HC Deb 25 February 1947 vol 433 cc2008-28

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)

I beg to move, That the Cheese (Control and Maximum Prices) Order, 1946 (S.R. & O., 1946, No. 2109), dated 12th December, 1946, a copy of which was presented on 17th December, be annulled. This is largely a consolidating Order. There is little new in it except the startling announcement that Roquefort cheese from France is being sold in this country at five and a half times the price of British Wensleydale and Stilton. I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food if she will give some explanation of that rather remarkable news, and whether she would inform us what is the subsidy on British-made cheese. I do not mean the subsidy on the milk which is supplied to the British cheese manufacturers, but I want to know how it works out in the price of cheese. What is the British taxpayer contributing per pound?

This consolidating Order gives me an opportunity of asking the Minister several questions. The Order holds out very little hope of there being much variety in the cheese which is put on the British luncheon table or in the British worker's luncheon packet. Successive Ministers of Food have told us of the great importance of variety in food. We have a good variety of fish and vegetables, some variety of meat and an increasing variety of fruit, and, in spite of what the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) said the other day, the British wage earner is quite prepared to buy pineapples at any price at which they are put on the market. But we have hardly any variety in cheese.

The vast bulk of the cheese which we consume today and which is controlled by this Order is Dominion or American Cheddar, commonly called "mousetrap" and, I think, rightly so called, because, as Lord Harmsworth pointed out in a letter to "The Times" the other day, it is more suitable for the undiscriminating palate of the rodent than for the human palate. Will the Minister tell us what proportion of the cheese consumed today is this imported Cheddar? Is it 90 per cent., or 95 per cent., or what proportion, and, of the remaining small balance, how much is English? I will agree that some imported Cheddar is better than others. It is largely a question of whether it is properly matured. As King Lear said, Ripeness is all. Cheddar properly stored does not really get ripe for at least six months. I want to ask the Minister whether it would not be possible to import Cheddar sufficiently far in advance for it to attain maturity before it is put into the shops.

Now I come to the possibility of getting other cheeses. Paragraph 2 of this Order prohibits the manufacture of any cheese in this country except on licence. Under this stern control most of the cheeses of yesteryear have disappeared. Until last week the only cheeses which were permitted to be manufactured in this country were of what is called the Cheddar type which, according to the Minister, consist of Cheshire, Wensleydale, which is mentioned in Part I of the First Schedule, Lancashire, and one or two other cheeses. The reasons given by the Parliamentary Secretary for this limitation are rather mystifying. She said in this House on 23rd January of last year: … we can only manufacture in this country cheeses which conform to a certain type —the Cheddar type.—[HON. MEMBERS 'Why?'] … It is because we can only put a certain type on the ration. It would be unfair to limit a certain number of housewives to one type and a certain number to another; we should have trouble in every shop."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd January, 1946: Vol. 418, C. 157.] Now I cannot understand this. I do not believe that people are so narrow-minded and such dogs in the manger. I do not believe the British housewife says that because she cannot get Double Gloucester nobody else should. It seems to me that that is a complete fallacy. The theory that because everybody cannot get something, nobody should have it, seems to have hypnotised the Ministry of Food; it seems to be an obsession, which for a very long time prevented us from getting any oranges. I know that to be a fact. I believe that the more encouragement we can give to English cheese making, even for the small quantity that is produced, the better will everybody be pleased. When Ben Gunn, stranded on Treasure Island, said "Many's the long night I've dreamed of cheese," I do not believe for a moment he ever dreamed of Canadian Cheddar.

There are many other cheeses that we should like to see on our table. There is Stilton, for example. I was delighted to read that the Minister said last Tuesday that a small amount of Stilton would be put on the market. I want to ask her, as Stilton is not of the Cheddar type, whether that means that her previous argument has gone by the board. But what about Gloucester? What about Blue Vinny from Dorset? What about Caerphilly from Wales? What about Dunlop of Ayrshire, and a number of other cheeses which I need not mention? Before the war go million gallons of milk was made into cheese in this country, and the Milk Marketing Board gave licences freely. Thirty per cent. of the cheese consumed in this country before the war was made in England. How much English cheese is consumed today? I am afraid that farmhouse production is negligible. The age-long skill of the British cheese maker is lost, or being lost, and if we are not careful the art of the cheese-maker may die in many districts of this country.

I wish to quote one sentence from a letter which the chairman of the Milk Marketing Board wrote not long ago to "The Times." He said: The public are most anxious to enjoy all the special types of home-produced cheese free from wartime technical control; it will require neither more labour nor cost to provide their needs—only more craftsmanship, more freedom from control, and more milk. Of course, milk is the kernel of the problem. I do not dispute for a moment that only surplus milk should be made into cheese, and that demands for liquid milk must come first. But may we have an assurance that English cheese making will be encouraged in so far as supplies of milk allow?

Quite obviously, we must go on importing cheese. We have always for many years done so and we must go on importing it. I want to say a few words about imported cheese, the prices of which are controlled in this Order. Why cannot we have more variety? Why cannot we have some Gorgonzola or some Bel Paese—those rich and fragrant Italian cheeses? Nine months ago we were given a hope that we should have some, because Sir Ben Smith said of Italian cheese on 22nd May last: When cheese of a suitable type is available at reasonable prices I shall endeavour to procure it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd May (946; Vol. 423, C. 330.] Well, when is it coming? Could not we also have some Brie, Pommel and Pont d'Evèque from France, Port Salut from France and Belgium, Gruyere and Tilsit from Switzerland? Can we be assured that, when it is possible to get these cheeses, they will be forthcoming.

I think—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—all imported cheese, except Cheddar, is on points. We should like to see more cheese on points. At present we are getting from abroad some Danish cheese, some Camembert—item 3 in the first schedule to the Order—and some Roquefort which is item 2 in the schedule. But I think it is a mistake to import Camembert in the winter, when there is very little cream in the milk, and I would suggest that in the winter we should import something else instead. From the Dominions and from the United States, I understand, at this moment we are getting only "mousetrap." Could not Canada, with its enormous supplies of milk, be persuaded to make some other kind of cheese? New Zealand used to make a very good imitation of Stilton. New Zealand milk and cream were inoculated with penicillin glaucum from Rutland. Is it possible to get some Stilton from New Zealand today?

As I know other hon. Members want to speak, I come to my final suggestion. All English cheeses should be labelled with the place or county of origin. A bottle of French wine, unless imported by the Government under the present regime, bears, at least, an indication of what part of France it comes from, and, very often, what chateau. Why not do the same thing for British cheeses? It would foster pride in British dairy farming. It would encourage the public to be more cheese-minded, and to find out the best cheeses, and then ask for them. I ask the Minister if she will consider that suggestion.

Mr. Speaker

Before calling on the seconder of the Motion I think I ought.o say that I have been wondering while this matter has been under discussion whether anybody would rise to a point of Order. This is a Consolidation Order, and it is unusual to discuss the whole Order on consolidation. But I have considered this very carefully, and I should like to read out a careful Ruling which, I hope, will be borne in mind on future occasions.

This Order consolidates the Cheese (Control and Maximum Prices) Order, 1943, and subsequent amending Orders. It also incorporates two amendments of detail. If the principal Order of 1943 had been subject to annulment by Address, I should have had to rule, that, apart from the two new points, the scope of Debate on the Consolidation Order was limited to the question of consolidation. Since, however, the principal Order was not subject to annulment, and this is the first opportunity the House has had of debating the policy of the Orders consolidated in this Order, I must decide that it is fully open to Debate.

I should like to take this opportunity of placing on record my view that in the case of any Orders which consolidate previous Orders that have been subject to annulment, the policy of the main and amending Orders would not be under discussion, since if the consolidating Order, which revokes the previous Orders, were annulled, the only result would be that the previous Orders would continue in operation unconsolidated. In the case of consolidation Bills, the scope of Debate has long been restricted to the single purpose of consolidation. Of course, I must apply that principle to Orders, but not on this particular occasion.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)

If we allow Orders to pass unchallenged in this House, is there not the possibility later on, of an Order consolidating various other Orders being unchallengeable, because the original Orders were allowed to pass unchallenged? Would not this lead to a series of Debates which might otherwise have been avoided?

Mr. Speaker

I had that in mind, but we have to stick to the rules, and I have an idea that the House as a whole would like to see Orders consolidated, and Members would not unnecessarily impose Debates on this account.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)

I beg to second the Motion.

I am very grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for your Ruling on this matter. Hon. Members opposite may have made some ribald remarks under their breath when my hon. friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) was speaking, but I am grateful to him for having raised this matter tonight. There are, at least two points of substance in this Order, which should be cleared up by the Parliamentary Secretary when she replies. Let me say first, that in a very humble way, I am a cheese-maker. Perhaps hon. Members opposite will know that my interest in Statutory Rules and Orders is as great as my interest in cheese-making. The Order we are discussing is No. 2109 of 1946, and I would draw attention of Members who have taken the trouble to get a copy of this Order, to the explanatory note, which is very simple. It is confined to two lines, and talks about a special price provided for Roquefort cheese, and for all other imported blue vein cheese. The Order has in it far more than that, and the explanatory note does not in any way indicate the sinister meanings which lie behind the Order, especially under paragraph 10. I suggest the Ministry of Food have put maggots into the cheese, which undermine not only the cheese but the Order as well.

If hon. Members turn to paragraph 10, they will see that it appears to be the usual provision dealing with Northern Ireland. That was what I thought when I read it through rather hurriedly, but on further consideration I came to the conclusion that it not only dealt with Northern Ireland, but gave the Minister the most extraordinary powers. For example, I submit that tonight, after this Order has been laid in the House and after hon. Members have been asked to agree to it, the Minister could take the Order home and rewrite it without any further reference to the House. Leaving out the parts referring to Northern Ireland, paragraph 10 reads: The provisions of this Order are subject to (a) any direction which may at any time be given by or on behalf of the Minister … in relation to the articles to which this Order applies. If that does not mean that the Minister could take this Order home tonight and vary it at his will or discretion, I frankly admit I do not know what the wording of paragraph 10 really means. I always believe in bringing out my most important point first, and I ask the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with that point when she replies. The second point about the wording of the Order is that, bearing in mind, this is an Order which fixes the maximum retail and wholesale prices of cheese. Paragraph 12 (2) states: The maximum prices prescribed by this Order,;hall not apply to the products commonly known as lactic cheese and lactic food or to cheese, processed cheese, soft cheese or curd cheese sold—

  1. (a) for use as ships' stores;
  2. (b) to any Government Department; or
  3. (c) to the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes."
Why is this paragraph necessary? Are the people responsible for ships to pay more than the maximum wholesale price? Are they to sell cheese at more than the maximum retail price aboard their ships? Are Government Departments likely to pay more than the maximum wholesale price or sell at more than the maximum retail price? I ask hon. Members opposite to realise that this is a maximum price Order and not a minimum price Order. Had it been a minimum price Order, I could have understood that, perhaps for ships' stores, cheese might have been sold at less than the minimum price prescribed by the Order, but I cannot understand why paragraph 12 (2) is necessary. Are we to assume that N.A.A.F.I. will buy at more than the wholesale maximum price of cheese? Are we to assume that N.A.A.F.I. will "rook" the soldiers, sailors and airmen, or their wives, and sell at more than the maximum retail price? I cannot understand why this paragraph is necessary.

I would like now to say a few words about cheese. Except for increasing importations of certain special cheeses from abroad, we in this country, during the past six years, have got used to what my hon. Friend referred to as "mousetrap," and my goodness, much of it has been "mousetrap." I cannot understand why, under this Order, certain other cheeses are not encouraged, such as Wensleydale cheese, which is the only special English cheese mentioned. I think all hon. Members who have sampled it will agree that Wensleydale cheese—I am not trying to boost any particular product—is infinitely preferable to "mousetrap." the price of Wensleydale cheese to the consumer is 1s. 1d. a lb.; the price of "mousetrap" to the same consumer is 1s. 1d. a lb. I know that the hon. Lady will tell me that Cheddar cheese—and, after all, all sorts of cheese go under the name of Cheddar nowadays—takes 117 gallons per cwt. to make, whereas Wensleydale takes only 109 gallons per cwt. to make.

I cannot see why there should not be a little bit of extra encouragement given to the Wensleydale maker of cheese and the Stilton maker, and the makers of other special cheeses rather than to the makers of ordinary mousetrap cheese. How much do the Government pay for Canadian Cheddar and Australian Cheddar? I understand from the experts whom I have consulted that Canadian Cheddar is very good Cheddar, rather like the best English Cheddar, and Australian Cheddar is not quite so good. But they all sell at 1s. 1d. per lb. to the consumer, including Wensleydale which is a special cheese. I think that we all agree that the cost of living in this country has gone up since the war and that the price of Cheddar cheese—the hon. Lady will correct me if I am wrong, because I cannot remember the exact figure—was about 1s. 1d. before the war. I think that cheese is probably the only thing that has not gone up in price and Cheddar cheese and "mousetrap" still stand at 1s. 1d. per lb. to the consumer.

There are, I think, too many cheeses called Cheddar. I agree with my hon. Friend that it might be possible to organise the industry in such a way that when we have Cheddar coming from "X", which people may like, and Cheddar coming from "Y" which some may like and others may not, they will be able to ask for a special Cheddar cheese coming from such and such a place, because they like it. If the hon. Lady eats her cheese ration, she will notice the difference beween the Cheddar of one week and the Cheddar of another week. I understand that this difference is due to the fact that Cheddar is made in different parts of the country or 'may be imported.

I am not trying to make a case for the big cheese manufacturers and factories, and my final word is a plea for farmhouse cheese. I know that the hon. Lady will tell me that paragraph Io, which gives the Minister terrific powers, was in the wartime Order, and it may have been necessary during the war when we did not want to talk about cheeses but about how to win the war. Now we have peace, and we are more concerned about things of this sort which may have slipped through the House because of lack of vigilance of Members—who were occupied with more important things during the war—but are not going to be allowed to slip through in time of peace. If we are to debar the ordinary farmhouse makers from making the special cheese which they used to make before the war, I think that would be a very sad thing indeed. How can any farmhouse keeper—if that is the right word—hope to make cheeses if they are governed by such an Order as this, the explanatory note which consists of two lines, and gives no indication of what it is about, while the Order itself consists of five pages. I cannot see how any farm housewife or any farmer can ever hope to keep up the manufacture of one of the great delicacies of this country, the farmhouse cheese, if they are to be subject to such Orders as this.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Baker White (Canterbury)

I want very briefly to deal with the first schedule to this Order, which refers to the prices which are to be charged for cheeses. In doing so I hope I may be allowed to give the background of those figures. I calculate from the figures given by the Ministry of Food that the amount of cheese available for consumption in 1946 was in the neighbourhood of 218,000 tons. From that I calculate that the total imports were in the neighbourhood of 200,000 tons, and, therefore, the home production was presumably about 18,000 tons. Our imports of cheese amounted to £26 million, of which £8 million worth came from New Zealand, over £6 million from Canada and over £8 million from the United States. These three great groups of imports were all of the Ministry of Food standard cheese, what is known as Cheddar.

I venture to suggest that it is always wise to produce as much food at home as possible, and my belief is that this Order will have the effect of decreasing and discouraging the production of bulk cheese here. I cannot understand the prices fixed for imported cheese and how those prices are related to home produced cheese. Blue vein cheese is not regarded by the Danes as a particularly high quality cheese. Danish Camembert is regarded by the Danes as a much' higher quality cheese, yet it is priced at 3s. per pound. I cannot understand why the French blue vein which is undoubtedly the same is priced at 6s. per pound. It is not that much better. Camembert cheese imported from France is priced at 2s. 6d. per whole cheese per box. I weighed a box this evening. It weighs nine ounces, and that gives a price of 5s. This French Camembert is a low grade cheese, because the French, in order to conserve their milk supplies for butter making, have made an order lowering the standard of Camembert. It is also a skimmed milk cheese and yet it is priced at 5s. per pound while our own cheese is priced at 1s. 1d. per pound. I do net understand that figure at all.

I agree that this Order offers no future at all to the home cheese industry. That industry was important in the past, and it can be important in the future. The skill is there on our farms; the machinery is still there; and the milk will be there one day. Do the Government also realise that our high quality cheeses can be quite an important export? There is a market for high quality British cheese, and particularly in America they are prepared to pay high prices for it. If the Government by this Order destroy this industry they will destroy an important future export. I believe the effect of this Order is to condemn us for all time to this dreadful standard of cheese, which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Taylor) called "mousetrap" cheese. I would venture to point out that discouragement of home food production in any category may lead to the position described in the lines: In vision, the worm in the wheat, In the shops, nothing for people to eat, Nothing to eat in Stupidity Street.

10.36 p.m.

Mr. Kendall (Grantham)

I want to ask one question, on paragraph 12 (2) in relation to the N.A.A.F.I. organisation. The question is whether or not the N.A.A.F.I. organisation will be able to purchase cheese, and whether they will be able to sell cheese, as they do today, to civilians as well as Service people, to the detriment of the little shopkeeper. Because N.A.A.F.I. do not come under the maximum price Order they will obviously get the cheese. I know that in my own Division there is a great deal of disquiet about the N.A.A.F.I. being able to get more privileges than private traders. It seems to me that under paragraph 12 (2) of this Order, once again N.A.A.F.I. is going to get things which other people cannot get. I would like a specific answer from the hon. Lady on this point.

10.38 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Edith Summerskill)

I think it has been made clear that the purpose of this Order is to provide maximum prices for the sales of Roquefort cheese which the Ministry have just purchased, and to increase the maximum prices of other blue vein cheese. We have, at the same time, taken the opportunity of consolidating this Order. I must thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving us an opportunity of having such a wide Debate. I think it must be clear to the House why it is necessary to control the import of cheese, to ensure that cheese producers are licensed, and to control the prices of cheese. This system has been instituted during the period of milk shortage, and unless we make Orders of this sort, the milk supply, which, as every Member in this House knows, is often very critical, would be diverted to other purposes. Secondly, it is important that we should know exactly the source of our cheeses—whether they are imported or home produced—to ensure that the cheese is offered to the Ministry in the first place, and also that it is suitable for the ration. Members who have spoken have abused to some extent our imported cheese. I deplore the fact that it has been characterised as "mousetrap" cheese, because I can assure hon. Members that these cheeses all have the same nutritional value.

Lieutenant-Colonel Bromley - Davenport (Knutsford)

They have not the same taste

Dr. Summerskill

I think that the nutritional value is of primary importance. The function of the Ministry of Food is not to pander to an acquired taste, but to ensure that the people who have never had time to acquire these tastes, are suitably fed. Therefore, the cheeses which we import for the ration, which come from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States, are all hard-pressed cheeses. An hon. Member asked why Wensleydale cheese was bracketed with these other cheeses. The answer to that is because Wensleydale is a hard-pressed cheese. It is a little difficult, I know, to ask hon. Members opposite to imagine the difficulties of the small grocer. But I see that we have one or two practical grocers here, and perhaps they will understand the difficulties—and they are the difficulties which we, at the Ministry of Food, have to understand. It would be quite impossible and impracticable to ask the little grocer who has to serve, single-handed, hundreds of customers, to cut two ounces of Camembert, or Stilton, or any of the fancy cheeses mentioned this evening. The hard-pressed cheeses can be cut easily and wrapped rapidly, but Camembert would be very difficult to pack, and Stilton would crumble.

Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)

It would be all crumbs.

Dr. Summerskill

Yes, and the grocers would send most offensive letters to us if we asked them to do it. That is the reason why these special cheeses, to which I have no doubt the hon. Gentlemen opposite are very partial, cannot be include on the cheese ration.

Mr. Keeling

Is the hon. Lady aware that, before the war—before she, or the Ministry of Food, were born or thought of—

Dr. Summerskill

Thank you.

Mr. Keeling

Both the small and the large grocer found not the slightest difficulty in grappling with any of these alleged difficulties?

Dr. Summerskill

Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten that the cheese ration is two ounces a week?—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It was not uncommon in those days for people to buy pounds—a pound or perhaps two pounds at a time—of cheese, but now the grocer is called upon to cut these little packets every day. On the subject of imported cheeses, we are now importing many. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) asked if we had changed our policy and reminded me of a speech last January.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

On a point of Order. The hon. Lady has suggested that I had reminded her of something. I have, so far, reminded her of nothing.

Dr. Summerskill

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. It was the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) I meant. I suppose it was an association of ideas. The hon. Member for Twickenham asked why we are not importing more cheeses and why I made that speech in January last year. I can tell him we have decided to import these different cheeses which he will see in the Schedule, Column include Camembert and the blue vein cheeses.

Mr. Keeling

I would remind the hon. Lady that her speech of January last year did not refer to imported cheeses. It referred to English cheese.

Dr. Summerskill

I think the hon. Gentleman said that last January I stated that it was difficult to include imported cheeses in the ration and I gave the reason. It is because of the difficulties of the grocers, and these difficulties are still with us. The question has been asked why we do not import more cheeses, and why we do not take off all control. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If we import more cheeses we are relaxing control. For the moment we are controlling the import of cheeses. Surely that is elementary? The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) must not expect me to speak in words of one syllable, surely?

Mr. C. S. Taylor

Not necessarily one syllable, but the hon. Lady might talk sense.

Dr. Summerskill

If today we were to allow the import of these cheeses without control of any kind, it would mean that the milk which is now used for the butter which we also import, would be used for cheese. Therefore, although lion. Gentlemen opposite might enjoy their fancy cheeses, the children of the country would suffer, because they would be denied their butter. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) also talked about mousetrap "cheese. He is under a misconception. This is cheese of the Cheddar type. It is not really all of one type although it is all called Cheddar-type cheese. It comes not only from Cheddar, but from Cheshire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Derby, Wensleydale, and Dunlop. One hon. Member mentioned Dunlop. We have been having Dunlop cheese during the whole of the war. Now we propose to give a million gallons of milk for Stilton cheese, but that cheese will not go on the ration because there is not enough of it. Furthermore, we must have cheese of one type, in order that the grocer can serve it more easily. Stilton will, of course, be included in another Order.

Mr. C. S. Taylor

The hon. Lady challenged me just now when she said I expected her to speak in words of one syllable. I expect to understand what she is saying. She says we have had these cheeses during the war. Now she says we must consider the small grocer and have one type of cheese. The point I and my hon. Friends were making was, might we not have—

Dr. Summerskill

The hon. Member wants more and I think I was perfectly justified in chiding him just now. I said quite clearly that this was one type of cheese. It may come from Cheddar or Cheshire, or the other places I have mentioned, but it is all a hard pressed cheese which is generally called in the country a Cheddar-type cheese. Is that quite clear?

Now let me deal with speciality cheeses. A number of hon. Members have suggested that speciality cheeses were made here before the war and that we are now denied them. A very small amount of Blue Cheshire was made before the war. Some hon. Member mentioned Double Gloucester and Blue Vinney from Dorset. The production of these two cheeses, which I understand went chiefly to large hotels and clubs in the West End—[Interruption]. It is quite possible for us to find out where these cheeses went previously. The production of these cheeses, I say, was under one ton a year, and since the Milk Marketing Board has been functioning, it has been found that farmers are not too eager to manufacture these cheeses. There is one other cheese I want to mention, and that is the cheese known as Caerphilly. It is a cheese about which I observe hon. Members opposite seem to know nothing, because it is a workers' cheese. Caerphilly was the favourite cheese of the miners, and hon. Members on the other side of the House will, I think, agree with me, that we did try to meet their special taste at the beginning of the war. But the grocers told us that it was not taken up to a great extent, and that they would take Cheddar cheese in lieu of Caerphilly. I have, in those four cheeses covered in the main what were regarded as speciality cheeses before the war. I think I have made it clear to hon. Members that we are trying to meet the tastes of the majority of the people in this country.

The hon. Member for Twickenham asked me what proportion of cheese was imported. The answer is that 90 per cent. is imported, and that 10 per cent. is home-produced; 98 per cent. of the imported cheese is on the ration. The hon. Member also asked me why we did not get Stilton cheese from New Zealand. We have made inquiries about this, and find that New Zealand produces only a very small amount of this cheese. We are told, today, that it would be very difficult to transport, and that probably by the time it arrived here it would not be in perfect condition. The hon. Member for Eastbourne asked about the paragraph dealing with directions. I think, if he will study other Orders, he will find that this provision is always included. It certainly does give the Minister powers, but hon. Members will agree that these powers have never been abused. The hon. Member is in the cheese world, and therefore is in a position to contradict me if I am wrong.

Let me give a small illustration. Suppose one kind of cheese was being produced by one manufacturer—I might even say, lactic acid cheese, a special cheese manufactured before the war which was supposed to have certain medicinal properties. It is not manufactured now. Suppose a manufacturer decided to produce a little of this lactic acid cheese, and we gave him permission. We might then give him directions as to the price and conditions of sale. In a case of that kind, it would not be necessary to issue an Order. Paragraph 12 of the Order also was mentioned by the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall) and the hon. Member for Eastbourne. They referred to that part which deals with cheese which is to be used as ships' stores, and sold' to any Government Department. I was asked why this was included. On this point, again, if hon. Members will consult other food Orders, they will find that this provision is generally included for the reason that we are dealing with these Departments direct through the Ministry. There is no wholesaler or retailer involved. Therefore, we leave ourselves open to decide the prices.

Mr. Kendall

Will the hon. Lady before she leaves that point tell the House what kind of control she has over N.A.A.F.I. in relation to this cheese Order? What possibility is there of N.A.A.F.I. buying cheeses, which the small grocer cannot buy, and reselling them to civilians, as, indeed, they do in a little village in my constituency?

Dr. Summerskill

May I remind the hon. Member that N.A.A.F.I. has registered customers—the wives and relatives of serving men? Of course, these people will be buying cheese at the controlled prices. I do not think there will be any abuse there.

Mr. C. S. Taylor

On that point, I would like to ask the hon. Lady if, under paragraph 12, (2), it would be possible for N.A.A.F.I., if they so desired, to charge more than the maximum retail price. I have a second question, which is, if the Ministry are selling cheese to N.A.A.F.I., are the Ministry proposing to charge more than the maximum wholesale prices?

Dr. Summerskill

No. The registered customer would pay the controlled prices. But in every food Order—and I think there have been a number of Prayers in this House against food Orders—a provision has been included giving the Minister a fairly free hand. I think the House will agree that we have aimed in this Order at maintaining a balance. We have tried to introduce certain cheeses which will perhaps provide a little variety in the diet, but in the main, we have so controlled the manufacture of cheese in this country, and the imports of cheese, that the diet of the people is protected and that the milk of the country will not be diverted to the making of cheese or any other food which we consider is unnecessary today.

10.56 p.m.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)

I should not have intervened in this Debate were it not for the fact that the hon. Lady has made a series of statements which cannot possibly be allowed to go altogether unchallenged from this side. She has, I think, done an almost unique thing—she has contrived to introduce class consciousness into a Debate on a cheese Order. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food is out of the country at the moment, but I think the hon. Lady might well consult him, for unless his tastes have altered very considerably in the last few years, he still appreciates those cheeses which she contemptuously dismisses as being almost invariably, if not entirely, eaten in West End clubs. I should like to ask the hon. Lady, what is wrong with West End clubs?

Dr. Summerskill


Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I will sit down when I have completed my question. The hon. Lady makes a series of cheap jibes and attempts to suggest that the purpose of this Prayer is to try to preserve a few things, eaten only by a limited few, at the expense of things required by the general body of the public. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is true."] This, as the hon. Lady in her better moments knows, and as the Minister knows all the time, is wholly unfair and untrue, and it goes very badly with the appeal to the "Dunkirk spirit" and the union of all the best elements in the nation in the great production drive about which we hear so frequently from the Government benches.

The main purpose of my intervention is to challenge straight away the extraordinary doctrine of the hon. Lady that the main purpose of the Ministry of Food is to settle what people ought to eat instead of providing what they want to eat. It was, for a period, my privilege in the earlier days of the war, before it got too hectic, to serve in the position that the hon. Lady now occupies, and I know that we regarded our function—and I think she will give me this credit, for she remembers my association with the Department—as that of providing the people of England with what they wanted from time to time, and not always what some official or dietitian thought they ought to want. There are a large number of people in this country who want these types of cheese. They are by no means limited to a small social class. If there is anything in the Government's argument that every day, the opportunities of life are widening for the masses of the people, more and more people are wanting these cheeses and new foods which hitherto perhaps only a smaller and more limited class has wanted. It is wholly undesirable, when we are trying to bring forward a perfectly responsible suggestion for the annulment of an Order of this kind, that it should be suggested that all we want to do is to preserve limited privileges for a few.

Life now is, after all, drab enough and standardised enough, bound and ruled by licences, under which the average citizen is denied the right to do the ordinary, desirable and proper things he wants to do, without extra gibes being thrown across the House by the hon. Lady, who finds it impossible to deal with the merits of the Order, and so has to indulge in some class-conscious tripe. It may seem something like bathos that we should pass from a Debate on Palestine to a Debate on a cheese Order, but the two subjects have this in common: the difficulties in which the Government find themselves are, in both cases, based on promises which they made before the General Election. The difficulties in Palestine, with which we have already dealt, and the difficulties in regard to food rationing, date, very largely, from that exhortation of the Minister of Transport at the last Election, "Vote Labour and prevent any cut in your rations." Well, the general public of this country can now appreciate that at its true value.

Nothing has emerged from the hon. Lady's answer to deal with any of the detailed and proper criticisms that have been made. She has said nothing to show that this Order will not still further prejudice the building up of an export trade in the cheese industry, in which we have the facilities the skill, and the opportunities, but are hampered by Orders of this kind. There was in her answer nothing to justify these maximum price Orders, either in relation to such organisations as N.A.A.F.I.—as the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall) said—or in relation to the great disparity that exists, and will continue, between imported cheeses at, say, 3s. a pound and British Wensleydale at about one third of the price. She has not attempted to deal with those questions. We do not want to divide the House on every possible occasion. If we divided the House on every occasion when the Government are guilty of hasty and ill-digested legislation, we should spend the entire time of Parliament in having Divisions. But we must register our protest at one further indication of the incompetence of His Majesty's Ministers and their failure to appreciate the immediate needs of the moment.

Mr. Tiffany (Peterborough)


11.3 p.m.

Mr. Keeling

I had intended to claim the right to reply, but if the hon. Member for Peterborough would like to speak before me. I will delay doing so. If not, I am going to reply very briefly, because I do not think that hon. Members really want much reply to the deplorable speech by the Minister. The remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), that the Minister had imported a great deal of class prejudice, was received with laughter on the other side. I should like to ask them whether it is wrong to like Double Gloucester, but right for miners to like Caerphilly? If that is not class prejudice, what is? The hon. Lady suggested, also, that the cheeses that I mentioned were an acquired taste. This inability on her part to distinguish between cheeses is completely beside the point. Does she not realise that the British working man is out today to buy the best he can get, either in cheese or in other foods? What else has he to spend his money on? The fact that pineapples are sold off barrows in South London and East London at any price at which they are put on the market, is proof of what I say. This is not a class matter at all.

The Parliamentary Secretary misrepresented entirely what was said about the "mousetrap" cheese. We did not apply that to English cheese of the Cheddar type, but to imported Cheddar cheese. The taunt of "mousetrap" could be removed from imported Cheddar by keeping it until it is ripe. The Minister did not deal with that proposal. She suggested that the people existed for the Ministry of Food, and not the Ministry of Food for the people. Her contention that the grocer is quite incapable of grappling with a variety of cheese under the ration system would be rejected by any association of grocers. I have never heard any such suggestion made by grocers, and they are perfectly willing, I am sure, to serve the people in any way they can. She failed to answer a great many of the questions put from this side of the House, and in spite of the speeches which have been made by her chief from time to time about the importance of introducing variety into the diet of the people, she held out no hope whatever of, any increase in variety of cheese. I think that her speech would have been received with dismay by any audience of British people I had not intended to divide the House if she had given a reasonable and sympathetic answer to the reasonable suggestions and requests from this side of the House, but as she has failed to do that, I certainly intend to divide the House Question put, "That the Cheese (Control and Maximum Prices) Order, 1946 (S.R. & 0., 1946, No. 2109), dated 12th December, 1946, a copy of which was presented on 17th December be annulled.

The House divided: Ayes, 35; Noes, 180

Division No. 91.] AYES [11.7 p.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley) Robinson, Wing-Comdr. Roland
Baldwin, A. E. Herbert, Sir A. P. Scott, Lord W.
Birch, Nigel Kendall, W. D. Spence, H. R.
Bower, N. Lambert, Hon. G. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T Lindsay, M (Solihull) Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A. F.
Carson, E. Low, Brig. A. R. W. Wheatley, Colonel M. J.
Challen, C. Mellor, Sir J. White. J B. (Canterbury)
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Pitman, I. J. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Dower, Lt.-Col. A, V. G. (Penrith) Prior-Palmer, Brig. O Mr. Keeling and
Gage, C Ramsay, Major S. Mr. Charles Taylor.
Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South) Gooch, E G. Noel-Buxton, Lady
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. Grey, C. F. O'Brien, T.
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Grierson, E. Orbach, M.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Parkin, B. T.
Attewell, H. C. Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side) Pearson, A.
Awbery, S. S Gunter, R. J. Pearl, Capt. T. F.
Bacon, Miss A Guy, W. H. Plans-Mills, J. F. F
Baird, J. Hale, Leslie Poole, Major Cecil (Lichfield)
Balfour, A. Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R Popplewell, E.
Bechervaise, A E Hannan, W. (Maryhill) Porter, G. (Leeds)
Benson, G. Hardy, E. A. Price, M. Philips
Berry, H. Hastings, Dr. Somerville Randall, H. E.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick) Ranger. J
Bing, G. H. C. Herbison, Miss. M Rankin, J.
Blyton, W. R. Hewitson, Capt. M. Rhodes, H.
Boardman, H. Holman, P. Robens, A.
Bowden, Flg.-Offr, H. W. Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Hoy, J. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge) Hubbard, T. Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)
Brook, D. (Halifax) Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme) Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell) Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.) Scollan, T
Brown, T. J. (Ince) Janner, B. Segal, Dr. S.
Buchanan, G. Jay, D. P. T. Sharp, Granville
Burke, W. A Jager, G. (Winchester) Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)
Castle, Mrs. B. A Jeger, Dr. S W. (St. Pancras. S.E.) Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H (St. Helens)
Champion. A. J. Jones. D T (Hartlepools) Shurmer, P.
Cobb, F. A Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow) Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)
Cocks, F. S. Jones, J H, (Bolton) Smith, C (Colchester)
Coldrick, W. Keenan, W. Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)
Collindridge, F Kenyon, C. Soskice, Maj. Sir F.
Collins, V J Kinghorn, Son.-Ldr. E. Stubbs, A. E.
Colman, Miss G. M. Kinlay, J. Summerskill, Dr. Edith
Cook, T. F. Lang, G. Swingler, S.
Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G. Lavers, S. Sylvester, G. O
Corlett, Dr. J Lee, F. (Hulme) Symonds, A. L.
Crawley, A. Leonard, W. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Crossman, R. H. S Lever, N. H Thomas, D. E (Aberdare)
Daggar, G. Lewis, A W. J. (Upton) Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)
Davies, Edward (Burslem) Lewis, J. (Bolton) Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield) Lewis, T. (Southampton) Tiffany, S.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Lipton, Lt.-Col. M Timmons, J.
Deer, G. Logan, D. G Usborne, Henry
Delargy, Captain H. J Lyne, A. W. Wadsworth, G.
Dabble, W. McKay, J. (Wallsend) Watkins, T. E.
Driberg, T E. N Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.) Watson, W. M.
Dye, S. McLeavy, F. West, D. G.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) While, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Edwards. W. (Whitechapel) Mallalieu, J. P. W Whiteley, Rt Hon. W.
Evans, John (Ogmore) Mann, Mrs. J Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
Evans, S N (Wednesbury) Manning, Mrs L. (Epping) Wilkins, W. A.
Ewart, R. Mathers, G Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Fairhurst, F. Medland, H. M. Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Farthing, W. J. Mitchison, Maj. G. R Williams, W R. (Heston)
Fletcher, E. G M. (Islington, E.) Moody, A. S. Willis, E.
Follick, M. Morley, R. Wilmot, Rt. Hon. J
Foot, M. M. Morris, P. (Swansea. W.) Wilson, J. H.
Forman, J. C. Moyle, A. Woodburn, A
Ganley, Mrs. C. S Murray, J. D. Woods, G. S
Gibbins, J Nally, W.
Gibson, C W Neal, H. (Claycross) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gilzean, A. Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford) Mr. Michael Stewart and
Mr. Simmons.