§ 1.42 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South)
About a fortnight ago, about half a dozen housewives in Leckwith, Cardiff, came to see me to talk about their present difficulties. They expressed themselves extremely moderately, reasonably, and sensibly, and did not indulge in the passionate hysteria which serves the British Housewives' League in place of a policy. Nor did they put forward the mixture of cheap abuse, self-pity and political propaganda of the kind which has been so ably reinforced by the party opposite, much to their eventual discomfiture. The ordinary British housewife rather resents being depicted as a poor half-starved creature, dragging herself miserably from queue to queue trying to get a little sustenance with which to maintain her pallid frame. These housewives put their case to me, and I promised that I would say, on the Floor of the House, what they said to me. These are questions which the sensible moderate housewives of the country are asking, and I think it is a good thing that an answer should be given publicly to the points they raised.
I suppose it is a little improper for a man to put a woman's point of view on this matter, even although I am, like most of us here, married. Although there is a legal fiction which says that we are husbands and fathers whose duties in this House prevent us from carrying out our responsibilities in a practical way on many occasions, I wish to dare to translate what those housewives said to me. First, they put to me the burning question of fats—butter and lard. Housewives really do need more fats. I told them about the Government's groundnuts scheme, that this was a great experiment that might have been put in hand 10 years ago if only the trouble had been taken, but which was, nevertheless, being put in hand 2736 now. But the housewives want to get a glimpse of the top of the hill. What is the fats position likely to be in the next year or two? No one wants the Minister to say that in June, 1948, the ration will be increased, because no one in a responsible position could say such a thing. But could the Parliamentary Secretary give a general trend as to whether we are likely to get more fats? Is it true that, according to the merchants on the Baltic Exchange, large quantities of copra are coming from the Philippines? Could we have an indication of the trend of things in the future? If so, I am sure that housewives, if they could see the turning point, would march towards it more bravely and hopefully than they are doing at the moment.
A more detailed point they put to me was about the quality of cakes and biscuits since the increase in prices. They told me that they varied a great deal. Indeed, one said that the sponge cake she bought tasted like india rubber when she came to eat it the day after, and that her biscuits had a smell of camphor about them. Some reputable firms still turn out good products, but it is a great irritation to the housewife to see high prices charged for goods on which, apparently, no standard can be set. The housewife says, "If only I could make use of the fat given to restaurants and cafes to make the things of second-rate quality which they sell to me." That brings me to the question of cafes. The housewife says, "What principle governs the opening of cafes? How do local authorities work in this matter?" The housewife sees new restaurants being opened. We know that the quantity of fats and other materials they consume is negligible, but ought not the principle to be reversed and the emphasis put on private feeding? Should not we take the fats from the cafes and give it to the housewives to use in their own houses? That is a minor point but it is, nevertheless, one which has a very irritating effect on the housewife. I read, recently, that something like 190 million meals a year were served in public places, works canteens, and other institutions. That is a lot of meals. The housewife feels—and I am inclined to agree with her—that the emphasis should be turned from the direction of public feeding back to private feeding. We should give what we can to her, instead of to the cafes.
2737 Next, I was asked about vegetables. We know the arguments against control of prices, and that if a price control is pot on, goods tend to disappear under the counter. But in the case of vegetables they put this point to me, and I do not know the answer: "Vegetables go stale very quickly. We do not want to buy them two days after they come into the shops. If you put a price control on the shopkeeper will not tuck them away under the counter, because he will not be able to sell them when they become tale." Now vegetables are becoming more plentiful—I understand that prices have dropped slightly—why should not the Ministry of Food consider this question of price control? Does my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary now think that if the Ministry imposed price control of vegetables they would disappear under the counter? If she thinks that, could she say why? Housewives ate reasonable people, and would be satisfied if they understood the reasons
Then there is the question of luxury fruit, which is very disturbing. Housewives dislike seeing shops well filled with grapes and pineapples, and all the rest of it, when the prices of essential vegetables are so high. I disagree completely with the Ministry when they take the view that this is a difficult matter, or that it involves only a small proportion of our sterling. That is not the criterion which the housewife applies. She has become used, during the war, to a considerable measure of equalitarianism in this field, and thinks that that should be continued. I hope the Ministry will reconsider this policy of bringing in these fruits except where they are a conditional sale. I have been told that we can only get steel from one country provided we take grapes also. In that case we must buy the grapes. But, is that true in the case of pineapples? I do not know, and these housewives would like to know the answer.
They raised questions about things in the home itself. There were two newly married women among them, and they said, "We cannot get blankets. Since they came off dockets we have not been able to get them at all. Do not be pushed into taking them off dockets by political pressure until you are quite sure that they are in sufficient supply for us to get what we want." They were able to get Army 2738 blankets and in the absence of carpets one woman had dyed Army blankets and was using those as rugs. They said that we should keep Army blankets off dockets if we liked, but should put back ordinary blankets on dockets. What is my hon. Friend's opinion on that? Is it just a temporary disappearance of blankets from the shops? Are they to come into supply very quickly? Are the newlyweds to get hold of them or not? I am sure it would meet with the general approval of the people if he were to reimpose the docket system on these articles. Then there was the question of staircarpets. There was a second-hand piece which cost £50, and covered only about a dozen stairs. They asked why we cannot manufacture some utility fabric. Perhaps my hon. Friend will tell us whether it is possible to enter that field and do something a little more cheaply by public enterprise than private enterprise has been able to do so far.
Then there is the question of crockery. There are thousands of egg-cups. One can buy as many as one likes, but not a teapot, or cup and saucer. What about halving our exports, say for three months? I think they amount to something like 12,000 tons or 14,000 tons a month. How would it affect the export trade; would we lose a market? I can understand my hon. Friend's difficulty, and I sympathise with him. I know I am making it more difficult by my suggestion, but the people need cups and saucers, and unfortunately egg-cups are no substitute. If for two or three months we could ease up, and keep this crockery at home, I think it would be extremely valuable. The next problem was perambulators. I looked at the "Statistical Digest" and I saw that we exported 126,000 prams last year. I do not know whether my hon. Friend takes credit for that or not, but he is a father, so am I, and I say every baby ought to have a perambulator. There is no point at all in exporting a single perambulator until every baby in this country can be assured of having one. I was snubbed by the President of the Board of Trade on the last occasion when I mentioned this, snubbed lightly, but snubbed even so, but I still say we ought not to send them abroad—I do not care what the dollar position is—until we are certain that there are sufficient in this country.
§ Captain John Crowder (Finchley)
Has the hon. Member any idea where the prams are going, as they are not going to America?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I was hoping my hon. Friend could tell us that. He is in a weaker position if they are not going to dollar areas. Then there is the question of clothes horses. Do you know—
§ Mr. Callaghan
I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Do hon. Members know that half a dozen laths held together by a carpet tack cost 22s. 6d.? Do they know that an ironing board with a bit of felt on the top and a strut costs 34s. 6d.? I think it is utterly disgraceful. Cannot we put some sort of control on this sort of thing? After all, the party opposite are converted to it now, and there would be no dissension. We would have a unanimous vote, and the whole country would rise up and call the Minister blessed. I was also asked about the next clothes rationing period. I venture into this field with considerable diffidence. They ask, if the Government is going to lower the number of clothes coupons in the next rationing period, could they be given as much advanced warning as possible because they would like to plan ahead. They would like to know if they could afford an extra summer dress, or if they ought to keep their coupons for a winter coat. That seems to me to be sensible. It does not matter to us men, because we wear the same suit summer or winter. Can the Minister raise their hopes in any way, or even dash them to the ground, so that they will know where they are likely to be?
They made an admirable suggestion. The Royal Ordnance factories are manufacturing taps and a lot of things which are necessary for the home. These housewives said, "Why not manufacture a utility vacuum cleaner, or washing machine, which a working-class housewife could afford to buy?" She is entitled to as much leisure as those who can afford these things, and she has less help in the home. Why not have a go at that job? Cannot we do something by public enterprise at which private enterprise has failed? These were some of the questions that I was asked, quite moderately. They are not interested in calories, and indeed I am bound to say that a calory is just 2740 as much a mystery to me as an atomic bomb, or nuclear fission, or even permutations on a football pool coupon. Although I am very impressed and overawed when the scientists tell me we want 3,000 calories, I would be equally impressed if they told me that the number was 300,000, and I would know just as much about it. I do not need a slide rule to tell the House what is being said about these things. Let us start from the women's end, and say what they think, instead of talking about calories and differential calculus, and the rest of it. They have complaints, and feel that they have a most difficult task at the moment, and everyone agrees. On the other hand, they say that if they could be told the reasons for this sort of thing, they would understand. I will conclude with the words with which they concluded: "Do not believe all the nonsense you hear. We know that if the food was available and if the goods were available we would have thorn, because no Government would be stupid enough, for its own peace of mind, not to provide them." But, having said that, the questions still remain in their minds, and I hope my two hon. Friends will reply to these questions. I apologise for having given them the details at such short notice.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Miss Colman (Tynemouth)
In my constituency, and whenever I make a speech at women's meetings, I always make a point, as other hon. Members probably do, of getting all the information I can about the difficulties of the ordinary working-class housewife, especially of those with small incomes. I have found, as has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan), that the great majority of housewives do understand the difficulties of the present situation. They understand that many shortages are due to world shortages. But there is a number of problems that afflict them that appear to them to be unnecessary irritants. Let me quote a list of apparently unnecessary irritants that I have drawn up from recent women's conferences at which I have spoken, some of which have been mentioned by my hon. Friend, and about which I am in the process of writing to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade.
Cups and saucers. One often cannot buy them, but one can buy any number 2741 of pie dishes, for example. Very often one can buy cups but not saucers. Secondly, there is an acute shortage of baby clothes. Baby clothes are just as important to babies as perambulators, and vet in many places one just cannot buy them. Third, a very real problem to many people, is the acute shortage of outsize clothes. I had an example in my constituency recently, about which I have written to the Parliamentary Secretary. Men and women who are above the ordinary size find it extraordinarily difficult to buy footwear and clothing. The fourth and last example I would give, about which I have had complaints, is that one can go into shops in the big cities and can without coupons buy very expensive curtain material, some of which, I am told by women—I am not an expert on this, and am but quoting what I have been told—can be used for making clothing—dressing gowns, for instance. People with good incomes can buy this material and use it for such purposes, whereas for the cheaper kinds of curtain material one must give up coupons. The expensive curtain material, even though it cannot be used for other purposes than making curtains, uses up yarn which could be used for making materials useful for the ordinary housewife.
Those are the kinds of complaint I get. Working class housewives bring these complaints to me and say, "Why cannot these difficulties be avoided? Are they not making our job unnecessarily hard, though we do understand the difficulties of the situation generally." I want to support my hon. Friend the Member for South Cardiff in asking these two things. First, if these irritants are not avoidable, people should be told the reason. Where people are told the reason they are very ready to understand, and to make every possible allowance. But they should know the reason why it is possible to buy certain expensive things but not to buy the cheaper things, and why it is possible to buy cups but not saucers, and so on. Secondly, if these difficulties can be removed, then they ought to be removed at the very earliest opportunity. If they were removed a very considerable amount would be done for those who, I think, are the hardest working section of the community, without exception; a section of the community which has put up with difficulties probably more patiently than any other section.
§ 2.5 p.m.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Edith Summer-skill)
When my attention was drawn to the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan) was going to raise the question of the grievances of housewives on this Adjournment Motion, I did hope that he would, in his characteristic fashion, tackle some of the more fundamental problems of her whom I consider to be the Cinderella of the world—the housewife, who toils seven days a week and does overtime. We do, I feel, have many Debates on economics in this House, but we never, apparently, devote a full day to discussing the conditions of the most important producer in the country—the producer of babies; babies who will become workers, and solve some of our most difficult economic problems. I was disappointed that my hon. Friend was not a little more bold in his approach, and did not tackle some of the housewives' deeper problems. Next time he proposes to speak on the subject I would ask him to allow me to brief him. I could give him some excellent tips
I think that, in his peroration, he said that the final thing that his little group of housewives had said to him was, that they knew that, if the Ministry of Food had the food, we should let them have it. How true that is. We do not withhold the food from the housewives because we are sadistic, because we are careless, because we are bad administrators. The food is withheld simply because there is a world shortage of food and we have not got the food to give them. On the question of fats, I am sorry that I cannot satisfy my hon. Friend's curiosity. He knows as well as I do that it is impossible to get groundnuts from India; that our fat imports are very limited; and that the outlook has been so difficult that we have had to embark on a very large scheme in Africa; and he knows full well that that scheme itself is only just getting under weigh. So, I am afraid he cannot go back to his housewives to satisfy them on the question of when the fat ration is going to be increased.
On cakes, I am very pleased to have this opportunity of explaining why the maximum price of cakes had to be raised. It was raised in February to 2s. 6d. from 1s. 6d. a 1b., because the prices of the ingredients of cakes had increased. The price of dried egg had increased by 2743 4s. 6d. a 1b.; the price of fats by sixpence a 1b.; the price of dried fruit by threepence a 1b., and the price of sugar by penny a 1b. We had, of course, very long discussions with the bakers and all those people concerned in the baking of cakes, and we were convinced, having examined their costings very carefully, that it was necessary to increase the price if we were going to give the country a good quality cake. My hon. Friend says he knows about the housewives—
§ Dr. Summerskill
Having had those very long conversations with them, he ought to know about them now. I can assure him that the housewives would have been very annoyed if they had been offered a cake of very inferior quality. Perhaps the lower priced cake may not be as palatable as he and they would wish, but it is possible at 2s. 6d. a 1b. for the bakers to bake a cake which is very acceptable to most people in this country. To safeguard the housewives we have compelled the bakers to observe certain conditions. At least 40 per cent. of the cake, by weight, must consist of fat, sugar and egg. The selling price of the cake must not exceed 2½ times the price of the ingredients. Our enforcement officers have been given special instructions to make a point of seeing that these conditions are observed. I emphasise that we want the full co-operation of the housewives. For instance, if the lady who said her cake tasted like india-rubber had taken a specimen to the Food Control Committee and had complained, it might have been possible to have traced the unscrupulous trader who, probably, was exploiting her.
I must point out to the hon. Member that we make these orders, and rules and regulations, but if they are to be operated satisfactorily we must have the co-operation of the public. I ask him to ask his housewives to help us to trace these people.
I think that several housewives have suggested that bakers' allocations of these ingredients should be added to the domestic ration. Surely, this would be wrong. The people of the country would not cheerfully face the prospect of being denied cakes. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that many housewives have not the facilities to cook cakes in their 2744 own homes. There are 30,000 people concerned in the manufacture and sale of cakes. We should be presented with a very difficult problem, if we decided to re-allocate the ingredients to the housewives.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
What does that mean? Does the hon. Lady mean that there would be an ensuing unemployment in the cake-making industry, if these ingredients were reallocated?
§ Dr. Summerskill
Certainly. There are 30,000 traders making cakes. Obviously, if we decided to withdraw the ingredients and to distribute them with the domestic rations, these men and women would have to find other jobs. With regard to the quality of the cakes in general, it must be remembered that bakers are restricted to 45 per cent. of their pre-war usage of dried fruits, 55 per cent. of the sugar and 75 per cent. of egg and jam. Therefore, it is quite impossible for them to make cake of the quality to which we were accustomed before the war.
On the question of vegetables, I think the hon. Member knows why we took the controlled prices off vegetables in the autumn of last year. As a rule, we consider taking the control off a commodity if it is in more than adequate supply. If we left controls on it would simply mean that the maximum price might become the minimum. Therefore, in the case of vegetables, we lifted the control. I am afraid that the Ministry of Food could not foresee the bad weather we experienced during the winter, and the ensuing shortages. We were then faced with the problem of the short supply of cauliflowers and other vegetables. What should we do? Should we re-impose control and thereby perhaps force the limited supply under the counter, or leave off the control and allow the available amounts to be distributed throughout the country? We decided to leave off the control.
Since then, we have given an open general licence to importers. That meant that we were presented with another difficulty. If we imposed control at this stage, it would mean that our imports necessarily would be limited. The hon. Gentleman said that prices are gradually coming down, and I agree. We hope that very soon we shall see a great change.
2745 Finally, in regard to catering establishments, this question has been raised time after time I must remind the House that anything from a coffee stall upwards where food is sold is a catering establishment. The description covers industrial canteens, police and fire service canteens, school canteens for the children, cafes and restaurants for office workers and shoppers, and residential hotels. Most of the food is sold to workers and consumed by workers. Not more than 10½per cent. of the national consumption of rationed food is eaten in catering establishments. Two-thirds of it is consumed by workers and young people in works and school canteens, and one-third of it in restaurants. I was asked what factors determine whether or not an applicant should have a licence. In the first place, an ex-trader automatically gets a licence Then we come to another category to which we give preferential treatment. A disabled ex-service man who can prove that he is incapable of undertaking any other work is put on a special preferred list. He is given a licence when a vacancy occurs. Of course, we take into consideration consumer need
Lately, we have been more flexible and have taken into consideration the degree of congestion in an area, and whether or not there are large queues outside catering establishments. I think it is absolutely wrong for the hon. Gentleman to say that catering establishments should be closed and the available food distributed on the domestic ration
§ Mr. Callaghan
What I said was that before we add to existing licences we should look very carefully, to see whether the emphasis should not now be placed upon private people, because many of the licences issued seem to be adding abundance to already adequate facilities.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I think I have proved that most of the cafes are used by workers and their families. If the hon. Gentleman believes that cafes should be limited, I do not think his attitude is consistent with the one which he has presented to the House today when he said that he was speaking for the housewives. Nothing helps the housewife more than to know that rations can be supplemented by one 2746 or all the workers in a family having a meal in a cafe or canteen.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I agree. I have already said that we cannot supply canteens everywhere. What we are trying to do is to give more licences now in an endeavour to relieve those parts of the country which so far has not benefited by the existence of a cafe We have taken these other factors into consideration. I am prepared to say that the housewives of the country would be dismayed to discover that cafes are being closed, with the result that they would have to give their menfolk, their sons and daughters, an extra meal at home. I think I have dealt with most of the points raised by the hon. Member. I assure him that the Ministry of Food is a consumers' Ministry. I have said before that the housewives are our masters, that we are very conscious of their needs and only limited supplies prevent us from increasing the rations.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Belcher)
I imagine that it is unusual for two Ministers to reply to an Adjournment Debate even though they happen to be junior Ministers. On this occasion it is fully justified, because the subject is of the utmost importance. I doubt whether there is any subject in the domestic field which is exciting more comment at present than the difficulties and grievances of the housewives of this country
I welcome the opportunity to discuss these difficulties in the reasoned atmosphere of this House. It is far better that the subject should be dealt with in this way than in the way it is being dealt with outside by some organisations who appear to think that good slogans will see us through. I do not think they will. I think it is far better that we should discuss in the House these difficulties and the reasons for them and the possibility of eliminating them so that the subject can be fully understood by all concerned. My one regret is that we have not really time in an Adjournment Debate to discuss the whole range of the issues which affect housewives at the present moment.
The hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Miss Colman) referred to two 2747 specific shortages in clothing—at the two ends of the scale, baby clothes and outsize clothes. I am very well aware of the shortage of baby clothes. The hon. Lady knows that I have a personal interest in that matter. The birthrate today is about 250,000 per year higher than it was before the war, and 250,000 babies take an awful lot of clothing. The hon. Lady will be aware of the general shortage of clothing, beginning with the yarn and ending ultimately with the clothes. We are doing all we possibly can to encourage manufacturers of baby clothing to go ahead and manufacture more than they did pre-war. It is extremely difficult, particularly because the baby clothing industry depends on a few specialising firms. The matter is really an extremely difficult one. The hon. Lady did not mention baby shoes, but I can tell her that today we are actually making more baby shoes than we did before the war. The reason for the continued shortage of baby shoes in the shops is, I am convinced, that today parents have more money in their pockets and are therefore able to buy more new shoes for babies than they could in prewar days. That creates a problem for us.
There is again a problem in the case of outsize people. Quite understandably the manufacturers of clothing are reluctant to spend available cloth on clothes which take a larger proportion of cloth than the normal ones. We do our best to deal with that situation, not only by exhortation. I am continually talking to manufacturers and begging them to look after the outsize people, of whom there are a very large number. It is not generally realised that between a quarter and one third of the women of this country qualify for that size. We have some personal experience of that matter, I know. In addition to exhortation we go further and make available to these people additional coupons in respect of the outsize clothing they make. Having regard to the overall shortage of clothing, it is bound to be extremely difficult to deal with these end-of-the-range classes.
Curtain material presents an extremely difficult problem for the housewife. She sees comparatively expensive curtain materials in the shops which she can buy off the ration but which she cannot really afford. The reason for the price of those fabrics which can be bought off the ration 2748 is that they are expensive to weave. they use particular grades of yarn and the weaving of them is a specialised operation, and there is in addition a 100 per cent. Purchase Tax which makes a very considerable difference to the price of any article. It would be a mistake to imagine that it is not possible to buy materials outside the ration. Whether they would be regarded as satisfactory by the ordinary housewife I am not in a position to say, but it is possible without coupons and dockets to get certain cretonnes and other curtain material of which there is an increasing amount coming along. It is possible to get dyed hessian and plastic sheeting. In the early days of plastic sheeting it was not the kind of stuff I would like to see hanging up at my windows, but recent examples I have seen are at moderate prices and are quite pleasing, and supplies are fairly good and should improve.
With curtains and clothing and other materials we have been handicapped by the reluctance of people to return to the textile industry. Our people are not anxious to go and work in cotton and woollen mills. Cotton and woollen mills are not terribly pleasant places to work in. Prior to the war the conditions and wages were very poor. In a time of full employment in those areas at any rate it is not easy to persuade people to return to industries which have not had too good a reputation in the past. With the improvements which are undoubtedly taking place in the textile industry at present, I believe we shall see a steady return of workers. Indeed, we are seeing that now. We have also been handicapped by the fuel shortage and by the extremely bad weather, and that was bound to cause a certain amount of dislocation, which we are just 'beginning to get over.
The hon. Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan) began by asking questions about blankets. He queried whether we were right in taking blankets off dockets. We thought a great deal about it before we did. It is true that retaining blankets on dockets meant, that the priority classes—people setting up home for the first time and those who had had their homes blitzed and were now rebuilding them—were able to enjoy a real priority, but after seven years it is not only the newly-weds and those who have been bombed out of their homes who are feeling the pinch. A housewife who has 2749 been married ten or 15 years whose home was not bombed out finds herself after these seven years in very serious need of replenishing her household linen. As the supply was becoming better we felt justified in removing blankets from dockets, especially as supplies of Government surplus blankets were available.
As to Government surplus blankets, I am inclined to think that a lot of people are too finicky. I do not wish to be misunderstood in this direction. I do not suggest that anything is good enough for those who are in need of blankets at the present time, but I am not going to accept that Government surplus blankets are not good blankets. When I was a small boy we had to use these rather coarse coloured blankets because we could not afford anything else, and as far as I can remember—it is a long time ago—they were not too bad. I suggest that if Government surplus blankets can be obtained they should be got. My mother had a way of dealing with them which made them both brighter and softer. Large quantities are available. As I come here every day I pass shop after shop with their windows full of them. Until the supply of white blankets improves, people would be very foolish if they neglect to take advantage of the opportunity to use these Government surplus blankets.
My hon. Friend went on to speak of carpets. There is a very grievous shortage. Hardly any were manufactured during the war years. The firms were concentrated. They have now been de-concentrated, but they have been rather slow on getting off the mark, partly because of a shortage of yarn and partly because of a shortage of workers in the industry. Secondhand carpets are sold at a controlled price. The price control Order is rather complicated but the general rule is that the secondhand price must not exceed the firsthand price. That means that the secondhand price today must be related to the selling price of the goods themselves or to comparable goods when they were new. I know that there are some dealers—I do not suggest for a moment that they are a majority—who do not observe these conditions as carefully as they should. That is where the public come in. We have local price regulation committees, and if anybody is asked to pay for a secondhand carpet more than he or she thinks that carpet is worth. it is their duty to themselves and everybody 2750 else to report it to the local price regulation committee who will be only too pleased to go into the question with a view to enforcing the price control Order which is designed in the interests of the public.
In the case of new carpets, the prices are regulated at all stages. There have been recent increases. The price is related to the cost of manufacturing the article. The cost of manufacturing the article has increased considerably partly due to a very considerable increase in the wages of the operatives, partly to the increase in the cost of the raw materials and partly to incidental increases in costs such as fuel. It might interest the House to know that the margins which are being allowed today in the carpet industry are a good deal lower than the margins which were allowed in the prewar years. I think the cure for the shortage of carpets can only be an increased production, because it has to be remembered that the demand today is higher than it was in prewar years since quite a number of people today re able to afford carpets who in prewar years could not do so.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Would the hon. Gentleman, tell us what percentage of carpet production in utility ranges is being exported and, if it is a large percentage, is anything being done to cut it down, so that housewives can have more supplies?
§ Mr. Belcher
To the best of my knowledge no utility ranges of carpets are being exported at all, but I am prepared to check up on that. On the subject of crockery, I am aware that there is a serious grievance. I take a keen interest in these matters and I keep my eyes open, and I have seen considerable supplies of crockery available in some districts. In others I am told there is none available and I have frequently asked for an investigation into the distribution of crockery I am always told that, with small variations, distribution is achieved smoothly over the whole of the country. The manufacturers do their best to see that there is an adequate distribution. We were picking up at the end of last year, but crockery is an industry which is peculiarly susceptible to interference from anything that happens to the fuel supplies, and there has been a serious interference with the crockery industry recently because of the coal shortage. That, again, 2751 is something which I hope will pick up before long, because we have been able to make an adjustment in an upward direction.
My hon. Friend mentioned the subject of egg-cups. I was rather struck when he told me that it was possible to buy any amount of egg-cups but that you could not buy cups and saucers and other crockery. It would certainly be wrong if egg cups were being manufactured to the detriment of cups and saucers or tea pots or anything else, so I made an investigation and the answer was that there are large quantities of egg cups being manufactured, and there were during the fuel crisis. I do not know whether my hon. Friend is familiar with the crockery industry. I am not familiar with the terms, but I know that there is a round sort of plate which is pushed into the kiln containing cups and saucers and, in an effort to make the utmost use of the space available inside the kiln, when they have filled this round plate with cups and saucers, they fill in the space in between with eggcups. That is the reason for the large quantity of egg cups, and it is not an attempt to meet the additional demand for egg cups arising out of the Ministry of Food's great success in providing us with more eggs during the last six weeks than we have seen over the last six years.
§ Mr. George Porter (Leeds, Central)
Is the Minister suggesting that they were prepared to waste china clay, so as not to waste drying room in the kiln?
§ Mr. Belcher
It was not a shortage of china clay, but a shortage of coal; although china clay is not in wonderful supply, there has never been any interference with pottery production because of a shortage of china clay.
§ Mr. Belcher
Because there was not enough room on the plate for more cups but there was room for egg-cups. There was the labour and raw material, and it would have been a shocking lack of economy and use of labour and material when the space was there. My hon. Friend asked why we did not halve exports in an attempt to relieve the home market. There are one or two answers to 2752 that. In the first place if we halved the exports of crockery—and crockery at the present time is one of our most valuable exports, and I would like to pay my tribute to the crockery industry of this country both for the quality it is producing, as will have been seen by visitors to the British Industries Fair, and for their magnificent export achievement, because they are exporting this crockery all over the world and it is the finest thing in its kind to be found anywhere—if we halve those exports, while it would mean some accretion to the home market it would make no appreciable difference to the needs of the British housewife.
Furthermore, the greater part of the crockery which we are exporting is decorated. Decorated crockery is extremely difficult to control in price because you have to differentiate between different kinds of decoration and it is not an easy job. If it were not price-controlled and you released on to the home market 50 per cent. of that which is now being exported, it would represent only a very small addition to the total amount of crockery available and, since you could not effectively price-control it, you would not be meeting the needs of the most deserving poor housewife; you would be making available to those who have most money to spend a limited quantity of decorated crockery. The answer here again lies in an increase of supplies. We are doing all we can to secure them, and I believe that with the better fuel allocation to the pottery industry, we may expect to see some improvement, if not a dramatic improvement, in a very short time
I am doing my best to hurry along to the important question of perambulators. There is a good deal of nonsense talked in the country about perambulators, and I suppose the biggest piece of nonsense of all which is talked is that we are exporting large quantities of perambulators at the expense of the mother in Britain. That is not true. Exports of perambulators at present are well below 10 per cent. of our total production and, as against that, we have recently been importing large quantities of perambulators from countries on the Continent of Europe. I can give some interesting figures. In 1938 this country produced 572,000 prams and bedfolders; in 1946 production was 563,000—only 9,000 short of the 1938 figure. I cannot advise the House as to what are the possibilities for 1947, but I can say that, as 2753 a result of the recent improvement in the steel allocation to the perambulator industry, I have every hope that there will be some increase in the production of perambulators and bedfolders this year. I sincerely hope there will be.
There is an interesting feature about this. One of the reasons for the shortage of new perambulators today the fact that people are insisting on buying new prams for their babies. I was the oldest of a family of six and the perambulator which was used for me was used for my youngest sister, the sixth child It was handed down through the family At the present time, however, people do not want secondhand prams for the same reason—that they have more money in their pockets. It may interest the House to know—and I hope that as a result of what I am about to say I shall not be bombarded with a fan mail—that I possess in my home a twin perambulator. We have been trying to get rid of it at a knockdown price; in fact, we would give it away if we heard of a deserving case. So far, however, we have not been able to get rid of it, and every time I enter the house in the dark I bang into the perambulator and think of the Questions and Debates in this House on the supply of perambulators. If any hon. Member is anticipating twins in his family, and is prepared to accept my twin perambulator he can have it with pleasure.
§ Mr. Belcher
But you cannot determine production in those things in advance. On the subject of ironing boards, I admit it seems ridiculous to pay so much for such an admittedly simple article but, again, these things are regulated under the Prices of Goods Act, 1939, and the distributor's prices are controlled by percentage ratios. At the present moment we are reviewing those prices. So far as the manufacturer's prices are concerned, the manufacturers must be prepared to justify them under the Prices of Goods Act. So far as the consumer end is concerned, if any case of excessive, or apparently excessive, price is brought to our notice, we shall be prepared to consider it and take action if necessary. If my hon. Friend has cases of what appear to him to be excessive prices, and he will let me know, I will certainly inquire into them.
2754 A word about utility washing machines and vacuum cleaners. I do not know that the suggestion of adding to the domestic market at the present time a large quantity of electricity consuming articles would be a very wide one, but from my observation in the factories up and down the country which I have visited, I should say it is to be expected within a comparatively short time that there will be large quantities of these goods coming on to the market. I am aware that vacuum cleaners and washing machines do not use large quantities of electricity as compared with the service they render, and I agree flat it is high time the working class housewife was spared the drudgery of rubbing her clothes out in the scullery in the way so many have done hitherto.
Finally, on the subject of clothes rationing, of course I cannot say—it is impossible for me or for anybody else to say what will be the clothes ration in November. We are all the time limited by the labour factor in Lancashire and in Yorkshire.
§ Mr. Driberg
Last year it was said that one of the limiting factors was the high speed of demobilisation and the clothes which were issued as demobilisation suits. Now that demobilisation has been drastically slowed down, does it not mean that there will be more material available?
§ Mr. Belcher
It certainly does. But as against that plus sign we have to put a minus sign, because all those people who have been demobilised are- now drawing civilian rations, which almost counterbalances. It is impossible for me to say what will be the next clothing ration issue in November, but as against what has happened—against the postponement, for instance, of two months—it has to be remembered that the children's supplementary 10 coupons will be made available in August as usual, and that calls for a considerable amount of clothing. So far, we have not made any increase expressly for growing children, but I hope it will be possible to give them that increased scale which was introduced last year so that the children will suffer much less than other people from the cut male as a result of the fuel crisis. I think that will be of some comfort to the housewives.
I must reiterate that this shortage is not only the result of fuel or labour shortage 2755 or shortage of yarn; it is due very largely to the increased standards of living. People are demanding more and better goods than they had in pre-war days, and I am very glad they are, although it creates a problem. These shortages, while they are bound to be with us for some time will, I believe, be gradually overcome if the people of Lancashire and Yorkshire respond, as I am sure they will, to the call which has gone forward from us for modernisation, and reorganisation. If, under the better conditions undoubtedly existing at the present moment in the textile areas, more people will be prepared to return to that industry, then we need not be despondent about the future. But at the present moment we have to face these difficulties. We are well aware of the trials of the housewife; I think her patience has been remarkable—apart from a very small minority who, in the main, I do not believe are housewives at all, certainly not the sort of housewife with whom we are concerned this afternoon. I am very grateful indeed to my hon. Friend for having raised this matter on the Adjournment today.