HC Deb 19 December 1947 vol 445 cc2022-4
The Minister of Food (Mr. Strachey)

I am glad to be able to inform the House that negotiations for the purchase of wheat by the United Kingdom Government from the Australian Government have been successfully completed. The contract is for one year and covers 80 million bushels of wheat. If the total quantity of wheat from the 1947–48 harvest received by the Australian Wheat Board reaches 210 million bushels a further five million bushels, making 85 million bushels in all, will be sold to the United Kingdom. The price is 17s. (Australian currency) per bushel f.o.b. Australian ports. If Australia and the United Kingdom become parties to an International Wheat Agreement, the price of any wheat not yet shipped at that date at which such an Agreement comes into force will be adjusted to conform to the prices prescribed in the Agreement.

I must explain to the House that nothing like the whole of this 80 million bushels will be available for the United Kingdom. Nearly half has been purchased for delivery to the Colonies and other areas for the wheat supplies of which the United Kingdom is at present responsible. Nor will it be possible to ship to the United Kingdom in this crop year more than a comparatively small proportion of that part of the total amount which will eventually reach this country. It is true that a few cargoes have already left Australia but substantial quantities will not be available for shipment until the new year and cannot therefore arrive in this country until next March. Only a comparatively small proportion of the total purchase of 80 million bushels will therefore be available in the United Kingdom in this crop year.

Nevertheless, if the wheat can be delivered to our ships in Australian ports in regular and substantial quantities it will ease those serious anxieties for our bread supply which we have each year experienced in the late Spring. But it cannot do more than this. It should enable us, however, to avoid making any requests for wheat from the United States in this crop year. This has the advantage to us of saving dollars. Moreover it enables us to take the whole British requirement of wheat off the hands of the United States Government which, we realise, is making intense efforts to feed Western Europe and other areas which may be in great need in the remainder of this crop year. His Majesty's Government therefore most warmly welcomes the re-appearance of supplies of Australian wheat in the United Kingdom market after some years of unavoidable interruption.

Mr. Clement Davies

May I very warmly congratulate the Minister on the success of these negotiations, and ask him on behalf of this House, and indeed of the whole Kingdom, to convey to the Australian Government and the Australian people our deep sense of gratitude for the continued help they are giving us?

Mr. Ellis Smith

Arising out of that very satisfactory statement, will my right hon. Friend consult the Prime Minister in order that he, at this time of the year in particular, shall send a message on behalf of the British people thanking New Zealand, Australia, Canada and South Africa and the whole Commonwealth for the way they have so generously responded to the needs of the old country?

Mr. Strachey

I am sure that will be the sentiment of the whole House, but the Prime Minister has already communicated with both the Australian and Canadian Governments on recent contracts and arrangements, and I am sure he has the same feelings with regard to the New Zealand Government.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Will my right hon. Friend then consult the Prime Minister with a view to considering that at this stage a similar message should be sent to the whole of the Commonwealth?

Mr. Strachey

We will certainly consider that.