposition repudiate a statement like this or anything approaching it." This statement by the hon. Member for Cambridge was read to me by a woman with a Government allowance of 17s. a week, an allotment of 7s. a week from her husband, 4s. for her second child and 3s. for each of her two remaining children, making a total of 39s. a week. I would ask hon. and right hon. Members of the House how they can expect people, having read speeches of this character, to keep quiet for very long when they have such allowances, and the prices of needful commodities are so high. This woman was expressing, not merely her own opinion, but the opinion of many hundreds of thousands of women whose husbands are serving and upholding the great traditions about which we have heard the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers talk since the war started.
The statements made by Sir John Orr, and the statements I am making now, are such as ought to make the Government understand that in present circumstances there is no justification of any kind for taxation on food, and I strongly appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer immediately to take off the tax on sugar, tea and other foodstuffs. The artificial increase in prices of essential foods, especially when the general cost of living has increased, imposes an unfair burden 72 on the poorer section of the community. One way of reducing the cost of living is to remove all taxes on prime necessities. There is no evidence that the Government have taken suitable action to replace the officials, who are guilty of serious mistakes. The tendency seems to be to cover up waste and extravagance, even when it involves hardship on the people and heavy losses on public and private funds. The Government must do something to remedy the situation or get out and make room for a Government that will.
I have here figures about women who are invalids and are sick and who were ordered certain necessities and delicacies by doctors. They are the wives and dependants of soldiers, old age pensioners, unemployed men, casual labourers and low-paid labourers, and there is no opportunity for them, in present circumstances, to get the things which will help them to recover. At my meeting last week wives were saying that the Government, or their representatives, were saying that we ought not to be asking for increased rates of wages. They think that is one of the reasons why the Government still retain the Trades Disputes Act and they believe that the hon. Member for Cambridge University unwittingly let something slip for which the Government feel very cross with him. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, dealing with the question of wages, said on 29th November, 1939:I think that one of the chief contributions that we can all make here in our democracy towards winning the war is within the limits that are possible, to do without rises of wages and not to assume that if there should be, as world conditions may bring about, some rise in costs therefore, automatically, our remunerations must all go up on a sliding scale."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1939; col. 168, Vol. 355.]The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asking the working classes not to make demands for increased wages owing to the increased cost of living. He was asking the working classes to be content to pay increased prices but not to make any effort to get wages to compensate them for these increased prices. We say that if the Government are really serious in their request to the trade unions and workers generally not to make any effort to increase the rate of wages, they should give some demonstration that they are 73 really serious in their endeavour to prevent people making big fortunes. The Excess Profits Tax is not enough. We want to stop the making of these big profits at the source and keep the price of commodities at something like a normal level. From information supplied in the "Ministry of Labour Gazette," it is fair to assume that 7,500,000 people have received an increase in wages of an average of 6 per cent., amounting to £1,500,000. That is an average of 4s. per week per head of those employed. There are still some 6,000,000 who have not received anything at all. The increase in the cost of living is considerably greater than that, and I estimate that the workers are probably about 10 per cent. worse off in their standard of living than they were before the war started.
We ask the Government to review the whole situation. We will support what they are doing in the way of rationing in order to secure equality for the whole of the people and to get a reasonable supply of food. But it is not equality if the rich people are able to buy all that they need and the poor people are unable to buy things which are needed to keep body and soul together. We ask the Government to take these steps in order that the people of the country will understand that the statement of the hon. Member for Cambridge University does not reflect the policy of the Government and is certainly repudiated by every right-thinking man and woman.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
I should like to support the Amendment, although not on such a wide front as did the proposer, who dealt with these matters from a profound knowledge and in a very interesting way. The increase in wholesale prices between now and a year ago may be said to be about one-third to one-half, and the increase in the price of retail goods as from the beginning of the war is officially estimated at 16 per cent. On the other hand, the ordinary householder who goes out to buy goods will estimate the increase as something nearer 20 per cent., perhaps even more than that. I appreciate that a good deal of this increase is absolutely inevitable, although some of it, I think, is due to the foolish schemes which the Government have put in operation, schemes like the fantastic fish control scheme, for which the Minister was not perhaps responsible, but which 74 was a Government scheme and had to be hurriedly abandoned as putting everything into a hopeless tangle.
I have had an opportunity during the last 10 days of meeting a large number of women from different parts of my constituency, and as this Debate was coming on I asked them, as typical householders, how they viewed rationing and how it was affecting them. I found that the necessity for rationing was fully accepted as required by the need for winning the war. They had no objection in principle to it, but there were objections in practice. With regard to shopkeepers, I think far too many forms are being used and that economies should be made in this direction. No doubt the Minister may have under consideration the periodicity of forms and the number of items which have to be filled in. They are excessive and not needed by the requirements of the rationing scheme. From what I heard I am certain that a good deal of improvement might be made there.
There are two rationing schemes. There is the automatic rationing caused by high prices, which has a profound effect, and there is also the Government's rationing scheme. The increase in prices has affected rationing to a great extent. Even where the article appears to be the same in price, it really is much smaller in bulk, and people, I think, quite well realise that they are buying a smaller quantity, although the price may be the same. The one item in regard to which I found universal objection and dissatisfaction was sugar. They all say that the sugar ration is not enough, hardly enough to sweeten a cup of tea, and in view of the uses to which sugar is put in a household, I hope the Government will do what they can to make more available, particularly when it is necessary for the preservation of fruit. Many poor people go into the market and buy fruit which they cannot grow in their own gardens and which they want to preserve. I hope this will be encouraged in every way. It is true that the increase in the price of sugar is largely due to taxation, and, therefore, I hope the Government will give consideration to the point whether it is wise to maintain sugar at such an artificially high price in view of the great demand for it throughout the country.
As to butter, what is happening in regard to butter depends entirely on the 75 income level of the person concerned. Some people do not buy butter at all; it is not within their purchasing power. Others have been buying their butter ration, and although it has been doubled it makes no difference, because poor people have not the money to buy it; the price is too high, and the Government should certainly bring it down. It may be true—I do not know—as some doctors say, that margarine is just as good as butter; some say that it is better than butter at certain periods of the year. Whether that is true or not, it does not meet the position. We are not ruled in our lives by purely scientific facts; we are ruled by habit, by custom and by tradition. People like to purchase an article which comes from the green pastures of the country, from the cows, rather than something which is made in a factory. Consideration must be given to the sentimental side of this question. I hope that the Government appreciate, as I think they do, that by doubling the butter ration they are not doubling the amount of butter which is available.
The same considerations apply to a large extent to bacon. The doubling of the bacon ration has meant that no more bacon than before was purchased in many cases. People cannot afford it, and the quality of the bacon is not high. It is very different from what was bought in normal peace-time conditions. I am afraid that there are many households where bacon has simply dropped out of the menu altogether. I do not mean that something else has taken its place; nothing else has taken its place. That is a deplorable situation; but from the information which has come to me it is a fact in certain cases. The price is certainly too high, partly because of the unsatisfactory nature of the Government's organisation of the industry. They are sending bacon not from Land's End to John o' Groats—that would be an exaggeration—but long distances, quite unnecessarily, and in a way which was never done in peace-time. If they would only get back to the well established custom in peace-time of sending out goods from certain centres, they would be able to deal with it far more effectively and far more cheaply and efficiently than is the case now.
Let me give one example of the ignorance of an official dealing with this 76 particular problem. He was told one day that the miners were finding that they could not get bacon to take down in the mine for their dinner. He said, "Let them take meat." It is well known in mining circles that meat is not suitable to take down the mine; it does not keep. It reminds one of Marie Antoinette's saying that if the people cannot get bread, let them have cake! But that is only a small point. There is undoubtedly in certain parts of the country widespread dissatisfaction in regard to the question of meat. I do not say that it exists in my own neighbourhood to the same extent as it does in other parts of the country. The effect of the Government scheme has been that people who have been in the habit of buying home-killed meat cannot get as much as they want or as much as they have been accustomed to have in the past. In the case of those who buy imported meat, the complaint is that they get too much mutton, and they would rather have more beef. The result of the restriction on imports means that the poorer people are having to buy more of the expensive home-produced meat. A question I want to ask the Minister is why rabbits have not been rationed, as they were during the last war. This is a meat that is very much appreciated by a large number of people, and the price of rabbits has gone up by about three times. There seems to be a case for considering the imposition of some control over the price of rabbits.
With regard to milk, it is a lamentable fact that in many homes, in my part of the country and in other parts, the children never get fresh milk, but are given the sweetened tinned milk which has not anything like the same value in vitamins as fresh milk. I hope the Government will do everything they can to stimulate and develop the consumption of milk at a reasonable price in all the homes of the country. The people who feel the present position of high prices the worst of all are the soldiers' dependants, young wives, at one end of the scale, and at the other end, the old aged pensioners and the unemployed. These people find it difficult to carry on and to get the food required to maintain them in normal health. I should like to see a much greater consumption of fruit and vegetables in view of their nutritional value. Would it not be practicable to 77 introduce into the school life of the country a free distribution of apples, as well as the distribution of milk? This would get directly to the children a food of great value. I hope this will be considered.
I should like now to say a few words about fish and chips, a very popular food among the working classes all over the country, and certainly in my area. In the fish-and-chips trade, the position is very difficult. The price of fish has gone up by 150 per cent. on the pre-war price, although I think it is realised that the Government are doing their best in the matter of fish. The price of the paper used for wrapping the fish has gone up by 100 per cent., oils have gone up by 75 per cent.—and are very hard to get—and the lard and dripping have gone up also by 75 per cent. I am sure the Government realise the importance of keeping this trade alive and allowing it to go on rendering a service in the feeding of the people. I hope the Minister will have something to say on this matter.
Several references have been made to the great authority of Sir John Orr and his statement that 30 per cent. of the people of this country are undernourished. Some people go further than that. I notice that Mr. Seebohm Rowntree, a great authority, has said that it would be truer to say that 30 per cent. of the working classes are undernourished. That is a very sad reflection on this great country. I have been told by social workers who, in the course of their duties, go into the homes of the poorer classes, that when they go into those homes at the end of the week, they do not like to look inside the larder because they know that, in all probability, the cupboard will be bare. That is a state of affairs which must be borne in mind in considering this problem. These people lack particularly the protective foods, which are more expensive than the energy foods, such as white bread and sugar. I hope that consideration will be given to what has been called an iron ration, or a basic ration, containing the necessary vitamins for life, and that this will be made as cheap as possible.
The Government will have to deal with this matter of the cost of living either by subsidies or in some other way. I know they are giving a large subsidy at the present time, but I am afraid that more 78 in that direction will be required. I think they would be wise to consider whether they could not deal with the matter by means of family allowances which could be tacked on to the structure of daily life, altogether outside the wages question, with which they would not interfere. There could be a great national scheme on the lines of the schemes which exist in other countries—in France, for instance—where they are functioning very well. In some way or other, preferably on the lines of family allowances, this problem must be dealt with, and I hope the Government will give to it their urgent consideration, because to secure victory, and to secure it as quickly as possible, it is absolutely vital that we should have a well-nourished and contented people.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. W. S. Morrison)
From the three speeches that have been made in the Debate, I think the House will realise the extent of the front which it is incumbent upon me to cover in my remarks. The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan), who raised the question, need not have prefaced his speech by any apology, for there are few subjects more interesting to me than that of the prices of the food of the people, and I always welcome constructive criticism and advice as to how to maintain that steady level of prices which is such an important adjunct of our war effort. But there is criticism—and criticism. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie), who seconded the Amendment, made a speech which was full of general words, to which he seemed to attach a good deal of importance, such as muddle, waste, inefficiency, extravagance, scandals, and so on. I realise that the hon. Member was expressing sincerely what was in his mind, but I am sure he will forgive me for saying that I failed to detect in his speech that particularisation of complaints which would justify the very strong epithets he used.
The hon. Member for Doncaster dealt with a number of important points which were basic to his argument, and garnished his speech with a number of smaller points all of which were important and all of which must be dealt with; and I should like to deal first with some of those minor points. In the first place, the hon. Member seemed to detect in the organisation 79 of the Ministry as such and its personnel at least a possible cause of the increased prices of food. He asked how the cost of administration was to be borne. Speaking generally, the truth is that all these controls are exercised in the main by the very people who distribute the goods, and that in the main the cost of distribution is borne by the people who used to bear it in peace-time, although in some cases they are serving as agents of the Ministry. I should be very surprised if, in the arrangements that have been made, there is extravagance in costs of administration in the Ministry. In some cases, I believe that the cost under control is cheaper than the profit margin which in peace-time remunerated those concerned. In peace-time, those responsible for the distribution, the wholesalers and retailers, remunerated themselves by charging a profit margin. While it is true that the instrument of control requires a more elaborate system to meet war-time conditions, I think there is no extravagance of that sort. Certainly, the matter is one which we are always keenly watching, and with the development of the Ministry, if any cases of excessive costs of that character can be traced down, they will be dealt with at once. I should like to make one general remark about the personnel of the Ministry.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
Before the Minister leaves the question of margins, may I ask whether he justifies the fixing of a charge, as between the first wholesaler and the second, of 12s. a cwt. on bacon?
§ Mr. Morrison
That is a matter with which I will deal. The way in which these margins have been settled is by negotiations with the interests concerned. The negotiations were started in peace time and continued in war time, and in every case the best possible bargain was driven. At the same time, an elaborate costings inquiry into the cost of distribution and margins has been set on foot, and in the light of what is revealed by that inquiry, the whole matter will be reviewed. If the hon. Member for Doncaster thinks that the margins to which he has referred are excessive, I will tell him that that is not the view held in many sections of the trades which have to work the system. Although the margin, when stated as a simple figure, may appear to be a very large one, it 80 bears a different appearance when one deducts overhead charges and considers the difficulties involved in handling vast quantities. There is another thing about margins which the House ought to bear in mind. Whether we like it or not, the distributive trade in this country is one of the greatest employing trades. There is a vast number of people dependent for their livelihood and standard of living upon the distributive trade, and the margins of profits allowed are the source of these people's livelihood and standard of life. When one talks, or hears talk, about the ruthless cutting down of margins, one must remember that there are many people dependent upon these margins, and that a great wages fund depends upon them; and the whole matter, dealt with as a war-time expedient, must be dealt with in a spirit of justice and with a desire to do as fair a deal as is possible.
On the question of personnel, I repeat what I have stated many times in the House. The plans for the control of foodstuffs were inaugurated in peace time, and in order to get the best assistance possible, the trade advisers were consulted, and in some cases earmarked for positions in the Ministry. That has given rise to some criticism because people have felt that traders should not be put in charge of their own trades, but on the other hand, there has been the equally valid criticism against taking quite inexperienced civil servants and suddenly, on the outbreak of war, putting them in charge of vast complicated trades with many ramifications. Those are the two dangers and difficulties. The position which we have now achieved after six months of war is that, although we have in the Ministry these gentlemen who are assisting us in their trade capacity—and to whose great assistance I would pay a tribute—the real control is in the hands of a Civil Service staff which has been built up; and the House should disabuse its mind once and for all of the idea that there is any dis-service to the public interest in having the present judicious mixture of trading experience with administrative Civil Service control.
The main argument of the hon. Member who opened this Debate was founded upon figures which he gave of the varying movements of food prices in the first six months of this war and of their movements during a comparable period after 81 the outbreak of the last war. He took the present rise in the first six months of this war from the wholesale index, but what concerns the consumer is the retail index. It is what the housewife pays for food that makes the cost of living. The figure which the hon. Member gave from the wholesale index of an increase of, I think, 36.4, does not represent the increase in the cost of living of the people. The rise in the retail cost index in the first six months of this war has been 17 per cent. In the first six months of the last war it was 22 per cent., or 5 per cent. higher.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Is that for food alone? Where does the right hon. Gentleman get the figure of 17?
§ Mr. Morrison
The hon. Member for Doncaster used a similar index, and I know that when the cost-of-living index figure compiled by the Ministry of Labour does not suit hon. Members opposite and in other parts of the House, they throw doubt on its validity, but when it happens to reinforce some argument addressed by them to this side of the House, they are unanimous in upholding its validity.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
Does the right hon. Gentleman include the 12 points admitted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 8th February?
§ Mr. Alexander
I want to be quite clear about these figures. The Ministry of Labour index figure for food alone—the last figure we had—showed an increase of 23 points. That is 23 points related to 100. It is very difficult to understand the Minister's statement that the rise is only 17.
§ Mr. Morrison
The right hon. Gentleman and I are talking about different things. I am speaking of the rise in the cost of living as expressed in the index, in terms of percentages, because that is the figure which the hon. Member for Doncaster used. That was the method of his argument, and it is with his argument I am dealing. I am pointing out 82 that the figure which he took was the wholesale index for the first six months of this war and that he compared it with the retail index for the first six months of the last war. If you compare like with like, however, you get a figure for the first six months of the last war of 22 per cent. and a figure for the first six months of this war of 17 per cent.
Let us go into it further in order to gain some idea of the vastness and difficulty of this problem of food prices in war time. When the Ministry of Food came into existence in the last war the rise in the retail cost of living was 84 per cent., and at the peak period in November, 1920, the rise had reached 191 per cent. I mention those figures in order to establish certain points. First, the problem of food prices in war time is bound to be serious and difficult to handle, and the experience of the last war proved that beyond doubt. Secondly, the Government on this occasion entered the war forearmed, with a Department and an organisation which could exercise control over these rocketing movements from the start. The result has been that there is a less rise now than that which occurred in the first six months of the last war. We have control already, at this stage of the war, without having allowed prices to rise 84 per cent.
§ Mr. Morrison
No, Sir, I am not saying that. I am dealing with control, which is a very different thing. But that is not the end of the story. The hon. Member for Doncaster contrasted the position now with the position which existed at the beginning of the last war and estimated the problems which the Government have to face, drawing the conclusion that at this moment we have great advantages as compared with those which existed at the beginning of the last war. Is that so? Is the problem easier? I ask the House to remember three facts, all of which are of immense importance in getting a just view of the achievements of the past six months in this respect. In the first place, let the House remember that throughout the last war we were on the gold standard. In the prevailing uncertainty among the nations on the outbreak of war, there was a demand for our gold currency, and all the exchange movements in the countries from which 83 we purchased goods were in our favour. That was the tendency at the start of the last war, meaning that the sterling of that day appreciated in its power to purchase food from the start of the war until a later stage. In this war, the movement is the other way, thus providing an additional and a severe problem which had to be tackled by my Department.
The second fact is that there is a great difference at the commencement of this war from the conditions prevailing at the outbreak of the last war with regard to the forward movement of agricultural prices. At the beginning of the last war there were nothing like the same—"bull movements" shall I call them? or speculative movements in agricultural prices. The reason was, I presume, that traders then, viewing the world, with Germany and Austria excluded altogether from the buying ring, had no reason to be certain that forward purchases made in a hopeful spirit with the idea of a price rise would be justified by the fulfilment. In this war the fact that Germany and Austria were out of the ring did not matter, because they were out of the ring in peace time. The experience of all the primary producing countries in the last war was still fresh in their memories at the commencement of this war. They expected at once the same forward movements in price as that experienced in the last war. The result was that we had to meet, at once, a heavy forward movement due to speculation abroad in the prices of these primary commodities. I have on previous occasions given instances to show how the fact of the Ministry being in existence and having in its own hands the power to purchase commodities for the whole nation enabled us to arrest and to check that movement and to save the people from paying the speculative prices which undoubtedly they would otherwise have had to pay.
There is a third fact which I would ask the House to bear in mind, and on this there is a direct difference of opinion between the hon. Member for Doncaster and me. He said that less has been done in the sinking of ships at this stage of the war than was done in the comparable period of the last war. Exactly the contrary is the case. It was not until late in the last war, not until it had run for 84 two years, that the attacks upon our commerce developed. In the comparable period, in 1914, ships came and went freely, both ours and neutrals. In the first six months of this war the attack on shipping was delivered with energy and vigour from the first day, and although that attack has been conquered by the Royal Navy and the heroism of our merchant seamen, its very imminence imposes upon us the necessity of organising our shipping in convoys, of diverting cargoes, and of adopting a number of measures of that character for our own safety. All these were an aggravation and not an alleviation of the position as it existed in the first six months of the last war. If these facts are remembered and a comparison is made with a fair mind between the experience of our people in buying food during the first six months of this war, with the comparable experience of the last war, I do not think anyone can resist the conclusion that the activities of my Department have achieved a great saving for the people of this country in the cost of their food supplies.
Let us examine the problem in detail. Why is there a special problem of food prices in war time? The basic reason is the restriction of commerce—the fact that ships cannot move in and out as they would in normal times. In addition to that, we have to consider other matters, such as exchange. Consequently, for purposes of war, if the best use is to be made of shipping, it must be directed, and if it is to be adequately directed, there must be some central control to decide what cargoes are most required and where they are to be obtained. There are also natural rises in price which occur in the absence of control and even occasionally in spite of it, due to the fact that restricted supplies are available. That again is due to war conditions. When you come to home-produced articles—
§ Mr. Morrison
The right hon. Gentleman, I know, disagrees with the prices which we are paying, but I take the line that my responsibility is towards the consumer, not only to secure his food supply, but to secure that he has abundant food, and I believe that in paying those prices and stimulating the home production of food in this country, free from all those embarrassments to 85 which I have alluded, such as shipping, exchange and other difficulties, we are making a good bargain for the consumers of this country if we look far enough ahead. All those difficulties call for an effective measure of control. I sometimes think that the position to-day is a little different from the position in the last war, when loud and powerful voices were raised against the idea of any control at all, pointing out the futility of any attempt to interfere with the law of supply and demand. That opposition was so powerful and so vocal that it was not until late in the war that food control was attempted at all. In this war I sometimes think we run the risk of going to the other extreme and of imagining that because you can do a lot by control you can do everything. Well, you cannot do everything by control. You can do a great deal, but there are certain factors which are outside your control. You can only use control to mitigate to the greatest degree possible the difficulties of the situation and to prevent certain things which would happen if control were not there.
What are the engines or the organs to be used by way of control? In the first place, by prohibiting the purchase abroad of prime commodities on private account, we are able to centralise our great purchasing power and to avoid those rises in price which would otherwise occur as the result of importers competing against each other for limited supplies. In the second place, by controlling shipping space and freights on our own ships we are able to control competition in freights and to secure the most economical use of the carrying space that is available. When, in spite of all these measures, conditions are such that a rise in price is inevitable, we can, as we have done, if it is judged to be in the public interest, stop the rise being passed on to the consumer, by means of a subsidy. The important thing is that by our distributive arrangements at home, backed up by rationing, we are able to check any tendency on the part of traders to profiteer and charge excessive margins, and thus to maintain a control of distribution which is a part of the whole machine.
How effective have these proved? I do not stand here to say that everything has worked perfectly, or that no mistakes have been made. I do not say that, but 86 I would much rather claim, as I think I can, that mistakes are corrected when they are discovered, and possible improvements are constantly being watched for and introduced as soon as they can be made practicable. I think we may claim that although we have, in some cases, had to pay an increase for products from overseas, the control of overseas purchasing has been successful in reducing these increased costs to the minimum. I would put it this way. I do not think it is an untrue claim that we have to a large extent passed on to the people only those increases which are inevitable, and that we have cut out entirely the elements of increased costs which would otherwise be due to speculation and lack of control and organisation in the supply of food.
I could give the House a number of figures showing how these various elements of increased costs have affected us in our purchase of food—freights and so on. Perhaps I may indicate one or two of the matters. Of course, looking at the actual figures, it can be seen that the highest single item is that of insurance and freights. In many cases these have risen very considerably indeed. Prime costs themselves have risen. I have seen a list of a number of the more important food imports, which includes bacon, mutton, lamb, beef, butter, cheese, sugar wheat and maize, showing the increases which have occurred in the c.i.f. prices, landed prices, as we call it, and the extent to which this has been due to freights and insurance or higher purchasing prices in the country of purchase. There are 15 commodities altogether, and the average increase in c.i.f. prices, compared with the best comparable pre-war date, is 37 per cent. The average increase on the f.o.b. prices is 18 per cent., whereas the average increase in the cost of freights and insurance is no less than 232 per cent.
Mr. Lloyd George
Is there any control at all of the freights which are paid to the neutrals? The right hon. Gentleman says there was control as far as British vessels were concerned, but is there any control as regards the neutrals?
§ Mr. Morrison
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate—and I understand that certainly there is control so far as our own freights are concerned—that with regard to the neutrals such tonnage as we have through them is by arrangement and agreement; but I imagine that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Shipping would be in a better position to give more information about that. I was referring to our own freights.
§ Mr. Morrison
No, Sir. These figures are an average on freights in general. They are an average which we have to pay, whether we pay them to neutrals or to our own ship. In these 15 cases which I have mentioned there are actually only four in which the increase in f.o.b. prices abroad accounts for more of the increase in landed costs than freights and insurance. The greatest increase in the f.o.b. price is 60 per cent., but the increase in freights and insurance ranges from a minimum of 57 per cent. to a maximum of 700 per cent. I am not bringing this forward to give an accurate arithmetical idea of what is happening, but roughly to show the relative incidence of these costs on increased prices on our landed prices here.
I have already referred to the question of subsidies to prevent the cost of living rising. We produced this scheme at the outbreak of war in respect of certain commodities, particularly in regard to the purchases of the poorer sections of the community. The only disadvantage to us perhaps is that it costs a great deal of money. I wish to say something on the question of the retail price rise of 17 per cent. That rise compares with the rise in the agricultural price index of 40 per cent. in the same period and with a rise in the wholesale price index in the neighbourhood of 40 per cent. It looks as if these controls are to a large extent preventing the passing on to the public and to the house wives of the increase on wholesale goods. It is always difficult and fallacious to deal with averages, and it is necessary on such a wide subject as this to treat them rather as a sort of shorthand in expressing movements in general.
We have been asked to have regard in particular to the poorer interests. I do not want to go into that great controversy of the purchasing power of the 88 people, which is outside the subject under review. But we have tried, whenever possible, in fixing prices so to arrange that cheap and plentiful supplies are left for the poorer people. I can give an instance, for example, in margarine. I have been twitted about that on many occasions. The hon. Member for Doncaster was inclined to resent the fact that we did not stick to sixpenny margarine, but in reality the argument used against it was that to level down we also had to level up. That meant that you deprived people from getting cheap margarine at 4d. and 5d. Recently, on account of the increase in materials, we had to advance the price a penny a pound, but that advance was restricted to the two dearer varieties, and the 5d. variety was left with its price where it was. In addition, the 5d. margarine was vitiminised, an advantage which previously was possessed only by the more expensive brands.
§ Mr. Alexander
But the right hon. Gentleman will remember that the 5d. brand had been raised almost at the beginning of the war. It was 4d. pre-war.
§ Mr. Morrison
There are various views about that, but the point is that we had to increase the price of margarine, and we did limit it to the more expensive brands. I would like to say one more thing about this question of food prices in general. Some people may take too gloomy a view of the situation in dealing with the price of food. Memory is necessarily short, and comparison is made with the most recent ruling levels of prices in order to measure whether there has been an increase or not. The fact is that if we take a year of peace, and a year which many regard as a prosperous one, 1929, to which economists in dark years constantly hark back, and if we compare prices then ruling, of private products and manufactured goods with those for the six months of war, it will be found that the general level of retail food prices is now not very much more different from those which ranged in some of the months in 1928–29. There is a number of commodities whose prices to-day are still below those of 1929. We have heard a great deal of the rise in the price of butter, and a lot of attention has been properly directed to it. The price of butter, however, remains to-day on an average some 19 per cent. below 89 the level of December, 1929. Flour and bread are appreciably below the level for that period, and the same is true of both home-produced and imported mutton. In the case of cheese, although it has risen appreciably in recent months, it is new practically at the same price as in December, 1929. Margarine remains below the level of that period.
Much remains to be done in what will no doubt be a changing situation; but I think it is a wrong attitude to go forward in a war with the idea that conditions are to remain the same or that one can predict with certainty the shocks to which one may be exposed. The experiences of the last six months, very difficult as they have been, are sufficient, I think, to give us hope that we were right in introducing control at the outbreak of war, and that the measures we have built up rapidly, with a new staff in many cases rapidly augmented, have had the effect for which they were designed, namely, to impose a restraining hand upon the movement of prices of foodstuffs which otherwise would have been a source of great embarrassment in particular to the poorest section of the community. Much remains to be done. Many improvements require to be made in the organisation which was so hastily improvised with a staff so hastily assembled. We shall always be grateful for the help of hon. Members in pointing out where the machinery can be strengthened. A fair-minded review of what has been done by those who have worked so hard at this task in the Ministry, bearing in mind the factors working against the success of their efforts at the outbreak of the war, will show that they have made a not unpromising start.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
We have listened to another of those very able and pleasant speeches which the Minister of Food is always able to put before us. I am sorry, however, that he has not dealt with the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan). We desire by that Amendment to call the attention of the House to the cost of living and to regret that the prices of controlled foodstuffs have been fixed so high that some people cannot get their requirements. The Amendment also refers to the question of the adjustment of wages to purchasing power. The Minister has 90 not attempted to reply to it, and I hope that before the Debate ends the Parliamentary Secretary will fill in the blanks which, no doubt through lack of time, the right hon. Gentleman has left.
It is no use for the Minister to come before us with a defence of present prices based on prices in 1929. He must deal with the substance of the Amendment, which relates prices to wages and purchasing power. The Minister knows as well as anybody that from 1929 and the outbreak of the world economic depression wages constantly fell, right up to 1933. Prices, too, fell with wages. They fell very rapidly, and very often the fall of prices was the reason for a fall of wages. In consequence, up to 1933 we had a very low level of prices. It is curious that at the present time, when we are trying to deal with the position of the workers, millions of whom have, not had a penny increase since the war broke out, the Minister should trot out the high level of prices of certain commodities which existed in 1929, when wages were higher than they were at the outbreak of this war. There must be some other defence of prices than that. I could have given the right hon. Gentleman a better defence but I do not propose to do it. That is the job of his office.
There are one or two other points that he made which I think were very good. His reply to my hon. Friend with regard to the conditions which obtained at the outset of the war as compared with those at the outset of the last war was fundamentally right. I am sure that if my hon. Friend looks at the question again he will concede the point. When, however, the right hon. Gentleman deals with the forward movement of price and feels that the action of the Ministry has been such as to prevent substantial increases to the consumer, I think the point wants careful examination. I cannot from my own experience accept that view. Let us take the point I raised in the last Debate on this question of whether the Government's action in buying had in fact arrested prices to the consumer. Take wheat. I felt all the way through that if the Minister had had the power—and I am afraid he had not; that is the real trouble—to buy in bulk large and important consignments, either of wheat or feeding-stuffs, from the nearest ports, counting time as well as price, we would never have dropped into the situation into 91 which we have dropped in regard to feeding-stuffs or wheat. The Minister said that, in spite of the fact that countries like Germany and Austria were out of the ring, there was still a general rush to speculate with regard to the future. Let us take the case of Winnipeg May wheat. On 1st September the price was 68 cents; then it went to 80 and to 83, but it dropped by 4th November, at the time when conversations were going on between the Food Department and the Canadian representatives, to 74.5. Why did not the Government buy? The quotation yesterday was 89.
§ Mr. Alexander
But how much? The more I think of that situation the more I am amazed at the defence which the Minister makes of those wonderful people who have been trying to prevent a rise in prices. I feel all the time that the Minister would have bought but that he had not the power. In regard to criticism of the Government as a whole on this point, I feel that, as we proved in the last war that real control and real collective buying were necessary, the Government have completely failed in dealing with the main food commodity imports. In their action before the war in purchasing whale oil and in the first building of wheat reserves we can give them full marks, but for opportunities missed since the outbreak of the war I am afraid there is a grave charge to bring against the Minister's advisers.
Taking again the question of feeding-stuffs which I mentioned in the last Debate, I have never been able to understand with the state of the world markets as they were why the Ministry should have continued month after month to keep feeding-stuffs so short to the farmer; because they could not come to the right decision to buy at near ports and deliver, and, apart from the mere question of exchange values, could not see that every moment they delayed and every time they put the price up of short rations for feeding-stuffs, they would put a pyramid to the price in two years' time. That is what I cannot understand. There was no foresight. When we come to deal with the elementary question of exchange and the need for conserving it, if there is a 92 rise between the offer of parcels—as I know they have been offered—in November at 27s. and 30s. in January, why were they not bought at the lower figure? Buying at the higher figure meant that 3s. more exchange had to be provided. I cannot expect the Minister to know all this kind of detail, but I hope we shall not get the same kind of answer as he gave me last time. When I put up this point about grain prices then he quoted me the prices at Antwerp. Antwerp is a port of a neutral country which is free to buy in the open market and to pay what it likes for uncontrolled freight. He was defending a position in which we have controlled buying, exchange control and controlled freights. The answer given me was that the prices at Antwerp were somewhat higher than ours.
That is no answer to my case. The proper answer is to show why the Government did not buy cheaply when they could have taken the market at the lower figure. That is the case to answer and it has not yet been answered. You can only do that effectively in war-time if you carry the good Socialist principle which you adopt by the very fact of State control into greater activity and buy effectively in bulk. The Minister seems to doubt my view about this point. I accept in principle what he says about the effectiveness of State control in respect of the commodities that come under it, but I am putting it to him that he could do very much more. What is the type of wheat control which the Ministry exercise? Is it State purchase? The Minister said that they prohibited anybody importing, but is it State purchase in the ordinary acceptance of that term? I do not think so. The Ministry have people both overseas and here making bids day by day, but is that State purchase? Is it a sound basis of negotiating for bulk purchases in war-time? Is it the way in which any autarchy in Europe does it to-day when it negotiates about State purchases? The Minister has all the powers of State control and purchase, but he is not using them effectively. I beg the Minister to look and see how they do it at Godstone and come to the House with a sound judgment on the matter.
With regard to retail prices, I have noticed the statement by the Parliamentary Secretary that during the war 93 they have risen by 16 or 17 per cent. I do my best to keep a careful check on figures obtained by our Co-operative headquarters. They are pretty good because we keep a research staff for the purpose. I have the average food prices on a wider basis than the Ministry of Labour index since 12 months last January. It is clear that the average increase in food prices since September is 20.7 according to our experience, and that the increase according to the Minis-try of Labour experience is 23.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
Is the right hon. Gentleman talking about percentage increase or increase of points in the index?
§ Mr. Alexander
It all depends on what the index is. If you deal with an index of 100 and attach the increases to the 100 you have a percentage increase.
§ Mr. Morrison
The figure of 100, which is the basis of the index, represents prices at July, 1914. The prices in September were something like 161. It is clear, if you do have a rise since the 20th September of 23 points that that is different from 23 per cent., because it is 23 points out of a total of 160 instead of out of a total of 100.
§ Mr. Alexander
I do not want to argue about details of that kind with the Minister. [Laughter.] Perhaps hon. Members will smile when I have finished. I have taken the figures of the Co-operative Research Department, compiled by an able and qualified statistician, in comparison with the Ministry of Labour figures. I have had them related to the figure of 100 on a different basis from the 1914 basis. I have taken them as 100 on the average of 1934. I have also taken another check by taking them from the first half of September, 1939, right the way up—1934 in the main average and 1939 as a separate check. What I find is that these co-operative prices keep pace with the Ministry of Labour's monthly figures, but always they are two to three percentage points below—always. There is no question about my arguing upon a different basis. What I am telling the Minister is that although our figures are always slightly below those of the Ministry of Labour's increase, in fact they have shown the same level of advance. Further, since the 1st September I have got out the percentage increases on individual commodities, and here are some of 94 them. The Minister says there has been an average rise of 16 to 17 per cent., but here are the figures for individual commodities: Granulated sugar 72 per cent. increase—and, as everybody knows, granulated sugar represents 90 per cent. of the sugar sold—cube sugar 56 per cent. Danish bacon, sides, 25 per cent.; English or Ayrshire, sides, 34 per cent. Irish and Ayrshire roll, 29 per cent. Lard, 27.7 per cent. Margarine, 13 per cent. Eggs, English or Scottish, new laid, 108 per cent., imported 68 per cent. The rise in butter is an average of 12 per cent. only. Here, I think, the Minister has made a very fair point. It is a very much smaller average rise than most of the public seem to think. Cheese, home produced, 37 per cent., Empire, 28 per cent. Currants, about 10 per cent. Jams, 30 to 38 per cent.—and jam is a very important food. Potatoes a fundamental article in the staple diet, 29 per cent. Fresh beef, rib or sirloin, 16 per cent.; flanks—used largely by the working class—42 per cent. Fresh mutton, 20 per cent. Fresh lamb, 10 per cent. Imported beef, chilled or frozen, 31 per cent. Frozen mutton, 20 per cent. These are actual percentage increases on single commodities and, as the House will see, I have taken what are the main items of diet, apart from two or three subsidised commodities.
§ Mr. Alexander
Yes, retail prices. Of course, one has to put alongside those figures the fact that bread prices remain stable, and also the prices of milk and flour, because we are subsidising them; and I also give the Government this point, that meat prices would have been higher still but for the fact that the high price fixed for the home-producer is in large part borne by the Exchequer. From what I have said I think the House will feel that the answer from the Government presented only a travesty of the situation. I have quoted the actual percentage increases which the working housewife has to pay day by day, and it is to those prices that we should relate the purchasing power of the people.
With regard to the effect of control upon prices, I have already said a word or two about wheat, and I should like to say a word about the policy of the 95 Ministry in regard to home produce. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, who is an agricultural expert, was, I thought, too tender on this question of prices for home-grown agricultural produce. I hope to see a system built up under which the producer will get a square deal, but I do not think that is any reason for getting into a panic and fixing prices to the home producer at such a figure as puts up the cost of living for the whole community to the extent which we have seen. As regards subsidy payments, we are now in a position which is without precedent, except for what happened during a few peak months of the Great War, and prices are unnecessarily higher than they ought to be. There is a 42 per cent. increase in the price of flanks of beef. That would not have been the case if the Government had not decontrolled the livestock market on 30th November and let prices rise, anyhow up to 15th January, and then come in with a guaranteed price of 64s. 6d. for grade A subsidised beef.
§ Mr. Alexander
I do not think that is altogether true, if you take the average of the market. The right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) has a good knowledge of agriculture, and I shall always listen to him with great respect, but we have to buy in these markets.
§ Mr. Alexander
And that is a very substantial increase on the pre-war price for Grade A cattle. The position is even more serious if we are not getting Grade A meat but have to pay much more than Grade A price. There is no doubt at all that this high price had to be fixed because of the policy of the Government in controlling the livestock market under the pressure of the National Farmers' Union on 30th November, and keeping it on to the middle of January. The Minister cannot deny it.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
I do not want to give any false impression by any movement of my head. What I mean is that that must always be a question of opinion. The right hon. Gentleman has always 96 thought the prices, too high. I do not think so.
§ Mr. Alexander
I will say a little more about that in a moment. Let us come to milk. The Minister has agreed to prices to be paid to farmers for milk for manufacturing purposes which are really astounding. What was the contract price for 1939–40 and what is to be the new contract price from 1st April? The contract price for milk for cheddar cheese in 1939–40 was 5.62d., now it is up to 8d. For butter, 6.32d., now up to 8d. Milk for soft curd cheese, 8½d. then, 1s. 1½d. now. Condensed milk—already it has gone up twice in price—was 7½d., and is now 1s. 1½d. Milk powder, then 7d., now 1s. 1½d. Fresh cream, then 8½d., now 1s. 1½d. Bottled cream, then 8½d., now 1s. 1½d. Tinned cream, then 7½d., now 1s. 1½d. Ice cream, then 8½d., now 1s. 1½d. Other products, then 10d., now 1s. 1½d. What I complain about is that I can find not the slightest evidence that these prices bear any relation to the new contract prices fixed at the same time for liquid milk, or that these latter were come to on the basis of any real examination of sound farming costs. Let the Minister reply to that.
Whose costings were examined before these enormous increases were decided upon? On the last occasion when I was dealing with the milk question I said that the rise of 2½d. per gallon over the whole output of 1,000,000,000 gallons was not justified, that on our costings an increase of 1d. would have been quite sufficient. I am now reinforced in that view, because I have here the balance-sheet of the co-operative farming undertakings. I have often been challenged about the results of co-operative farming, and now I am glad to be able to use a balance-sheet which supports my case. I received this morning the yearly balance sheet of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, which gives an account of their farming experiences in 1939.
§ Mr. Alexander
Yes, it is interesting. I find that, after making full allowances for interest on what I would call the capitalist basis the Co-operative Wholesale farms made a net profit of £17,333 for the year—and please remember that they pay trade union rates of wages. Moreover, they have to provide for expensive farm 97 bailiffs—in fact, in the view of most farmers all their expenses are too high; but with the subsidies and general conditions in farming during 1939 the position has been so good that those profits were made.
§ Mr. Alexander
I shall always be glad to help the right hon. Gentleman and I am sure he will take that offer in good part. But there is the fact. What I want to point out is that when these heavy increases in the price for milk to be paid to the farmer were settled, although we in the co-operative movement farm 55,000 acres no official of the Ministry of Food ever asked me about costings in milk production. Why was that? I well remember fighting milk prices before a committee in 1936, the proceedings lasting 36 days. That committee turned inside out a number of the costs which were then submitted by agricultural organisations, most of them without any real accountancy basis, and all I have to say is that if the Minister is prepared, at one fell swoop, to put 2½d. a gallon on to the farmers' prices over the whole range of the output of 1,000,000,000 gallons of milk without an effective accountancy check—
§ Mr. Alexander
I rather expected that I should get that interruption, because I know the farmers demanded 4d., and I dare say the Minister thought he was clever in fixing it at 2½d., with 3d. for only one out of the six months; but it is not clever in the interest of the State to compromise in that way unless you have the actual costs before you, and no real costings were provided for that decision which was taken by the Minister. I challenge the Minister to give any answer to that during the course of this Debate. At any rate, I suggest that, before any similar transaction goes on, those people who keep accounts properly audited by Government auditors, should submit their experience and their knowledge to those who have to come to a decision. We are, of course, very anxious to increase our home production. I agree that the general price level of 98 our home food supplies will be a very important ingredient in the make-up price of the food supply of the country, but I am a little disturbed at the kind of argument which is put up as to the basis on which you should get it, that you should pay whatever the farmer demands. I do not believe that that is the farmers' view. I believe the farmers as a whole are much more patriotic. On the present basis you are creating the impression in the mind of a large number of townspeople that the biggest profiteering section at the moment is the farming section. [An Hon. Member: "Nonsense."] I do not think that is an argument. I have already shown, by properly audited and properly produced balance sheets, what profits are being made.
§ Sir W. Wayland
Could the right hon. Gentleman give us the cost of the production of milk in the Co-operative movement to-day?
§ Mr. Alexander
I could produce all kinds and varieties of costs on about 100 different farms, but not in the course of a Debate of this length. I am quite certain that this rise of 2½d. a gallon was quite unjustified on the data available. If the hon. Gentleman who asks me for prices will tell me what was the special basis of costs on which his county union put up their costs, I shall always be very glad to consider and examine it.
§ Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned £17,000 odd. Will he inform the House on how many acres that profit was made?
§ Mr. Alexander
That was the net profit upon 18,000 acres, after having made every allowance for interest upon the whole capital employed on the farm.
§ Mr. Alexander
I do not think I could give a figure right off, but if the hon. Member is particularly interested, I shall be only too glad to get it for him.
§ Mr. Alexander
Instead of being related to capital, that £17,000 is the complete net surplus after paying the whole of the interest upon the capital.
§ Mr. Alexander
I should say the average is about 4 per cent. I should like the Minister to tell us exactly what the effect is at the moment by the make-up of feeding-stuffs including whole flour and whole meal. The Ministry is paying a subsidy, which is nearly £400,000 a week, in order to prevent the price of bread rising, and that is done by putting on the market flour and whole meal at a specially subsidised rate. It seems to me, from my observation of the last few weeks, that farmers to-day are using whole meal flour, which is intended to be used for bread, for feeding-stuff, and complaint is made to me that farmers are receiving a very heavy subsidy indeed upon the grain they grow, whether wheat, oats or barley, and send it to the miller or the brewer who collects the subsidy, and he is getting this flour back on the basis of the subsidised price which was intended to keep bread prices down. The farmer is getting it both ways, and, whilst from the point of view of his own operations, it is very helpful indeed, it is not in the best interests of national economy. I feel convinced in my bones, as well as in my head, the more I come into contact with this business, that you want a much bigger check-up on the situation. I beg the Minister not to think I am attacking him personally. All I want is to have this thing checked up.
The Labour party has a right to say to the Government, in view of all the canvassing that is going on as to how we are to pay for the war "In face of these high and rising prices, if you are going, first, to maintain the morale of your people in relation to the war, and, secondly, to maintain the health of your people to win the war, you have to adjust their purchasing power." There is practically nothing in the answer that the Minister has given to-day with regard to 100 that matter. We are getting subsidised bread and meat, but what about milk? Here is an amazing situation. I feel certain that if you are going to raise the price of milk products for manufactured milk, you will not collect the revenue in that way at all, and in the communication that the Minister has made to the trade on that subject he has warned them that it is likely that the price of liquid milk will rise on 1st June. In the middle of summer, at a time when prices usually fall to the consumer, we are faced with a rise of probably 4d. a gallon. Is that carrying out the Government's policy of keeping down the price of the most staple foods? I do not think so.
It was not very much use for the Chancellor of the Exchequer last January to say that he was protecting the consumer by the expenditure of £50,000,000 per annum when within three months he withdraws the milk subsidy and puts it on to the consumer or whilst he nearly doubles the price of sugar by taxation. In important foodstuffs like jam and other things you have a general average rise of over 30 per cent. We do not want to say that there is anything to get nervous or excited about in view of the war circumstances. It is true that, in relation to the general lay-out for the first two years of the last war, the adoption of control has been of great benefit, but if the Minister would really tackle this job and get down to a check up, and really follow out the policy of giving to the poorest at least the staple foods at a price they can afford to pay, he would get rid of the remaining difficulties of rationing and control. I hope before the Debate finishes we shall get a better answer than we have yet had.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Amery (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
I have no intention of attempting to follow the right hon. Gentleman in the very detailed speech that he has made or to defend the agricultural policy of the Government from the onslaught that he made upon it. There are many who could point out far more effectively than I can that to quote the figures of a particular farming proposition affords no guide as to what the farmers of the country as a whole can do, any more than the output of a particular worker at piece rates is an indication of what the average working man can do in an hour or a day's work. I should like to draw attention 101 to that part of the Amendment which compares "the purchasing power of the people and the cost of living," and to suggest that that is a phrase which has in it a large element of unreality unless you bring it into relation with the problems confronting the actual people concerned, confronting the wage-earner himself when he has to consider how his wages are going to meet his problem of living. I suggest that the problem of living for the working man is affected not only by the cost of articles of food, but by the number of mouths which have to be fed. The right hon. Gentleman, answering previous statements made from the Front Bench, suggested that the average rise in the retail cost of food-stuffs was something more than 16 or 17 per cent. It was probably over 20 per cent. That may be the case. Let me put the problem in a rather different fashion. When a working man marries and has a wife and child, his cost of living is doubled. That is an increase by 100 per cent. If he has two more children and is the father of three, it goes up by 200 per cent. If he has five children, it goes up by 300 per cent. and is four times as high as it was when he was a single man living on his wage.
There are two alternatives. One is that the family is able to maintain the standard of living. There is the other alternative that the standard of living is dragged down, and this, I regret to say, is the case over far too large a proportion of our total population. Sir John Orr worked it out that something like 10 per cent. of the wage-earners of this country, and something between 20 and 25 per cent. of the children of this country—"large numbers of the population," to quote the words of the Amendment—are undernourished. Every investigation tends to show that the main problem of poverty is the problem of the family. The last investigation carried out in Bristol, and very fully reported in the current number of the "Economic Journal," shows that in Bristol, a fairly well-to-do city, 80 per cent. of the poverty occurs when there are three or more children in the family. It really stands to reason that, in the conditions of working-class life as they are to-day—I am talking not so much of the skilled worker as of the less-well-paid worker—every additional child means a reduction in the standard of living of the whole family. When more 102 milk is needed less milk is available, and when there ought to be more room the accommodation is apt to be more densely crowded.
I will not dwell at length upon that aspect of the matter, but, if the House will bear with me, I should like to read a few sentences from a letter which reached me only a day or two ago, from a mother who had read something which I said not long ago. In the letter she said:I think it is time something was done to help parents to bring up their children healthy and strong and also to help mothers to get sufficient nourishment while so doing. I have four, which is a small family compared with some sevens, eights and nines struggling along. I have neighbours earning half as much again as my husband, and they have no children, which means they can live much better in every way with much less work and worry, while the woman who has double the work and more to get through cannot have nearly as much nourishment to help her through. They pay no more for their food or anything, yet they never have to take 10s 6d. every few weeks for shoes or clothes or extra food as does a woman with children. Or take the people with only one child. If they buy an extra pint of milk, the child can drink it all, mine has to be divided into four and the same with everything one gets to do children good. My husband earns two pounds a week, some are worse off perhaps than I, but I feel I would like to spend it all on food, to give my children what they really need, and with prices so high.At the end of the letter she says:I do say I wouldn't be without mine for anything, but there is many a heartache when one must say 'No' to the children's many requests because of to-morrow to think of.That is the real problem of to-day, and it is far more serious than the problem of percentages added on to the cost of living. It is the problem which this House ought to be facing. I know it is said that it is only the improvident poor who have too many children, but I fear that in far too many instances, like the case of the woman whose letter I have just quoted, it is those who have, by nature, health and physical vitality and a natural human affection, who marry young, and then, having several children, are dragged down into a state where they can never afford to give those children a decent chance of life and can still less afford to save anything and bring themselves into the category of the thrifty and provident. That is the problem which was becoming increasingly serious for this country in 103 time of peace, and that we must face in one form or another during war.
One thing is certain in this war—we cannot finance it by external loan or merely a little further taxing of the rich; not that the rich should be exempted, but that there are not enough of them to provide the necessary money to carry on the war. The war can be won only by a measure of sacrifice all round, affecting every income above subsistence level. At the same time, we ought not to proceed in that direction at the expense of the one capital asset of the nation which we ought to cherish and preserve for the future, namely, our children. Whatever policy we follow, we shall have, in one way or another, to deal with the underlying problem that it costs more to feed three, four or five than to feed one or two. It is a simple, elementary, arithmetical problem, which underlies the whole question, and which is infinitely more important than questions of 10, 15 or 20 per cent. increase in the cost of living, important as these considerations are.
How are we to meet this problem? As Mr. Keynes has pointed out; we can do it by inflation, by a continuous rise in nominal wages accompanied by a continuous fall in the real standard of living; or we can do it by some measure for checking inflation like a direct tax upon wages, a compulsory loan or deferred wages. Whichever policy you follow, you will have to face the problem of the children. The standard of living will be made infinitely more difficult by inflation, and there will be a far greater rise in the cost of foodstuffs than by anything which the right hon. Gentleman opposite has been criticising; but we certainly must do something to save the children from the consequences of that rise. If we propose, on the other hand, some system of compulsory deferred pay, we shall make it equitable only if we take into account the family responsibility of those from whom we propose to deduct deferred pay. In one form or another the problem ought to be faced. I submit that it ought to be faced by all parties as an urgent human need and as an urgent problem of the war.
I know there are objections to any particular scheme which may be proposed, and I do not think I need dwell upon 104 those objections in detail. I know it is suggested that you should not alter the basis of wages in this country because it is founded upon the value of the work done. But nobody has suggested that a social reform not directly connected with wages need affect wage negotiations. But it may be said that it will affect them indirectly because employers may say that people are better off. The same kind of objection might be urged against free education, national health insurance, old age pensions and unemployment insurance. I think that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who has every reason to be proud of those insurances, would be the last person to admit that they have hampered the work of trade unions in securing better conditions of employment. With every social reform that has been carried out our standard has risen, and we are prepared for more social reforms. No thinner argument can be adduced against a necessary social reform than that it reduces the grievances upon which demands for higher wages are based.
In any case this is not a question in which the decision rests with the trade unions; it is a Government matter. What worries me is that, in something which is so obvious in itself and is so necessarily linked with war policy, we should still be waiting. What appals me and a wide circle, in Parliament and outside, is that, at a time like this, His Majesty's Government fear to carry out necessary positive proposals merely because there may be objections. We have seen this happen in so many instances. Nobody thinks now that it was wise to hesitate about conscription or over the Ministry of Supply or, as the right hon. Gentleman has rightly said, about bringing larger supplies into this country while there was yet time. One thing from which we ought to get away is the "Too little and too late" habit. Of course, there are objections and difficulties about every project. There are great objections about going into a war and great difficulties about the winning of it. I say that we shall not succeed unless we can get away from the point of view which always sees objections and difficulties. We must get the point of view which, when it sees a clear and logical necessity, a thing obviously to be done, does it whole-heartedly and does it at once.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Fulham, West)
Very rarely when I have the opportunity of speaking in this House can I whole-heartedly endorse sentiments expressed by the last speaker, but I can to-day agree whole-heartedly with what the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) has said. From my personal observation, I know that the degree of poverty, misery and want in a household is always related to the size of the family. I want to bring to the attention of the Minister of Food an aspect of the matter which has not yet been discussed. As a result of my work I am particularly interested in dietetics. Although the Minister tried to make a good case from very bad material to-day, he could not shake the conviction which I had when I came to the House this afternoon that there has been a rapid deterioration in the standard of living. I do not want to talk of the standard of living in terms of imports and exports and to relate them to the food of the people. I want to be extremely practical.
I want to tell the Parliamentary Secretary who, I believe, has been going up and down the country lately, talking to the people about their diet, what they should eat and so on, that I have observed in my work, by looking at the tables of people in the country, that there is an undue proportion of sausages, condensed milk and margarine. I noticed that in houses which I visited before the war there was always fresh milk, and since the war I have seen tins of condensed milk. This led me to take a great interest in this question, and of course I have arrived at the simple conclusion that these particular commodities have been bought because they are substitutes for the ration which has been imposed. I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary, who is it who determines which food shall be controlled and how is it arrived at? For instance, does the Ministry adopt a slogan which I think is an excellent one and subsidise the substitutes? The substitutes for the rationed foods are the commodities which the people are buying to-day, and if those are the foods upon which the people are having to live surely those are the foods which should be controlled. I particularly want to know what factors determine these controlled prices. In 106 order that I should be well informed on this subject I spent last evening with my grocer. [An Hon. Member: "Is that the hon. Gentleman in front?"] It was in the shop, of course. Anyhow, my grocer is 72. I must admit that when I went into the shop and began making inquiries the grocer was a little suspicious and reserved. However, he became quite communicative, and I must say that having listened to the Minister of Food this afternoon I believe I am better informed on this subject and better able to make a speech from the Dispatch Box than he is.
First of all I examined the list of the controlled foods which my grocer had very well displayed, and I put myself in the position of the woman who came in to buy substitutes for rationed foods. I looked down the list saying to myself "What shall I buy as a substitute for the rationed meat?" and I observed among the controlled foods that the only foods that any wise woman could buy as a substitute for meat were tinned salmon, sausages and imported eggs. [An Hon. Member: "Cheese."] Cheese is not controlled; at least, my grocer told me it was not last night. It is easy for the hon. Member to say "Cheese." I do not wish to be technical, but these things affect every worker's family in this country. When the hon. Member says "Cheese" I do not agree. Cheese is a protein and therefore is a substitute for meat. It is no use saying "I will fill the children up with bread and batter pudding." All that means is that at the end of the war the physique of your children will have deteriorated. Therefore, those who know something about dietetics know that the substitute for meat must be a protein. If the Parliamentary Secretary looks down his list he will find that the Government in their lack of wisdom have controlled only foods such as tinned salmon, sausages and imported eggs. I am, of course, talking of meat for the moment. There are three grades of sausages, A, B and C. Of course the rich buy the first grade with 70 percent. of meat, and the poor have to buy the seven penny sausage which contains only 30 per cent. of meat, the other 70 per cent. being bread. What else is there? There is tinned salmon, which is too expensive to make a meal, and there are imported eggs. There was nothing else controlled in that shop.
107 I have been to my fishmonger and asked him what fish is controlled. He said that the only fish controlled is dried fish, and the price of herrings to-day is 8d. compared with 4d. before the war. I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary why the whole problem of food supply has not been approached in an entirely different way and why someone with knowledge of food values has not been consulted? Such a person would have said, "In subsidising the food of the country you must subsidise those substitutes which the people will buy." I should have liked to have bought some cheese in the shop last night, but it was too expensive, of course. I should have liked to have bought some tongue; that was too expensive, of course. There was a chicken; that was only for the wealthy. Lentils have not been subsidised and they are a very important substitute. I have not the prices at my fingers' ends but I am told that lentils are very expensive, and yet they are an important substitute for meat. As regards rabbits, I am told that a rabbit to-day is 2s. whereas it was 10d. before the war. I asked my grocer why he thought rabbits had not been controlled and he brought out the "Grocers' Gazette." I found in there that the Government had arrived at some kind of understanding with the Grocers' Association about rabbits. I would like an interpretation of that understanding. Does it mean that the price of rabbits is to be decreased? What does an understanding mean if rabbits are not controlled?
I shall now deal with sugar. I have heard to-day some remarks to the effect that sugar is not good for one or that it was not really necessary and the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), who I thought made an excellent speech, said that it was a shame we did not have enough for our tea. But sugar should be regarded in an entirely different way. Sugar is an excellent and very cheap food which gives to the poorest of the country energy and warmth. I looked among the substitutes for sugar and there is not one which the Government have considered worth while controlling. Honeys and jams are not controlled at all. As regards milk, when I think of the price and the very low consumption in this country I feel that the Government are being utterly stupid and short-sighted, 108 because when thinking in terms of substitutes milk is one of the most perfect foods. It is in fact the perfect food. Nature gave it to us for the first nine months of our lives free because it was so perfect and nature was so anxious that the race should continue. Yet we find that because of their poverty the people are forced to buy milk in tins and we heard just now about the profits which are made in farming. When I hear the Minister of Food say that in no circum stances should the farmers be paid less, I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary of the profits of United Dairies for last year. United Dairies paid 12½ per cent. dividend on their ordinary share capital—
§ Dr. Summerskill
No. Neither am I a farmer. They are distributors though. Anyhow, I take it that the repercussions are the same; if you pay the farmers more United Dairies get a bigger profit obviously, because there is more money. The dairies buy the milk from the farmers. The consumer suffers, of course. United Dairies paid 12½ per cent. dividend, and yet we hear that in no circumstances are the distributors to have their prices cut down. I do not wish to weary the House with these technical details, but I am rather shocked at the confusion which exists on the Government Front Bench about food values.
The Parliamentary Secretary denies that he made a speech about margarine and its value, but the impression has been left in my mind that he did so, and I have an idea that I saw a picture of him in a newspaper. I certainly have in my mind a picture of him going up and down the country telling mothers how good margarine is. That speech must have been made somewhere because so many of us have the same impression. I do not believe that the Parliamentary Secretary has ever had a taste of margarine in his life. I know that he could never have been brought up on margarine, otherwise he would never have attained the height of six foot four. [An Hon. Member: "Six foot six."] Well, that means butter all the time then. This question of margarine is extremely serious because the country is being told that it is vital, and it is curious how many people, particularly men, notice that they 109 are being given margarine. I am told by an expert that it is quite impossible for the Government to manufacture indefinitely this stuff with vitamin A in it, because it will be too expensive. What is the alternative? The experts say that if vitamin A is to be given in sufficient quantity, then the diet of the people should be supplemented by plenty of green vegetables.
Now let us see the price of green vegetables. Savoys are 6d. a pound and a good sized Savoy may cost 1s. or 1s. 6d. Brussels sprouts are 6d. a pound and I believe they used to be something like 1d. a pound. With regard to cauliflowers, the teacup size are very scarce and are 6d. each. When lettuce was mentioned the greengrocer said "Shocking, 15s. for a crate of 24 wholesale." I think one of the regrettable features of this matter of vegetables is that some of the vegetables which have no food value at all and which the people would go and buy in order to fill up the children's stomachs, are cheap. Just now I heard someone mention tripe and onions. Onions, aesthetically horrible things, are loved by many people; they are 2d. a pound. Onions will be bought by hundreds of thousands of people in the country because they cannot afford Brussels sprouts, cauliflowers or lettuces and other things which they should have, but onions have no food value at all. These are not my views; I am quoting the experts on these subjects. Turnips are plentiful and are 2½d. a pound. The only food value in turnips is not the root but the top which no one eats. This case cannot be refuted. When one analyses the diet of the people of the country one finds that they are being given what I think might be described as an ersatz diet, a synthetic diet, coloured and made up, and are told by the Government that it is good and cheap, but it has no food value. I fear that unless the Ministry of Food review the whole situation they will find after the war that they will have an ersatz population.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
I would like, if I may, to congratulate the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) on the speech which he made tonight. There was plenty of common sense in what he said, and he spoke as a man of experience, not as though he were repeat- 110 ing something that he had read. When he was talking about big families, I thought, "That is me." I am one of 11. Possibly that is why I am not so big as I ought to be. My reason for intervening in this Debate is that I want to have a word with the Parliamentary Secretary. I read in the Press that he has been telling Britain that the reason why butter costs 1s. 7d. a lb. is that it is a luxury. It was a luxury to me practically until I became a man, because 50 years ago a working-class woman with 11 children could give them nothing but margarine; and I had so much of it when I was a lad that I never wanted any more of it for the rest of my life. I will say that I believe that the quality of margarine to-day is better than it ever was before, but that is not to say that it is a good substitute for butter and that the working-class should eat it so that the rich may eat the butter.
The worker, the man who produces the wealth of the country, cannot get coal on margarine, he cannot build ships on margarine, he cannot go on fighting for us on margarine. If there are any who ought to have margarine, it is not the producers of wealth but the people on the backs of those who are producing the wealth. Those who should be best able to stand the strain of the war are those who have nothing to do. This is not the first time that the Parliamentary Secretary has made a rash statement. He made a rash statement during the war in Spain, when he started backing Franco. I believe the Prime Minister said, to him, "Hold your hand out, you naughty boy," because he became milder afterwards. I was astounded to hear him say that we must keep up the price of such commodities because they are luxuries. I am a member of the West Riding County Council, and was chairman of the institutions committee. When butter came down to 11d. a lb., we decided to abolish the use of margarine in the institutions. I pleaded in this House for special consideration for diabetics, and their ration was increased from 4 ozs. to 8 ozs.; but, in consequence of the price of butter to-day, there are thousands of diabetics who cannot afford to buy the 8 ozs. I ask the Minister to see that prices do not mount up so that these things become luxuries which the workers cannot get. I have risen because I knew 111 what the Parliamentary Secretary had said, and I thought that, big as he is, I will have a shot at him. I hope that the Minister will tell him not to make too big a fool of himself by saying that butter is a luxury. It is a necessity; and a necessity to diabetics more than to anybody else. I hope that the price will come down, so that these people may have this necessity, which also gives them so much pleasure.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mrs. Adamson (Dartford)
We have had a very interesting Debate. We have heard a good deal about wholesale prices, about freightage, about farmers, and about other sections of the community. I want to say something about the struggle of the British housewife to get the necessary commodities for herself and her family. Even if these commodities are obtainable, she cannot, if she is the wife of the ordinary worker, afford the money to buy them. There have been many discoveries about diet in the last 20 years. Our girls are instructed in the subject in the schools, and adult women in the evening institutes; while there have been talks on the wireless about it, too. The feeding habits of our people have changed to a remarkable degree during the last 20 years. In July, 1933, the British Medical Association published a specimen diet. They did not claim that it was an ideal, or perfect, diet. They simply said that it consisted of the essential requirements to keep a man and wife and three children in normal health. They also gave the lowest prices for that diet, and that created a great deal of interest in the country. According to their scale, in 1933 the cost of such a diet was 22s. 6½d. per week. Many practical housewives declared that they had to buy very carefully in order to get those things for that price.
The Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women's Organisations have reprised this diet on two occasions: first, in November, 1937, and then, in December last year. They found that the cost had risen in 1937 from 22s. 6½d. to 27s. 2d. in some places, and to 26s. 2d. in others, but that the cost in representative industrial areas appeared to be between29s. 6d. and 30s. 6d. a week. In December, the price of the same commodities has risen to 33s. 6d., and in one Suffolk village it has risen to 35s. 10d. 112 There has been some argument about the increased cost of food since the war started. The general opinion of the housewives of this country is that the official figures do not accurately reflect their own experiences when they go shopping. The practical knowledge of these women is a very valuable check on the official figures. In many districts, also, the housewife cannot procure these commodities at the cheapest prices unless she spends a great deal of time and money in hunting round, and paying extra fares. One of the most remarkable features on a Saturday night in a working-class district is the hundreds of respectable housewives to be seen waiting until just before the shops close, in order to get cuts at reduced prices. I am informed that in my own district the cheapest cuts are very poor, and very wasteful. If women could afford to pay a few more coppers for their meat, they would not buy some of the stuff that is being sold in the poorer districts on Saturday nights. Many people think it is cheaper to live in the country, but recent inquiries have proved that in the villages and smaller towns prices have increased considerably and the cost of living is very high.
The hon. Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) mentioned vegetables. The way that prices of vegetables have risen, particularly during the last few months, is a scandal and a disgrace. I am astonished, when I do my shopping at week-ends, to find how prices have risen from week to week. Those prohibitive prices make it impossible for working-class housewives to buy vegetables at all. The position of people, such as diabetics and other invalids, who have been ordered special dietaries is very serious. Our women's organisations have taken up this question with the Minister of Food, and he has refused point blank to allow extra rations except in the case of bacon. Then, too, there are hundreds of people who, because of the high price of butter, cannot afford to buy it, although there is a surplus. We have written to the Minister of Food about pulse foods, such as peas, beans and lentils. The prices of these have risen tremendously, and in someplaces they are unprocurable; yet the experts tell us that these pulses are the best war-time substitute for meat. When you add the cost of cooking to the high price, you find that they no longer provide a cheap 113 meal. Although the British housewife is very patient and thrifty, she is grumbling about the intensity of the struggle, and asking what can be done to keep down the cost of living. When carrots cost 6d.,parsnips 4d., and greens, at 5d.or 6d., are quite a luxury, it means that the Scottish housewife cannot make Scotch broth. I noted that English lard, which is not controlled, which used to be 7d. a lb., is now 1s., and, although foreign lard is controlled and is 6d. a lb., I could not find a single housewife in a certain district during a certain month who had been able to procure any at all.
It is time the Government took more drastic action. We have been told that they were trying to peg prices, and we have been told exactly how much it has cost the country. We have not pegged the prices sufficiently to enable the womenfolk to have a square deal, and it has created a great deal of anxiety among the housewives of the country, because, in order to enable them to give their family a properly balanced diet, they must be able to pay their way. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Fulham that if we are to have this shortage, not altogether because there is a shortage in the market, and the average housewife is unable to buy the necessary commodities, it will have a very bad effect upon the health of the people, and particularly upon the health of the future generation.
I do not agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he claims that the workers must not ask for increased wages because of the increased cost of living. They have every right to ask. If the Government cannot prevent the increase in the cost of living, then we must protect our population and the workers' standards, and we have every right, failing satisfactory action by the Government, to make demands for increased wages. But this creates a great deal of discontent. I find that in districts where there is a large seafaring population, and the men are doing their bit and risking their lives in order to bring food to these shores, there is a great deal of resentment among the womenfolk, particularly if they are unable to buy the necessary commodities for a healthy standard of life. Although the right hon. Gentleman has told us of his past actions, I appeal to him to try and make it a little easier for 114 the housewives of this country and to see to it that the Government peg down the cost of living and enable the womenfolk to have a chance to maintain their families in health and decency during this very trying time.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Major Neven-Spence (Orkney and Shetland)
I hope that the House will forgive me for detaining it for a few moments, but there is one aspect of this question which touches the interests of my constituents very closely. It is the incidence of freight rates on the cost of living. My right hon. Friend will be aware that two years ago a committee reported on the state of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and this question of freight rates and its effect on the standards of life in the Highlands and Islands was dealt with at some considerable length in the report, under the heading of "Communications." At the outset they felt thatthe enforced submission to a virtual tax upon existence in the form of freight charges unduly increases the cost of the necessities of life in the Highlands and Islands,and in their recommendations they said that an endeavour should be madeto harmonise the costs of living in outlying regions with those in the large centres of population by regulating freight charges upon imports and exports.They asked four questions, two of which I will repeat:Do the charges now made on imports, which might be termed necessaries of life, so increase the difficulty of maintaining a reasonable standard of living as to constitute a hardship?The answer to that question was, "Yes."Do the charges now made on exports tend to make competition with other areas impossible?And the answer to that question again was, "Yes." They said:In order to achieve any reasonable prospect of normal development in these areas, and in order to arrest any further decline, the regulation of freights to bring these areas more into line with those more favourably situated as regards their manufacture and consumption is an urgent requirement.They said further:We are doubtful if the companies could lower their charges materially on a normal commercial basis under the existing conditions of trade with these areas, but we are nevertheless of opinion that a considerable reduction in freights is most desirable.115 The committee quoted in the appendix many examples of crushing freights which they considered were strangling the economic life of the Islands. They also pointed out that some improvement had followed from the reduction of freight charges under the existing Government subsidy. That applied to the Western Isles but not to the two counties that I have the honour to represent—Orkney and Shetland. They were convinced that no real progress in industry or improvement in social conditions could take place without considerable reductions in these charges. The committee finished up by recommending—this was before the war—a revision of the freight rates, at the discretion of the Secretary of State, upon exports and upon those imports which are required for agricultural and industrial purposes, with such financial assistance from the State as might be necessary to effect this.
My point is that already before the war there existed a very serious problem in these outlying parts of the country, in that the people who lived there were all the time under a very big handicap because of the very heavy freight charges which they had to pay on everything they imported, including foodstuffs and agricultural requirements, and they also suffered a very heavy tax upon everything they exported. It was a situation that called for something to be done before the war, but now the situation has become very much more difficult. I will give a few figures to show the House how this is affecting the cost of living in these places. Coal has gone up by 2s. 6d. a ton; that is arise in the price of coal effected under the Retail Coal Prices Order, 1939. Over and above that there is a rise of 7s. 10d. on rail freights, and over and above that a rise of 4s. 8d. a ton on steamer freights, making a total increase of 15s. a ton. When that is added to the pre-war freight of 19s. a ton, it brings the cost of freight from Aberdeen to the North Isles of Shetland up to 34s. a ton, just over 1s. 8d. a bag. That obviously is a great hardship upon the people, especially upon old age pensioners, of whom, I suppose, I have more to the acre than any other hon. Member in the United Kingdom. To an old age pensioner who has practically to live upon 10s. a week, another 2s. upon a bag of coal is a very serious item indeed.
116 Here is another instance, from the point of view of the farmer. The rise in the cost of freights on feeding-stuffs is 7s. 6d. a ton, and if you add that to the pre-war freight of 30s., you get 37s. 6d., and if you add to that various other small items, such as dock charges, feeding-stuffs in these islands cost £2 a ton more than they do in Aberdeen. This is really due to the fact that freight rates have increased by 25 per cent. I am not arguing against the necessity for that. I know quite well that the steamer company has many difficulties with which to contend. I am merely pointing out that a rise has taken place which has made the situation, which was difficult before the war, a great deal more difficult now. I do not intend to say anything more, except to ask whether my right hon. Friend will at an early date confer with the Ministry of Shipping and the Scottish Office, and look into the whole of the question of the incidence of freight rates on the cost of living in these outlying parts of the country and see whether anything can be done to mitigate the present hardship.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins (Pontypool)
I do not intend to enter into the general Debate, but I rise to mention one point, with regard to additional rations being granted to men employed in heavy industries. This is a tremendously important matter in the heavy industries. It will be remembered that when we had full rationing during the last war additional supplies were granted to the men who were employed in the heavy industries, and it gave at that time a considerable amount of satisfaction. When we commenced rationing during the present war cards were issued by the Food Minister to the local offices with a view to granting additional supplies. Preparations were made at the local offices in order to meet the needs of these people, but for some reason or other the cards were never issued, and consequently we are experiencing considerable difficulties in certain of the heavy industries at the present time. I have received, as I imagine many other hon. Members must have received, a number of letters regarding this matter. One letter which I received to-day I would like to read to the House, because it is the housewife's point of view, and that is of importance. She says: 117I would like to bring to your notice the fact that the sugar ration for men in the tin-plate mills is not enough. As you know, the men require a large amount of drink; for example, my husband takes a three-pint can of tea and a quart bottle of lemonade every day, which cannot be made without sugar.It is useless making the drinks without sugar, for the men would not have sufficient energy to carry on working efficiently. Their work is very laborious, and at present the other members of our family do without their share of the sugar for the father to have it. I cannot expect them to do this much longer.It is bad enough for the men now, but when the summer comes, the high temperature of the outside air, coupled with the unbearable heat of the furnaces will make work impossible without large quantities of liquid refreshment. In order to provide the necessary refreshment the sugar ration must be increased.I want the Minister to pay close attention to this matter, because it is of very great importance. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) has been pointing out the need for an adequate supply of food for the children in particular. In this case the children are making the sacrifice of their sugar ration in order to keep their fathers fit to carry on their work in the heavy industries, which is of vital importance to this country at the moment. This applies not only to the tinplate and steel industries, but to many of the coal mines. We have many coal mines in South Wales where the work is heavy, and laborious, and, with the temperature at 90 and sometimes higher, the men cannot work without a certain amount of liquid refreshment. The Food Ministry has neglected entirely to make any provision for men in these circumstances. As a matter of fact, in the homes of heavy workers, children have to make sacrifices of their sugar and butter rations and essential foods in order to enable their fathers to continue work.
The Ministry of Food must face up to this question. There are complaints by trade unions because efforts have not been made to meet this situation. We know that provision was made in the early days, but for some reason or other the arrangements were not carried out, and, consequently, we have this appalling state of things. Children in these homes say, "I am prepared to sacrifice my sugar ration so that my father can have it. He needs it." Will the Minister of Food make some effort to meet that situation? If he does not, it means that 118 the children in these homes are being half starved of vital foods in order to keep their fathers at work. That is a demand that should not be made on these children, and I hope the Minister will be able to make a definite statement with regard to it, and see that an attempt is made to meet the needs of these families. I do not think the Minister will attempt to deny that the need exists in these homes, and, that being so, the only thing to do is to make sure that the need no longer continues.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams (Ogmore)
I will not detain the House for many minutes or recapitulate what was said before. I would like, however, to support what the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Jenkins) has just said, and I hope the Minister will take note of it. There are one or two points which I wish to put before the House. The view is held throughout the country that the administrative costs of the Department, particularly in the regions, are excessively high and that they have much to do with the prices that are charged to the public for certain commodities. I would like the Minister to ascertain what is the cost of the administration and how it falls on the price levels of certain commodities. I think it is essential that we should know it, and I trust he will inquire whether the personnel in certain districts are doing their work effectively and whether a lesser number could do the work. The view is also held in certain places that there is a large number of supernumeraries in the administration who ought not to be there at all. If they are there, then, obviously, their salaries are a charge against the public, and it is felt that they are being met by the high price levels on these commodities.
It is held, too, that the Department itself is making substantial profits from its control. The Department at the present moment is the sole buyer of the five or six main commodities consumed in this country. There is no competitor so far as purchasing articles on the world market is concerned, and it is believed that the Department is building up for itself a fund that will enable it, at some lean time in the future, to be able to keep down the price levels of certain articles that might become scarce. This view is held by a number of influential 119 people, and if that is so, it means that the public at the moment are paying much higher prices than they need pay for goods which they have to consume. It means that the public is being exploited. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), with much of whose speech I certainly agree, and other hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill), gave us a practical demonstration of what is actually happening to-day. From the speeches which we have heard, there is an obvious indication of grave discontent throughout the country, and if the Ministry is building up some fund by charging higher prices than are necessary, then this practice ought to be stopped at once.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) stressed the need for a costing system. If the Ministry is starting upon the principle that it must have unto itself a certain surplus from the purchase of certain commodities obtained from world markets, then it is pretty obvious that the consumers in this country will be severely exploited during the war period. That will inevitably lead to industrial unrest. Anyone who read the reports of Commissions during the last war knows there was grave discontent about price levels and that it was quite impossible for wages to keep pace with the cost of living. That same thing is taking place now, although, perhaps, in a slightly lesser degree. Poor people, especially, realise that prices are rising very rapidly indeed, and we ought to know whether the Ministry is endeavouring, by charging these high prices, to accrue for itself some fund. If the Parliamentary Secretary is unable to reply to these points to-night, I hope we shall have a reply in the near future. There should be no necessity for accumulating profit at the expense of the people. One knows that the pound of pre-war days now has a purchasing value of about 17s. 7d. That hits very hardly the poor people of the country, old age pensioners and others, and they should not be exploited by having to pay increased prices. I trust that after this Debate the Minister will meet the very pertinent points which have been raised, particularly those about the method of costings in regard to milk and other commodities.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Mr. Lennox-Boyd)
I should like, first of all, to reply briefly to one or two of the questions and the suggestions which have been advanced in the later stage of the Debate. May I say to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) that I very much regret that my only absence from the Chamber coincided with his speech, but I shall read it to-morrow, as indeed many other people outside will also read it, with that respect and attention which all his contributions, whether on Imperial or social matters, undoubtedly deserve. I should like to assure the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major Neven-Spence) that we fully appreciate the particular difficulties in which his constituents find themselves, from the point of view not only of heavy transport costs in the matter of food supplies, but of the heavy costs of transport goods in general, and that we will examine, in consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland, the speech which he made.
The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Jenkins) raised the question of supplementary rations for heavy workers. We have done our best from the start of the rationing scheme to consult all those people who may have a valuable contribution to make to guide us before arriving at a decision. We have the Trades Union Congress Advisory Committee, to which we did refer this particular matter, and while I have no desire to shelter behind the recommendations made by other people, I can assure the hon. Member that in the steps we have taken all that we have done in the matter of supplementary rationing in the light of the present supply position has been done with the concurrence of that advisory committee. There is this great difficulty in supplementary rations, that somebody has to discriminate and say who are heavy workers, and as these present problems of much complexity, those to whom we have to look for guidance and help in this matter might find the task one which they would not be prepared to assume. There is this difference between the situation which exists now and the situation which existed in the last war; and that is that the size of the present ration means that quite different considerations come in to being.
The hon. Member concentrated mainly on the question of sugar, and one might 121 have thought that in the last war supplementary sugar rations were in fact granted. I am within the recollection of hon. Members who, unlike myself, had practical experience as adults of the working of rationing schemes in the last war in saying that no supplementary rations were granted save in respect of bacon and ham, and if the hon. Member will read the book of Sir William Beveridge on the experience of food control in the last war, he will find that these supplementary rations were not taken up to anything like the extent anticipated. It is true that controversy raged long and earnestly over supplementary rations, and that they were only introduced towards the end of the war, so I would not draw too much inference from what happened in the last war. I would point out however that, in fact, bacon was the only commodity for which a supplementary ration was granted and that the ration for bacon at this moment is larger than the ration granted at that time during the last war.
The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. J. Williams) asked me two questions which I have no difficulty whatever in answering. In the first place, he made reference to what he called the large size of the administrative staff and suggested that some favouritism was used in making appointments. I am sure that my right hon. Friend and those who work under him will not dispute that in an enormous Department like that of the Ministry of Food some mistakes in appointments may be made, but, on the whole, we are satisfied that we have the right people in the right jobs, chosen not because of any favouritism, but solely by reason of their competence for the job. If the hon. Member has any evidence, or what he thinks is evidence, of an elaborate and unnecessary and expensive staff, which we should not have in time of war, we shall be only too glad to hear it and investigate it.
He spoke about profits which the Department was making in the sale of certain commodities on the home market. My right hon. Friend, and, indeed, I think, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, dealt with this question in some detail, and as there is a number of points to which I must reply, I hope the hon. Member will forgive me if I deal somewhat hastily with his observations. It is true that the Ministry is making a small profit 122 on sugar, but, as has been explained, the profit is only 7d. per cwt., and as sugar cannot be sold under a unit of ¼d., and no reduction in price can be made save in units of ¼d., the Ministry must either incur a small loss or make a small profit, and, therefore, we decided that this was the wiser course. The only other commodity on which we are making a certain profit is margarine. It is true that we are making a profit in some of the ingredients in the making of margarine, but the bulk of the profit is made on those ingredients which go to the making of other things, such as soap, which are not consumed. In so far as we are making a profit on margarine, it is a profit for this particular period only. We have to look ahead and envisage a possible rise in the cost of the raw materials of which margarine is made, and we are protecting ourselves against incurring heavy losses in the future. As we have taken precautions that adequate quantities of margarine at the low price of 5d. in time of war are available to those people who have bought it prior to the war perhaps at 4d., I do not think the hon. Member can charge the Ministry with unduly profiteering in margarine.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
Does the Parliamentary Secretary say that full supplies of 5d. margarine are available?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
No, I said adequate supplies. We have made our arrangements with the manufacturers to make certain that adequate supplies are available. If the hon. Member has information that normal supplies of cheap margarine are not available we shall be interested to hear it.
I should now like to deal with the speech of the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander). I have no quarrel with his vigorous and not unhelpful speech, but there are one or two statements which should be controverted immediately. He said that the Ministry in its purchases of whale oil, and in regard to its purchases of wheat for human consumption, had been judicial and successful. He seemed to think that our skill in bulk buying stopped there. The right hon. Gentleman knows that we have some of the most experienced buyers in the world in the Ministry whose very presence in our Department seems to cause some of his colleagues much distress. We rely on these people, who 123 have gained their experience in a hard competitive world, to make good purchases, and we are fully satisfied with what they are doing.
It is impossible to give actual evidence of that statement. The right hon. Gentleman knows the difficulty, indeed the impossibility, of disclosing the actual deals which have been made, but perhaps the House has not altogether appreciated other considerations, not only shipping considerations, which have to be borne in mind when bulk purchases have to be made in time of war. There are political pre-emptive and Imperial considerations. I agree that the question of price is such an important factor that one might call it almost an overriding factor for the prime duty of the Ministry of Food is to provide food at fair prices to the bulk of the people. But the question of price is not the only factor. May I quote from memory and perhaps inaccurately Dr. Johnson? Dr. Johnson, I think, said that "Buying in the cheapest and selling in the dearest market is, Sir, a huckster's rule of retail trade, but not a principle of Imperial economics." It must not be thought that I am unduly depreciating the question of price, because it is an immensely important consideration. We have to face outside difficulties and considerations which would not apply if we were judging these purchases solely by commercial considerations, but we have made, are making, and shall make prudent purchases which could not be improved upon even if they were executed by the right hon. Gentleman himself.
§ Mr. Alexander
I entirely agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman has just said, but my criticism is that, although the Ministry have made a very large Imperial purchase from Australia, they have not made purchases which I think they ought to have made, in spite of prices, from another part of the Empire. Here they have gone to the other end of the Empire purely for considerations of prices, and I think it is doubtful whether they will get delivery.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's point, but, if I may use a hackneyed phrase, I assure him we have taken all those considerations into account. He also referred to the question of milk. He suggested that the Ministry paid, and was about to pay, 124 to farmers in this country a swollen, exaggerated and unnecessary price for their liquid milk, and he suggested also that the fact that the Co-operative farmers were not consulted indicated that the Ministry of Food and other Departments arrived at the figures which they are proposing to pay to the farmers absolutely in the dark, drawing their bow at a venture, without giving any consideration to what the actual costings would be. The right hon. Gentleman has served in His Majesty's Government, and if he thinks that the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Treasury would condone actions of that kind, he must have forgotten very quickly the lessons which he should have learned from his own tenure of office many years ago.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The right hon. Gentleman was First Lord of the Admiralty, and unless his experience was different from that of other Ministers, he had on occasion to obtain the sanction of the Treasury. In this matter, as in other matters, we have been in close contact with other Departments—the Treasury and the Ministry of Agriculture—which have their own sources of information as to the costings of the production of milk, and also with the Milk Marketing Board, whose experience goes back over a number of years and whose whole experience has been concentrated on the question of the production of milk. We are satisfied that we have arrived at fair prices. We believe—the right hon. Gentleman may think this a rather foolish and fantastic view, but in time of war, with the need of keeping up the milk supply, we think it is a realistic one—that some incentive over and above the actual costs of production must be added in order to ensure that one of the most important of all commodities, milk, will be up to our full national requirements in the coming years.
§ Mr. Alexander
Am I to understand that the hon. Gentleman says that the Ministry are offering an inducement above the price required in order to maintain supplies?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman means by "price required." I said that in the case of this commodity and other agricultural 125 commodities, some extra inducement must be offered, for the alternative of short supplies is so tragic that it does not bear consideration.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
Are not supplies short at the moment, or tending to be short for the time of the year?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
As a practical farmer, which I understand the hon. Member is, for I have read it frequently in a certain journal, he knows that the difficulties in respect of feeding-stuffs, changes in the diet of dairy cattle, and certain seasonal considerations have introduced new elements into the costing. Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate—as I heard said earlier in the Debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook—that we have to base our costings on the experience of average fanners throughout the country. I do not doubt that Co-operative farms are run on the most modern and efficient lines, but they are not typical English dairy farms. In order to arrive at costings which will enable us to ensure an adequate supply of milk, we have to view the country as a whole and the dairy farmer as a typical being. I suggest to the right hon. Member for Hillsborough that when the war comes to an end and we return to the days of party and political warfare, he should take his costings accounts of Co-operative farms down to some of the rural constituencies which his party are so anxious to win, show them to the average farmers and ask how they compare with the actual costs with which those farmers have been confronted.
§ Mr. Alexander
The hon. Gentleman has not told us what costings were submitted to the Ministry. We are going into Committee of Supply. We want to know why the Ministry have given these figures to the farmers, and we want to know what costings were submitted to the Ministry which led to their decision to give this very large increase. We have not had an answer to those questions.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The information we have had has been collected from the experience of the Milk Marketing Board and the Ministry of Agriculture, who satisfied us and the Treasury as well. We believe that the justification of this policy will be found in a good return in the coming season. The right hon. Gentle- 126 man also referred to the question of an increase in milk prices. If he will recover his equanimity for a moment, I will deal with that question. He drew attention to the fact that a rise in liquid milk prices was intended by the Government as a consequence of the recently-announced milk policy. There is nothing in any such proposal to prevent an extension of cheap milk schemes to those who really need them. I would like him to bear that condition in mind, and attach proper importance to it. He referred to condensed milk and its retail price; that matter is still under consideration, and therefore, any decision which he thinks has been reached, or conclusion at which he himself has arrived, is wholly premature.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
Are we to understand that the Treasury policy of subsidising milk to the consumers as a whole is withdrawn or about to be withdrawn?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That form of subsidy is withdrawn. The hon. Member knows that the Treasury have, for many years, actively collaborated in providing cheap milk to those who needed it most.
§ Mr. Alexander
I hope the Minister will not be captious about my interrupting him again, because I was interrupted several times in my speech. His statement on milk is very interesting. I have in my hand a copy of a letter, dated 12th March, sent by the Minister to the Central Milk Distributing Committee, and one paragraph of that letter reads:It is, however, likely that these prices will be raised"—the reference is to the liquid milk prices—by 4d. per gallon with effect from 1st June.In regard to what the Minister has just said, I should lke to be quite clear whether or not we are to assume that that means that the 4d. per gallon is to be passed on to the consumer of liquid milk. The hon. Gentleman has referred to cheap milk schemes for school children and so on, but they are only a side line to the main liquid milk consumption in the country.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
They may appear to be a sideline to the right hon. Gentleman, but they are not so regarded by those people who need the milk most, and who have been getting it as a result of our 127 policy. When the right hon. Gentleman asks me to give a definite answer as to the date when there will be an increase in liquid milk prices and the amount of that increase, I can only refer him to the answers that have been given—that probably, in the comparatively near future, some increase will be imposed, but the amount of it will depend on how much money is raised towards the enhanced price out of the increased cost of manufacturing milk. I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to leave the matter at that. He also asked about wheat meal being sold as feeding-stuffs. We are conscious that some of this has been leaking through, and we are taking steps to prevent the feeding of flour to animals, steps which, I am sure, will command universal support in the House.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to take some exception to the comparison made by my right hon. Friend between the present level of food prices and the level in what now appears to be the golden age of 1929. Although I am most anxious—not because of any weakness in our ammunition—to avoid reviving that controversy, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that when he suggested that wages were higher in 1929 and that when wages came down in 1929, down came prices too, he was a little inaccurate. We have referred to the index of weekly wages, and, taking the year 1924 as 100, we find that the average wage paid in 1929 was 99¼ and in July, 1939, which is the last available figure before the war, it was 105¾. I do not think anybody will suggest that from last July to the present time wages anywhere have appreciably come down. I do not want, however, as I have said, to revive that controversy except to assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are justified in taking the year 1929 as a comparable year from the point of view of prices.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Certainly, although the right hon. Gentleman probably has a more lively recollection of 1931. Perhaps he will quote the figures for that year. I apologise to the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan)—to whom we are all grateful for having introduced this Debate—for having left until this stage the various questions and suggestions put 128 by him. He grew very excited over what he seemed to regard as a most sinister thing, namely, the presence of traders in the Ministry of Food and what he seemed to look upon as the unnatural power wielded by them.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am not certain how many thousands there are under the Ministry dotted here and there throughout the country, but I am certain that, numerically, traders do not predominate, and taking into account the calibre of the civil servants who are engaged in this work, in conjunction with the Minister, one can have very little doubt that traders, officials and the political heads of the Department all work hapilly together, with no one group outweighing the other in influence. The final authority, of course, rests with the Minister, but we are only too glad to have in our Department the assistance of the trading element. We believe that when the history of the Ministry of Food comes to be written, it will, be found that seldom, if ever, in the records of administration have so many people possessing expert knowledge given their service disinterestedly and without any thought of their own advantage for the welfare of the State.
§ Mr. Alexander
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman then will utilise the assistance of these trading experts in order to obtain proper costings before coming to a decision which puts a charge on the taxpayer.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
We shall be delighted to have their assistance. I only hope that the right hon. Gentleman himself, on one of the frequent visits which he pays to the Department, will bring that costings sheet with him, in order that we may be able to give it close scrutiny. I am sure we shall be interested to see it. The hon. Member for Doncaster seemed to think that these trade advisers, or controllers as he appeared to regard them, had been guilty of actions which, though they might have been due to a disinterested desire to serve the State, happened to fit in also with their desires or their policy in pre-war days. He cited, as an instance, bacon control, in connection with which he said that 500 bacon curers had lost their jobs 129 as a result of certain action of the Ministry of Food. I am at a loss to know where he got his figures. I think he must have got them from a preliminary suggestion which was made that curers of amounts of 15 cwts. and under should no longer be allowed to cure bacon. If he brings his information up to date, however, he will find that the figure of 15 cwts. has been reduced to five cwts. and that those who cure less than five cwts. and who therefore have not the right to cure bacon can get cured bacon in order to sell it to their customers. Immediately after that point and apparently without any recognition of the incongruity involved, the hon. Member went on to suggest, apparently, that we should put everybody out of the milk business except the big combines, and to them leave the whole distribution of milk.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
The two things are altogether different. In the one case you are dealing with odds and ends; in the other case you are dealing with a main product.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I do not think that bacon rationing can be lightly dismissed as a matter of odds and ends.
§ Mr. Morgan
The Minister is not fair. He is being just a shade too clever and he ought to be a little more careful. The curers who are being put out of business are, he says, men dealing with not more than 5 cwts. of bacon which is left over, but in the case of milk it is not a question of people who are selling quantities of five gallons or less being put out of business. I said you should treat milk as one commodity, and I want to ensure that the odds and ends of bacon will be cured, rather than that they should be left to go rancid and bad.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The hon. Member then went on to deal wtih margarine and drew a picture of trade advisers raising the price of the very commodity on which their own living depended. This, however, is wholly untrue. I am within the recollection of the House when I say that before the war the price of margarine rose from 4d. to 10d. At the outbreak of war pool margarine was produced at the price of 6d. The Ministry of Food pooled all margarine and sold it as a pool product. Now 6d. was more than the poorer people had paid for margarine before, while it was less than the financially better-off 130 classes had been asked to pay before. It was more than some people could afford and less than others could afford. It was actually less than others had been paying a few weeks previously. With the de-pooling of margarine, three prices were started, namely, 5d., 6d. and 8d. Then came the increase in cost. Owing to the rise in the cost of raw materials, it became essential to raise the price of margarine. As my right hon. Friend has said, the prices of the dearer margarine rose to 7d. and 9d., but the price of the cheap margarine was kept down to 5d. In this I should have thought the hon. Member would have seen the germ of a wise policy, namely, that of keeping down the price of the cheapest quality by making a profit on the more expensive forms.
Incidentally I would remind the House that if they examine the cost-of-living figure, the retail prices figure issued by the Ministry of Labour, they will see in this and in other commodities the danger of judging by averages. In that figure the increase in the price of margarine is put down at an average of ½d. Of course, this has an effect on the figure of the cost of living, but in fact the people for whom we should be most solicitous, namely, those who buy the very cheapest quality, are getting it now at 1d. less than they paid at the outbreak of war. The hon. Member also said that the officers of our margarine department were deliberately keeping up the price of butter in order to sell margarine.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am sorry if I have misquoted the hon. Member but that certainly was the impression which he gave to me and I think to other Members of the House. If that is not what he said, it is what may be thought outside the House and therefore I would like to deal with it. Naturally, the margarine department of the Ministry has no influence on the retail price at which the Ministry authorises butter to be sold. The retail price of butter is settled on its own merits and by considerations of national policy. No influence is exercised by the margarine department nor is there any desire on their part to see the sales of butter dwindle in order that the sales of the other product should be increased. Indeed, I think—though summing it up 131 in this way is open to all sorts of difficulties—they would be glad sometimes to see it a little the other way.
In regard to the price of butter I have been taken to task by the hon. Member for Doncaster and by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) for having called butter a luxury product. The suggestion has been made that I am anxious to divide the population into two groups, namely, those who can afford to buy butter which has been brought at great danger from oversea, and those who cannot and have to be content with margarine. It is always possible to take one sentence of a speech and read a certain meaning into it as I know from experience. I was attempting to counter the argument that if the Government decided, as they have decided, to keep down by means of subsidy the prices of bacon, meat and flour, they should have applied the same procedure to the price of butter. I was anxious to show that where there was an alternative, speaking generally—and I admit that the words are liable to misunderstanding—the alternative is the thing on which you should concentrate and that butter, when there was this alternative, was something in the nature of a luxury. I agree that it may not have been a happy definition but it was suitable for the purpose which I had in mind at the time.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I think if the hon. Member had been present he would have recognised the light in which that remark was made.
§ Mr. Griffiths
What is the Minister's authority for the statement that margarine is a perfectly adequate substitute? How does he know?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am not going into it further than to assure the hon. Member that I include a quantity of margarine in my diet and though I will not pretend that I do not prefer butter to margarine, none the less I have it on expert authority—on which we have all to rely—that a number of the qualities for which butter is prized, can also be found in vitaminised margarine.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Are We to understand the Minister as saying 132 that margarine of the cheaper quality, sold at 5d., is an adequate substitute for butter?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
What I am saying is that margarine which contains vitamins A and D, contains the very vitamins which have given butter its world-wide reputation. I feel that the remarks of the hon. Member for Doncaster show that there is some mental confusion in which people are living in regard to the problem of a commodity like butter which is highly expensive to import. The mere fact that a penny off the price of butter appears to be such a modest expense on the part of the Treasury is a justification for giving the actual sums which would be involved; while I am not at this stage in my remarks putting forward any argument for or against the view that it would or would not be desirable to subsidise butter at some time or other. Certain facts must be borne in mind. If a penny is taken off the retail price of butter, and the whole eight-ounce ration is taken up, it would cost on an average £5,700,000 a year to the Government. If 3d. a lb. is taken off the retail price and the whole eight-ounce ration is taken up, it will cost the Government £114,000 a week. Multiplying that figure by three the result is between £17,000,000 and £18,000,000 a year if there is a reduction of 3d. in the retail price and the eight-ounce ration is taken up. Hon. Members are entitled to suggest a reduction in price but they should be aware of the financial magnitude of their proposals.
The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) dealt with the question of bacon and in regard to his remarks about rationing I am afraid I must quarrel with him and with his statement that the overwhelming majority of workers cannot afford to buy it to-day. We, in the Department, had a number of letters from people living in Rotherham at the time when the four-ounce ration was introduced, begging that the ration should be increased for these heavy workers living in the hon. Member's constituency. That does not seem to indicate that they did not wish to have the bacon, but that they wanted more supplies made available.
§ Mr. Dobbie
Did the Department have any letters from thousands of people from Rotherham not in the fortunate position of being heavy workers who could not 133 buy bacon? I have deputations from many of these people.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The letters were in regard to the heavy workers to whom the hon. Member referred. In regard to the price of bacon it is impossible to go into the various cuts in a Parliamentary Debate of this kind. Taking the average price, the increase in bacon cuts as a whole, between the 1st September and now, is from 1s. 3d. to 1s. 6½d. Although it is unfortunate when any commodity has to go up in price, no one would suggest that the average increase has deprived the bulk of the working classes of this very essential commodity. The hon. Member for Doncaster suggested that the Ministry had made a bad transaction in buying Canadian bacon, and that we were in an embarrassing situation in not knowing what to do with it. No doubt he knows that the particular purchases were made when the seasonable arrivals from Canada would be coming in. It happened to synchronise with the arrival of troops from Canada, and it seemed a good thing that we should use the holds of these ships. We are certainly not embarrassed with it and we are managing to dispose of it.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
Why then did you put out a statement cutting the price of Canadian "back" on the grounds that it had gone slimy and needed washing.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I can assure the hon. Member that the word "slimy" has a trade significance. The hon. Member also referred to the question of sugar and suggested that the Ministry was making a profit out of it, and that we should reduce the price. It was true that the retail price of granulated sugar had risen since the war by 1½d., but this increase was in part made up by the 1d. increase in taxation. So far as the purchase and the selling by the Ministry at retail prices are concerned no one would suggest, I think, that we are making an exorbitant profit.
On the question of meat, I should like to make some reference to the very important trade of the butcher, and the prices on which retailed butchers' meat is now sold. If it had not been for the action of the Ministry of Food and the Treasury in subsidising meat as a whole, the retail prices of all butchers' meat, including imported meat, would be 1½d. a lb. more than it is. Nobody can charge 134 us with indifference and a failure to meet changing circumstances of war. We are fully alive to the difficulties of those people who live on the cheapest cuts. Rationing by value rather than by weight was, in the main, designed to protect these very people. In the last war there was only one quality of beef, mutton and lamb available, and when you come to the average prices of the product it is always true that some people get it cheaper than they can afford to pay, and others have to pay more than they would if there were differential rates. In this war there are three kinds of beef available and four kinds of lamb and mutton. This opens the field wider for the poorer consumer but we are still alive to the desirability of cheaper cuts. Difficulties of identification do arise, but we are fully alive of the need of cheap cuts of meat though there are many available to-day. I have the actual names and figures here, but I will not quote them, but would add that the meat situation is none the less under constant review.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
Is it in any way affected by the contract the Department have with the War Office? Are you losing on that?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
We are selling to the War Office at a wholesale rate rather different from the ordinary rate. It would be most unfair to the War Office and to the troops to suggest that the population was subsidising their needs. The Amendment reads:regrets that the prices of controlled foodstuffs have been fixed so high that large numbers of the population are unable to obtain their requirements,….I have dealt with the question of butter and with the question of meat and bacon, but I would like the House to bear this in mind. We are spending £26,000,000 a year to keep the bread prices down, £16,000,000 to keep meat prices down, and a considerable sum to keep the cheese prices down. In addition there is between £4,000,000 and £5,000,000 a year to keep bacon prices down. But for the action of this Department, the price of meat would be a 1½d. a lb. more, bread would be a 1½d. more per 4-lb. loaf, and bacon would be up too. Therefore I think the action we have taken is a justification for a continuance of confidence.
The hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) in her speech asked me one or two questions about the 135 control we are exercising over commodities and the exact stage in which we came into the picture and exercised control. She knows of course that certain essential commodities speak for themselves and are controlled and rationed. Over and above this when there is a danger of an important commodity rising unduly in price, maximum prices are instituted. On the question of rabbits she may remember in the last war the problem of the disappearing rabbit. It is difficult if not impossible to control prices of a commodity if you cannot control the supply. We have had one or two difficulties lately and the frosty weather has interfered with the trapping. The British rabbit season is now at an end, but imported rabbits are becoming naturally increasingly important. There is an importers' association, and they have played the game with us since the outbreak of war and kept the price of rabbits down. The rise has been very small considering the increase in freight and insurance, but we have the power, should the arrangements break down, to institute maximum prices for imported rabbits, which would have the effect of checking rises in the price of home products. She also asked me what we were doing in regard to diet and guiding the people in what food they should consume. When the campaign which my right hon. Friend is inaugurating this week is fully launched, it will show that we are completely alive to the need of teaching people to eat the right food and the need also of seeing that they can get it at prices they can afford to pay. She spoke of vegetables, but if the hon. Lady lived in a constituency like
§ mine she would appreciate what havoc the frost has played with them.
§ We feel that we can face the future in regard to food prices with moderate confidence. Our stocks are good and our supplies are good, a position which is due not only to us, but far more to the courage of the Royal Navy and the Merchant Service. Rationing has been imposed not through scarcity but through a deliberate policy of using our shipping and other resources to the maximum extent.
§ Few people would quarrel with the statement recently made that a great deal of retrenchmnt is possible before we as a nation are worse off than we were in 1914–18. And yet while the average may be good, there are undoubtedly many people who live below that average. It cannot be denied that in fixing an average price you often help the better off and penalise the poor, making them pay more for a commodity than they need and allowing other people to get it cheaper than they are prepared to pay. It is our policy, as my right hon. Friend has expressed it on a number of occasions, to watch carefully this situation and to increase the spread between the highest and lowest prices. We are confident that as a result of our activity, while no one will altogether escape the consequences of a state of war, those people who need protection most in their food supplies will get it through the activities of our Department.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 160; Noes, 117.137
|Division No. 56.]||AYES.||[9.9 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Colville, Rt. Hon. John||Everard, Sir William Lindsay|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Fremantle, Sir F. E.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Fyfe, D. P. M.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh)||Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Craven-Ellis, W.||Gledhill, G.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Goldie, N. B.|
|Assheton, R.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Crowder, J. F. E.||Gridley, Sir A. B.|
|Beamish, Rear Admiral T. P. H.||Cruddas, Col. B.||Grigg, Sir E. W. M.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Grimston, R. V.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C.||Denville, Alfred||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Doland, G. F.||Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N.W.)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Dorman-Smith, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir R. H.||Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.|
|Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Eckersley, P. T.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H.|
|Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Edge, Sir W.||Hambro, A. V.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Hannah, I. C.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Emery, J. F.||Harbord, Sir A.|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A.||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Henderson, J. J. Craik (Leeds, N.E.)|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Hepworth, J.|
|Christie, J. A.||Etherton, Ralph||Higgs, W. F.|
|Holdsworth, H.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Sanderson, Sir F. B.|
|Holmes, J. S.||Munro, P.||Schuster, Sir G. E.|
|Hopkinson, A.||Nall, Sir J.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Nield, B. E.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Spens, W. P.|
|Hunter, T.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Jennings, R.||Palmer, G. E. H.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Kerr, Lt. Col. Charles (Montrose)||Plugge, Capt, L. F.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|King-Hall, Commander W. S. R.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Procter, Major H. A.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Leech, Sir J. W.||Profumo, J. D.||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P||Pym, L. R.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Radford, E. A.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Lipson, D. L.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Little, Dr. J. (Down)||Ramsden, Sir E.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Llewellin, Colonel J. J.||Rankin, Sir R.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Loftus, P. C.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Lucas, Major Sir J. M.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Webbe, Sir W. Harold|
|Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Wells, Sir Sydney|
|M'Connell, Sir J.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|McCorquodale, M. S.||Reith, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. W.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Magnay, T.||Robertson, D.||Wise, A. R.|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Rowlands, G.|
|Mitchell, Col. H. (Brentf'd & Chisw'k)||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Russell, Sir Alexander|
|Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Salt, E. W.||Mr. Buchan-Hepburn and Mr. Boulton.|
|Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Sandeman. Sir N. S.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Harvey, T. E.||Paling, W.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Hayday, A.||Parker, J.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Pearson, A.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hollins, J. H. (Silvertown)||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Horabin, T. L.||Price, M. P.|
|Barr, J.||Isaacs, G. A.||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Batey, J.||Jackson, W. F.||Ridley, G.|
|Beaumont, H. (Batley)||Jagger, J.||Riley. B.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Ritson, J,|
|Benson, G.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Bromfield, W.||John, W.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Cluse, W S.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Sexton, T. M.|
|Collindridge, F.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Shinwell, E.|
|Cove, W. G.||Kirkwood, D.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Daggar, G.||Leach, W.||Sloan, A.|
|Dalton, H.||Leonard, W.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Leslie, J. R.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Logan, D. G.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Dobbie, W.||Lunn, W.||Stephen, C.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Ede, J. C.||McGhee, H. G.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Maclean, N.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Mainwaring, W. H.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Foot, D. M.||Mander, G. le M.||Viant, S. P.|
|Frankel, D.||Marshall, F.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Gallacher, W.||Mathers, G.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Gardner, B. W.||Maxton, J.||Westwood, J.|
|George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd (Carn'v'n)||Messer, F.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Milner, Major J.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Mentague, F.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Doncaster)||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Woodburn, A.|
|Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Mort, D. L.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Naylor, T. E.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Noel-Baker, P. J.|
|Hardie, Agnes||Oliver, G. H.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.|
|Harris, Sir P. A.||Owen, Major G.||Mr. Charleton and Mr. Adamson.|
Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Colonel CLIFTON BROWN in the Chair.]