§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Mr. J. S. C. Reid (Glasgow, Hillhead)
A year ago there were still some people who thought it possible to argue that ours was a well-fed nation and that there was no need to worry about the future of our food supplies. Since the publication of the Economic Survey for 1948 that argument is no longer open to anyone. At page 52 of that document the Committee will see set out the precise respects in which there has been a fall in the consumption of a number of commodities, and they will also see stated that,it would be wholly misleading to infer that the 'real' standard of life has remained, and will remain, the same.Then the matter is summed up in the figures, which show that the food available during the year has diminished by 200 calories per head per day on the average. Now, I do not myself attach primary importance to that figure: it would be of primary importance only if there were equality of sharing of the food which is available; but, as the Committee is well aware, that is not the case. And I do not say that it should be the case, for there are a great many who, quite properly, get more than the average: there are canteens, school meals, extra rations, and many other things of that kind, and as a result a great many get less.
One matter which I put to the right hon. Gentleman is that the time has come 846 when he should re-examine his method of deciding who is to get extra allocations of food. A number of applications have been referred to in the House during the year; they have been refused, never because the applicants did not need the extra food, but always because of some administrative reason. Latterly at least the right hon. Gentleman has adopted the expedient of remitting to the T.U.C. to decide who shall have extra food.
§ Mr. Reid
The right hon. Gentleman says, "No, no." If he looks at the OFFICIAL REPORT of 21St January of this year, he will see that the Parliamentary Secretary said, with regard to applications by employers for extra food for their workers:We do not discourage anybody, but, applications having been made, we allow the Advisory Committee of the T.U.C. to decide the matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January, 1948; Vol. 446, c. 205.]Therefore, it is no good the right hon. Gentleman saying "No, no" unless he wishes to argue with his colleague on the matter, because that was her view. There were many other cases: nurses, agricultural workers—who are constantly coming up—and many others, and we were always told, "This goes to the T.U.C. They give the advice, and we won't act without it."
§ Mr. Strachey
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has now placed the matter properly. His two statements contradict each other, but the second one is correct: we never act without the advice of the T.U.C., but we are not bound to accept that advice. That is the position.
§ Mr. Reid
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he would be good enough, in the course of his speech, to tell us what he regards as the prospects for this country in the future. We have heard from many quarters that the world food shortage, which has always existed, is likely to get worse. On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman has on several occasions approached the matter from a different point of view. For example, last Autumn, on 19th October, he is reported to have said:The world will sooner or later—sooner rather than later in terms of years—have vast quantities of food and raw materials to sell us again.In the Spring, on, I think, 17th March, he said that he disagreed completely with the viewthat the people of Britain would never again enjoy the plentiful standards of prewar years. Not even the most hasty conclusion suggests that in our lifetime we won't be able to regain the 1939 level and surpass it. I think it is quite possible that we may be able to do so in a relatively short time.Now, which of these is right? I think it may well be that there is a large measure of truth in both, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us.
I say that because, looking to the great growth that there has been in the populations of the East, which more than keeps pace with the rise in food supplies, I can see great difficulties in bringing any world food shortage to an end. On the other hand, it does seem that the time is approaching—indeed, if it has not in some places arrived—when there are surpluses in certain commodities in the sense that producers cannot sell their products at remunerative prices, or even at cost prices; and our trouble will be, as far as I can see, that for the first time since this country became a food importing nation, we have to see these surpluses go elsewhere because we cannot afford to participate in them.
I do not wish to pursue the long-term prospects very far, because I doubt if anybody can express a very detailed view about them. I should like to come to the short-term prospects. What are we likely to see in the coming year or years? Does the right hon. Gentleman still say, as he said in this Debate a year ago: 848There is no need whatever for the housewives or people of this country to feel that they will find it difficult or impossible, as is sometimes suggested, to obtain partly from at home and partly abroad the food which they need.… I am perfectly sure that this country need have no doubt whatever of its ability to obtain an ample food supply in the coming years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1947; Vol. 439, c. 1183–4.]Is that still the right hon. Gentleman's view? He did say, I think on New Year's Day, that we had then embarked on the critical six months when cuts in imports would be felt to the utmost. If that prognostication were right, it would mean that we should now be on the upward grade again. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether that is so or not.
Anyone who does not have access to information in the hands of the Government finds it extremely difficult to make any accurate assessment of the position, or, indeed, to offer any broad constructive criticisms, because the right hon. Gentleman withholds so much information. Of course, he has some arguments. He says—as he said two years ago, for example—that to reveal food stocks would cost the country millions of pounds. But I do ask him to look at the other side of the argument. I would say that all experience shows that there are only two ways of maintaining the efficiency of any organisation for any considerable period: one is competition; the other is publicity. If the right hon. Gentleman prevents competition and refuses publicity, what will happen is that rigidity, inefficiency and indecision will begin to creep in. I am afraid that will happen to some extent but it will be much worse unless the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to tell, us more than he does at present.
He is the head of perhaps the greatest trading concern in the world with a turnover exceeding £1,400 million per annum, and what do we get in the way of publicity? We get the Estimates. Many pages deal with the wages of the people in his office, but all that we get about the trading services could go on half a sheet of notepaper, and that is not really informative. We get the estimated total purchases and sales for the year, but then we do not know how much of that is for resale abroad. We welcomed the belated publication during the year of trading accounts, but again they do not tell us 849 much about the present, and nothing about the future. Although more than a year out of date, they did indicate this, to me, rather unexpected feature, that one-fifth of the whole of the Minister's dealings is for resale abroad, and when one comes to certain commodities, such as cereals, no less than one-half of his total dealings is for resale abroad. That may be all right, and I hope the Minister will tell us whether that proportion is being maintained, but it makes it quite impossible for us to make any inference from total figures as to what is to be the effect on the food supply of this country.
Then, thirdly, he has Press conferences where he makes highly selective disclosures and they, of course, cannot be fully reported in the curtailed Press of today. Therefore, some considerable time ago I asked the Minister to make available to hon. Members of this House what takes place at these Press conferences—I think there is a written note—but he refused to let hon. Members know what takes place at these conferences between himself and the Press, and I do not see why hon. Members of this House should be put on a lower plane than members of the Press who attend his Press conferences. I hope he will indicate today that he will reconsider that matter.
Then we used to have a number of White Papers on the food situation. There have not been many lately. It may be there is no need for them, but we did get quite a lot of useful information from them, and the only other source of information is from questions in this House. That depends on being able to get some prior knowledge from somewhere on which to build a question, and those questions are often met by the answer that it would not be in the public interest to give a reply. I ask the right hon. Gentleman how is it that it is all right to disclose, as the Government do disclose, stocks of many other things—metal, wood, cotton, chemicals, and so on—but never any food stocks. I know the argument that hiding these matters and prices keeps the foreign seller in ignorance so that he cannot drive so hard a bargain. Looking at some of the bargains, I rather doubt if he has been kept in ignorance. And, of course, as the right hon. Gentleman has so much encouraged bulk selling abroad, it is not difficult for a Government abroad with a trade representative here to discover quite 850 enough to avoid being at a disadvantage in bargaining.
I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to adopt any hard and fast rule in this matter, but what I object to is his having adopted a hard and fast rule for concealment, and I ask him whether he will reexamine this matter because, if he wishes to take advantage of well-informed public opinion and reasoned criticism in this House, in the Press, and elsewhere, he must afford the material on which that opinion and that criticism can be based. Some things, of course, do come to light, very often because somebody outside these islands has mentioned them. Let me remind the Committee of one—the potato muddle. I remind the Committee of that because the failure of the right hon. Gentleman to make a full statement on that matter, which I asked him to do some time ago, has resulted in a great deal of adverse criticism both here and abroad. If he has a good story to tell, surely it would be a good thing to tell it fully and avoid all that criticism. But what happened?
In a Press conference—I hope this is accurate because I have only a Press cutting—on 23rd March, the right hon. Gentleman was proud of the fact that he had just signed at least two new contracts for the delivery of potatoes for the coming six weeks or two months; one, 100,000 tons from Holland, and another 15,000 tons from Denmark, and I think there were others. That was at the end of March. A few weeks later, in April, potato rationing came off suddenly and a great deal of these potatoes which had been obtained at such great trouble became surplus and had to be disposed of at great loss. Now why did that happen? Was it just a mistake in the Ministry? One would forgive mistakes in an enormous trading concern of this kind, but do let us know about them. To tell us of a few mistakes and let us feel that we are being told everything raises far less suspicion and criticism than to feel that they are all hidden or, at least, glossed over, and we really do not know how much more is being lost in a way of which we have never heard.
Or is it that the Department is relying too much on statistics? That may well be so. I think a good many Departments of this Government are much too keen about statistics and much too 851 ignorant or much too inclined to discount practical knowledge. Let us know what is the position. More important than actual losses owing to mismanagement are lost opportunities because, in the present state of our food supply, it is obvious that we want to take advantage of every opportunity, and, indeed, to create them. I get the impression that some of the divisions of the right hon. Gentleman's Department are too inclined to wait to be offered things and too little inclined to go out and look for them. I am somewhat confirmed in that view by the way in which this is put in a pamphlet, issued no doubt with the right hon. Gentleman's approval, by the Central Office of Information called "Britain's Food." They say:The Government is making every effort to increase the rations of this country by finding sources of supply outside the dollar area, and with this end in view is approaching all potential suppliers."Is approaching"—two years after the crisis became obvious. I should have thought that all potential suppliers ought to have been approached long ago. I do not say that the right hon. Gentleman never moves without being asked. I think we all welcome the fact that, for example, he initiated the groundnuts scheme in East Africa. Many of us have criticisms to offer about the way in which that scheme has been handled, and may I say that there again a full statement admitting the mistakes which are bound to occur in the initial stages, and admitting them even if they are big mistakes, would go a long way to restore confidence in the matter. In other respects, the right hon. Gentleman is let down by his colleagues. For example, there is the astonishing story of the way it has taken four years or more to get a few engines to move the groundnuts in West Africa. I am sure we sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman there, but I should have thought somebody ought to have stirred up the laggards long before this.
A number of projects are not as far forward as perhaps they might be. I mention just one, because of its size. It has recently come to light that the right hon. Gentleman is considering utilising rubber seeds, of which I am told hundreds of thousands of tons go to waste every year. They have a high oil content of over 40 per cent. If it is practicable to collect and process them, there is 852 obviously a very large supply indeed of vegetable oils. It may prove that that oil is more appropriate for technical than for edible purposes, but that would not matter much because it would release more oil for edible requirements. It may even turn out that the whole scheme is impracticable, but, surely, it is very late in the day to start now to investigate this matter for the first time. I should have thought the necessary information could have been obtained and that, if it had been right, production could have been got going before now.
Against the right hon. Gentleman's Department I make the general accusation that they are astonishingly slow off the mark. Some of the difficulties may not be of his own making. Probably he has a good deal of difficulty with the Treasury but, after all, he is responsible and it is up to him to see that his colleagues are brought to realise the importance and seriousness of the situation. But there is a good deal which to a large extent he could cure himself. He does not delegate to traders in trade associations nearly enough of the practical jobs of allocation and procurement of foodstuffs. I hope he will be able to tell us that he is in process of reexamining the whole matter or that he soon will be. A great deal could be done in this way to avoid missing opportunities and to speed things up.
I do not want today to involve myself in any ideological arguments with the right hon. Gentleman. I should win the arguments but the right hon. Gentleman would not budge. My purpose is rather to try to put to the right hon. Gentleman things which he can accept without compromising his Socialist principles. I have limited myself, therefore, to proposals of that nature and I say that, without any compromise of his principles, the right hon. Gentleman could go a very long way in delegating to practical traders and associations matters which are now retained inside his own Department.
There are two other examples of refusal to buy obviously desirable commodities which I should like to put before the Committee, not only for their own importance but because they raise important general principles on which we ought to have some light. The first is a refusal to buy white peas from South Africa. The quantity was considerable—I am told 853 that it would have supplied about 10 million meals for the people of this country, that the offal would have been valuable and that mills standing idle would have been used. There was no criticism of the price. The whole story was that we could not afford this deal—and this with the sterling area. That was the excuse made recently by the right hon. Gentleman.
My next example, which is even more surprising, is of the refusal to buy tinned meat in Eire. This came to light following its disclosure by the Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture of that country. The right hon. Gentleman was offered 10,000 tons of tinned meat. He bought half and let the rest go, I think, to Czechoslovakia. This is what the Prime Minister of Eire said of the deal:It was somewhat strange, therefore, for them to find that they had to sell their canned beef not to their best customer, Britain, but to Czechoslovakia. It was more extraordinary to find that, if they produced canned horse meat, they would find a market in Britain.The right hon. Gentleman says that the canned horse project originated not with him but came from some private traders, but he adopted it and apparently submitted it to the Irish Government, unless they are not stating the facts accurately. The whole thing is so absurd that I do not propose to take time elaborating that complaint. For anyone to put forward the suggestion that we are reduced to canned horse meat throws a very lurid light on the whole matter.
I must refer again to the 5,000 tons of tinned meat. After an evasive written answer, the right hon. Gentleman told us on 23rd June that the issue was one of price—although we pay in unrestricted sterling and have a favourable balance with Eire. The price could not have been far wrong because the right hon. Gentleman bought 5,000 tons, but he would not buy the other half. Does he deny that hundreds of thousands of housewives in this country would far rather buy that 5,000 tons of tinned meat, even at a slightly higher price, than have to spend their money on imported expensive fruits and liqueurs and so on from the Continent of Europe? Of course they would. Why are they not allowed to do so? Why does the right hon. Gentleman say, on their behalf, "The price is higher than you ought to pay and I will not let 854 you pay it"? There cannot be any question of foreign exchange. The right hon. Gentleman is simply standing in the way of housewives and saying, "I know you would like this, I know you would be willing to pay the price, but you shall not do it; you shall spend your money on expensive luxuries instead." The right hon. Gentleman must think again about such a policy.
Let me ask him three questions arising out of that sorry story. First, is the sterling area a multilateral trading area or not? From his answers it appears that we are to be rationed in what we can spend, not only in the Dominions and Colonies where we may have an adverse balance, but also in Dominions where we have a favourable balance. I cannot understand how that can be reconciled with the view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the sterling area is a large multilateral trading area. Secondly, we were told when dollar cuts were imposed last Autumn that, so far as possible, they would be made up by stepping up purchases in other areas. Is that, or is it not, still the policy? If it is, I cannot understand how these two and many other offers were refused. Thirdly, the Economic Survey for 1948 tells us, on page 11:The 1948 imports include a somewhat larger volume of feedingstuffs than could be obtained in 1947.I will say a word about that later.A large part of the 1948 food imports is made up, moreover, of foods, such as fresh fruit, fresh and canned vegetables and miscellaneous processed foods, of rather low nutritional value which have been purchased in 'softer' markets to give some variety to the diet in the place of the Western Hemisphere foods which it has been necessary to cut.Why buy these low nutritional value foods, which, incidentally, are expensive in many cases, and refuse much more valuable foods which are offered from parts of our own Commonwealth? I cannot understand this. In the Commonwealth we pay in sterling and in these other countries in Europe we pay in other currencies although, no doubt, not in dollars. One begins to wonder whether we have been driven to buy these foods of low nutritional value but of high prices because there was nothing else, or because of the ineptitude of the Government in falling for these bargains when better 855 bargains were available. All we know on the subject does not give very much confidence on that.
I pass to bread rationing and ask the right hon. Gentleman whether this sorry business cannot now be decently buried and forgotten. Two years ago, in something of a panic over falling stocks, the Government introduced an ill-thought-out scheme of bread rationing and, after an initial period of embarrassment and inconvenience, people began to find that it was an ill-thought-out and unworkable scheme and they paid less and less attention to it. Any hon. Member of this House who does any shopping—and I am sure most do—knows perfectly well that for a long time now we have noticed that shops where we used to be asked for B.U.s have ceased to ask for them and rather wave one away.
It has been obvious for a long time that there has been wholesale disregard of this regulation, with the result that any saving there ever was has become quite negligible and there has been no attempt to enforce the regulation. We would have saved a great deal more, taking the two years as a whole—if saving was the object—by coming to some voluntary arrangement with those in the trade. The saving has been very small over the period. But, much worse than that, more and more people during the past 12 months have become accustomed to breaking the law with impunity. The right hon. Gentleman, by maintaining this system long after any usefulness it had had disappeared, has done a very ill service to the rationing system of the country by letting an important part of it disintegrate and run down. I hope that today we shall see the end of that story.
I hope that as soon as harvest prospects have become reasonably assured the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that he is going to lower the extraction rate for flour. I am told that even 2½ per cent. would make a very appreciable difference in the quality of bread and also in the amount of offals available for our farms. I ask him not to wait until he can make a possible cut of 5 per cent. but if he cannot make it 5 per cent. straight away to do something at the earliest possible moment.
On the footing that our bread supplies are assured for the coming year, I ask the 856 right hon. Gentleman if he can tell us what he is going to do with the new American aid? This time is he going to spend it on things we really need? I am not going back to old criticisms about the fact that he did not do that before, but I hope this time he will do so. I understand he has a free hand in the matter and I trust we shall not hear anything more of expensive luxuries being bought with this money. The bread supply having been assured, I would put first fats, meat and sugar. Fats and meat are perhaps the best and, indeed, they may be the only way of improving our position through the medium of feedingstuffs. May I put in a strong plea for sugar? It is available, has a high value, and would be extremely acceptable to the people of this country. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to make much more available at an early date, both in the form of sugar and in the form of commodities of which sugar is the main constituent.
I do not propose to say more than a few words about feedingstuffs, not because the problem is unimportant—it is probably the most important problem that confronts the Minister at the moment—but because I hope many of my hon. Friends will have opportunities of putting forward that problem from a number of different angles. The Lord President of the Council last year assured us that large increases of feedingstuffs must come from imports,… and even scarce dollars will be spent on all that is obtainable since this operation must lead to ultimate dollar saving.I trust that is the firm policy of the Food Ministry. I am wondering whether it is, because last Autumn the Committee of European Economic Co-operation told us that imports of approximately 1,700,000 tons of coarse grains had been arranged in Paris as the appropriate imports for the grain year just ended. We have not the final figures, but I think we are a great deal short of that, and for next year that Committee bargained for 2,600,000 tons of coarse grains imports. Can the Minister tell us whether that is now likely to be achieved? If it is, it is a little odd that the Minister should be so hesitant in telling us about increases or alterations in the rationing system, and if it is not, I think it high time that we knew.
Of course, we all welcome the recent agreement with Eire. Not only does it 857 mean better relations with that country, but it means more food for our people. Some of us are as yet ignorant of how that agreement is to be fitted in with the increase of feedingstuffs for our own people. No one, I imagine, at least no one on this side of the Committee, would support an agreement which meant depriving our own people of this very essential ingredient of agriculture in order to give it to someone else and it is quite clear that imports into Eire from hard currency countries must be financed by us.
It is very nearly three years now since the war ended and this Government came into power. Those three years have witnessed a steady decline in the quantity and quality of our food supply. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] It is in the White Paper. That decline has not been arrested, but has accelerated in the last year. One recognises the difficulties which confront the right hon. Gentleman, but I say emphatically that much more could have been done to overcome those difficulties both by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues if they had shown more foresight and more enterprise. It does not much interest us or the public who need the food whether the responsibility rests primarily upon the right hon. Gentleman or his colleagues—it rests on the Government as a whole. On that record we condemn the Government and we only hope that, at long last, they may begin to learn from experience.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The Minister of Food (Mr. Strachey)
It will perhaps be for the convenience of the Committee if I try to deal with some but not all the points which were raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) before I come to the Estimates proper. I will not say very much about potatoes because a good deal will probably be said later in the afternoon, and the Parliamentary Secretary, who will reply to the Debate, will deal with that matter. I will merely say that it is perfectly true that the forecasts that we made for the end of this potato year—for the month of May and the beginning of June—were, I use the word quite frankly, falsified by the event in the sense that the potato crop this year was the earliest in living memory and was extremely bountiful. All I can say is that I heartily wish that every estimate I made was 858 falsified in the same way. [An HON. MEMBER: "Cheer up."] That was something to be cheerful about, at any rate.
As to the South African point, and the right hon. Gentleman's complaint that we were missing offers of food, we should have liked to buy those white peas, but we have a certain amount to spend in South Africa and we could not fit in that purchase. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman speaks of South Africa as being in the sterling area, he is correct in one sense, but beyond a certain point any purchase from South Africa means that we get that much less gold so that it is the exact equivalent of hard currency or dollar payment. We simply could not afford these peas. [HON. MEMBERS: "Snoek."] We brought snoek, and I am glad to be able to tell the Committee that snoek is being steadily bought by the housewives of this country.
It always seems to me to be rather a pity that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who tell us that they are so keen on the Commonwealth, as I am sure they are, have chosen to single out a Commonwealth product which the South Africans are extremely keen to sell to us. They made us a very substantial gold loan to enable us to buy that and other things from their country, and they have been met by a barrage of derision by hon. Members opposite. That is their little contribution to Commonwealth solidarity, and, quite frankly, it is a poor one. I think it is because that product has a funny name that it amuses them.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman spent an appreciable amount of his time on this alleged transaction concerning tinned meat from Eire. May I simply say, and I do not think that it merits saying much more, that we did not buy all the tinned meat at the price at which it was offered to us at that particular moment. We did a little bargaining. The whole thing has now been fixed up. Under the Eire agreement we are buying a larger quantity of this tinned meat and the price is being arranged. Until we came to the bargain as a whole we did not simply buy just what was offered us and pay just what we were asked to pay for that meat, which seems to me a prudent thing to have done.
While on the subject of Eire the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked for an 859 assurance that under this new agreement we did not provide Eire with any feedingstuffs. I can give him that assurance at once.
§ Mr. J. S. C. Reid
No, what I said was that obviously we must finance the purchase of feedingstuffs by Eire, and I wanted to know how that fitted in with not depriving us of what we needed?
§ Mr. Strachey
It is impossible for us to forbid the Eire Government to buy feedingstuffs. They are a sovereign Government and we cannot do that, but. I repeat that we are not providing the Eire Government with any feedingstuffs.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that we were buying fancy goods from France and elsewhere in soft currencies—
§ Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman about the canned horse flesh? Was it for human consumption?
§ Mr. Strachey
The position is simply that we were approached by an Irish firm which wished to sell us canned horse flesh. All we did was to ask the Eire Government, "What about this? What is the nature of this offer, what is the nature of the firm, what is the nature of the product?" We never bought a pennyworth and that is all there is to the whole matter.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say why, if his rule was that no horse meat should come into this country for human consumption, he thought it worth while bothering the Eire Government about the matter?
§ Mr. Strachey
I know of no such rule. There is no ruling on the subject. We were offered hors meat. We inquired of the Eire Government as to the nature of the offer, the product and the firm. We never bought any. I should not imagine that it would be a suitable thing to buy, but I certainly would not lay down any rule that no horse meat was ever to be imported into this country.
§ Mr. J. S. C. Reid
The right hon. Gentleman is expressly denying what Mr. Dillon, the Eire Minister of Agriculture 860 has said. Let me repeat it to him and see if he denies it. He said that he found an inquiry waiting on his desk for him from the British Ministry of Food asking for "unlimited supplies of canned horse meat." That is what Mr. Dillon said. Is that wrong?
§ Mr. Strachey
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman forces me into the position of saying it, that is an inaccurate statement of the position. As I have just said, we had this offer, we made inquiries of the Irish Government as to their view of the offer. That is precisely what happened, no less and no more. I do not think that I should take more of the time of the Committee on that point.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of other highly nutritious foods from the Commonwealth being refused. I should like to know what he meant by that. If he means that whenever some private firm in some part of the Commonwealth offers us some foodstuffs and quotes a price for it, we do not at that moment close with that offer at any price we are asked, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is perfectly right. We often bargain for quite a long time. If the foodstuff is not of a particular kind or important in quantity we may not carry through the bargain; that is perfectly true. But that we have refused any foodstuffs from the Commonwealth at a price that we can afford, or in quantities which have any significance I completely deny. That we have certainly never done.
Turning to bread rationing, let me say at once that I sympathise very strongly with many of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's arguments. I do not need anyone to press me to get rid of bread rationing, which obviously everyone of us would like to end at the earliest possible moment. I cannot make an announcement to the Committee on that subject today, but they may absolutely rely on me to be rid of it at the very earliest possible moment. I hope and trust that that moment will not be too long delayed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also asked me to lower the extraction rate. I can really only say the same thing. Obviously we should like to lower the extraction rate further, not an unlimited degree further, but certainly further. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if we 861 cannot lower it by 5 per cent. it would be well worth while to lower it by 2½ per cent. It we were in a position to do that I should certainly do so. For the reasons that the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave, I would give the ending of bread rationing, of which he spoke, priority even over the lowering of the extraction rate. I think it is more important to do that and do that first. If we are able at the same future moment to do both we will certainly do both.
I turn to the Estimates before the Committee.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)
Will the right hon. Gentleman, or the hon. Lady later, be dealing a little more fully than the right hon. Gentleman has done already with the point when the Eire Agreement comes into force?
§ Mr. Strachey
If the hon. and gallant Member, or anyone else in the Committee, cares to put specific points to us on that I am sure that my hon. Friend will deal with them.
I think that the Committee should look at the Estimates before them, because I readily concede that they may not be entirely clear to hon. Members as they stand. They involve a very important issue of food subsidies and what the amount of food subsidies may be. What the Committee may see with some surprise is that the real Vote which matters in this Estimate Vote H—"Trading Services (Net)" shows, or appears to show, this year, a decrease of no less than £150 million. It drops from last year's net expenditure of £459 million to £302 million. At first sight one might suppose, therefore, that there would be a drop in the food subsidies of that amount, because although these figures cannot correspond at all closely, the Committee might expect that there would be some general correspondence. It would expect them to move, at any rate, in the same direction.
For we deliberately sell the food which we buy from abroad at a lower price to our own people than we buy it abroad. The difference, roughly speaking, is the subsidy. So how is it that, while, as I think the Committee knows, there is no sign, unfortunately, of the subsidies going down, that figure in the Estimates is £150 million less? There are a number of explanations. It is not a question of de-stocking, which could be one explanation.
§ Mr. Strachey
The word "de-stocking" means having less stock, taking from stock. It is quite a simple phrase. It might be thought that the stocks of the country have been run down by that amount and so I hasten to say that that is not the case. The stock figures are, if anything, a little higher, and not lower.
The real explanation, as I dare say the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows—but I think it is important to make it clear to the Committee—lies in the Andes Agreement, and the prepayment of £84 million to Argentina. Some of the food paid for last year did arrive during last year, but there is £84 million worth of food paid for in last year's accounts which will arrive in this year. Therefore we have really to add £84 million to this year's figure—to the £302 million—and subtract £84 million from the £459 million. There are other differences, too, but they are very nearly self-balancing. So the Andes Agreement and the prepayment of £84 million really accounts for the whole of the £150 million difference between those two figures.
The Committee would probably like to know, and I think they have a right to know, what may be the position with regard to food subsidies. I cannot pretend that I can give them a firm estimate of what the food subsidies will turn out to be by the end of the year. The Chancellor has always repeated that he cannot, at this stage, give such a firm estimate. But I can say, though this is hypothetical, that if no changes are made on either side of the account, the subsidies are running at the moment at a rate of something like £470 million a year. That is undoubtedly a very high figure, but before the Committee considers that that figure is unduly high they should take very carefully into account what we are getting for that money. I believe that we are getting two things, a most valuable nutritional value, a most valuable effect upon our population, and a most valuable economic effect.
That brings me to the question of the nutritional history of the past year, which was touched on by the right hon. Gentleman. It is perfectly true that last Autumn the nutritional prospect for the first six months of 1948 was a dark one indeed. The Chancellor told the House, 863 perfectly frankly, that we feared that the calorie intake of the population, on average, would drop to below 2,700 during the first six months of 1948. That was because of the balance of payments crisis which struck this country in August and because that meant that we had to stop all purchases of foodstuffs from the United States, saving no less than £12 million worth of dollars a month by that cessation of United States purchases. Added to that was the fact that it was one of the worst potato harvests on record.
Therefore, my nutritional and scientific advisers looked forward to the first six months of this year with the greatest apprehensions. We took some very active measures to try and fill the gap. We were helped, and I say this very readily, by some very favourable factors in the weather, in climatic factors. But it is interesting to note, now we have just finished that first six months, that as a matter of fact the calorie level remained almost exactly 2,800, and not below 2,700 as we had feared. It did not drop by that 200 calories of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke.
§ Mr. Strachey
How the average per capita calories were made up? I will certainly consider that.
The Committee may ask how that was done. It was done first and foremost by the process, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, of the switch from dollar sources for foodstuffs to sterling and other currency sources. He thinks we lost opportunities for buying in those fields, but I assure him that it was not a very easy task to fill a gap of £12 million worth of food a month suddenly without any loss in the actual calorie intake of the country.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)
May I ask this question? I think it is important. The right hon. Gentleman says that he switched his purchases from dollar countries to non-dollar countries. Before that, he was arguing in his speech that purchases from South Africa and other countries inside the sterling area which supply us with gold or gold earning commodities must be accounted as being the same as hard currency areas. I think 864 those two arguments are contradictory. I would like him to explain the difference.
§ Mr. Strachey
I think that South Africa is a special case. I am sure the hon. Member would agree. For various reasons—and hon. Members opposite may know some of them—South Africa is a distinctly scarce currency country at the moment and it is not comparable with other places in the Empire.
§ Mr. Strachey
Canada is a dollar source. The hon. Member knows that as well as I do. But it is perfectly true, and the hon. Member makes a good point if he is arguing it, that we must not think we can buy things in the non-dollar world for nothing. It is only less difficult to buy them there than to buy from dollar sources; but they all have to be paid for wherever they come from. This means that when we made this switch it was absolutely necessary to make it; but it does not mean that we got the food for nothing. Therefore, we must still look critically at the prices of the particular foodstuffs we buy even though they come from Commonwealth sources. That is the answer to the point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid). I certainly think that the record of our switch in filling that gap is a complete answer to any accusation that we are losing opportunities of buying food wherever we can pay for it.
I will say a little more in detail about those Commonwealth sources and about the 37 bilateral negotiations which have been concluded since last August, many of which are of great importance to our food supplies. But, of course, that is only one way in which the gap left by our inability to buy dollar foods has been closed so far. The other way is by a great effort in the home production of foodstuffs, an effort which was greatly assisted by good climatic conditions—I say that at once—in the field of potatoes, milk, eggs, fish and vegetables. All those supplies were most appreciably above what they had been the year before. That was a very great help. Again, by negotiation with our good friends in Canada, we were able to get back that one ounce of bacon which we lost in the Autumn, from a dollar source, and we were able to increase by one ounce the oils and fats 865 ration. We were able to do that temporarily. We announced it only for 12 weeks because we were not sure, but so far at any rate, we have been able to carry on that increase and I have good hopes that we shall be able to carry it on in future.
That is the first fruit—and only the first fruit—of the very great efforts which we are making in the field of oils and fats. I would agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it is perhaps the most difficult long-term problem in food supplies which this country faces. At any rate, we were able to keep up just about the 2,800 calorie level through these very difficult first six months—the period after the convertibility crisis of last August and before the negotiation of the European Recovery Programme. That was due partly to our good luck—we had the weather—but it was an achievement. I do not claim that achievement for my Ministry or for the Government as a whole: it was a national achievement. It was something of which we can be proud. On the other hand, I would say that 2,800 calories is by no means too much. It is a low figure. I would be the first to agree with that. It is a figure which is sufficient, in the opinion of our scientific and nutritional advisers, but it is only just sufficient. Therefore, our food supply needs the most careful handling in distribution. Above all, there must be the fairest possible distribution.
I should like to refer to the welfare services which the Ministry continues to run—the infant welfare service, the orange juice, the free milk, the milk at reduced prices, and school meals. Fifty-two per cent. of all school children now receive school meals as against 4 per cent. before the war. All these services need most careful administration throughout the country. I would say a word of the work of the men and women behind the counters in the food offices. I am sure that many of us—I dare say all of us—have cursed them at one time or another. They have to do meticulous and intricate work. I certainly am not good at filling up forms and, like others, I get irritated; but I think we all agree that these men and women who work under heavy pressure—pressure unrelieved in any way up to now—deserve very well of the nation 866 for the great efforts they make in the food offices throughout the country.
That brings me back to the question of subsidies. We kept up the level of 2,800 calories with the utmost difficulty. We could not do any more than that: we were just able to do that. Therefore, there is a most imperative need for the fairest possible sharing of foodstuffs. That would be absolutely impossible without this heavy subsidy expenditure. That is the first and basic justification of this large sum of money, which the Committee today is, in effect, asked to approve. We need only think of what the effect would be on the sharing out of the foodstuffs of the country if that expenditure were stopped and food subsidies ceased to exist. There is no doubt that the steep rise In food prices which would take place immediately would sharply cut down working-class consumption of food.
Therefore, it would be a most attractive proposition for some people, because it would mean that probably very little food rationing through coupons would be necessary. It would mean that those who had the money to spend on the higher priced foods would find that they were far more readily available than they are today. I readily admit that. That is why I find in many fields a great clamour against food rationing and food subsidies. I addressed a certain meeting of ladies in my constituency which achieved a good deal of national publicity. They made a very great clamour to me against food rationing and food subsidies. It was perfectly true that, from their point of view, food would be much more freely available to them if we abolished food subsidies and food rationing because, from that moment, fair shares of food would become impossible.
But there was an interesting feature which I do not think was reported in the national Press. It always struck me as interesting that the place at which that meeting was held is a curious place in my constituency at Dundee. It is a hall which has the curious name of the "Free Breakfast Hall." That name commemorates the fact that it was founded by a pious jute mill owner in order to distribute free breakfasts to destitute people in Dundee. I reminded that audience—I do not think they took very much notice of that or of anything else I said—that if they had their way, and if their point of view 867 became the policy of the Government, then certainly we should return to those conditions for the mass of the people of Dundee which were summed up in the existence of and the need for a free breakfast hall.
§ Mr. Strachey
It is precisely because we do not mean to return to those conditions, precisely because so long as there is difficulty in the total quantity of food which we can make available, that we are determined to see that food is really fairly shared. That is why we ask the Committee confidently to vote this considerable proportion of the money they are asked to vote for this purpose.
If people ask what value they are getting for their money, I ask them, first and foremost, to look at the children of this country. I do not know whether the Committee saw a remarkable tribute to the condition of our children given by a most distinguished foreign visitor recently, Professor Henri Bonnet, of the French Academy of Medicine and a Director of the French Red Cross. Only last month, after he had just visited this country—not just casually, but after coming here with a delegation of 12 child specialists and making the most careful examination of our children in the schools—he said:In 10 years, England will have a generation of young men and women superior, physically and mentally, to those of any other European country. I am convinced that the excellent physical condition of these children is due to their feeding. Their diet is perfectly balanced, and the system of milk in schools, school feeding and extra vitamin nourishment provided by clinics has had obvious results.I commend that to the Committee as evidence of value for the large sums of money which we are expending in these food subsidies.
I think there is, at this moment, another and very important aspect of our expenditure on food subsidies, and that is the part which it is playing in the determined attempt we are making to reach economic stability in this country. The White Paper on Personal Incomes and Expenditure has been mentioned. That is an effort to do a very difficult thing, which is to check, and, if possible, to reverse, or at any rate to arrest altogether, the development of the 868 inflationary pressure which is going on in this country and all over the world, though a good deal less in this country than in most parts of the world. I do not know whether the Committee is fully seized of it, but it is a fact that, in the last two months for which we have records—April and May—neither the index figure of retail prices nor the index figure of wages moved upwards. They both remained stable for those two months, retail prices at the figure of 108 and wages at the low figure of 105. I do not mean to say that that proves that we have conquered inflation. Certainly not—not in a mere two months. But I think this does show the first fruits of that policy of stabilisation, and it shows for the moment, at any rate, that the inflationary spiral of price increases, which is bound to be followed by wage increases, but never followed quite successfully by wage increases, is being checked and arrested for the moment.
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington)
When the Minister gives the figures of 108 and 105, can he say with what date he is comparing them?
§ Mr. Strachey
The comparison is with 1947. I suggest that the value to the economy of this country of the money we are expending on keeping food prices stable, quite apart from the human and nutritional side—the hard-headed economic side—is enormous. I therefore commend to the Committee this expenditure, large as it is.
The only other subhead to which I should like to call the attention of the Committee is one which was also referred to by the right hon. and learned Gentleman; it is Subhead I—Capital Costs of Factories. It will seem a rather puzzling fact that, in the subhead concerning the production of groundnuts in East and Central Africa, there is no expenditure given at all. The technical explanation of that is that, since the passage of the Overseas Resources Development Act, 150 million was voted to the Overseas Food Corporation, which is conducting that scheme, and the money is drawn from the Consolidated Fund. That does not mean, of course, that the money has not been drawn. It is drawn through the Ministry of Food, and, therefore, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was perfectly right in raising it on this occasion.
869 I have just returned from a visit to East Africa, and I think the Committee will expect me to say something about the scheme, and, above all, about its financial aspects, on which we are speaking on a Supply Day, so I will approach it from that side. Since I have returned, I have had a financial re-assessment made of the present prospects of the scheme. In order to do that, it is absolutely necessary to make certain arbitrary assumptions, both on costs and on the prices of the product, because both, quite clearly, have altered in the two years that have passed since the original estimate was made. I say arbitrary assumptions because I do not pretend to be able, and I am quite sure that nobody else is, to forecast for the five or more years ahead what course costs will take or what groundnut prices will be. It is possible to say, however, that both costs and the prices of the products will be considerably higher than in the original estimate.
It is rather important—and the Committee will have a right to know—whether on the balance of these items of costs and prices of the products—the groundnuts and the oils and fats—the financial prospects of the scheme, the profitability of the scheme, are going to improve or deteriorate. So we made a calculation in which we quite arbitrarily took the figure that the non-recurrent costs of development—the costs of the clearing operations, the building of houses, railways and ports—were going to be no less than double the original estimate.
I ask the Committee to take note of the fact that I am not saying that they are going to be doubled. I do not know how much they are going to be increased. All I am saying is that I am taking the hypothesis that they are doubled, and calculating the effect of that on the scheme. We worked this out somewhat carefully, and we find that, if the non-recurrent capital costs of clearing land, getting it ready for cultivation and all the ancillary things which that involves, were doubled, it would add some 365, to the cost of production of groundnuts per ton. It depends, of course, on the period over which we amortise the money, on the forecast of interest rates and the like, but that is the order of magnitude of the increase of the cost of production per ton.
870 Hon. Members may ask why is it probable that the cost of clearance will be higher. There are two reasons, and the first is because of the process of rising prices all over the world, from which the scheme cannot possibly be immune. For example, the cost of petrol and Diesel oil is 35 to 40 per cent. greater than when the scheme was launched. All the things which the scheme has to buy have obviously gone up in price. And let me make it clear that certain technical problems associated with rooting the ground after the initial clearance will almost certainly demand more tractor-hours than was provided for in the original forecast. Therefore, that will add to the capital cost of clearance. The original forecast will undoubtedly be exceeded for both these reasons.
What has happened in the meantime, while these capital costs have been rising, to the prospects of the scheme in the sense of the value of the products which it is designed to produce? When the scheme was launched, it was designed to produce groundnuts, and it was reckoned that it would sell groundnuts for £30 per ton for the first three years, dropping to £20 per ton. Today we are having to pay for certain marginal quantities of groundnuts not £20 or £30 a ton but between £65 and £70 a ton. Therefore, this is an expression of the degree to which the value of the article which we are going to produce in East Africa has also gone up and, as the Committee sees, it has gone up far more steeply even than the increase in the cost of the product, the clearance of the land, the petrol and so on which will be needed for those purposes.
We reworked the finance of the scheme, not on astronomical prices such as £65 or £70 a ton for the product, although it would have been perfectly legitimate to do that. We took the figure which we are paying for our main supply of groundnuts today from Nigeria—£41 a ton—and we reckoned, perhaps optimistically, from the point of view of the Ministry of Food, that after three years that price would begin dropping by £2 10s. a ton a year. We applied those proceeds to the proceeds of the groundnuts scheme and worked out what the balance would be if we doubled the capital cost of development, added substantially to the annual agricultural costs and sold the product at 871 the new price which I have mentioned of £41 a ton, dropping by £2 10s. a ton after the first three years.
We found that the result was that the scheme, far from being less sound economically, or less profitable than the original estimate, was substantially more sound and profitable. Although the cost may have gone up—I do not say by double but by a substantial amount—the prospect of the price which will be realised for the product has gone up far more, and that surely is an expression of the fact that we were abundantly justified when we picked out oils and fats as the field for a major public effort to increase the supply, because the very high price in the world today is simply an expression of the world famine in oils and fats.
§ Mr. John Paton (Norwich)
At what date are these estimates likely to be given reality by the production of substantial quantities of groundnuts?
§ Mr. Strachey
I shall be coming to that, if my hon. Friend will bear with me. Before I come to that matter, I should like to read to the Committee a few words from a very eminent businessman, Mr. Faure, of the United Africa Company, who, I think it is safe to say, knows as much about the prospect of oils and fats in the world as anyone. His words are a little critical of hon. Members, all of us, but perhaps the Committee will bear with that because I think it is of interest. Speaking a couple of months ago, he said:When I read the recent Parliamentary Debates I was astonished at the lack of understanding, the lack of knowledge and the blindness of our elected representatives in the House. I am almost getting tired of having to say it over and over again, but the pure naked fact is that the world is heading for a famine in oils and fats, not only in the primitive tropical regions but also, and even more so, in Europe and the other importing countries. Europe will this year be short of 2,000,000 to 2,500,000 tons of fat. That is the equivalent of five million to six million tons of groundnuts. We could only overcome the shortage by increasing exportable surpluses in the tropical countries. That and nothing else is the problem to which the East African groundnut scheme is endeavouring to provide the solution, and whilst the production of some 600,000 or 800,000 tons of groundnuts will go far to alleviate the oil and fat hunger in our own country, the much deeper significance of the scheme is the creation of a prototype which must supply the data and the experience that, if applied to all tropical areas, will enable the world to supply these things. It is really appalling that there is still such a lack of realization 872 of the dangers of the situation, and it makes me boil with indignation when this great scheme, to which everyone at home and abroad should give his fullest support, is being made an object of political squabbles.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
Did the gentleman, whom I know quite well, forget to refer to vastly over-optimistic statements by the Minister?
§ Mr. Strachey
I will come to that point; it has been mentioned in a Debate last week. That quotation, at any rate, is an expression certainly not from anyone on this side of the Committee but from a very eminent businessman, of how he regards the aspect of our affairs if and when a scheme of this sort becomes subject to unreasonable criticism. No one suggests that it should be immune from criticism—it is vital that it should be criticised—but when it is quite obviously used as a political counter—not necessarily always in the House, though sometimes it is, but in the public Press—that is how it strikes an eminent businessman who is intimately concerned with the problems at first hand.
In that connection, the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me about rubber seeds. It is a matter of great interest, but he is quite misinformed in thinking that nothing has been done in the matter. Research work has been going on for over a year. Unilever, which is naturally intensely interested in any new source of oils and fats, is very concerned with the matter and has been making experiments both in Nigeria and in Malaya. I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that both that firm and ourselves will do our utmost to see if some new source can be developed. Whether it is a practical proposition or not I do not pretend to have a useful opinion, but it would be most valuable if it could be developed.
All this is not to say for one moment that everything has gone or will go smoothly with the groundnuts scheme. No great pioneering venture of that sort could possibly go smoothly. The right hon. and learned Gentleman challenged me to admit in the frankest and freest possible way what mistakes had been made, even if they were big mistakes. I will do that, but in doing so I would say that in speaking of the mistakes which have been made in the first year of operation—and, of course, there have been such mistakes; no one could have 873 avoided them—it may sound as if I am blaming the United Africa Company, which was the managing agency during that period. I certainly do not wish to do that. I believe that the United Africa Company deserves well of this nation for the way in which they undertook that scheme and for the job which they have done. But I think it is true to say that they did make, in particular, two serious mistakes, and I will mention them because I have been challenged to do so, and it is right that the Committee should be aware of them. But I mention them always with the caveat that I certainly am not blaming the managing agents for those mistakes, because any other form of management would have made perhaps not those mistakes but other mistakes. No one could possibly have begun that scheme without learning from experience.
The two mistakes which were made by the managing agency during their period were these. The first one, less important, was that their storekeeping accounts in the earlier stage were defective. They did not keep track fully of all the supplies and materials which were brought in to Tanganyika, and there is a difficulty in straightening out those accounts. I think if anyone has recently visited East Africa he will to some extent sympathise with the managing agency, the United Africa Company, in that failure, if he saw, as I did, the way in which these stores arrived in East Africa. The Committee should remember that a very high proportion of them are surplus war stores, brought literally by the ton from Middle East, the Far East and the other theatres of the last war, and they arrive in the holds of the ships—often very valuable and useful material—in the most extraordinary mixture.
I saw the work of sorting out these stores—hand tools, tents, kitchen utensils and other kinds of stores, all mixed up together. They were bought, of course, exceedingly cheaply and there is some very valuable material—but I could see that it would be very difficult in the rush of the opening period to account for them meticulously. We are doing our very utmost to see that these stores are accounted for in the end. I would say, in defence of the United Africa Company, that, after all, they were able to buy these stores in that condition very cheaply 874 and that a large part of the money, at any rate, flowed back into the hands of the Treasury. So they were surely wise and prudent purchases even if the character of them made it very difficult, under those conditions, to have a perfect accounting system.
That is the first admission I would make about this scheme. The second admission, and one which is more important, is that the managing agency did not adequately or entirely envisage the scope of the maintenance problem of their heavy tractors. They have now a very large fleet of heavy tractors in East Africa. They will have a very extensive fleet indeed in a few months time and again, up till now, these have all been surplus tractors from the war theatres, many of them with very little mileage on their clocks but with a great deal of exposure from one or two years on the beach in the Philippines or in the Western Desert and, therefore, needing heavy initial overhaul—in many cases stripping—before they were put to work, and certainly more maintenance than a new machine would need. But I think it is true to say that, even if new machines had been available, the scale of the workshops and their equipment was not, from the beginning, fully adequate.
It is a curious thing, in which I think all hon. Members with experience of operations of war will bear me out, that seldom or never is the maintenance problem fully dealt with from the beginning. It is apparently almost impossible for the human mind to envisage the degree to which big, heavy machines need maintenance today, and the provision for it is never on a big enough scale. I think that is undoubtedly true in this case and it is the main reason for the delay in the time-table of the scheme. Again, I wish to say that I would be the last person to blame the managing agency for that mistake because, although I think it is one point in which they did make a mistake, others responsible might have made a different mistake and certainly no-one could avoid making some mistakes.
I will come to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. J. Paton) about the time-table of the scheme, and I have said this before, publicly, in Nairobi. If the Committee carries its mind back to the original Wakefield-Ross-Martin Report, they will recall that the scheme was due to start in 1947. 875 That was to be the first year and it was to take a five-year period of development. Let me say this in justice to the authors of that report—it was made on the hypothesis that machinery would be on site in East Africa by February, 1947, whereas, in fact, the machinery could not start there until July, 1947. Even when it did arrive there was further delay in getting it into use, mainly, I think, because of the character of the machinery and the failure to provision adequately for maintenance in the early months. In fact, as the Committee knows, a negligible amount of clearance was done in 1947–7,000 acres, negligible from a commercial point of view although very valuable from an experimental point of view, a fairly big-scale agricultural experiment, very impressive to look at when one sees it, but negligible commercially.
I think, therefore, we must say that 1947 was perforce a year of preparations, of some experiment which was very valuable and may save us a great deal of money in the end, but it was not a year of commercial production at all. The year 1948, therefore, with the harvest in 1949, will be the first year of the five-year period of development. Whither all the 3 million acres will have been cleared at the end of the five years I do not pretend to be enough of a prophet to say. But I would say, in answer to the specific question of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, that there will be a commercial product in the next harvest—that is, the harvest of the spring or early summer of 1949. That will be the first year in which there will be a commercial product from the scheme, but whether the whole thing will be finished on schedule in five years I would not like to phophesy to the Committee. I would say this: if it is, it will probably be the first scheme in history which is finished on schedule. I would repeat, that whatever the timing of the scheme, everything indicates that it is not less but far more valuable than anyone of us could have foreseen when we started it.
The last point with which I should like to deal is that raised by the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) last week and a similar point, that raised just now by the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher). I was glad the right hon. Gentleman said he now thought the 876 scheme was a sound idea, but he then made two definite accusations against me, one that I made wildly optimistic, indeed hopelessly optimistic, statements and the other, a much serious accusation, that in trying to justify these statements I attempted to hurry the men on the spot and to drive them into premature production. Those are really quite serious charges, especially the second one, and the right hon. Gentleman produced not the slightest jot or tittle of evidence to support them. I challenged this Committee before to produce one of these wildly overoptimistic statements which I am said to have made. We heard the accusation from the hon. Member for Bury, but he had no chapter and verse.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
This Committee knows perfectly well that there is no greater adept than the Minister at putting in things which, when they are read out, will give quite a different impression. [Interruption]. I am not going to be bullied. If the Committee will go back and read all the statements which the Minister has made in this House and outside, they will see that the impression he gave was undoubtedly that this scheme was going very much better than actually it was.
§ Mr. Strachey
I feel I have a certain right to ask—I see the right hon. Member for West Bristol in his place—that the right hon. Gentleman should justify the somewhat serious charge he has made against me—not this one, which has been made just now, that I made overoptimistic statements, for in that case I can simply ask for substantiation, but the other and much more serious charge that in any way and on any occasion I attempted to drive those carrying out the scheme into undue and precipitate action in order to try to justify these alleged optimistic statements. I most categorically deny both accusations and I should like to see them justified and substantiated. I ask the Committee to recall what, in fact, we did say. In the original White Paper, Cmd. 7033, of 1st February, 1947, our actual words were:Serious difficulties and delays, many of them unforeseeable, may arise in the course of the undertaking.What is there wildly over-optimistic about that? [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] I cannot read the whole White Paper to the Committee. The important thing is that 877 we were most careful to say that difficulties and delays might arise. I think the Committee, as the hon. Member for Bury was implying just now, will bear us out that we were very careful to say that difficulties which we could foresee and some which we could not not only might but almost certainly would arise in the course of a scheme of this sort.
I have no more to say on that. This being a Supply Day I have approached the groundnuts scheme from a balance sheet point of view; but I think that that is a rather narrow point of view from which to approach this scheme. It seems to me that a large and an imaginative project of this sort is something that this country should engage in today. It does seem to me of vital importance that in a perhaps, rather humdrum, drab world, we should start some project, some enterprise, which strikes the imagination and this scheme has struck people's imagination. The Overseas Food Corporation have had over 100,000 applications from men and women of this country to go to work on the scheme. [HON. MEMBERS: "They want to get out of this country."] Can hon. Members opposite think of nothing better than that cheap sneer? They speak a great deal about a spirit of enterprise, but they use that term in a most restricted sense. The spirit of enterprise is a most valuable spirit, which we certainly value on this side of the Committee; the 109,000 applications to work on the groundnuts scheme show that that spirit is not dead in our country. I believe that foreign opinion, at any rate, regards the courage and enterprise of this country in engaging, in the midst of its difficulties, in a great enterprise of this sort as something which is a very great earnest of our future and of the full recovery of this country.
I must pass on rapidly to the other Commonwealth schemes and activities in which we are engaging. It is very true, of course, that the groundnuts scheme, though it receives so much attention, is only one, and, compared to all the rest, a very small part of the development which is either in operation or is projected. The Overseas Food Corporation has begun its other enterprise in Queensland, Australia. I see in "The Times" this morning some very fine photographs of the first ploughing going on in Queensland, which is a quite heartening sign. About 8,000 acres I am told, have already been ploughed.
878 I should like to mention one other matter concerning oils and fats which the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, and which does cause us great concern, and that is, the provision of adequate railway facilities for moving the West African crop down the Kano railway. He is very right to be concerned with that. It is something with which we have been concerned for some time. The Committee probably will not know it, but I did last March take an opportunity to go up to the Vulcan Works in Lancashire to thank the workers there for their efforts in producing 20 locomotives which have now arrived in Lagos and are being put in operation on that railway. I mention that as showing that, far from concentrating my attention solely on East Africa, I want groundnuts from every part of the world. It is perfectly true that in the provision of adequate railway material to that railway there has been delay—heartbreaking delay reaching back beyond the time of the tenure of office of this Government. But now it is being overcome. Twenty locomotives and 50 wagons have now arrived, and I think we may look for improvement from now onwards. However, the Committee need not think I am satisfied, or that I shall be, until we have cleared the backlog there. There are groundnuts which might be in our margarine lying there idle, and I think it of the utmost importance to move them.
More important in the aggregate than these schemes are the agreements and arrangements which we are coming to with other parts of the Commonwealth. Many officers of my Department were in Australia during the last winter, and a series of useful agreements has been reached with the Australian Government. Further conversations are going on, and notably in the last few days. For there have been very useful conversations with Mr. Chifley, the Prime Minister of Australia, during his present valuable visit. In the case of New Zealand I can inform the Committee that we are at the moment actively negotiating a seven-year contract for New Zealand dairy products. I have very good hopes indeed that we shall be able to announce the conclusion of that agreement very shortly. It will be something new in the history of this country and New Zealand, to put our contractual relations on a seven years' basis.
879 In the case of Canada, we have been able to maintain, though with the utmost difficulty from the payments point of view, our valuable food contracts with Canada. In that connection I would answer the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question about what we are going to do with E.R.P. assistance, from the food point of view. Of course, all that assistance will not be spent on food, but much the major part of what is spent on food will be used to help us to pay for our Canadian supplies. That is the real purpose that the E.R.P. dollars will serve; and we should have been hard put to it indeed to find a way of paying for those supplies without that assistance.
Now I come—and they are of equal importance—to the series of agreements which we have reached with foreign countries, those 37 bilateral pacts which have been successfully negotiated—not only by my Department, for they are much wider than that—with European, South American, and Asian countries in the last nine months. I may mention as especially important the Andes Agreement with Argentina, the Agreement with Denmark, the recent Agreement with Brazil, the Agreement with Russia, the Agreement with Holland, and the Agreement with Poland, all of which are useful, and all of which will mean, I believe and hope, that increasing quantities of foodstuffs will begin to flow to this country, and some of which are producing very useful quantities already, the Danish, Argentinian and Russian Agreements for example.
That brings me to the subject of coarse grains which was referred to by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It is very true that the importation of coarse grains today to this country is of the utmost importance to us. We have very successfully augmented the quantity we have been able to buy. Under the Andes Agreement we buy over a million tons; and under the Russian Agreement 750,000 tons. Those are the two main additions to our supply of coarse grains, and they will be, surely, of very great assistance to our home agriculture. But I would say this word of warning to the Committee. Coarse grains at present world cereal prices are very expensive imports, indeed. I had a calculation mane, and it is the case today that for every spent on the importation of coarse 880 grains we get only about a third as much meat—animal protein—as for a £ spent on importing meat from the Argentine, Australia or New Zealand. It is a somewhat startling fact. Do not let the Committee suppose that it means that we do not want to import coarse grains. We do—and to restore our own livestock. But at the moment, with present world prices, imported meat is a far cheaper source of protein food than is imported coarse grain which is turned into meat in this country. In fact we must do both.
Until coarse grains come down sharply in price, which personally I believe they will, we are faced with an exceedingly expensive import in the case of coarse grains. Why is that? It is because of the cereal shortage in the world, and because the meat which we import both from the Argentine and the Antipodes is grass fed and, therefore, can be produced a good deal cheaper. Surely, one of the morals of that—I go here into the field of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture—is that the more grass fed meat we can produce in this country the better. It underlines the very great importance of the technical development in grass growing and grass conservation of all kinds with which the agricultural industry is so concerned today. Until and unless the price level of cereals goes down by a very considerable amount, half or less than half, the advantages of grass fed meat over cereal fed meat is very great indeed.
§ Mr. Spence (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Central)
Could the right hon. Gentleman say how that applies to bacon and pork; or does it apply only to beef and mutton?
§ Mr. Strachey
I am referring to beef and mutton. I cannot give the figures for pork, but I will have them worked out. We shall not slacken in our efforts to produce the maximum quantity of meat, bacon, pork and the rest, in this country should we be able to obtain these far larger quantities of coarse grains, but we must look at the price because it is a very serious price which we are asked to pay today.
How on balance have these efforts left us? They have, as I have told the Committee, just enabled us—and I think this is something of an achievement—to prevent a fall in the calorific intake of the country during this most critical six 881 months which we have been through. What is the prospect which we can legitimately ask for the next six months and the next year? I think that I have already told the right hon. and learned Gentleman what we propose to do with E.R.P. funds, and as he knows and as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said there would be no E.R.P. funds available for any sudden or startling rise in our availability of food. The E.R.P. figures which he has given to the House show that our aid does not quite fill the gap in our balance of payments today with the dollar countries. So obviously there can be no hope of a sudden resumption, for example, of buying foodstuffs in the United States. All that it can do is to enable us to pay for our foodstuffs from Canada, and, perhaps, purchase a few foodstuffs in the U.S.A., such as a little cheese, which are not readily available elsewhere. The cheese is only to fill the gap in the quantities available from Canada which has made it necessary for us to get it from elsewhere; it is not a net increase.
I said last year, in the speech which the right hon. and learned Gentleman quoted, that the food problem was changing. It had been a problem of availability and was becoming one of balance of payments. This year this is greatly intensified, and in the coming year it will be predominantly, in my opinion, a balance of payments problem—a problem not of what we can get but of what we can pay for. I think that that transition is taking place from two points of view. On the one hand, I believe the world food prospect is improving from the standpoint of availability. In cereals, certainly, the world is not nearly as short as it was six or nine months ago. If the harvest prospects are not belied, it ought to be considerably less short of cereals in the Autumn than it was 12 months ago. In the Northern Hemisphere, the crops of cereals are exceedingly promising and should do a good deal to relieve the immediate situation. Again, over twice the quantity of rice is moving in international trade as was moving at this time last year. This is by no means sufficient, but it is a very marked improvement. After all, cereals and rice are the basis of the world's food supply, and slowly but surely the rest of the foodstuffs of the world should improve when that basis begins to become more solid.
882 Do I tend to disagree with the forecast made by Sir John Orr and other authorities who spoke in alarming terms of the world food situation? No, I do not think that there is any necessary conflict between the two views, because Sir John Orr is assuming that the vast populations of Asia, China, India and the like must be brought up for the first time in human history to a satisfactory level of nutrition. That is something which we all devoutly pray for and want to advance, but it is something altogether outside the power or scope of anyone speaking for the British Government. It is something which can only be done by those people themselves. Therefore, what I am speaking of is something a little different from what Sir John Orr, with the world-wide responsibility which he recently bore, had to think of. I am speaking only of the world food situation at the current level of effective demand. If the level of demand was raised as it easily could be if every one in China and India secured adequate food, then the world would be desperately short of food for a very long time. But I repeat, at the current level of effective demand, it appears to me that in the basic foodstuffs of rice and cereals we should see an improvement of the availability during the coming year.
Let me add that that would be cold comfort to us if we were unable to pay for those foodstuffs and that is, of course, a question essentially of our exports—of the growth of our export trade. Very great achievements have been made in the last nine months in the way of raising our exports, but those achievements have been very largely nullified by the fact of the worsening of the terms of trade. In other words, the price of the food we buy has been going up faster than the price of the goods we sell. It is only because of that that we are in our acute difficulties today. Again, I would believe that there is hope for a change in that field also. After all, these great cereal and rice crops are a dominant factor in the situation. The price of wheat is today nearly one dollar a bushel cheaper than it was nine months ago. That is a very appreciable movement, and I cannot help feeling and believing that this movement downwards of the price of basic foodstuffs will continue after the harvest. That, apart from our own efforts which are, of course, vital, is by far the greatest assistance which can come to us.
883 Then again, I was asked about what I shall say today about the concluding words of my Estimates speech last year—and I had put it down in my notes to repeat those remarks. I have absolute faith in the ability of the British people over the coming years and the coming decades to provide themselves with an adequate food supply. I believe they can do it in the way that they have done it over the last 100 years, partly by producing food in this fertile island and partly—and on the whole this will be the greater part—by producing by their highly skilled work the products of their hands and their brains—all the multifarious manufactures of this country. And we shall find the great food producing countries of the world still ready and anxious to exchange their foodstuffs for our manufactured products.
What is the chief lesson for us of the very critical nine months we have been through between the convertibility crisis and the moment of the passage of the European Recovery Programme? Is it not that the great food producing and primary producing countries have as much need of us as we have of them? Therefore I believe that as long as we have an industrious and ingenious population producing manufactures in this country, we can be assured of feeding ourselves.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)
The Committee will have been greatly interested in that part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman in which he dealt with his recent tour of East Africa to look at the progress of the groundnuts scheme. There will be no disagreement in any part of the Committee that this great scheme, as the Minister so rightly described it, ought not to be made a matter of party squabbling. It should not be, but that does not relieve His Majesty's Opposition from the duty of insisting upon accuracy and of examining it closely. It is very difficult in the course of a long speech to get the figures accurately, and I may be incorrect, in which case I apologise in advance to the right hon. Gentleman. I understood him to say that whereas the figures upon which the financial basis of the scheme was constructed were that we should originally buy these groundnuts at £30 a ton, which would be reduced 884 after a period of years to £20 a ton; we are now having to pay £65 to £70; a ton. That does not tally with the figures in the latest Trade and Navigation Returns, which show that we are paying at present £37 a ton for groundnuts.
§ Mr. Strachey
May I explain? We are paying for certain marginal quantities in India at £65 to £70, and the equivalent in the Argentine. As I said in my speech, our main source of groundnuts is Nigeria, at £41 a ton. The figure has gone up from £37 to £41, and I took £41 as the probable price which we should pay for the East African groundnuts when they become available.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. That clears up the point. The figure which I have seen of £37 a ton has been increased since the latest returns to £41 a ton. It was very gratifying to hear the tribute from a distinguished French source to the benefit the children have derived from the wise provisions of the National Government. All must have been glad to hear that. However, we must all have felt a certain amount of sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman in that part of his speech in which he addressed himself to the question of food subsidies. That part of his speech seemed to me to be clearly intended for the ears of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It must have been a source of disappointment that neither the Chancellor nor the Financial Secretary to the Treasury was present on the Front Bench when he was doing that bit of special pleading.
If we were gratified to hear certain parts of the Minister's speech, I am sure the Committee were disappointed, and the country will be disappointed, to learn that the Minister has been unable today to make any announcement about the end of bread rationing. If he is really anxious, as he said he was in the House on 10th May, to de-ration bread at the earliest possible moment, I should be greatly obliged if he would give me an answer to four questions. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary could give the answers when she comes to reply at the end of the Debate.
First, is it a fact that at the end of March we had over three months' stock of wheat and wheat equivalent in this country? Secondly, is it a fact that the 885 United States Department of Agriculture has estimated that the bread grain crop in Europe is likely to total 54 million tons this year as compared with 40 million tons last year? Thirdly, is it a fact that the carry-over of the four main exporting countries at the end of this month is expected to be about 6.6 million tons as compared with 3.8 million tons on 31st July, 1947? Fourthly, is it a fact that there is every prospect of bountiful wheat harvests? In view of the answers to those questions, why does the Minister continue to delay making the long-awaited announcement?
When bread rationing was first introduced we were led to suppose that it would not last long. It has lasted for two years. The Minister estimated that it would save from 5 to 10 per cent.; the most that it has been claimed to save is 3 per cent.; and from the Monthly Digest of Statistics it appears that the saving has, in fact, only been 1.5 per cent., part of which is undoubtedly due to the smaller loaf. The system of bread rationing which has been adopted is a bad one. I do not think anybody disputes that. There is no fixed or scaled allocation of flour to the bakers, who have been able to buy what they have wanted. When temporary rationing was first mooted in 1946, the bakers said that they could save at least 5 per cent. without the bother or expense of rationing the consumers. At the Minister's request they made a 5 per cent. saving over a period of six weeks in the Spring of 1947 in order to meet a temporary shortage in supplies. This was exactly the method which the bakers themselves had suggested and which the Minister rejected. The scheme has required the employment of about 2,000 officials to administer it, at the cost to the taxpayer of £350,000 a year.
Whether the Minister ends bread rationing soon, as we all hope he will, or whether he does not, most of us would agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) that he ought to reduce the extraction rate at the earliest possible moment. I am told that if the extraction rate is reduced by only 2½ per cent. not only would the loaf be improved but there would be about 130,000 tons more milling offal a year for animal feedingstuffs, which is more than we imported during the whole of 1947.
886 With other of my hon. Friends, I am greatly concerned about the animal feedingstuffs position. Before the war we produced 1,100,000 tons of meat at home, and we carried 60 million head of poultry. We fed that livestock population upon what we grew at home, plus 8½ million tons of imported feedingstuffs. Today we are producing only 700,000 tons of meat, and our fowl population has declined by 25 per cent. Under the compulsion of war and subsequent pressure, we have increased our home production of coarse grains fed to stock, but our imports of feedingstuffs have fallen to 2.2 million tons, which is a drop of nearly 25 per cent. When a year ago we were faced with the dollar crisis, the Prime Minister said:The maximum supply of feedingstuffs must be obtained. … We must get our production of beef, bacon and eggs expanded rapidly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th August, 1947; Vol. 441 C. 1498.]On the other hand, the Lord President of the Council, in addressing the representatives of the agricultural executive committees on 31st August, said:Large increases"—of feedingstuffs—"must come from imports and even scarce dollars will be spent on all that is obtainable since this operation must lead to ultimate dollar saving.What do we find has happened in practice? First, there was the shock of the admission of the Minister of Agriculture in the House on 25th March, that it would be impossible to increase the feedingstuffs ration in the period which began on 1st May last, and secondly the grave doubts about the Minister's own intentions, doubts which I am bound to say have been intensified today by his statement that coarse grains are very expensive imports indeed. Of course, they are very expensive imports, but may I remind him again of what the Lord President of the Council said:Even scarce dollars will be spent on all that is obtainable, since this operation must lead to ultimate dollar saving.Has the Minister bought all the maize he can from the Argentine? On 11th March he said:We cannot monopolise the export of maize from the Argentine."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 1479.]But no one said that we should. The Argentine surplus maize crop this year, including the carry-over of last year, is likely to be 5½ million tons. If we imported less than 3 million tons of maize 887 in 1939 from that source, there is not even a remote possibility of monopolising the Argentine output, even if we wanted to do so. The Minister reminded the House that under the Andes Agreement we were obtaining one million tons, but if we could double that figure we could give everyone in Britain an extra egg and an extra 1½ ounces of bacon for every week in the year. I hope the Minister will assure the Committee that it is still the Government's intention that we shall acquire all the feedingstuffs that are obtainable.
I will now deal briefly with two aspects of the right hon. Gentleman's administration which I think have been defective. The first is in regard to lost ration books. I think this is one of the means by which food is getting on to the black market, and it is a source of supply which the Minister could stop if he would give his attention to it. In the year 1945–46 there were 673,000 ration books reported lost. Last year the figure was 932,000. In reply to a question I put on 3rd May, the Parliamentary Secretary said that she was satisfied that there was no evidence of a black market leakage. If a dishonest person wants to obtain a second ration book, what has he to do?
First, he has to go to the food office and tell them he has lost his ration book. His particulars are taken, and he is told to report the loss to the police, which he does. He is then given form R.B.12 which enables him to obtain rations for a week. He can obtain a fresh R.B.12 for each of four weeks. In the meantime he can draw his rations from his retailers on the ration book he says he has not got, and he can go to other retailers with his R.B.12. I have not done this myself, but it can be done. After four weeks he gets a book which is marked "duplicate," but no attempt is made to inform the retailers of the reported loss, and so there is nothing to prevent the person from continuing to make his purchases with his normal ration book, and going to other retailers with his R.B.12 document to draw a second lot of rations. When he gets his duplicate ration book he can transfer his tea and personal points for the remainder of the 12-month period. This can easily be stopped if the names and addresses of the retailers are put on the R.B.12 document. That information 888 is in the possession of the food office, and I do not see why this should not be done.
My second point is in regard to the purchases of swedes by the Minister in the early part of this year. Earlier this year the Minister, through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Department, instructed buyers to buy about 100,000 tons of swedes, the intention being to build up a reserve as an insurance against a shortage of potatoes in the Spring. There was no difficulty about this whatever, since the prices offered varied from £5 10s. a ton in the case of Scotland to £7 and are in the case of England. On the Minister's instructions most of these swedes instead of being left in the ground, were bagged in potato sacks provided by the Ministry.
In March the Ministry suddenly changed their mind, and ultimately the farmers were paid £2 10s. to £3 a ton to feed their own swedes to their own stock. On a conservative estimate this must have cost the country not less than £400,000, and probably £500,000. The Parliamentary Secretary, on 17th March, said that she would be happy to give the figures when all the transactions were completed, and I hope that she will be able to do so now. I do not quarrel with the principle of insurance, but my criticism is, firstly, that it was the experience of 1914–18 that swedes are no substitute for potatoes; secondly that this advice was pressed by the trade, but the Minister refused to accept it; thirdly that the prices given were, in any case, far too high.
My main criticism, however, against the right hon. Gentleman and his Ministry does not lie in these administrative points. The real measure of the Government's failure is that, in spite of American aid—and the Government themselves admit that without it we would be far worse off today—rations have been reduced all round. Since the Government came into power the cheese ration has been halved; bacon has been cut by one-third; rations of meat, sugar, tea, chocolate and sweets have all been reduced, and bread has been rationed for the first time in our history. Moreover, points values have, on balance, been considerably upgraded, and 48 points are needed today to buy what could have been bought with 20 points in 1945. Small wonder that the effect on the 889 thoughtful housewife who remembers these things, and who looks back to the prudent administration of that great Food Minister, Lord Woolton, can be summed up in the words of the old Scots song, "Will ye no' come back again?"
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Royle (Salford, West)
We on this side of the Committee are very glad to have an opportunity to take part in this Debate today, if it is only because we realise the weakness of the Opposition's case. In the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid), and again in the speech of the hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley), we have heard the paucity of the Conservative case against the Government on the food front. We have listened to trivialities and points of detail when we ought to have been listening to more important questions. A Debate on food at this time must, of necessity, range over a very wide field, and its various aspects must be taken into consideration. That being so, perhaps the hon. Member for West Aberdeen will allow me to deal with some of the points he made as I make my speech, rather than deal with them now, item by item.
I was very disappointed that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead did not deal in any way with the question of the food shortage in Europe. Those of us who read the speech made the other day in another place by Viscount Bruce of Melbourne, and the speeches of others who followed him, and who have read the Report of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of U.N.O. must be very concerned about the food situation in the world as a whole. While it is true that with the prospect of a good harvest in most parts of the world the outlook is better than for some time past, the fact remains that the world food situation is very grim indeed. I want to say—and it needs some courage to say it—that most of our people know very little about the world food position, and how other nations are living. Small wonder that the people of the Middle West of the United States have very little appreciation of our sacrifices and problems when we remember what little knowledge there is in our own land of the trials and tribulations which many European and Asiatic nations are experiencing today. Visits to 890 countries as near to our own as Germany and Austria make one almost ashamed to share in the comparative food luxury of our own land.
What is the position in this country? It is that no one is short of food. The spending capacity of our people is so much greater than prewar that they can purchase an adequate supply of food which is always there for the purchasing. I remember, from my own business experience, that the average amount spent per person on meat in my constituency in 1938, was 7d. a week. That was in the days of plenty and abundance in the world. Today, they purchase more than that and, in addition, obtain meals in canteens, civic restaurants, and the like. With very few exceptions, every section of the community is in a position to obtain a meal every day, in addition to the normal ration. With all sincerity, I suggest that in spite of some of our present day difficulties, which cannot be denied, we should give much more thought to other countries which are not so well placed as our own. I would like to express my regret that the work of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of U.N.O., and its recent indefatigable director, has not met with more success and the encouragement it deserves. As the days go by I hope we shall pay more attention to the work of that Organisation.
A lot has been said about overseas and colonial development. Much criticism has been levelled against the Ministry's procurement policy, but immediate results are not possible because of the lack of foresight in the past. For generations, the keynote of our colonial policy—and I am sorry to say it—was exploitation. When the attitude of overseas trading companies softened in that respect, between the wars, the Government of the day did not replace that exploitation by Governmental development of our Colonial areas. We are now embarking on a policy which should have been introduced many years ago. If that had been done the world and this country would have been in a much better food position than they are today. The other night certain Members opposite went into the Division Lobby to vote against the E.R.P. proposals because of their concern about Dominion and Colonial interests. Had a vestige of the present 891 Imperial policy been apparent in the inter-war years there would be a very different food story to tell today. In the overseas policy of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food and my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary there lies tremendous hope in our long-term supply.
I am not going to deal at any great length with home production. There are hon. Members on both sides of the Committee better able to deal with that than I am, because of their great knowledge of the problem, but I would express the view that our agricultural community in Britain can produce at least 40 per cent. more of our needs than was produced in the prewar years. The policy of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is laying down the right foundation for the development of our home production. I would express concern—and I hope my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us something about this matter when she comes to reply—that in these days when we should be building up a cattle population in this country, so many very good calves are being slaughtered for the ration and for meat manufacturers. I am wondering if we are not placing a little too much emphasis on milk production, and if we should not be placing restrictions on the number of calves slaughtered so as to build up our beef cattle population in the future. It takes three years to feed a bullock and make it ready for beef. It is time we were taking a long view of this matter now.
So I come to the question of procurement and distribution. Since the announcement made in 1945 that the Ministry of Food was to become a permanent part of the structure of the Government it has received more attention than ever it received in the war years. During the war the question of procurement was much easier than it is today. The hon. Member for West Aberdeen referred to the so-called palmy days of Lord Woolton at the Ministry of Food, and in doing so he has conveniently forgotten quite a number of things. Let me say in passing that when hon. Members opposite speak about the period of Lord Woolton at the Ministry of Food they pay very scant courtesy to their right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and 892 Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison), whom I am glad to see on the Front Bench at the moment. Because I had some association with the Ministry of Food in a very humble capacity in those days, I remember, if they forget, that it was he who was at the head of the Ministry when the plans for our great control schemes were laid down and when the planning of this great control enterprise took place. It was under him that the foundations of our wartime equitable distribution were laid. I would remind hon. Members opposite of this, because they are not being very fair to their right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester when they constantly ram down the throats of hon. Members of this Committee the name of Lord Woolton.
Other things are also forgotten, one of which is that Lend-Lease came very quickly to Lord Woolton's aid. Added to that it must be remembered that we had no responsibility for the continent of Europe, which was under the heel of the Nazis. In the main our responsibility in those days was to feed our own people with our own produce, the help of the United States of America and our own Dominions. Almost at the moment when this Government took office Lend-Lease facilities were withdrawn. I hope it is within the recollection of hon. Members what was the immediate reaction of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition on the day on which the Prime Minister announced that Lend-Lease was to cease. His immediate reaction was, "Have these people forgotten that we held the fort alone in 1940?" We have had different expressions of opinion from hon. Members opposite since then. In 1945 this Government had to face the immediate problem of procurement along with the dollar shortage. I know that this is wrapped up in the question of the balance of payments and I do not want to develop that in this Debate.
I want to ask one or two questions, the first of which is of a detailed character and arises, I must confess, out of my interest in the meat industry. A recent announcement said that a cut of 32 million lbs. had been made in the meat contract with Canada and that it was being replaced with bacon. This is not a very large reduction, but I wonder if the exchange of commodity is wise, in view of 893 the signs that our pig production is increasing whilst there are no similar signs with regard to our cattle.
I also want to say a few things about distribution. I apologise for keeping the Committee so long but there are still some points I want to make. If any criticism creeps in I hope it will be largely constructive. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Food paid tribute to the people who stand behind the counters of our food offices. In that regard I would ask the Committee to pause in meditation at this time for the retail butcher. He is the most harassed retailer in the land today. There is no other hon. Member in the Committee to speak for him so I have to do it. For the past two weeks the retail butcher has been completing a shilling ration for his customers out of 6d. worth of corned beef taken from 6 lb. tins, which rarely produce 6 lb. weight of meat, and 6d. worth of a miscellaneous collection of Danish cow beef, fat Argentine quarters, a mixed bag of South American and Dominion mutton and lamb and 14 cwt. bullocks produced by enthusiastic British farmers, who have crammed on every ounce to earn the subsidy. The Committee can take it from me that it is a lovely experience getting 10d. rations out of 14 cwt. beasts. However, that is in passing, but, after all, it is a serious matter.
I want to ask my right hon. Friend if he will give the Committee some news about two inquiries which are going on. The first is the Fruit and Vegetable Prices Inquiry presided over by my hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food. The time occupied by this inquiry is bringing it into line with a Royal Commission and it is becoming a rival to a Royal Commission in the length of time it is taking. We are experiencing a wonderful soft fruit season, but the prices are atrocious. Strawberries were as high as 3s. 6d. a lb. last week, black and red currants are far too dear in proportion to what the growers are receiving, and the same can be said of vegetables. When do we get the report?
Secondly, I should like to ask about the Bodinnar Report. Some months ago I ventured to raise on the Adjournment the question of the black market in food animals. In all modesty I have reason to believe that the Debate 894 started discussions which resulted in the Bodinnar Committee being set up. It consisted of three men of wide knowledge and experience. For weeks they heard evidence from organisations and from expert individuals. In due course, the committee reported, now many moons ago. So far we have no knowledge of what it reported, but we know that self-suppliers of pigs were compelled to give longer notice of slaughter.
I do not believe that that is all that the Bodinnar Committee reported. In addition to questions concerning cattle and pigs there are questions of rabbits and poultry. Christmas time is not a great way off. We shall be faced with the same difficulties of distribution that we had last Christmas in those items, unless something is done. There is a rumour going round that it has been decided that the committee's recommendations are impracticable. Will the Minister say whether those rumours are true? If they are not, when will the report be issued? If they are, must we assume that the officials of the Ministry have greater knowledge than the united knowledge of the members of that committee and of the people who gave evidence before it? Such an assumption is absolutely fantastic.
That brings me to my conclusion. The time has come when the terrible waste in distribution costs must be brought down. The large profits which wholesalers are getting and the rake-offs which are still being paid have to cease. During the war we were so anxious to get food to the tables of the people at any price that we did not concern ourselves about distribution costs. The already wasteful distribution costs of prewar years gave way to more expensive ones still. The pre-war and present control positions have to be examined, and very soon, I believe. The Lucas Report should be got down to at once, to see whether it provides a solution. At the moment, I think it is a bit like the curate's egg, but I believe it can be made the basis of a much better system of distribution. I hope that we shall soon hear that these matters are being taken into account.
In addition to dollar shortage and supply shortage, that which is available is costing too much. Subsidies will have to continue, I know, but we can reduce those subsidies and reduce the cost of food by tackling the distribution question at the 895 earliest possible moment. I know that the greatest headache of my right hon. Friend has been procurement, but I beg that some attention should be given to the problem of distribution. This House of Commons discusses many important problems but none, I suggest, is of more importance than the adequate and reasonably-priced supply of food.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I had hoped and certainly wished that the Debate would take quite a different course from that which it has taken. The hon. Member for West Salford (Mr. Royle) began his speech upon the wider scope that I hoped the Debate would have taken but, having just mentioned it in his opening, he drifted away to details. I often think that we spend far too much time discussing and debating matters and subjects which, while they are of some importance, frequently are of only personal, local, or even temporary interest. They are hotly debated at the time and feelings are aroused, and then the matter is quickly forgotten.
Many of those matters are trivial in comparison with the great questions and problems upon the solution of which not only our present but our future may depend, upon which our mode and even our standard of life may depend, and upon which, indeed, civilisation may depend. We spend far too little time trying to understand such questions and debating them, and in thinking out means of solving them. The passionate desire of every man and woman throughout the world is for peace, but the greatest enemy of peace, taking "peace" in its widest sense, is hunger. Hunger and penury drive men to follow the methods of the jungle. Hunger, as we know, brings disease, discontent and despair, which lead to quarrels, revolutions, and ultimately to war.
Men and women will even sell their liberties and abandon the democratic way of life in a time of hunger and penury, if someone will offer to feed them, even though the promise is empty and false. We are prepared and determined to use force to defend ourselves against aggression, for example, from Communism. It will not be force that will ultimately conquer it but plenty—plenty of food for each and all wherever they may be to provide 896 a fuller and a better life. These subjects, Peace, Plenty and Prosperity, are inextricably intermixed and each depends upon the other. So it is that today we are debating a major subject. I only wish that the Minister himself had devoted far more time than he did to the broader aspects of the question.
One other deep disappointment was the Minister's dismissal of the figures and statements that have been brought before the world by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, and his far too complacent attitude. Perhaps I might recall what he said, because I shall want to come back to it. Here are the actual words which he used:I really do not think there is any necessary conflict between the two views, because Sir John Orr is assuming that the vast populations of Asia, China and India and the like must be brought up, for the first time in human history, to a satisfactory level of nutrition.May I pause there? Those are the words of the Minister. Why should they not be brought up to a satisfactory state of nutrition? Why should not the people of Asia—400 million—and of India—500 million and 100 million increase in 30 years—not have decent nutrition?
§ Mr. Davies
Perhaps I might finish the quotation, because I have the words of the right hon. Gentleman. He went on:That is something which we certainly devoutly pray for, and it would be the most wonderful advance in human history, but it is something outside altogether the powers and scope of anybody speaking for the British Government.Is it? I thought that we were a party to the Food and Agriculture Organisation and that, therefore, we should take not only a part in it but a leading part, in pressing forward the work and the policy of that organisation.It is something which can only be done by those peoples themselves. It is not merely what we in this country can do for ourselves. We are dependent upon others throughout the world. I am speaking only of the world food situation at the current level of demand. If we gave everyone in China and India adequate nutrition, then everyone would be desperately short of food for a very long time.What does he mean by that? Does it mean, therefore, that we do not do anything because we shall not be short? Or 897 does it mean an abandonment of the policy of the Food and Agriculture Organisation? Does the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) now wish to ask me a question?
§ Mr. Davies
So it is right that on an occasion such as this, we, who are so dependent upon the world position, seeing that we are still the greatest importers of food of any nation in the world, should take cognisance of the world food situation. For well over a century we have been dependent upon overseas countries for a large part of our food. Before the war we were importing even as much as two-thirds of the food that we required and consumed in this country. During the war, of course, we materially increased our home production; but even then, we were not able, and even today we are not able, with our home produce to feed more than roughly half the population. Therefore, in considering our own position, we must take account of the world position—the world production and world consumption.
Even before the cataclysm of the war the position in many areas of the world was appalling. I have already mentioned India and China, but if I might refer to them again, in passing, I would point out that the population of India nearly 40 years ago was less by over 100 million than it is today; but the amount of cultivated land—not necessarily cultivatable land—has scarcely increased in the whole of that time. So the position in many areas of the world was appalling, and the suffering was persistent and intense. Out of a population, so it is estimated, of over 2,000 million in 1938, only some 695 million were getting adequate supplies of food, which meant that something in the neighbourhood of 1,400 million, and certainly well over 1,000 million, were being inadequately fed.
Then came the world war, bringing with it destruction, devastation, dislocation and maldistribution. I take just a few figures to illustrate the calamity brought about by the war. The Minister very rightly referred to the fats and oils situation, and quoted the words and comment made by my old friend Mr. Faure about its seriousness, and about the lack of knowledge and lack of understanding in this country, for a great many 898 small and niggling points would not have been raised had the seriousness of the position been known. The prewar world exports of oils and fats were 6 million tons; the estimates for this year are only 4 million tons—a fall of one-third in the exportable fats and oils of the world. At present the exportable quantity of oil cakes and feedingstuffs, which have been so often mentioned on both sides of the Committee, is only roughly 25 per cent. of what it was prewar. Indications are that the total world exports of meat will not exceed 4,000,000 lb. as compared with 4,600,000 lb. in 1947, so that even in the last year there has been a drop in the meat exported.
Before the war, continental Europe was nearly self-supporting, producing all the meat it required, more than the dairy produce and eggs it required, and being only 10 per cent. short of its grain requirements; but it needed to import—as indeed it did—some 30 per cent. of its oil seeds requirements. That was in the days before the "Iron Curtain" came down, for Western Europe depended for a great deal of its grain upon Eastern Europe, from which it imported some 5 million tons.
Very rightly the hon. Member for West Salford mentioned, although only in passing, the condition of Europe. It is as well that we should realise what has happened. During the war Western Europe lost 7 per cent. of its sheep, 40 per cent. of its pigs, 20 per cent. of its poultry, 36 per cent. of its meat, 27 per cent. of its milk, 30 per cent. of its butter, and 37 per cent. of its eggs. Is it any wonder, therefore, that the people there are suffering? In 1945–46 cereals were 33 per cent. below the 1934–38 average; sugar was 30 per cent. below, and potatoes 25 per cent. below.
Then again, take wheat. And while I am mentioning wheat, I do deeply regret that the wheat agreement has not met with that response which we expected it might have from the Government of the United States; and now we must regard that as completely fallen to the ground. The 1947 wheat was 7 million tons less than the low output of even 1946. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the grain and wheat prospects for the coming year and especially in the Northern countries; but it is quite unwise to rely upon those estimates until that corn has been garnered in. Too often have we seen, even in this country, that we have been able to 899 grow the corn but have been unable to harvest it. Taking even 1947, the figure was only 26 million tons instead of the pre-war output of 42 million tons. That was the position in Western Europe, with millions getting far less than was required to keep them in health and strength, when Mr. Marshall's wonderful offer brought the free European nations together.
Now I want to consider the position apart from the war devastation. In addition to the devastation and dislocation caused by the war, other factors have to be taken into account. First and foremost—and only just touched on by the right hon. Gentleman and others—is the great and continued rapid increase in the population of the world: 150 million more people in the world than there were in 1938. The world population is increasing annually now at the rate of 20 to 25 million. The increase that is expected between 1938 and 1951—I am taking that year because it was taken by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleague the Minister of Agriculture as the year at which agriculture should aim at increasing our food production in this country by 100 million tons—is between 200 million and 250 million. Secondly, there is everywhere—and rightly everywhere—an increasing demand for a better standard of living, and therefore a greater demand for food per caput. Thirdly, the result is that countries which hitherto have been able to export food now require their own produce for their own use for their own people. All the South American countries, with the one exception of Argentina, have ceased to export, and even when we look at the Argentine we find that there—
§ Mr. Strachey
I should like to correct that statement. I am glad to say that Brazil, Uruguay, and many other countries are exporting large quantities.
§ Mr. Davies
But those exports from Brazil and so on are, in the main, coffee and things of that kind. So far as grain is concerned, our main supplier was the Argentine, and there has been a decrease of something like 15 per cent. in the men employed in agriculture and an increase of about 10 per cent. in the men employed in industries other than agriculture. What does that mean? That these countries, which hitherto have been in the main food producers and whose people have confined themselves largely 900 to raising food, are now turning their attention to industries other than agriculture. This has indeed a double effect, in so far as while it may be that they will be producing less food, their population will be growing and they will be needing it for themselves; they will also, because they are turning their attention to manufacturing their own machinery, require less of our manufactured goods than hitherto they were taking.
Fourthly, man in the last 70 or 80 years has been extraordinarily and criminally wasteful of the soil. Thousands of square miles of productive soil have now become deserts. It is estimated that in the United States of America alone three million tons of fertile topsoil are lost every year and, according to Sir John Boyd Orr, it takes nature 500 years to create one inch of productive soil.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Will the right hon. and learned Member excuse me? Does not that waste of the soil apply in general to industry? It applies to mining and other industries where the incentive is only profit and there is no concern for the care of the land.
§ Mr. Davies
No, it was not really that; I think it was merely lack of knowledge and they did not realise what was happening. In draining the land, cutting down trees and so on, they really thought they were adding to the wealth of the world at that time. It was really lack of knowledge, both in Africa and the United States.
The fifth point is that while the food markets available to us are getting fewer, it becomes yearly more difficult for us to find markets for our manufactured goods with which we bought, and still buy, food, because each country itself is entering the industrial field and endeavouring to supply its own needs, while, of course, we realise that the competition from the United States of America in the export market is becoming keener and fiercer every day. Finally on that, our own population will have grown from 47,760,000 in 1939 to over 50 million by the end of this year.
I thought it was only right to draw attention to these matters, though I had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would have done so. I am not alone in referring to this grave situation, as it was rightly called by the hon. Member for 901 West Salford. Here are a few phrases that have been used by the right hon. Gentleman's colleague, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Agriculture, Lord Huntingdon;The prospect is very black indeed.
Another phrase is
I myself would have difficulty in finding a strong enough black paint on my palette to paint a picture of the world situation today.Why, then, does the right hon. Gentleman brush on one side the Report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation? His colleague's next phrase is this:The population is increasing. We are failing to get productivity up; erosion is going on and soil is going out of use. A visitor from Mars might well be excused if he thought this a crazy world.Then, when I turn to this report, I find this passage in the introduction:While there is some improvement"—which was what the right hon. Gentleman was referring to—in the prospect for the coming harvest,"—not yet garnered—there has been no fundamental change.Then the report goes on, very rightly:Adverse weather can completely wipe out the potential gains. Pre-war levels of production and of consumption not yet regained in war-devastated countries.There they call particular attention to its effects on children and young people—Even if production did reach pre-war levels, it would mean a reduction for consumption per caput owing to increase in population … Unless action is taken to bring about the large and rapid expansion of food production, the level of nutrition and health of the peoples of the world is likely to decline, even below the standards achieved before the war.That, very rightly, is described by the right hon. Gentleman's colleague as a dark picture for which he could not find a paint dark enough.
What is to be done? The first thing is to bring these stark facts to the knowledge of the people. Nothing is ever gained by hiding facts, and much is won when we are all conscious of what is confronting us. The second thing required is early and vigorous action by the Government, and encouragement of such action being taken by other Governments. When an appeal was made to the farmers last year the reply given on their behalf, quite rightly, 902 was, "We will do our best to raise another £100 million worth of food in this country, and we promise we can do it, on one condition: that you give us the tools." That is a matter for which the Government is to this extent responsible, that it ought to do its utmost to provide machinery of all kinds, fertilisers of all kinds, animal food, transport, and methods and organisations for the destruction of pests, to which this report calls serious attention.
The third thing is to bring more land into cultivation. In the past, as we know, this has been the method employed to close the gap between production of food and what is needed by the people. During and immediately after the last war a great new acreage was brought into existence in the very countries upon which we depend for our food. In four of them alone—the United States, Canada, Australia, and Argentina—between 1910 and 1930 110 million square miles more land was brought under cultivation for the production of food. That, if I may give a comparison, is an acreage equal to the whole of the British Isles plus the total acreage of England. However the serious thing is—and again attention is called to this in the report—no similar increase has occurred after World War II, and that is the poignant comment on this and on other Governments. Although opportunities still exist, e.g., in Africa and South America, the Amazon area, for bringing fresh land into cultivation, these possibilities must take time because they can only be gradually realised.
I was glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about the progress of the groundnuts scheme in Africa but, again, even if that is carried to full fruition—and the right hon. Gentleman rightly said that if it reaches its full mark by 1952 it will be the first time that a schedule has been carried out according to plan—even then, all that we shall be getting from 3 million acres will be 600,000 tons. That is by 1952, while all the time the world population will be increasing, as will the demand for fats and oils. Possibly, also, by that time there will be a reduction in the whale oil now produced in the Antarctic. We must remember that whales were once plentiful in the Arctic, but were killed off. As the hon. Lady knows, an agreement must be carefully worked out between all the whalers and responsible 903 governments to see that what I might call whale production of oil is not again destroyed.
The Food and Agriculture Report goes on to say:In the meantime"—while we are waiting—the gap between the food supply and demand must be met largely through increased yields rather than increased acreage.That is certainly true of this country. People always seem to forget that the purpose of agriculture is the raising of food. That is why I suggested, at the beginning of the war in 1939, that the Minister of Food should be in the main responsible and that the Minister of Agriculture should be a sort of factory manager under him. [Laughter.] It was absolutely right and necessary. The hon. Lady laughs but she—her Department—are responsible for feeding the people.
§ Mr. Davies
Therefore, they should know what can and should be produced in this country, so that they may make their contracts abroad in order to know what may be brought into this country.
On the production side, the farmer is struggling with very great difficulties—shortage of labour, fertilisers, animal and poultry foods and machinery of all kinds. They have done splendidly under great difficulties. They responded very quickly to the call for £100 millions more production. What is more, they are already achieving it and hope to achieve 20 to 25 per cent. extra. Even if that is achieved it will not be enough. Our position as exporters of manufactured articles is becoming and will become more difficult. This is not a temporary situation. Our position as importers of food, as compared with exporters of machinery, will become more and more difficult for the reasons I have given.
Therefore, we must raise more food at home. We have the finest soil and, although we do not think so and scarcely believe it in this present July, we have the finest climate for the production of food. We have the finest yields per acre, second to none, and the finest agriculturists, also second to none; but we have a grievous shortage of rural workers and, what is 904 more, a shortage of proper amenities for them. We can and should quickly improve those amenities. We are short of fertilisers and we could make far better use of what we have already got—for example, lime—than we are doing. But, above all, we want a bolder policy.
My prophecy is that the need of this country which, through necessity, we shall achieve—we need it and it will come in our time is a revolution in our methods of farming and food production. We must go in for far more intensive cultivation and produce more food for direct human consumption, and not spend our best land upon indirectly feeding the humans through the stomach of a bullock. He is not a good converter, neither is he a very good economic converter.
§ Mr. Davies
We must use our best land for producing more food for the direct use of the people than we are doing, otherwise how can the 50 million people of this country be fed if we cannot buy from abroad?
§ Mr. Davies
Certainly, but we must do it on vast areas and not merely on the small areas on which it has been done. I should like to deal with this question much more fully on some other occasion, and I certainly propose to do so, because I regard this question of food as the most serious of all and affecting everybody in this country. I want the Government to give to the F.A.O. the programme which is demanded and which I am told is about ready. I do not know whether the hon. Lady can say whether it has been already prepared and sent; if it has, I want it to be followed up vigorously and the recommendations rapidly carried out.
That great organisation has now passed through its teething or formative stage; although of necessity it has no executive power, it is not only a great collector of information, but is capable of being a great policy-maker for all the nations of the world. That is where we can be of real assistance, not only in 905 helping with information and backing it for all we are worth, but, inasmuch as we are so dependent upon more food production and what can be spared for us, we ought to be taking the leadership in all the councils of that great institution, the Food and Agricultural Organisation.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Streatham)
I confess to a feeling of relief a moment or two ago when the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said he intended to leave some of his speech to another occasion. I will not attempt to follow him today because we are discussing Estimates for feeding the British people and I am more concerned about the difficulties of the Salford butcher in cutting a 10d. ration from a 14 cwt. bullock than I am about the great humanitarian problems his concern for which, of course, reflect the greatest credit on the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Mr. C. Davies
I was raising that aspect to show what our position would be unless we get food from other parts of the world and intensify production here. I fail to understand how the hon. Gentleman's comment arises.
§ Sir D. Robertson
The Committee is under no illusions about what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said and the extent to which he wishes to feed the world. We all applaud his views. There should certainly be another occasion for discussion and no one will be happier than I to join in the Debate. Today, however, is not the proper time.
The Minister of Food today was not in his happiest vein. I thought his whole speech was pitched in a minor key and hon. Members behind who faithfully support him had few reasons to cheer. They did applaud him, however, on three occasions—first, when he referred to attending his women's meeting in bonnie Dundee, when he spoke of "fair shares for all" and was highly applauded. I wonder whether hon. Members opposite think they are the only Members who want fair shares for all. The hon. Member for West Salford (Mr. Royle) paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison), who was the first Minister of Food, and the Committee appreciated that. But, for some years before his time, 906 the Conservative Government, under Mr. Chamberlain, decided on the principle of fair shares for all when they set up the Food Plans Department under the Board of Trade, to prepare the way for the Ministry of Food. I hope there is no illusion in the minds of hon. Members opposite, or of the public, that the Conservative Party do not want fair shares for all, because we do; we want that as fervently as anyone.
I noticed that the other points on which the right hon. Gentleman was cheered were when he read out utterances made by other people, but not his own. The first was a letter on the well-being of children. I am sure the Committee is gratified to learn that the children are so well, in spite of the severity of rationing. The other had to do with—[An HON. MEMBER: "Never mind."] I am very sorry, but my notes are not as copious as they might have been.
The Minister made some reference to bread rationing, in response to the devastating speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid). The Minister apparently had no reply other than that he hoped to get rid of bread rationing very shortly, and that no one would be more pleased than himself. I am sorry the Minister is not here, but of course he has to eat. Bread rationing is at an end for all practical purposes. It is only an illusion for him or other Members of the Government to imagine that it exists any more than on paper and in a law which is totally disregarded by millions of otherwise law-abiding people. I always resented the burden on the already overburdened housewives. It was incapable of enforcement and incapable of operation. There never has been any reconciliation between B.U.s surrendered by the people and the flour which the baker draws from the flour miller. The whole scheme has been a gigantic bluff, and the great British public have found it out. That is why bread rationing is at an end. The people can get all the bread they require and are willing to pay for.
The Minister made some inaccurate remarks about snoek. He accused the party on this side of the Committee of being almost derisory about this great Empire product. The fact is that concern was aroused on this side over the notorious 907 "Novelist" shipment. Information reached Eastcheap, the centre of the canned goods trade here, and reached me, that this cargo contained some good packs, put up by reputable packers, and some very bad packs put up by unscrupulous packers. Like all canned fish, snoek has to be packed quickly after capture and the snoek of which my right hon. Friends complained had been caught eight days before it got to the canners and was heavily pickled. The allegations against these unscrupulous packers of having sent defective goods were entirely true.
I must applaud the action of the Government in the rigorous way in which they went through the "Novelist" shipment as with a toothpick, and they found that the reports were entirely true. That was where our criticism arose. The Government paid in full for those defective packs. I believe they subsequently made a claim, although the right hon. Gentleman, probably unwittingly, misled the Committee by saying that they had not the intention of paying in full for these defective parcels; but the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary wrote to me saying that that had been done. People who deal in food as these unscrupulous charlatans did, should have been punished by their goods being rejected and condemned. Because of the hunger of this country, the Minister found a use for the food through the foodpaste manufacturers. But food that is not good enough to eat in a canned state, is not good enough to eat in a transformed state. The only place for that food is on the dump and the only way to stop such a thing happening again is not to pay or deal with unscrupulous packers in South Africa. The reputable canners in South Africa detest this as much as we do, because of the injury it does to the industry. Snoek is a good fish and if we can get good snoek, by all means let us have it. But the story did not reflect in any way on my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee.
I wish to say a word about bulk buying. I take the view that it is justified where essential commodities are in short supply. I do not think there can be any other answer to that. Otherwise too many buyers would be chasing too few goods and prices would be bound to rise. But there is one aspect to which I feel bound 908 to call attention, and that is the danger of bulk buying being prolonged any longer than is absolutely necessary. We have had bulk buying now for more than 10 years and in all the importing industries experienced buyers are being sadly reduced, by the laws of nature. No young men are coming in to be trained, because there is no work for them to do. This country may face a very serious situation when the day comes for it to turn from bulk buying to individual buying again if we find there are not enough skilled and trained people to do the job.
Take the meat trade, for example. That trade was disrupted in 1939 and because of the fear of bombs in the London area depots were established all round the perimeter. Similar things happened elsewhere and buyers and wholesalers were put on a care and maintenance basis. Wholesalers and importers were given a measure of profit to keep them in idleness, and that is where they remain. There is no new blood coming into the industry, and 10 years is a large slice out of an adult person's life. Bulk buying cannot go on for ever, and I hope the Government will give serious attention to this matter. As soon as they can, even if they have gradually to restore them, I hope we shall have prewar practices restored. Otherwise, we shall find ourselves with very few businesses capable of importing. This is positively alarming in the meat trade. I have many contacts in that trade and find that capable men in the industry are spending their time playing bowls or golf, and are remittance men. Yet I recall the day when they were skilled, efficient tradesmen at Smithfield and other markets.
I wish to preface my remarks on the fishing industry by saying something I sometimes forget, that is, to pay tribute to the magnificent services that industry has rendered to Britain. Since the outbreak of the war, there has been an unlimited and unrationed supply of fish which has been a godsend to the people of this country. People can exist on 10d. worth of meat if they get enough fish. The industry has played a really great part.
I feel that the Ministry of Food has failed lamentably to deal with herring gluts. I regard herring as the finest of all fish in the sea and it is simply deplorable that from time to time vessels have to tie up for lack of a market in this little country of ours. Why does the Ministry 909 not apply itself to the problem, and if the fishmongers cannot deal with these gluts, why not harness the grocery trade for the time being? The grocers are enterprising people and if an imaginative approach were made to the grocers' associations and a request were made to them, "Would your members give an order for a three-stone margarine box of herring whenever there is a glut?" gluts would disappear and people would get herring in a fresh state. Turn loose the Woolworths, the Co-ops, the Marks and Spencers and the little fellows up and down the country, and people will get the fish they urgently need, fish which is far better than snoek from South Africa and far better than the bulk of things which we eat. I urge the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to give thought to that. Why not co-operate with the Herring Board, which is doing such a good job, work with them in developing the canning and freezing of British herring? There is tremendous scope for imaginative people, and I envy her the job.
§ Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)
I am most impressed by my hon. Friend's point about getting the grocers to handle herring. Might I suggest that some instruction on how to cook herring should be included, because well cooked they are the best fish in the world; badly cooked, they are not good.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
Does the hon. Member mean that grocers shall handle herring only when there is a glut—when nobody else wants them—because that is not a very sound business proposition, and I do not think that grocers would entertain it.
§ Sir D. Robertson
In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay), I would say that the Ministry of Food since the days of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison) has done a very good job right down to the present time in telling people how to cook herring. It is a simple job, and if herring are grilled they do not require cooking fat, which is most important.
The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) has raised the hard-boiled business man's aspect of this matter. My reply would be that there are thousands of grocers dealing in hundreds of commodities: 910 what is one box of herring to them? They can sell them as they come without cleaning. The difficulty in the distribution of herring is that when gluts occur there are not enough people selling them to create the demand necessary to take up the available supply. I agree that on hard economic grounds there is no answer to what the hon. Member for Taunton says, but let us try it. Even if we fail, let us go down with colours flying. I think that 25 per cent. of the grocers would support such a plan.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
Can the hon. Member tell us exactly when a glut will appear in the herring industry?
§ Sir D. Robertson
I certainly cannot, but in these days of lightning communications and as the Government have substantial control over the wireless, would it not be an easy matter—Interruption]. Did someone say "Nonsense"? If the hon. Member wishes to intervene, I will give way.
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge (Bedford)
I was making the point that I deny the hon. Member's assertion that the Government have control of the wireless.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I said that they have substantial control. I say that if 200 boats are at Fraserburgh, Yarmouth and Lowestoft heavily laden, the Government have sufficient control to arrange to break in on the wireless all over the country with an announcement, "The glut is here and tomorrow morning herring will be available all over the country." It does not need much imagination. I have had to sell fish for many years under much harder conditions.
§ Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)
Would the hon. Member ask his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) what communications are like at the herring ports on the West Coast of Scotland?
§ Sir D. Robertson
My hon. Friends seem to think that that question is not worth answering, and there is a good deal of truth in their view. I believe that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has some connection with Argyll, it may be by residence. I also have some connection with Argyll. I served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders during the war, and I know the country there reasonably well. When 911 the hon. and learned Member was a child, herring caught in Loch Fyne were taken by fast steamer to Glasgow within a few hours of being caught. Even if one lived at Kintyre as he does, one could never get herring there—they all went on to Glasgow.
I have to deal with one aspect of the fishing industry which is not so pleasant but it is just as important. I refer to the poor quality fish which is being landed from the distant waters—Iceland, Bear Island and the White Sea—day after day. It is causing great concern to the whole trade and today and in recent days the public have in large numbers been refusing to take any more of this stale Iceland and Bear Island cod fish which is coming in nearly a month old. The Minister of Food has turned a blind eye on this matter. The enforcement officers at the ports must have been instructed to exercise a much lower standard of inspection than prevailed before the war. It should come to an end. Every one in the trade is concerned about it. One of the difficulties is that trawler owners and men who bring in a good catch of fish frequently get no more for it than the men who bring in a much bigger catch of rubbish as a result of staying at sea much longer. Such catches make the maximum control price.
I feel that the Minister should immediately start talks with the trade, if he has not already done so, and, if de-control is necessary, he should take that step so that the good fish will make what it is worth. Under those conditions bad fish would probably not sell at all. It is going out now under Ministry of Food allocation and a merchant has to take so much good and so much bad fish if he wants any at all. Though I see the difficulty that good fish may make a good deal of money, it would be better for that to happen than for this rubbish to make the high prices which it is now fetching. I believe that the trade would be receptive to any encouragement which the Minister gave. It is worth while considering the question of de-control. I know it is a revolutionary step because for nine or ten years the Governments of the day have rigorously controlled the trade. But it is a British product. Its cost is the wear and tear of British boats, the wages of British 912 fishermen and the cost of British coal. There are no external costs. The situation must be tackled. The president of the retail fishmongers organisation said at their annual convention that every decent fishmonger is ashamed to sell the goods he is compelled to sell. No Minister of Food can sit down complacently following on a statement of that kind.
There is a tremendous opportunity for the Minister to get together with this industry to prevent this kind of thing from happening by freezing at sea instead of using ice for a purpose which it is not capable of performing. Trawler owners individually are afraid to take the step. They have little incentive in these days of savage taxation, but the time has come when there should be such a development instead of craft going into the Arctic Circle on tip-and-run raids. It is like going to the River Niger, or where the groundnuts come from, and coming back every month, with a waste of coal, labour and capital equipment. It would be wise to get the food back here in magnificent condition rather than for something to be brought which is stale and uneatable when consumed in this country. There is no mystery about freezing. Australia, New Zealand and the Argentine did it 65 or 70 years ago. What are we timid about? I commend it to the hon. Lady and to her right hon. Friend. I think that the trade will meet them more than half-way. It is their interest to land good food for the British people.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
The hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) began his speech with two assumptions which I do not accept. The first was that my right hon. Friend made his speech in a very minor key. The second was that the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) was dealing with the matters he raised only on humanitarian grounds, which had nothing whatever to do with what we are discussing this afternoon. His would have been a good speech, even if it had been only on humanitarian grounds, and it would have been worth while making. But it had a close connection with what we are discussing, and I shall make no apology for returning to it presently myself under Votes F and I.
In the first place, I deny that the Minister either made his speech in a 913 minor key, or had any reason for doing so. I would congratulate the Ministry of Food on the magnificent way in which they have fed the people of these islands during the last six very difficult months. They had hardly any money to spend; there were bad harvests everywhere in the world; there was the difficult situation caused by the dock strike. They have had everything against them that they could very well have. But I do not think I look very bad on it myself—I certainly do not feel very bad, and when I look at hon. Gentlemen opposite I do not see anyone who looks as if he is going into a decline.
§ Mrs. Manning
No, I do not think it is a pity. I do not want to see them going into a decline. I like to sit and look at hon. Gentlemen opposite—some of them at least—and on the whole they are a healthy looking lot.
§ Mrs. Manning
We have every reason to be grateful to the Ministry of Food. I have listened carefully to the speeches which have been made and I cannot help agreeing with what two hon. Members have said, that the speeches from the Opposition Benches have been a mere series of trivialities. What have been the main things which they have brought up for consideration? B.Us.; fair shares for all; and snoek. I am very glad that the hon. Member for Streatham says that he is in favour of fair shares for all, and that the whole of his party are in favour of it. But does he really believe that today, in the present difficult situation, if we remove rationing there would be fair shares for all? He knows very well that there would not be.
§ Sir D. Robertson
It the hon. Lady is referring to bread rationing, I do think there would be, because there is no scheme at all operating just now.
§ Mrs. Manning
I am not referring to bread at the moment, and I do not think the hon. Member was meaning bread when he said that his party was in favour of fair shares for all. He was discussing the situation generally, and I assert that if we remove rationing we should not get fair shares for all. It is very certain that people with the money to spend would 914 again get everything they wanted, and people with a small amount of money in their pockets would be in the same situation as they were before the war. They would not be able to buy, because the prices would be too high. We know that, and therefore it does not seem to me to be quite fair that the hon. Gentleman should assert it in the way that he did. May I ask him, through you, Mr. Bowles, if he would be prepared to take off rationing altogether? I should be interested to know what his answer would be and then we should know how true is his assertion that he is in favour of fair shares for all.
§ Mrs. Manning
I am glad to hear that. Now we need not have any further attack upon the Ministry because of their rationing schemes.
With regard to B.Us. I agree with everyone who has said that, to a certain extent, the B.U. scheme is not now operating. I looked at my own old ration book today—I do not say this with any sense of shame—and I asked my housekeeper, "What are all these 13's? Ought I to be having some points for them?" She said, "No, they are your bread rationing coupons." I said, "Then for Heaven's sake cut them out and send them to the baker." Everyone knows that this situation exists, but I do not think that it is any argument for abandoning the scheme at the moment. We do not know when we may need the scheme again. It is not the least use for the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) to look so disdainful about it. When we brought in this scheme we had the same disdain from the Opposition Benches, and we know very well now, that it was the only thing that helped us to turn a very difficult corner.
§ Mrs. Manning
If that is the opinion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman I am afraid that he has not looked as deeply into the subject as his responsible position ought to have prompted him to do. We know very well that without that rationing system, during those few weeks when it was first imposed, we could not have turned the corner in the way we did. It may be that we have 915 become a little more elastic in regard to the way the scheme works now. But it would be very unsafe, with no real knowledge of what the harvest this Autumn will be, to take it off at the present moment. It is better to keep the machinery there, and to go ahead with it if we find we need it again.
I wish to say a word in praise of the Parliamentary Secretary. One Vote is about publicity. She did the best piece of publicity I have ever known undertaken by any Ministry at all, and it was over the question of snoek, which has been so much derided from the Opposition Benches. It is true that the first lot of snoek that came to this country—under private enterprise—was very salt, and people did not like it. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Streatham has left his place. I would have told him that it would have been very bad and very wasteful to have thrown that snoek away, even although it was salt. If I make something at home and it is too salt I mix it in with something else, to get the right flavour. That is what the hon. Lady did. She sent the very salt snoek to be made into paste. It was mixed in with something else and then it was not too salt. There was a larger bulk, though with the same amount of salt, but then it could be used. She was also very wise. She saw that we did not get a bad lot of snoek next time. She had a party, and she showed us how to cook the snoek. I am very grateful to the hon. Lady. It was a good bit of publicity. I have learned how to cook this delectable fish so as to make a delectable meal.
§ Mrs. Manning
I should like the hon. Member to come and have a meal with me some time, and see how nice tinned snoek can be when it is cooked in the way that the Ministry taught us.
Now I wish to turn to a Vote which I consider of real importance, more important than the trivial things we have been dealing with this afternoon, namely, the whole question of our work in F.A.O. I think the amount of money in this Vote is very small and very miserable. If we carry our minds back to the Debate on F.A.O. when the right hon. Gentleman, who is now the President of the Board of Trade, came back, we shall recall the 916 disappointment that many of us felt that a World Food Board had not been set up. I think that disappointment will be intensified today, now that we see how difficult the position has become, or at least, now that it has been brought home to all of us.
It is no use thinking that we are looking at this only from a humanitarian viewpoint. When the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery started his speech by saying that it was our job to see that the rest of the world was well fed, he was speaking from a humanitarian point of view. But what we have to remember is that, because the world food situation is so bad, it is bound to have its effect upon us sooner or later. This is not a temporary phenomenon, any more than the shortage of dollars is temporary, or any of the other difficulties about which we are talking day after day. These are not transient things, they are things which have been emphasised and exaggerated in our eyes by the war, but they were beginning to happen long before the war. In time, they will make a tragic situation for us and for the world; and I do not know of any other machinery to help us except the F.A.O.
There are 2,300 million people in the world who must be fed. They increase every year at the rate of 20 to 25 million, but, practically no more acreage comes under cultivation. That is bound to create a situation which in the end must affect the people of this country. The trouble is not only due to the increasing birth rate and the amount of land which is going out of production, but that there is much land in the world today which will not be suitable for production in our lifetime or for a very long time after that.
Therefore, we must think of means of meeting this difficult situation which is brought about not only by land going out of production and by increases in world population, but by the change-over in countries which at one time were primary producing countries and which have now become partly or entirely industrialised. How the tables have been turned on us! At one time we used to get our food from these people as cheaply as possible, just as we got it from our own farmers as cheaply as possible.
The tables are turned not only in the world but in our own country. The peasants and agricultural workers today 917 demand a better price for their labour and the things they produce. Therefore, they are able to buy the things they need, whereas in the past they had to sell everything they produced in order to be able to live at all. That situation is not one which exists only here or in Europe: it covers the whole world. Today we are begging people to buy our machines and clamouring for them to sell us their food, but they say "No." They can afford to turn their backs on two or three dollars a bushel. It serves them better, because their people are making machines and earning good money, to give this grain to their cattle, for their people can now afford to buy eggs, bacon and cheese which they could not buy when they had nothing to bargain with and when they had to come to us not only for machines but when they had to pay interest on the capital which we had invested with them.
The whole world situation has changed in a way which we would be wise to consider, to try to fathom the difficulties and find an answer to them. The situation affects us already. It is what makes procurement the most difficult of the tasks of the Minister of Food. I think that what has been said by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery has been said with sufficient sincerity and knowledge of the situation to make it unnecessary for me to go into further details. Perhaps I ought not to feel so anxious, it may be that our officials are as interested in the work of F.A.O., as I would like to feel that they are and in the question of trying to build up, for example, wheat stocks in the world.
That brings me to my next point about which I want some information from the Parliamentary Secretary. I read with great disappointment that the International Wheat Agreement had fallen through. When I first saw an account of the International Wheat Agreement and the large number of countries which had subscribed to it, I thought that it was a magnificent piece of international co-operation. It seemed that for five years at least we had insured ourselves against great rises in wheat prices. I think that the agreed price was two dollars a bushel at Fort William and that it would have remained at that figure for five years. It also appeared to me that the producers had insured themselves against the kind 918 of crashes which came very often in the years before the war.
For example, when Russia first came back into the world wheat market in 1930 and when the whole of Europe was trying to be self-sufficient, because they were building up for the war and trying to produce as much as possible within their own borders, all those things made it very bad for countries on the other side of the world which had been producing wheat. It seemed to me that in the International Wheat Agreement we had the right kind of insurance both for producers, exporters and importers. It is a very grave disappointment to find that we have withdrawn from that Agreement. I suppose that we have withdrawn because America has—I do not know—but I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us what happened to cause that Agreement to break down when it seemed to promise so much in the way of stable prices and costs.
I turn now to Vote I. I do not want to say very much, except to mention it in connection with what I have already said about the great revolution in food production, distribution and consumption which has been going on in the world in the last decades. I refer to the groundnuts scheme. I am very glad that the Minister went into that scheme with optimism. Some hon. Members opposite attacked him for his optimism. If one goes into a thing in the belief that it will not succeed, one can be quite sure that it will not succeed. If one goes into a venture with optimism and faith even though it may be difficult at the beginning, one finds one's way through to success in the end. I am sure that this will happen with the groundnuts scheme.
We know the difficulties which have had to be faced. There was the difficulty of not having the priority which had been expected. When we first went into the scheme, I remember it being said that it should have the same priority as if it were a military operation. We know that the scheme has not been given that priority. Many other claims have come along and many other people have wanted the things which should have gone to Tanganyika. That has been half the trouble and that is the reason why the scheme has not been as successful as was hoped at the beginning. I know that the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead says that 919 that was our fault, but with everybody struggling for priorities it must have been most difficult for the Minister to get what was needed for Africa.
That does not alter the fact that this project is exactly the sort of thing which is needed to meet the situation outlined by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). We must find new lands which can be made productive again or which can be made productive for the first time. There are some places where there has been frightful soil erosion and where that cannot be done. But in other places like the bush, which can be cleared and where pests and animal diseases can be fought, a great opportunity is presented. That is the kind of thing which we must tackle if the world is to meet this terrible new situation which is only now beginning to be understood. The very fact that the Minister of Food went into the groundnuts scheme with optimism, courage and faith that it would succeed, is something for which this Committee ought to be grateful, and it is not something which hon. Members opposite ought to sneer at.
I hope very much that, during the time in office of the present Minister, we shall find not only that we are successful but that our successes in Africa encourage other countries to undertake the same kind of venture. These great imaginative schemes, which must be carried out by all countries, present the only way in which in future the world with its thousands of millions of people can possibly be fed. I hope all hon. Members will encourage the Minister in his work. I hope that we shall all congratulate him on what he has done and ask him to go forward with our best hopes for his success.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. J. H. Hare (Woodbridge)
It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning), and this is the second occasion on which I have had that pleasure. I think her practical approach to matters and her warm humanity always make it a great pleasure to listen to her.
I would like to concentrate on the last of the various points which the hon. Lady brought to the attention of the Committee, and I would like to speak for a 920 few minutes on what the Minister said about the groundnuts scheme, and to try to clarify again what the attitude of my party is, so far as this important project is concerned. We have never sneered at the groundnuts scheme, and, if the hon. Lady goes through the Debate on the Second Reading of the Overseas Resources Development Bill, or takes the trouble to read the Debate on the Supplementary Estimates when the groundnuts scheme was discussed, she would have seen that, in all these discussions, we on this side of the Committee have given the groundnuts scheme our wholehearted approval, and, in fact, congratulated the Government on their bold conception of what is entirely a new idea of agricultural development in tropical countries. That was our attitude, and it still is, but we feel there is a good deal to criticise about the way this scheme has been presented and also in regard to what is happening now. I think the hon. Lady will be the first to agree that it is the job of an Opposition to criticise, and, if those criticisms are valid, then it is the right thing for the Government to accept those criticisms and to do something about them.
I would agree with the Minister of Food when he said that the groundnuts scheme should not be made a party issue. We on this side say that we are not making it a party issue, but that the right hon. Gentleman himself has done so. In his speech today, the Minister took the view that, so far as he was concerned, he was keeping this matter well above the party level, and that it was only through sneers and allegations on our part that it was dragged into the party arena. I would like to ask him why practically every housewife in this country a year ago imagined that she was going to get an immediate extra allotment of margarine? Why was it that the farming community thought they would get a large amount of extra feedingstuffs for milk production? Was it a conspiracy on the part of the wicked Tories, who said that the Government were going to be so successful with the groundnuts scheme that, within a year or two years, thousands of extra tons of groundnuts were to be poured into the country? I do not think it was a Tory conspiracy. I am convinced that the British public was led to believe that by this Government—I have not got the 921 extracts from the relevant speeches here, but I do say that either the Minister, his P.R.O. or his followers gave the impression to the country that we should get these extra fats at a very early date.
§ Mr. Collins
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? The original announcement about the groundnuts scheme stated quite categorically that the first production was expected to be small, that there would be production this year, but, in any case, the harvest first of all would be very small.
§ Mr. Hare
I do not think that is a relevant interruption. The figure of 150,000 tons of groundnuts was expected to be harvested this year under the original scheme when it was first published in 1946; the hon. Gentleman has only to remember that 7,500 tons were harvested, and that the whole point about the British housewife not getting the extra allocation of margarine. The housewife was led to believe that she could expect something fairly soon, and the Government are responsible for giving her that impression, which should never have been created. It was much too optimistic and should never have been allowed to have been created in the minds of the people. The Minister is really not facing up to the lessons which he should have learned in the running of this scheme. He quoted himself an extract from Cmd. 7030, issued in 1946, in which he said that it was realised that there would be difficulties, because he said:A vast agricultural operation of this kind, involving the use of all the latest techniques of mechanised production in remote and undeveloped areas, clearly involves considerable risks. Serious difficulties and delays, many of them unforeseeable, may arise in the course of the undertaking.At this point, several hon. Members said, "Read on," but the right hon. Gentleman would not read on. He need only have read one more sentence:The view taken by His Majesty's Government, after making the most careful investigation possible of the financial aspects of the scheme, is, however, that these risks are justified by the critical shortage of oils and fats in the world today and by the prospect of a continuing shortage for many years to come.The point is that, according to the Government, this scheme was started with the greatest possible care, and went into all the financial implications concerning 922 transport and so on, and it was stated that 150,000 tons of groundnuts would be produced in the harvest year 1947–48. Unfortunately, as we now know, these expectations have not been achieved. The Minister of Food has quoted letters from Mr. Faure, of the United Africa Company, and he talked about the stupidity of Members of Parliament and said that he boils over with indignation when he hears this scheme commented upon. I know Mr. Faure, and I had the privilege of being taken round by him, and no greater enthusiast could be imagined. The scheme owes as much to him as to anybody. As for stupidity, it is also the people of this country, as well as Members of Parliament, who are stupid, because they are prepared to criticise the scheme when they realise that it is producing one-twentieth of expectation or of what they were led to believe, and that is what we have to keep in mind.
The Minister admitted that some mistakes had been made, and he tried to limit these mistakes to two. First, he said, the storekeeping accounts had not been properly kept. That is a very small point, and I do not think it was worthy of him. It is no use keeping stores accounts properly when there are no spare parts and all the machines are broken down. Secondly, he said that the scope of the maintenance problem had not been properly envisaged. That was only one of the major reasons for failure. There was a complete lack of imagination in asserting the most obvious maintenance needs.
When it is realised that the majority of the heavy tractors employed were secondhand stores from America, which had been lying on dumps for a year or two years, it was obvious that enormous workshop facilities would be needed. In March of this year, every tractor had been called in and not one was working on jungle clearance, but officials were hoping, with their inadequate workshops, to turn them out again at the rate of 10 a week. They also said, and this was in March of this year, that it would take them six months before they would be able to have the workshop facilities which would be needed to maintain the various equipment which they had on hand. Therefore, I certainly agree with what the Minister said in that there was a lack of imagination in envisaging the scope of the maintenance problem.
923 I would also agree with the non. Lady the Member for Epping that this scheme was embraced and given a blessing from the Government, who said it was to be organised like a military operation. The hon. Lady is kinder to the Government than I am. This has not been treated as a military operation, and it never could have been. I am astonished that, at the end of 1946, before this scheme was finally approved, the Government ever thought that it could be treated as a military operation. There are far too many other commitments and demands on our capital and consumer goods for that to be possible. Another reason for the very disappointing start of the scheme—and I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Epping will agree—is that there was not a proper appreciation of the fact that the right type of equipment was not available. The Minister in his speech on the Supplementary Estimates justified the purchase of these second-hand heavy tractors from the Americans on the ground that they were cheap. It is no use buying something cheap if it does not work. Unfortunately, a large proportion of this equipment never moved under its own propulsion after arriving in the middle of the jungle in Tanganyika. Therefore, the scheme was handicapped, because it is only quite recently, owing to these converted Sherman tanks which are very successful, that we have begun to get the real tools for the job. Unfortunately, it has taken us at least nine months to gain that experience.
We also failed to appreciate the obvious transport difficulties which were bound to arise. We did not appreciate the congestion there would be in the port of Dar-es-Salaam, neither did we envisage the transport difficulties on the Tanganyika Railways. However, I give full marks to the Government because that particular aspect of this problem is being overcome fairly rapidly. I have been told that Dar-es-Salaam is now dealing far more effectively than it has done since the start of the scheme, with the traffic that is pouring through the port. I am also told that more rolling stock and so on has arrived in Tanganyika, so that the railway system is functioning more effectively.
There has been a lack of preliminary technical knowledge of how these nuts are to be grown. People talk about rotation 924 of two years of groundnuts and then two years of some other type of crop. In the opinion of most East African and Central African farming experts, this is not feasible. They say that we are asking for the most appalling trouble if we follow one groundnut crop one year with another groundnut crop the following year. A great deal of work will have to be done before we have really worked out a proper system of rotation, and I am sure that the arrival of Mr. Phillips from South Africa, who is going to be in charge of the agricultural side of the scheme, will be welcomed. He is a great expert in these matters, but he has a lot of leeway to make up, because I do not think enough has been learned so far.
The Minister's financial reassessment was very unconvincing. He went so far as to say that assuming that groundnut prices remained at the present level, which he takes at an average of £41 per ton, and assuming that costs do not more than double over the amount envisaged, this scheme is likely to be more remunerative than originally anticipated. The Minister has made a very grave mistake in trying to mislead both the Committee and the country. I am convinced—I am only quoting my own opinion and that of certain friends of mine who have been out there—that the cost of this scheme will be very much greater than anything which we can envisage at the moment.
The point is that we have already wasted one year, and the future forecasts—I know what they are, unless they have altered very much since the time when I was out there—of what we are likely to be able to do are still far too sanguine. I know it is hoped that when the next harvest comes along we shall be able to clear 150,000 acres and have it planted for the following harvest. I believe that is correct; perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell me if I am wrong. From what I was able to see when I was in those parts, we shall be very fortunate if we can clear more than 100,000 acres, and if we have 75,000 acres cropped for the next harvest we shall have done reasonably well.
It is on this still too sanguine forecast of the future that the Minister has based his scheme. Courage is needed to present the true picture. Unless courage is shown and unless it is admitted that the scheme is likely to cost far more than we 925 originally anticipated, we shall find that if a bombshell is suddenly dropped on the public in a year's time or so the British public will say, "This thing is too expensive, we are not prepared to go on with it." It is the desire of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee that that does not occur. So much of the future well-being of this country and of the rest of the world depends upon the successful development of growing groundnuts and of clearing thousands of acres of unexploited bush land. The Minister of Food has given birth, after much labour, to a delicate child—a child to whom we all wish good luck. But that child is hardly able to walk even now, and the Minister of Food is trying to make the child run.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-Western)
It has been anticipated that this would be one of the most important Debates this week, and we were promised that hon. Members opposite would have a great deal of criticism to make of the Minister in view of the lack of planning and preparation for his schemes. However, both of the previous speakers from the opposite benches have had to admit that they themselves had given too little preparation to their speeches, and, therefore, it ill becomes them to criticise the Minister for pursuing a policy which has not been properly thought out.
I do not know whether I should criticise the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), the leader of the Liberal Party, since the Liberal Party have all deserted the Committee, but I would say that when I listened to his speech I wondered whether he was not addressing the wrong assembly. After all, today we are concerned with the Ministry of Food and its operations mainly so far as they concern this country. We have already handed the problem in India to the Indians, and, so far as I know, we never did take on the problem of China. The vast increase in populations in those parts of the world is not the responsibility of this country, but I quite agree that we must bear in mind that great problem when we carry out our own policy, and it seems to me that that is just what we have been doing. Whereas previously we received large quantities of groundnuts from India, owing to the increase in population there 926 and their need for those groundnuts, we have had to seek other sources of groundnuts.
The only criticism from the opposite Benches which I recognised is that the Ministry of Food started too soon in attempting to grow groundnuts in East Africa, that they ought to have built up a great team of men and machines before starting the job. Being an agriculturist myself, I should have thought that the sooner one got experience of the task of growing groundnuts the better, and that one should learn from experience. If we took over some of the machines which the Americans have used in the Philippines, or other parts of the world, in order to get a start, experimented with them, tried to adapt them, and on the basis of that work sent back home the results of our experience and requested machines which were more suitable for the task—I would say the sooner we did that the better. I think, therefore, that the Ministry were wise in pushing ahead with the scheme for groundnuts in East Africa. One of the things which we miss in this country in feeding our stock is groundnut meal. It is one of the foods with a high protein content which we need for the stock, pigs and poultry. The sooner we can get supplies of groundnut meal, whether from East Africa, West Africa or anywhere else, the sooner we shall be able to increase the quantity of meat and eggs that we can produce at home.
When we speak of the great and urgent need for a supply of fats, we should also turn our attention to the pig, which in the past was one of the great producers of fats. Another hon. Member has referred to Denmark as a source for a supply of bacon, but I see from the latest information that the number of sows in Denmark has declined and, therefore, a fall in the number of pigs can be expected during 1948 and 1949, and that the total production of bacon in 1947 constituted about two-thirds of the production of 1938. We must, therefore, turn our attention to other sources of bacon, pork or lard, and it is gratifying to notice that in this country there has been a rapid increase in the number of breeding sows and, therefore, we can anticipate a greater quantity of pork from our own country.
Under the present scale of payment for fat pigs, the maximum price comes to about £18. After that, if the pig gets 927 bigger, gets fatter, gets more lard inside it, we pay a smaller price, and the bigger pigs could make about £2 less to the producer. Surely, we know that the number of pigs that will be killed in the next six months cannot be greater than the number of pigs already in existence. Therefore, if we encourage greater weight we shall get more lard, and we shall get a better supply of meat for the sausages, for the pork pies and the rest of it. Why not immediately go into this question of encouraging the farmers to produce greater quantities of pork rather than aiming at the highest quality of pork? It is not quality that is wanted so much today as quantity, and if we get quantity we also get lard.
As the pigs should come through the slaughterhouses controlled by the Ministry, that lard should come to the ration. I ask the Minister to give very urgent consideration to this question. I remember in the early part of the war when the Americans were suddenly asked to supply this country with more meat, they urged their farmers to keep their pigs to a heavier weight so as to bring about a greater quantity. What applies to pigs applies equally to fat cattle. We know the number of cattle there are in this country today; therefore, we know the number that will come to the markets and the slaughterhouses during the next few years. It is the number we have in the country, less those which will die off at any time through some disease or other, plus any imported store cattle which may come from Ireland. Therefore, if we are to increase the supply of beef from our home-produced herds, it must be by greater weight.
In many cases, greater weight could also mean better quality, because if we look through the cattle markets today and see cattle which are not fat coming into the rings and over the weigh-bridges we see we are losing that extra weight which these animals ought to be carrying. I know that under the present system there is a premium for the better quality animals up to a live weight of 13 cwt. My hon. Friend the Member for West Salford (Mr. Royle) was talking of 14 cwt. bullocks. Surely it is much easier to get the ration out of a 14 cwt. bullock than it is out of an eight cwt. bullock? The greater the amount of weight and the 928 older the bullock and the better finished off, the greater the proportion of meat. I urge the Minister to have a talk with the Minister of Agriculture on this particular subject to see whether, by a system of payment and grading, we cannot encourage the producer to get both the greater quantity and the better quality of beef for home consumption.
Having mentioned that particular point, I would add that I fully realise that the success of the Government's policy in relation to food depends upon the fullest co-operation between the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture. It would have been an encouragement to have seen on the Government Benches all through this Debate today a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture, so as to ensure the fullest co-operation on matters of policy and day-to-day work in connection with these two Ministries.
There is one other matter I would like to mention—I would like to turn from meat to fruit. Last year we had an excellent crop of apples in this country, and what a great standby they were during the winter. Thanks to the steps that were taken by the Ministry of Food large quantities of apples were stored so they could be brought on to the market in a very good condition at a later period. This year, the prospects of the apple crop are not good, but the prospects of the plum crop are excellent and here arises a problem. Last year's plums have not yet been cleared away. Those who are responsible for jam making have large stocks of plum pulp on hand. When it is estimated that this year's plum crop will be in the region of 138,000 tons, and the people who are responsible for processing cannot see their way to take more than about, say, the 38,000 tons, what is to happen to the remainder, unless some action is taken by the Ministry of Food to enable the people to consume that plum jam or pulp which is in stock?
May I ask the Minister to give his attention to this problem immediately so that we will have no wastage of the plum crop this year and so that those who have grown the crop can have the fullest assurance that all of it will be required either as fresh fruit or canned, or as jam, or as pulp for the following year? This is a matter of great urgency to those responsible for growing the plum crop this year, 929 and I ask the Minister to give his immediate attention to it.
We can, I think, rejoice together in the agreement which has been made with the Eire Government for a further supply of food from that country, and we hope that this agreement will lead to very much better relations between the two countries. Ireland, with her greater rainfall in most years than this country, with her wonderful grass, can rear cattle in great quantities and, maybe, if the Irish send greater quantities of cattle here, we can fatten them. We shall be glad of the opportunity. But there is some concern amongst the poultry keepers of this country as to whether we are not making provision for a greater supply of feeding-stuffs for Ireland than would be available here. It is one of the most encouraging signs of the present time that the farmers of this country are increasing their stocks of poultry. It will lend to very much better supplies of table birds and eggs in the months to follow. If the Minister of Agriculture with the Minister of Food can so arrange that there will be the 20 per cent. of wheat and barley left on the farms for consumption by the poultry and the pigs and other animals—that will also all be to the good. We do want the fullest assurance that there will not only be the cereals available for poultry and pigs, but that the food containing more proteins will also be available, so that we can increase the supply of meat and eggs as well as maintain, and even increase, the supply of milk.
One of the most disturbing things said by the Minister today was that our problem now is not so much the problem of the availability of food as of the balance of payments—whether we as a nation shall be able to pay for the food which is available in the world. We had one instance in the case of peas in South Africa, which had to be left there rather than brought to this country. That indicates the very great importance of the fullest development of our own home food production.
Despite all his difficulties and tasks, I should like to see the Minister of Food take more personal interest in those who are producing food in this country. He receives resolutions time after time from the representatives of the agricultural workers, asking for a little more rations regularly for those workers, 930 as they are engaged in food production. I hope he will not always turn a deaf ear to them. I know that the most important thing is to increase the rations of everybody as soon as possible, but if he could stretch over a longer period and make more general the extra rations for all farm workers, it would encourage them. It would encourage the farmers, too, if he could spare time occasionally to look round the farms and districts which are devoting themselves with such energy to producing food in this country.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)
I want to spend the short time I shall keep the Committee, on one part of the Minister's speech. I had an engagement with the Ministry of Pensions which stopped my hearing the whole of his speech, but I did hear the right hon. Gentleman make an immensely important statement which, so far, has not been remarked upon during the Debate. He told us that the cost of food subsidies is going to rise to £470 million. In the Budget speech just three months ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that the cost of food subsidies was running at about £400 million and was to be maintained at that level. I am not concerned tonight with making an attack on food subsidies, but I do ask for an explanation of a change of such magnitude in such a short time.
Is it due to the fact that our cheaper contracts have run out? Or is it due to the fact that the terms of trade have gone more against us? If so, how was it that that was not foreseen so short a time ago as the 6th April? Or is it that there is a difference of opinion in the Cabinet on this matter? A rise in the cost of food subsidies by this colossal amount would seem to be an entire reversal of the financial policy of the Government. I have a great respect for the Minister of Food, who is a very old friend of mine, and he is a Minister who is of great importance; but I think he will agree that he is not of the importance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that when we are considering this vitally important matter, this apparent reversal of the financial policy of the Government, it should not be left to the Minister of Food to tell us about it, but should be announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I 931 do ask that on the earliest possible occasion we shall have an explanation by the Chancellor of this matter.
The Minister of Food defended his action on humanitarian grounds and referred to "hard-hearted economists." As regards the second, I hope, as one who, though by no means an economist, is in a very humble capacity connected with the London School of Economics, the right hon. Gentleman does not suggest that all economists are hard-hearted. But on humanitarian grounds he defended this enormous rise in costs. He gave in support of this the evidence of a distinguished French observer who had instanced the great improvement in the health of our children. None of us suggests spending less on the milk in the schools; none of us suggests cutting all food subsidies from vital commodities. That is not our case at all.
What I suggest to the Minister is that it may be a wasteful way of helping those who need help most to pay out food subsidies which go to rich and poor alike, whether they need that help or not. It may be that those who most need it could be helped much more economically by an increase in the allowances or pensions rather than by this wholesale giving out of subsidies to rich and poor alike. As regards the second point, I suggest this is really the Purchase Tax in reverse. Is this the time when we should be helping people to spend more and increasing taxation on production? Certainly, there are times, as there was a time in the interwar period, when there was an ineffective demand for all we could produce when there might have been a very good case indeed for doing just that; but at this time, under these conditions, it seems to me open to question whether it is wise to spend this huge amount in helping people to spend, and when that amount has to be offset by taxing the producers. I should like to quote a comment on this matter which was made in this Chamber come time ago. It was:I think we are piling up too much. I venture to say, and I said this once before in this House, that there are things which in themselves appear to be quite good and each of them makes a special appeal, and somehow you go up for million to million, until at last, I think, the burden will become a perfectly crushing one."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th May, 1930; Vol. 239, c. 1373.]932 That was not said by a Member on this side, but by the late Mr. Lloyd George. Food subsidies as originally brought about under the regime of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) were running at £200 million. That may or may not have been too much. Food subsidies were running last year at £300 million. That may or may not have been too much. The rate of £400 million may or may not have been too much. Even the current rate may not be too much. But there must be a limit which we cannot afford to exceed, and if the subsidies are jumped up by this staggering sum, I think we ought to have the pros and cons for such an increase before us. I, personally, think we have got to cut Government expenditure. I cannot see how we are to do it if expenditure of this sort is to go on at this level. With Government expenditure at this level, we must have a high level of taxation. That means disincentive to production. I am not saying that there must be a reduction of taxation simply to lighten the burden on the well-to-do, but because it is vital to the economy of the country. Taxation must have a disincentive effect on production There are men who are earning £10 a week who would have to pay at the rate of three times as much in taxation if they worked an extra hour's overtime a day.
As regards the present situation of inflation, we have the misdirection of men and material into making those things which are not vital to our own use and not vital for export. We have to have a system of controls which must interfere with efficiency. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that, in his own subject of food, there are manufacturers of sweets making vast sums of money and doing very inadequate work for it. I know of cases where they were earning £5,000 or £6,000 a year before the war and are now making £40,000 a year and more. Just because they have an allocation of materials, they are able to make money without being efficient. That is most unsatisfactory. Surely there is reason for getting rid of these controls to which the right hon. Gentleman refers at the earliest possible moment, in the interests of efficiency.
The right hon. Gentleman would, I expect, say that these vast sums must be spent in order to avoid a spiral demand for high wages which would cause greater 933 inflation. That is a powerful argument. I fully realise that if there is a demand for higher wages, they will go up to a point at which the result will bring about heavy unemployment, which is a thing we all dread to see. But I suggest that there is another side to that case. We may try to avoid it at too great an expense. This increase in subsidies means a reversal of the Chancellor's policy. If it means a considerable increase in inflationary pressure, what happens then? We have I believe to produce more and spend less. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman must agree with that when he tells us that our problem now is not availability of supplies but balance of payments.
What happens if, under increasing inflation, we produce less? It means that we shall not be able to buy raw materials to keep men employed. That means that we shall buy less food. The food we buy will cost more. We shall have vast unemployment; it will be a vicious circle because obviously the more unemployment we have the less we can produce and the less we export the less we have with which to buy necessary raw materials. This leads to a catastrophic condition. I am suggesting that in a well-intentioned plan of maintaining the present price of food we may be taking that action that will give us less food at a far greater cost and vast unemployment. Today we are spending on food subsidies about half the prewar revenue of the country. I repeat that when it has reached that figure, it surely is a time when there should not be a vast increase without a full explanation from the Minister primarily responsible, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
I have listened to the whole of this Debate, and up till now I have not heard anything about the food situation in this country as it affects the housewife. I expected an overwhelming onslaught from the benches opposite about food in the home. We have heard nothing about that. It is just a year ago since convertibility shook the country, and all manner of prophecies went out as to the terrible things that would happen in the homes of the British people. We had screaming headlines about the starvation which that crisis would bring to us. We had headlines such as "The meat ration will be halved"; "Your butter ration 934 will disappear"; "The fat ration will be halved." Not one of those prophecies has turned out to be correct, and the Minister of Food may take credit that nothing has emanated from those vile prophecies. If there was anything astonishing in the Debate today it was the attack by the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid). I have never listened to anything so poor in all my life.
§ Mr. Spearman
Will the hon. Lady agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that we have only been saved from the most drastic cuts by the generosity of the United States of America?
§ Mrs. Mann
Not at all. On the contrary, I began by drawing attention to convertibility and its effect on this country. Surely, I do not need to tell hon. Members opposite that the Loan had to come to an end, but whether it came to an end or not, the stuff went on to the tables of the people of Great Britain. That statement is incontrovertible. I intend to prove it in a minute or two.
To return to the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead, we have been accustomed to hear this right hon. and learned Gentleman in Scottish Grand Committee go into meticulous detail about a preposition. He could keep the Committee for 20 minutes on an Amendment to a preposition or even a conjunction. I have passed through his constituency for years and have seen the housewives queueing in the main shopping areas in Glasgow. It is well known to the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) that Byers Road is an area that would let us know immediately if, as the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead said three years ago, it witnessed a steady decline in our food supplies.
Three years ago, and even two years ago, there were large queues at the fishmongers all over Hillhead, particularly in the main shopping area of Byers Road. There were large queues waiting for a quarter pound of tomatoes per application. I think that it is two years ago since I, with six ration books, had to take a quarter pound of tomatoes, and a woman at the back of me in the queue, who had only one book, got the same amount. What is the situation today? In Hillhead and all over Scotland 935 tomatoes have tumbled down in price and there are endless supplies in the shops, yet hon. Members opposite tell us that we have witnessed a steady decline. I believe that the hon. and learned Member for Hillhead goes in largely for afternoon teas. Probably that is why he is the representative of that division. As the result of that penchant for afternoon teas there were endless queues at the cake shops in Hillhead. Now there are no longer queues at the fish shops, cake shops or fruit shops. Instead of a steady decline there has been a very great improvement in the supplies coming to the tables of the housewives of this country.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)
Is the hon. Lady giving the Minister the lie when he says that by pulling and hauling, they have been able to maintain the standard, but no more? Certainly the Minister has not claimed any increase in the standard. The hon. Lady ought to know, if she has attended the Scottish Grand Committee, that the tuberculosis statistics for Scotland are the worst for 20 years.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Does not the hon. Lady remember the last Debate, and the argument of the Parliamentary Secretary?
§ Mrs. Mann
I remember the days when hon. Gentlemen opposite were not in the least worried about calorific values, vitamins, or anything of that kind; when they sent girls home from the labour exchange with 3d. in their hands because their brothers were working. Where then, in the days when they introduced the Means Test, was all this concern for calorific intake?
I find that even to keep the queues together in Scotland women are organising 'bus drives. The situation must have changed remarkably when we now have to introduce social measures to keep queues together. Where is the right line of defence of hon. Members opposite? 936 There are now not even any housewives to back them up. Surely, with a Debate like this, when it is announced before-hand that the Opposition have laid down food supplies as the subject, all their old friends, the Housewives League and the Housewives Association, should have been parading outside, sending hon. Members opposite on their happy way rejoicing. Instead of that, the last letter I had from the Housewives Association—and I think it is the latest and most up-to-date—was a request that the National Health Service Act should be postponed and not put into operation on 5th July. That shows how concerned people are about food at the present time.
§ Mrs. Mann
In this Debate there have been a lot of back-seat drivers. The hon. Member for Western Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) finished up with a Scottish song, "Will ye no' come back again," which he said was what we ought to sing to Lord Woolton. It is not to Lord Woolton that we ought to sing "Will ye no' come back again," but to Lend-Lease. Without Lend-Lease, Lord Woolton's car would not go; his accelerator would not work; the back wheels would be wobbling, and the front tyres deflated. The only thing that ever went with the Tory Party was the brake; the brake has always worked. One just trembles to think what Lord Woolton's position would be if he were driving today; I certainly think he would require to have his plugs decarbonised.
The situation has improved. One would have thought that hon. Members opposite would come here and tell us they were agreeably surprised that we had won through the crisis so much better than through the Geddes Axe crisis, or the dollar crisis when we were chasing the £ across the Atlantic in order to look the dollar in the face. As housewives, we are all agreeably surprised.
I have heard of Lord Woolton's suggestion about the sweets, and I have heard, not today but at other times, hon. Members speak on the question of sugar. At three o'clock this morning I finished making 32 lbs. of jam, and each month I will continue with my extra sugar for jam making. That extra ration of sugar means that the housewife can double the 937 ration, because later on instead of taking jam she can again have sugar. Consequently, any housewife who takes the sugar for jam finds later on that she gets extra sugar in lieu of jam, either to make jam or even to change it for other sweets. Not only that, but if one has 48 lbs. worth of jam, through this extra 1 lb. sugar that we are getting in the Summer, it means that for the whole of the Winter one can take sugar in lieu of jam. I think that a great deal of the criticism I have read comes from people who never made a pot of jam in their lives, and do not intend to, and who know nothing at all about thrift in the running of a home; or perhaps it is that they merely want to be critical.
If I were to ask for something, I think I should ask for sweets to be unrationed to the children. I should also ask the Minister: what about getting carcass fat? We do need more soups, and more fat. I have been told—I shall probably be informed that I am wrong, because I am going on the only information available to me—that we have refused carcass fat because of lack of shipping space between here and the Argentine. If we had the suet fat it would help housewives to a very large extent. I should also like to see the banana rationing scheme extended, to begin with, to the children and the old people, and then, if possible, to let everyone have a general ration.
The Ministry of Food deserve our thanks and our congratulations for having steered the homes of Britain through a very severe crisis, and for having tempered the wind and made the storm break in the gentlest possible way.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
I will resist the temptation of coming between the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid), as I want to devote myself for a few moments to a matter which has received little attention so far in this Debate, namely, poultry keepers and eggs. In that connection, I am glad to see the Minister of Agriculture in his place.
During his speech the Minister of Food made some reference to the matter of feedingstuffs for livestock, and commented on the fact that only one-third of the value of coarse grains was realised by this country as against buying carcase meat from 938 abroad. That seemed to me rather a sweeping assertion, as it took no account of the manurial residues from producing our own livestock to say nothing of the benefits from an improvement in our livestock population. He said nothing in regard to the matter of feedingstuffs for poultry, however, and I hope that the hon. Lady can say something, for it is giving a great deal of concern to poultry keepers. As she probably realises, I have the honour of representing a constituency which has more poultry keepers than any other part of the country.
There has, of course, been a decline in our poultry stocks between 1945 and December, 1947, of about 10 million poultry, and both the larger and smaller poultry keepers have had a difficult time to contend with the reduction in their feedingstuffs. I would like the hon. Lady to give some indication of what is to be the policy in the immediate future. The Minister of Agriculture of Eire quite recently said that it was the intention of Eire to flood this country with eggs within the next two years. That is a matter which gives additional concern to our own poultry keepers. Is it the policy of the Government in future to buy shell eggs abroad or in Eire as against producing poultry and eggs in this country? If so, what is the underlying principle? Surely it is not suggested that it is cheaper to buy shell eggs from abroad rather than to import the necessary feedingstuffs for our own poultry population?
In this regard I would like to say one word with reference to the many ex-Service men who had been attempting in quite a small way since the war to start up poultry keeping, in many cases men who have been advised on medical grounds that they must follow some open-air occupation. In most cases these men have taken over holdings and are confined to an allocation which was laid down in the year 1939, and which may have been adequate at that time in conjunction with some other occupation or some other outlet for the then occupier. In so many cases these ex-Service men find themselves in a position where it is wholly impracticable to gain a reasonable living on that allocation, and time and again the Minister of Agriculture has had to turn down representations by myself and other hon. Members on their behalf for some small additional allowance to enable them to get on their feet 939 and make something of a living. I hope that in her winding-up speech the hon. Lady will be able to hold out some reasonable hope for this deserving body of men.
I have a number of other things which I should like to deal with, but I promised to confine myself to six minutes and, as I have used them up, I will sit down.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
I do not want to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) in his remarks except to say that I am sure everybody in the Committee will support his plea for an increase in the poultry feedingstuffs allocations, and also for some extension of the entitlement system. He will be aware, however, that it all depends on the supply of feedingstuffs, and I am sure my right hon. Friend will make those increases as soon as possible. There is one small point on which I should like to correct the hon. and gallant Member, and that is in his reference to the decline in the poultry population by some 10 million. I think that figure, which has been quoted by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) was arrived at by comparing the totals in June, 1945, with those in December, 1947—
§ Mr. Collins
—and as the hon. and gallant Member is aware, Christmas is a bad time for counting chickens. The comparison, therefore, is valueless, and the fact is that in the last year there was an increase of some 95 per cent. in the numbers of young poultry.
This Debate has revealed the complete ascendancy which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food has established, and the fact that from the Opposition Benches only minor criticism has come is an indication of the truly remarkable job that he has done in the last 12 months. However, my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee have in many ways indicated the many successes which have attended on the efforts of the Minister of Food, and therefore I do not want to enlarge on them. I want to deal with one or two matters not of shortage but of surplus, and to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us some indication of how she hopes to deal with these.
940 The first concerns potatoes. Twelve months ago in a Debate on this Vote, I warned my right hon. Friend that there would be a serious potato shortage, and that eventuated. Now I am going to say that this year there will be a considerable potato surplus. There is little doubt that the crop will not be much less than seven tons to the acre, and with something like 1,400,000 acres we shall probably produce some 10 million tons, disregarding the increase in production from gardens and allotments. With the average pre-rationing consumption of 5 lb., that would mean a total annual requirement of something like six million tons making a surplus of four million tons. But the surplus may be even larger than that because people, having got down to three lb. a week on the ration, have so far shown little inclination to step up their potato eating.
Therefore it seems—and this is fortunate—that there is every likelihood of a considerable surplus. This is showing itself now because, with early potatoes, many growers are quite unable to get their wholesalers to take them. They are not on the wholesale market fetching the minimum price which, of course, must go back to the grower, and in London on Saturday the wholesale price in the markets was £10 per ton although the market has to send £14 5s. a ton to the grower. Quite obviously that cannot go on indefinitely, and many growers are unable to lift their early potatoes for that reason. That is a temporary matter but it wants looking into.
By far the more important matter is what we are going to do with this fortunate surplus which undoubtedly will eventuate and which I, for one, am glad will happen. It is something that we should welcome that there is the prospect of a surplus in one of our staple foods, and I hope that never again will we budget for anything else but a surplus. However, I suggest that there should be an early assessment of need and a programme for the 1949 acreage so as to provide enough, even at a lower average yield—if we get another good crop, there may well be another surplus—and to consider whether potato subsidies in 1949 should not be capable of reduction or alteration.
I suggest, too, that my right hon. Friend must give immediate consideration to planning the disposal of the surplus from 941 the current crop. Some of the suggestions I put forward are that we should enter into contracts to supply Germany, and any other deficiency areas; and we should see whether we are doing all we can with regard to processing plants although, from an answer that my right hon. Friend gave this afternoon, it would appear that we already have enough plants and, indeed, enough dehydrated potatoes. But the matter wants looking into. There should be early decisions also regarding the quantities available for animal feeding, and distribution and prices, so that these increased supplies can be used for pigs and poultry, and consequently for planned increases in the production of both.
This situation should be investigated now and tackled quickly. The decisions should be made as soon as possible so that we can make the maximum possible use of this bounty and ensure that none of it is wasted. If it is tackled late there will be a large wastage. A potato surplus properly used for animal feeding would remove the fear that the end of bread rationing—which we all hope to see quite soon—might lead to a great increase in the feeding of flour and bread to pigs and poultry. I hope, therefore, that this whole question will be looked into very seriously now, not only for the current potato harvest but to determine the size of the 1949 crop.
My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye) referred to the disposal of the plum crop, which is expected to be very large. We should give serious consideration to the taking of plum jam off the ration. I understand there may be sufficient pulp already in stock for a whole year's supply and there seems to be no valid reason why this should not be considered. I certainly hope that every effort will be made to ensure that this surplus—this bounty, which we are all glad to see—will be disposed of to the best possible advantage.
The prices of vegetables and fruit and the costs of distribution are matters which I have raised before. I have indicated many times the wide margin which always existed between the price the producer received and that which the housewife pays. I have been a severe critic of the system and shall continue to be. But in the last six months there has been a change. In 1946–47 the index of fruit prices was 238 and vegetables 309, which 942 are higher than those of any other food stuff or, indeed, almost anything else which can be thought of. Therefore, all the strictures made by us from these benches about vegetable prices last year were fully justified.
The position is very different today, however, and during the last few weeks we have seen fruit and vegetables of all kinds at very much more reasonable prices. My hon. Friend the Member for West Salford (Mr. Royle) said that prices were still exorbitant. That may be so, but I have seen cherries in the shops at 6d. and 1s. per lb. [HON. MEMBERS: "Tell us where."] I bought some last week at High Wycombe. Several other hon. Members on this side shared them with me. On Saturday last the average price of cherries in London was from 1s. 3d. to 1s. 6d. per lb. Other fruits also were very reasonably priced.
The margin between the wholesale and retail prices, which has been one of the greatest difficulties, is now reduced to what I regard as very much more reasonable proportions. I think that is due entirely to the policy of my right hon. Friend in easing licensing conditions for retailers. That is a remedy which I and probably my hon. Friends can regard as only temporary. I hope my hon. Friend will tell us, in her reply, something of the Ministry's proposals for dealing with the important question of the distribution of fruit and vegetables.
As one who has been a constant critic of the present system, who has deplored the lack of action, which has frequently quoted the wide disparity in prices to which I have referred, I think it proper to indicate that there has been a considerable improvement and change, although very much yet remains to be done in this field. It can come only if a real start is made, as it must be, at the producing end; the maximum improvements can come only with complete co-operation in packing and marketing. Allied with that there must be a complete overhaul of the wholesale and retail systems. I hope, therefore, that tonight we shall hear something at least of the proposals of the Ministry of Food to deal with this matter.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins), at the commencement of his 943 speech, suggested that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Food had established what he referred to as "complete ascendancy." Never have I seen a Minister who had established complete ascendancy stand so sheepishly and mildly at the Box as did the right hon. Gentleman today.
I rightly warned the Minister of the potato shortage which was likely to occur in the early months of this year. Therefore, as the hon. Member for Taunton and I were companions and partners in that warning, I am sure he will allow me to say how heartily I endorse the forecast and prophecy he made that this year the Ministry's problem with potatoes will be to deal with the large surplus which will be available. I ask the Minister to follow up the suggestions which have been made, with still further warnings, by the hon. Member for Taunton.
Given suitable weather, on which much still depends, the potato acreage and crop harvested this year may be almost a record for this country. If at the same time bread rationing is removed—although I do not think it has much effect now on the consumption of bread—there will nevertheless be a substantial surplus of potatoes. I hope the Ministry will do all they can to see that it is utilised in the best possible way. Perhaps some of the war-time expedients—the use of sugar beet factories for drying, slicing and preparing the surplus potatoes—may be possible; but now that the hon. Member for Taunton and I have united in giving warnings—and I do not doubt I may count upon the hon. Member's good support if the Ministry fail to benefit by this joint effort—
§ Mr. Butcher
I support the hon. Member now if he will support me when the time for retribution and rebuke arises, as it probably will, about this time next year.
The satisfactory feature of the Debate has been the lack of recrimination about who would have done better, and whether the matter of food would have been better left in the hands of Lord Woolton or in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister. I think the Committee has realised the grave situation of the country in relation to its food. We 944 are all aware that this present shortage of food is likely to continue for a considerable period. I have been very happy, therefore, to notice certain gleams of hope as to where we shall get the food on which the people of these islands are to be nourished. Some valuable suggestions have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) spoke of the gluts of herring that come from time to time and the hon. Member for Taunton said that, after potatoes, plums are likely to be a good crop, and I endorse everything he said in that regard. The hon. Member for South-Western Norfolk (Mr. Dye) said, quite properly, that what we need in this country at present is not so much pig meat of the finest quality, but the maximum of foodstuffs from that particular kind of pig meat.
I think the Ministry have been rather remiss in not making plans for the proper absorption of these surpluses. On the other hand, we have not taken quite as much care as we might have done in the way in which the Ministry have used some of the currency available. It has rather shocked me to learn that at a time when our own horticultural industry has been doing everything possible to increase its production, large quantities of fruit and vegetables have been coming to this country from overseas and have been purchased with currency which we could ill afford to spend and which should have been used for the purchase of those things of which we are very short, particularly fats and feedingstuffs for our pigs and poultry.
The hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning), in a well-informed speech, suggested that we on these Benches all looked extremely well fed. The hon. Lady is falling into the habit so dear to her and many of her colleagues of endeavouring to divide the community on the basis of those who are wealthy and those who are not. That is not where the distinction lies. The distinction between the well fed and the not so well fed is between those who are as fortunate as the hon. Lady and I in having the opportunity of getting meals out, whether in restaurants or works' canteens, and that section of the community who find it extremely difficult to get their meals out.
945 I appeal to the Ministry to reconsider the case of the elderly and lonely people living in homes where there is only one ration book, or two ration books. On that section of the community the present burden of rationing falls with the gravest hardship. Every cut sustained by the community as a whole is shared by them, but it is extraordinarily difficult to see how they can be advantaged and receive additional food. Nevertheless, it is time something was done for them, particularly the elderly people. The position is not quite the same as it was during the war. To share in the ordinary ration and to deprive themselves of food during the war years was, for many of them, one of the principal contributions they could make to the war effort. Three years have since elapsed.
These people have been living on short commons under difficult circumstances for a long time. The hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) talked about six ration books and 48 lb. of sugar. But what about the one poor old age pensioner living by herself? What can she do with 6d. worth of meat and 6d. worth of corned beef? Surely it is not beyond the wit of man or the wit of the Ministry to give them increases. In Saturday's "Times" there was a letter from an Australian lady paying tribute to the Ministry of Food for their care and skill in dividing food parcels among the old. We know that the Australians have been most generous and the Ministry of Food have done a good job of work in the distribution of these gifts. If they can do a good job in the distribution of gifts from overseas, it is time that the amount of food available in restaurants and works' canteens was diminished and the surplus made available to the elderly.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Burslem)
I do not intend to follow in detail the argument of the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher). But no one has done more for the old age pensioners and lower income groups than this Government. We are most anxious to improve the standard of food for the people generally and the Government are paying out £400 million or £470 million a year in subsidies to enable the classes to whom the hon. Member has referred to get a fair share I listened with great attention to the right hon. and learned Member for 946 Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid), but I confess I was greatly disappointed. I thought after his opening submission that he was going to show us where there were great quantities of food to be obtained of which the Government had not taken advantage. I thought he was going to disclose weaknesses in our administration which, if properly attended to, would lead to beneficial results.
But, when the Minister of Food got up—and I noted the words of the hon. Member for Holland with Boston who said that the Minister did so "sheepishly and modestly," I do not think he was at all sheepish but he was certainly modest for that is the nature of the right hon. Gentleman—[Laughter.]—oh, yes, I think we all agree that he is a great gentleman and certainly not one from whom we expect idle boasting or conceit, and I thought he was speaking well in accordance with his nature—he gave us a good picture of what had been done, As my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) made clear, it is just 12 months since we heard of the difficulties which derived from convertibility. The Minister showed quite clearly that a great job of work has been done in the last nine difficult months in making bilateral arrangements with other countries, particularly from sources in the Empire.
I wish to direct attention to a matter of particular interest which arises out of the journey I was privileged to make with some colleagues to West Africa a few weeks ago, the report on which has recently been made available. Since it is impossible for us, either on a Supply day or at any other time, adequately to discuss such reports, I hope that Members will take the trouble to read this Select Committee's report, which I think is unique in one sense inasmuch as it was a working party going out of the country and taking evidence on the spot. In the witnesses' evidence, if not in our recommendations and suggestions, there will be an ample reward for any trouble which hon. Members take to read the report.
We make special reference in our report to the groundnuts scheme in West Africa and to some of the impending developments there. We saw, particularly in Northern Nigeria in the Kano district, great pyramids of groundnuts which had been waiting there for many months. Indeed we found, according to the report, 947 that there are some 175,000 tons of groundnuts which are waiting to be moved at this moment. Then there is the current crop to come in. As we have heard so often in this House, it is primarily a matter of having adequate transport to move the groundnuts, but if the producers cannot see some attention being given to this problem—and I am glad to hear from the Minister today that 20 locomotives and some 50 wagons have been sent out to Lagos—it will be little use expecting them to put their backs into other similar schemes to increase the production of groundnuts in West Africa. We know that the Clay Commission, which recently went out, has made certain recommendations, but unless we can overtake arrears which are now waiting in Nigeria there will be little incentive or encouragement for people to go in for further production. In fact it would be a very unwise policy to pursue such a course.
It is most desirable that we should have this policy of co-operation between the people of the Empire in raising their standard of life and in assisting them to organise and develop on modern lines the potentialities in some of the uncharted areas—and some of them are quite uncharted at the moment—and in the process, to give us in this country and other parts of the world great contributions. Yet we have to recognise that we should be unwise to turn a blind eye on some of the basic problems of transport etc. which we find in that country. Let us make it clear that while places like West Africa or East Africa can undoubtedly make great contributions to the food supplies of the world and, we hope, of this country in particular, yet there is a problem which more immediately concerns the people on the spot. That is, the problem of giving the native population, or the indigenous population—I do not think that they much like the word "native"—a better standard of life. There is much malnutrition in many parts of our Empire, in some of the Colonies, and we have a duty to the people on the spot.
We must not convey the impression that we are merely skimming off the best which their countries can produce and are unaware of what is happening to them. I do not think that that is the policy of this 948 Government. This Government have done a great deal along the lines of colonial development to help the people on the spot. I should like to ask the Minister in regard to this matter of getting foodstuffs from the Empire, particularly West Africa, to assure us that the people who have the job of producing the food, are getting a reasonable price for what they produce. I know that we have seen a great rise in the price of cocoa because of the American buying. We know how it has affected our own households. I know that machinery exists to put the money back to some extent into the Colonies which produce the cocoa. I am glad to hear that. I should like to see the same arrangements and the same machinery in operation in relation to other primary products. I have in mind oilseeds and even groundnuts, and also bananas from the Cameroons for example.
Let us be quite sure that in working together with the people of the Colonies we are giving them a fair deal; that they, as a working population, have the first claim to see that their own children and families are properly fed and that if there is any surplus it is properly paid for. In connection with oilseeds I am not quite certain that a good and fair price has been observed in times past; at least it has not been paid to the producers. I understand, and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will confirm this, that in respect of oilseeds production, we have fixed a price in accordance with what can be got in the world market and not related to the cost of production.
Certainly we have more recently paid out something better than the producers used to get but there is still a great difference between the price we have paid to the producer and the price we have received for the commodity. What I want to know is that this money, this surplus, or profit, or whatever we like to call it, is going back, either to the people themselves for the uplifting of their standard of life, or for the development of the industries. If that is done in regard to all those primary commodities in the Empire, we shall get their support. After listening carefully to the contributions to this Debate I think that the Government have no need to apologise. They are doing a good job of work under the most difficult circumstances and I feel that the country is behind them.
§ 8.56 p.m.
Mr. De la Bère (Evesham)
In accordance with my usual practice I shall be very brief. I shall recognise the self-denying ordinance and I shall not follow the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. Edward Davies) in his remarks about groundnuts, bananas and cocoa, although I am very tempted to take him up on the question of cocoa.
I wish to stress one thing, something that affects my inland Division, and that is plums. The question of plums has already been dealt with, and if I may say so, of the two hon. Members who dealt with it, it has been dealt with quite well. Nevertheless, to a very large number of people in Worcestershire the question of plums is the question of their very livelihood and also a question of good fruit being allowed to waste. The Ministry of Food knew quite well earlier this year that, unless there was a frost, there would be a really good plum crop which could be converted into jam, if they gave the facilities. So far as I am aware, they have done nothing at all in the matter. There is plum pulp from 1947 still unused in the country. Plum jam is in the shops. It is difficult to sell it. I have asked both the Minister of Food and the Parliamentary Secretary over and over again, to take plum jam off the ration and also off points. Why not let this excellent plum jam be used by the housewife without penalising her to give up the points she needs for other things? Why let it go on deteriorating? No sane answer has ever been given to these points during Question Time.
My constituents have especially asked me to stress this point. What is the use of having good fruit in this country and allowing it to go to waste? I do not wish to deal with figures. I know that they are well known to the Minister. But it is certain that many thousands of tons of good plums will be wasted as the result of the absolute failure of the Ministry to appreciate this position, about which they have had full and lasting information from all parts of the country where plums are grown. Will the Minister really try to deal with this matter and tell the truth about what is being done in order to ensure that these plums and the sugar to use with them are made available to housewives in all parts of the country? Families with 950 numbers of children have not too much jam today. They could very well do with an extra pound or two.
The jam is there, but the real trouble is that this Government do not care a bit, so long as their orders and regulations are carried out. They do not care whether it is wasted, or whether it goes down the drain, or where it goes. They say, "Oh, but Form 1990 has not been filled in and we cannot do anything about it." My plea tonight is for the growers, and for the housewives who want this product. The jam is there to be made if this Government will give them the sugar. Let the jam be distributed without points and off the ration. Let us have something in our homes which is sweet, because I am bothered if there is very much in our lives today which is sweet. I say, in all sincerity, let us have plum jam de-rationed.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
This interesting Debate has been taken out of the run of ordinary Supply Debates by the startling disclosure by the Minister of Food of the increase in food subsidies this year. We must face the fact that we are dealing with an Estimate which, owing to that disclosure, is now out of date. The amount of money to be spent under the Estimate is now £80 million more—
§ Mr. Strachey
If the hon. Gentleman had followed my remarks at the beginning, he would have seen that that does not follow at all. Owing to the Andes Agreement there is no correspondence between the figure here in the Estimate and the subsidy figure, whatever that turns out to be. I explained at some length that the £84 million in last year's Estimate is for food which arrives in this year. To couple that with this year, does not follow at all.
§ Mr. Turton
I think that the Minister did less than justice to his own figures. If he states that a figure of £480 million is to be spent on subsidies, that must be reflected in the figures.
§ Mr. Turton
No. In Subhead H the Minister will find that he has put down his subsidies at just over £300 million. He is then going to take out from the 951 Andes Agreement another £84 million which brings it up to the level expected by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget statement, of £400 million. Now we are told that that is to be increased this year by £80 million. That is a major departure in financial policy which I should have expected the Chancellor of the Exchequer and not the Minister of Food to have announced to the country. The whole Budget, and the whole of the Budget surplus, hinged on that level of £400 million which the Chancellor stated, as reported in HANSARD of 6th April, at column 54, as being the decided policy of the Government. If the Minister wishes to correct what he stated earlier this afternoon, and the subsidies are not going to run out at £80 million more, of course, I shall be happy to give way, because we are under the impression that they will.
§ Mr. Strachey
I am very grateful. I certainly did not state anything to the effect that the subsidies will run out at £80 million more than some figure which has been given at some other time. The only statement I made on the subsidy figure was that it was running at the moment at the rate of £470 million and if there was no change in the remainder of the year, in either the price at which we buy food or the price at which it is sold in this country, the subsidies would, therefore, come out at £470 million. That is the meaning of "running at the rate of," but it would be quite wrong to assume from that that I have stated that the subsidies would be £470 million. That does not follow at all.
§ Mr. Turton
That, I think, has made the position much more clear than it was earlier. It is a pity that the Minister did not make that clear in his original statement. We were told on 6th April that the subsidies were to amount to £400 million. I gather from what the Minister has now said that there has been no change of policy; in other words, that at the end of the year the subsidies will still be £400 million. We must know either from the Chancellor of the Exchequer or from the Minister. What other purpose had he when he made a statement to the Committee and to the country that the subsidies were running at the rate of £70 million more at the present time? Quite clearly the House, and not this Committee 952 will have to deal with this matter and will have to hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer as well as the Minister of Food what is the policy of the Government.
In opening this Debate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) made a great point—and I thought he made it very well—on the secrecy of these accounts. It is all very well to talk about this being a vote of £320 million. It is nothing of the sort. It is a vote of more than £1,340 million. The difficulty is that the details of the operations of the Minister of Food are not available to us until two years after the transactions are completed. I do not know why, when presenting an Estimate for £1,340 million, the Minister could not tell us on what this money is to be spent. We have to refer to trading accounts of two years ago, and therefore we have to form our guide as to his stewardship and base our inquiries on those trading accounts of two years ago. I would like the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary to bring them up to date.
I will try to explain what I mean by giving an illustration concerning cereals and feedingstuffs in these accounts. In that year, we suffered a loss on cereals and feedingstuffs of £39 million. We bought and paid for feedingstuffs to the amount of £186 million, and we sold those feedingstuffs for £151 million, which leaves £36 million, plus, naturally, some £3 million extra for salaries. The first question I want to ask is how far was that subsidy of £36 million directed to the feedingstuffs we have bought for the United Kingdom and how far was it directed to the subsidy for feedingstuffs which we bought for delivery abroad? It is a remarkable factor, of which I do not think the country is aware, that, in that particular year—I do not know if it was an extraordinary year, but it is the only year for which we have details—we bought just as much cereals and feedingstuffs for delivery abroad as we bought for consumption in this country. Indeed, when we come to particularise the feedingstuffs and we take barley, for example, we find that we spent £1,750,000 for barley for consumption in the United Kingdom, and £12 million for barley for delivery abroad.
The other figure I will take is that for maize. The Committee will remember 953 that 1946 was an unfortunate year for British farmers for maize. We could hardly get any maize at all for feeding-stuffs. In fact, in that trading year, we got 212,000 tons. During that same trading year, we learn from these figures, the Minister bought for delivery abroad 267,000 tons—a god deal more than was bought for the United Kingdom farmer. When I asked the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary for details of these transactions on 14th June, she gave me figures representing 197,000 tons of the 267,000 tons. Some 69,000 tons had been bought and sent to Holland for making starch, perhaps for the collars of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, who, I am sorry to say, is no longer sitting alongside the Minister of Food, although his Parliamentary Secretary is here.
These 197,000 tons were sold to Eire and Germany at a price of £14 6s. a ton, but the average price which the Minister had to pay for his maize during that trading year was not £14 6s., but 15s. per ton. Therefore, I want to ask the hon. Lady why she operates these transactions for getting feedingstuffs abroad at such a considerable loss to the Exchequer. It would appear to me that she made a loss of 50 per cent. on those transactions. I think it should be made clear by her, because after her reply of 14th June, I received a number of letters from people who asked why the Minister was paying about £20 per ton for maize and selling it at a loss. For the whole of the trading operations in that year, 1946, it would appear that on sales of feedingstuffs abroad the hon. Lady made a loss of something like £2 million. Today the Minister of Food told us that he was no longer buying feedingstuffs for the Irish Free State. I want to be quite clear on that. Does that mean that he is no longer continuing this operation on which he was embarking in 1946, of buying feedingstuffs for delivery abroad? I expect the hon. Lady can give us that further detail when she replies.
While I am on this subject of Government trading, there is one other point I would like to have made quite clear. According to my present information, no feedingstuffs can be bought abroad for delivery to the United Kingdom except by the Minister of Food and his officials, but feedingstuffs can be bought for 954 delivery to foreign countries and also, indeed, to Dominion countries, not only by the Minister of Food but by private enterprise. Therefore, we have the curious position that the foreign consumer has an advantage in that he has buying for him not only the officials of the Ministry but also those private enterprise firms who have great knowledge of these markets; yet the British consumer is limited and is not allowed to have a private trader abroad buying for his interests. That point should be remedied by the Minister now. He should allow the grain trade as well as his officials to buy food abroad in order that we should get increased quantities of feedingstuffs.
It is quite clear that the future of out supplies of meat, bacon and eggs depends entirely on the Minister's efforts to increase feedingstuffs for home agriculture. The whole of the Government's policy last August was directed to that end, and I think it was well put by the Prime Minister when he spoke in the House on 6th August, 1947. He said:The Government are setting a high target before agriculture—nothing less than an extra £100 million worth of food by 1951–52, an increase of 20 per cent. on present output. … It will involve an immense effort, on the part not only of the agricultural community, but of the Government itself, who will have to see that the industry is provided with the tools for the job … The maximum supply of feedingstuffs must be obtained."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th August. 1947; Vol. 441, c. 1497–8.]That was in August. Has the Minister been efficient in providing the farmer with tools for the job? On the 11th March, he told us:We have bought at this moment the particular quantities which we thought were the right ones which we could afford and which it was wise to buy at this time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1948: Vol. 448, c. 1479.]I thought these were very menacing words—very menacing indeed. I remember that the Lord President of the Council, when he was dilating to the county agricultural executive committees, said that some dollars would be available for this purpose, but now it has got down to "which we could afford and which it was wise to buy." At the end of March, we had the disappointing statement by the Minister of Agriculture:It is therefore impossible to increase rations for any class of livestock for the rationing period beginning 1st May, 1948. … I am aware that our inability to improve 955 ration scales or to widen immediately the scope of the rationing scheme for pigs and poultry will be a cause of disappointment—"[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 3355–56.]Indeed, it caused not only disappointment but dislocation to all the plans of the agricultural industry. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) earlier today said that in 1939 he advocated that the Minister of Agriculture should be placed under the command of the Minister of Food. It would appear that that is what has actually happened in this Government during recent months.
Let us look at the picture which we get from the Statistical Digest. It shows how much food has been produced in the first quarter of this year compared with the first four months of last year. Less beef, less mutton, less bacon has been produced in the first four months of 1948 than in the similar period of 1947. The figures are there and cannot be challenged, and yet in August we had this great agricultural drive which depended on feedingstuffs. I do not blame the Minister of Agriculture, or his Parliamentary Secretary, for that failure. The culprits are the Minister of Food and his Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. Turton
Then the Minister of Food gave his view on feedingstuffs—coarse grains have got so expensive, he said, and one spends £1 on coarse grain and gets back only 6s. 8d. in beef. Never in my life have I heard such a misleading statement by any responsible Minister dealing with this problem of feedingstuffs. How can anybody say, "You pour coarse grains into an animal and balance the result in beef"? Beef cattle require grass and cakes. I would have thought the Minister would have realised that the coarse grains we are asking for are not for the raising of beef cattle but for the production of eggs and bacon. Why this Government is failing in this feedingstuffs policy is because the poultry farmer and the pig farmer require barley and maize which have not been received in sufficient quantities for the Minister of Agriculture to increase, or indeed to review, the antiquated system of rationing, which, at the moment, depends on figures of the year 1939.
956 I never could understand why the Minister of Agriculture, who must have learned a good deal about the agricultural industry under my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), had not previously gone back and changed this antiquated 1939 system. Now I know the reason—it is because the Minister of Food tells him that, working it out in coarse grains for beef, we should not get more coarse grains for producing bacon and eggs in this country. What are the facts? Let us look at poultry. If we could have doubled the imports of maize this year—[HON. MEMBERS: "If."] I quite agree, and I shall come to the practicability. If we could, we should have produced twice as many eggs in this country as the Minister imported from overseas at the same price. At today's price, 600,000 tons of maize cost £14 million. The Minister of Food has bought £14,500,000 worth of eggs from overseas in four months of this year. Would it not have been better to have had maize in this country at a cost of £14 million, so that we should have had double the amount of eggs?
§ Mr. Strachey
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? Does he forget that we also bought over 2 million tons of coarse grains as well as eggs?
§ Mr. Turton
The figures of imports of maize are in the Trade and Navigation accounts. They are not wrong. We have imported only 600,000 tons of maize. If we had doubled our imports of maize, we could have produced 2,300 million eggs. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman spent that money in importing foreign eggs—1,004 million foreign eggs. I regard that as bad management, and I hope he will reconsider that matter. There was a perfectly fair interruption from hon. Gentlemen opposite, who asked whether the maize was available. What is the position? Argentina in June had 1,250,000 tons of maize surplus from last year's harvest. Argentina is now harvesting another crop of maize, and will have a surplus of round about 4,000,000 tons, according to the latest figure. Therefore, the maize was available, if the Minister had thought fit to buy it. However, in the Minister's view, coarse grains are too expensive.
Let me turn for a moment or two to the other side of the picture, the protein 957 side. I was disappointed that the Minister gave us no details of all of what we are doing in the matter of buying oil cakes. I agree that under the Andes Agreement he is going to provide us with 90,000 tons of linseed cakes and meal. That, however, is only a very small side of the picture. We want not only the cakes and meal, but the linseed imported here, so that our mills can be used to crush the linseed and get both the oil and the cakes from it. Will the hon. Lady tell us what we are doing in order to get more linseed cakes and meal in this country? Quite true, we cannot get it from Argentina, for the Argentine Government have banned the export of linseed. But only next door in Uruguay there is this year a 44 per cent. increase in the production of linseed. I understand, too, that there are some 25,000 tons in Mexico available for export. Perhaps, the hon. Lady will give us that side of the picture?
I turn to the question of groundnuts. I am not going into the question of the East African groundnuts scheme—whether the mistakes were made by the United Africa Company, and whether they did not look after their storekeeping, or whether they were due to the extravagant ambitions of the Minister of Food. If he can get groundnuts from East Africa in sufficient quantities in sufficient time, I shall be the first to congratulate him. What I am far more concerned about is what is happening on the other side of Africa where there are some 300,000 tons of groundnuts that have not been moved as speedily as they would have been moved if the—[HON. MEMBERS: "No railway engines."]—if the Socialist Government had been efficient. It is no good blinking the facts.
I do not say that it is the Minister of Food who is entirely responsible. He told us that he had congratulated the Vulcan Works when the locomotives were built. I would rather that he had pointed out to the Vulcan Works how important it was that the locomotives should have been delivered when asked for, which was in 1945 and not 1948. It is true that in 1945 the Ministry was still working under Sir Ben Smith. [Interruption.] I said that the Ministry of Food was working under Sir Ben Smith. There has been a grave delay over this matter. The reason why we are short of groundnuts is because of 958 that delay made by one or other of the members of the Socialist Government.
I admit that the right hon. Gentleman did in certain cases provide us with a large quantity of foodstuffs. I give him credit for that, but what I cannot understand is why the public get no benefit from them. Will he explain to me, or will the hon. Lady who is to reply explain, what happened to the currants and raisins? The housewives in my constituency would like to know. During the first four months of this year, there have been imported some 50 million lb. of currants, enough for 1 lb. per ration book. In my constituency, the only allocation since Christmas has been 2 oz. of currants per ration book. Last year, 160 million lb. of raisins were imported, enough for 3½ lb. per ration book, and only half a pound per ration book less than pre-war; and yet in the first quarter of this year my constituents have had an allocation of only one ounce per ration book. It may be that hon. Gentlemen who represent other constituencies have been more fortunate. I want to find out. Perhaps Dundee and Fulham and the industrial centres have had more. The feeling among the grocers and the housewives in the North of England is that these large stocks of food are being hoarded for what?—Christmas or is it for a General Election—[Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen cheer that prospect. Those who believe that they are not getting their rations think that they are juggling with the rations for political purposes.
The right hon. Gentleman was asked today why he did not take off bread rationing. It was put on as a precautionary measure when stocks were low. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster gave a pledge—or, perhaps, it was a confidence that he should not have given—when he said that directly stocks were built up, bread rationing would be taken off. What is the position today? The right hon. Gentleman will not disclose his stocks. I put this figure to him: that the stocks of wheat in this country on 31st March were 1¼ million tons.
§ Mr. Turton
If the Minister can deny it, the Parliamentary Secretary will say so in her speech. If it is an accurate figure, as I believe it to be, then there was no reason why bread rationing should 959 not have been taken off at that time. What are the figures today? Sir John Boyd Orr, who was quoted by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, stated in February that the European crop would be so million tons, a rise of 10 million tons on last year. In the estimates given by the United States at the end of June the European crop was put at 54 million tons. The estimated carry-over of wheat from the four major exporting countries is put today at 9½ million tons, three million tons over what it was last year. If those figures are accurate, why is this tomfoolery of bread rationing continued? I regretted very much that the Minister not only refused to make an announcement today about bread rationing, but also stated that the lowering of the extraction rate would be the second thing he would do. If that extraction rate has to be lowered, it will mean more feeding-stuffs to the farms. Therefore, I do beg the Minister of Food, or his Parliamentary Secretary, without delay to alter that extraction rate.
One further point on the question of fair rationing. I cannot believe rationing to be fair when I find that the miner is getting a ration of twice as much meat as, and 21 more B.U.s than, the agricultural worker. I do not deny the miner any right for more food; I agree that the getting of coal is of great importance today. But so, too, is the getting of food. Why have we got this system whereby the agricultural worker cannot get his extra ration as of right? Why cannot he and his wife draw their increased rations just as the miner and his wife do? There is a terrible inequality between one industry and the other. Why is it that in the towns fish and chips can be got in every street—
§ Mr. Turton
Fulham, Dundee—I cannot go into a whole gazetteer at this stage of the evening. In my rural area, when a fish and chip licence is applied for it is normally refused. It is because this Minister has only succeeded with his peaches, his grapes, and his pomegranates. It is quite right that we should let him know that he is the idol of the barrow-boy, but that he has not got the confidence of the housewife, the food producer or the shopkeeper of this country. 960 It is because he has not that confidence, and has not merited that confidence, that I move to reduce the Vote.
I beg to move, to reduce Subhead A (1) by £1,000.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Edith Summerskill)
I think the Committee will agree that until the winding-up speech of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) the contributions made to this Debate on the Estimates had been notable for constructive criticism. I was surprised on listening to the hon. Member, who accused my right hon. Friend and myself of being the culprits, that he did not make one constructive criticism. The comments he made and the questions he asked have been answered at this Box time after time, and if he had been in his place he would have heard them.
He asked my right hon. Friend whether we were giving the farmers the tools. I think most hon. Members on both sides of the Committee know that my Department have made every effort to produce feedingstuffs for the farmers of this country. May I tell the hon. Member the exact amount of maize, oats and barley that we have obtained from the Argentine, Russia and Australia this year in contracts—
§ Dr. Summerskill
Yes, and I am pleased to say that they are keeping up to schedule. From the Argentine 1,272,000 tons, from Russia, 750,000 tons, from Australia 297,000 tons. Yet the hon. Member comes to this Committee and charges us with neglecting our duties. He asked whether when we resell feeding-stuffs abroad—in fact, he did not ask, he charged us with selling feedingstuffsabroad at a loss. We never do this. Feedingstuffs abroad are never sold at a loss. He then asked why we did not use private agents. That question has been asked on many occasions in this House. It has been suggested time after time that if we look carefully there is some expert somewhere who knows where he can find certain commodities which our experts have been unable to discover.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The hon. Gentleman has had longer than me; he has denied 961 me five minutes, and it will be practically impossible for me to cover all the ground. He must agree with me that Mr. Rank, who buys our cereals, is a man who has spent his life in the cereal world. I agree there are other experts who no doubt are prepared to take Mr. Rank's place, and that is always our argument when hon. Members opposite ask, as I think, an hon. Member asked, on the last Food Estimates, "Are you sure these men are politically in accord with you and are really looking for food?" There are others, and these experts of ours know full well that it is an honour to serve a big Government Department. Mr. Rank, like the other food experts we employ, is always on his toes, and I cannot believe that the hon. Member, if pressed, could give us the name of a man who knows where he can obtain cereals in a place of which Mr. Rank is ignorant.
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether we sent coarse grains to Eire. We do not. On oil cake—again he should know that some of these questions he has asked are elementary. He should know that oil cake is subject to I.E.F.C. allocation, and obviously my Department is taking the whole of our allocation. He asked why we did not bring linseed to this country. We cannot compel the Argentine to sell us linseed. I agree that they did before the war. Before the war they sent linseed to this country, we crushed it, and we used the oil, and the residue material went for meal. Now, however, the Argentine insist upon keeping their linseed at home and crushing it themselves. He asked what else we were doing to acquire oil cake. We are, of course, in negotiation with other countries, and I can assure him that we have contacted every source.
He asked me about currants and raisins—where are the currants and raisins for his constituency which my right hon. Friend and I enjoy in Dundee and Fulham? I think hon. Gentlemen opposite know, after my three years as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, that I am always willing to look into any specific case. I do not think any hon. Member opposite, however hostile he may feel towards me, can say that when he gives me a case I am not prepared to examine it. If the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton had told me that in his constituency there were not 962 many currants or raisins on the shelf, I would have made immediate inquiries and, if there had been a shortage, I would have had some directed to his constituency. I bear him no animosity and will inquire tomorrow to see whether there are any currants in Thirsk. I should remind him, whilst on this subject, that dried fruits come from the U.S.A. and that, as he knows, we have not imported any food from there since last August.
I want now to answer questions raised by hon. Members during the Debate. The right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) and I have often faced each other across this Table. I must admit that I listened to his speech today with some gratification as it was the first time that he did not harshly criticise my Ministry. I can assure him that this is not a taunt: I was impressed by the fact that he appreciated some of our difficulties. He refrained from criticising the groundnuts scheme. Those hon. Members who have been present throughout the Debate will agree that every speech on both sides dealt with matters of concern to the whole country. Every hon. Member tried to approach the problem in a constructive fashion.
I was encouraged to hear hon. Members on both sides discussing the latest report of the F.A.O. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) devoted the whole of his speech to F.A.O. The hon. Members for Epping (Mrs. Manning) and West Salford (Mr. Royle) reminded the Committee that we must realise that, although we are now concerned with obtaining enough food for this country, we must think along a different line. Hon. Members have perhaps forgotten that this is the last report of Sir John Boyd Orr He has resigned from the Directorship of the Organisation and it would be appropriate on this occasion to pay him a tribute. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I have had the opportunity of representing this Government at two conferences of F.A.O. and I have watched delegates from every part of the world listen to Sir John Boyd Orr with respect, admiration and affection. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite have worked with him and I believe that the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) has looked at the draft of his books before the country has seen them. Sir 963 John Boyd Orr is not only a great scientist and a great humanitarian, but has been one of our finest ambassadors. It is said that posterity remembers those who benefit posterity. If that is so, Sir John Boyd Orr will never be forgotten.
So far as the work of F.A.O. is concerned, I have been asked whether we are supporting this Organisation. I can say categorically that, ever since the inception of F.A.O., we have done everything in our power to support it. We have entered into long-term contracts with producers. Sir John Boyd Orr has always stressed that every country should negotiate long-term contracts if at all possible. We have ratified the International Wheat Agreement. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Epping who asked me why we were now withdrawing from the agreement. I have to say plainly to the Committee that the United States have failed to ratify the International Wheat Agreement and in view of the fact that the United States are the greatest wheat producers in the world, we have no option but to withdraw. The Committee knows that we have a big agricultural expansion programme and that that accords with the principles of F.A.O.
We have heard tonight and at other times about the groundnuts scheme and my right hon. Friend has told the Committee about the development of the Queensland scheme. All these things accord with Sir John Boyd Orr's teachings. I did not think it quite fair of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery to criticise my right hon. Friend and to read out parts of speeches to suggest that his approach was more nationalistic than inter-nationalistic. I think the fact that my right hon. Friend has been responsible for initiating the groundnuts scheme and the Queensland scheme itself shows that he has an international approach to these problems.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is quite right; we know that the population of the world is increasing by 25 million a year. We must also remember that the great Dominions of Pakistan and India have said that they intend to eliminate illiteracy. When illiteracy is eliminated from these great countries it will inevitably mean that those millions will demand a standard of living comparable to that enjoyed by the people of the West. Something else will follow. Not only will the 964 population increase, but their expectation of life will increase. I dare to prophesy that the Malthusian doctrine which was discredited in the 19th century will perhaps be vindicated at the end of the 20th century.
I welcome the contributions made by hon. Members opposite in the discussion on the groundnuts scheme. One hon. Member who has recently been to see the scheme in operation apologised for criticising the details. I think everyone here agrees that it is no good crying over spilt milk. We recognise the mistakes, we recognise the delays, but we must realise that the conception is a right one.
My time is limited and I must say something about potatoes because the right hon. Gentleman said that a statement should have been made long ago. I arrived at the House to make a statement on the Adjournment, but unfortunately, the Business of the House finished about one o'clock and the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), who was to raise the matter on the Adjournment, had not arrived—
§ Dr. Summerskill
If the noble Lord will try to be a little quiet he will hear a statement—[Interruption.] If he will exercise a little patience, within my limited time I will make a statement—
§ Dr. Summerskill
The Committee must realise by now that the loss incurred must be looked upon as an insurance premium against a serious shortage that might have occurred at the beginning of the year. I remember that last year on the Estimates hon. Members opposite warned my right hon. Friend that there might be a potato shortage. I think it was the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) who warned us also that we might have the Colorado beetle. We realised that there would be a shortage, we accepted the warning of hon. Members opposite and we rationed potatoes in 965 November. At that time the only imports to which we could look forward were from Northern Ireland and Africa. We therefore invited private importers to bring in potatoes from the Mediterranean countries, which they did, but, despite those precautions, we realised that there might still be a shortage. We therefore sent our representatives to Europe and by April we had made arrangements with Denmark, Sweden, Holland and Poland for imports.
I think that the farmer Members of this House will agree with me that it is impossible to predict the weather. Here we are debating the Food Estimates on a day in a July which we believe is perhaps one of the coldest for 40 years. Hon. Members will recollect the floods and the frosts last year. At the beginning of this year we could not anticipate whether we would have a warm or a frosty spring. Therefore we imported more potatoes. It turned out to be a warm spring. We agree that the potatoes deteriorated quickly and we decided to export supplies to Germany and also use some for stock. I want to assure the Committee that no potatoes were allowed to rot. I should like hon. Members opposite to make a note of these figures. The total tonnage of old ware potatoes diverted to Germany was 43,000 tons and that sold for stock feeding amounted to 24,000 tons. These together represented less than one per cent. of the total supplies, or four days' consumption. This is the measure of what some people have called the potato scandal, but which I call a potato insurance. From 1940 to 1947 the average disposals for stock feeding and factory use were 3.5 per cent. of the average annual total supply. Perhaps with that explanation the Committee will agree that my Ministry did the right thing in order to ensure that the people of this country should be adequately fed.
I want to turn to some of the questions which have been asked. Time is limited so I will take some of the most important.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) raised the question of bread rationing, which my right hon. Friend has answered. The hon. Member also suggested that there was a great deal of black marketing 966 owing to the fact that many ration books had been lost. That allegation has been made before. The loss of ration books in my opinion varies in direct ratio to the number of rationed foods. Perhaps hon. Members who are not housewives will not appreciate that point, but during the last year or two we have rationed bread and potatoes, which means that the housewife takes her book out every day instead of every week. That means that the risk of losing her ration book is much greater. I think that answers the hon. Member's question.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Salford asked me whether too many calves were being killed. One cannot have one's milk and drink it. We cannot have the milk which we are enjoying today, unless the calves are killed. The people of this country are consuming 50 per cent. more milk than before the war and still the demand continues. That is why we are continuing to kill calves. My hon. Friend asked about Canadian meat being replaced by bacon. That was because the Canadians asked us to alter the contract. We were perfectly prepared that they should do so.
The hon. Member for Epping and the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) raised the question of snoek. I am very pleased that they did, and I do deplore the fact that some hon. Members have criticised this import. The hon. Member for Streatham suggested that we should encourage the consumption of herrings rather than that of snoek. I think it is quite clear that, whereas the herring is a perishable food, snoek is a non-perishable food which can be stored by the housewife. The suggestion that herrings should be sold in the grocers' shops during a period of glut would be difficult to adopt, because if the housewife is not prepared to buy herrings from the fishmonger, where they may be kept under better conditions, perhaps, than in the grocers' shops, she will not be prepared to go next door.
The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye) asked whether we would allow bigger pigs to be sold. We do not encourage the rearing of fat pigs because we are anxious to have the bacon as lean as possible The pigs are not produced for fat, but for their bacon.
I was asked by one hon. Member when the Bodinnar Report was to be published. 967 I wish to inform the Committee that Sir John Bodinnar asked that this report should not be published, because he would have information from the black market and it might prove a little embarrassing. The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) asked about chickens. I think he got his figures rather mixed. The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) has also given some figures. He said that there had been a decrease of 10 million poultry since 1945. In fact, there are 7¼ million more young birds under six months than there were 12 months ago. I think that is the answer.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I welcome the presence of the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère). He always turns up at Question time. He always tells me he will raise matters on the Adjournment. I always look forward to meeting him at this time at the Box, but he is
§ never there. Tonight this is an exception to the rule. I recognise that the plum question must be faced by my Department, and we are facing it today. We did encourage the jam manufacturers to buy a large quantity of plum pulp last year, and there is the question of canned plums to be considered as well. They still have a great deal on their hands, and now we are told that there is to be a big plum harvest. We are trying to help the canners in order that more plums shall be canned, and we are considering how we can dispose of the plum glut. But I would remind the hon. Gentleman who asked for jam to be de-rationed that if we did this it would mean great demands for sugar and therefore we have had to refuse. I would assure him, however, that we are now considering this question and I hope that, probably soon, we may be able to make an announcement which will help the position.
§ Question put, "That Subhead A (1) be reduced by £1,000."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 117; Noes, 256.971
|Division No. 256.]||AYES.||[9.59 p.m.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Nield, B. (Chester)|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Nutting, Anthony|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Herbert, Sir A. P.||Odey, G. W.|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Pickthorn, K.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Howard, Hon. A.||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)|
|Birch, Nigel||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Prescott, Stanley|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Bower, N.||Keeling, E. H.||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr J. G.||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Langford-Holt, J.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Carson, E.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A.||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Channon, H.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Linstead, H. N.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Corbet, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Low, A. R. W.||Strauss, Henry (English Universities)|
|Darling, Sir W. Y.||Lucas, Major Sir J.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|De la Bère, R.||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Drayson, G. B.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Drewe, C.||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Touche, G. C.|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Turton, R. H.|
|Duthie, W. S.||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Eccles, D. M.||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter||Marples, A. E.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Erroll, F. J.||Marsden, Capt. A.||Ward, Hon. G. R.|
|Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Medlicott, Brigadier F.||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Fraser H. C. P. (Stone)||Molson, A. H. E.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir I.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Gage, C.||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Gates, Maj. E. E.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cir'cester)||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Gridley, Sir A.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.|
|Grimston, R. V.||Neven-Spence, Sir B.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Nicholson, G.||Major Conant and|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Gibbins, J.||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Gibson, C. W.||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)|
|Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith South)||Gilzean, A.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V.||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||O'Brien, T.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Goodrich, H. E.||Paget, R. T.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Gordon-Walker, P. C.||Paling Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)|
|Alpass, J. H.||Grey, C. F.||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Attewell, H. C.||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Parker, J.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Gunter, R. J.||Parkin, B. T.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Guy, W. H.||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Paton, J. (Norwich)|
|Baird, J.||Hale, Leslie||Pearson, A.|
|Balfour, A.||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Peart, T. F.|
|Barstow, P. G.||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Perrins, W.|
|Barton, C.||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Popplewell, E.|
|Battley, J. R.||Hardy, E. A.||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Harrison, J.||Price, M. Philips|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Proctor, W. T.|
|Berry, H.||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Randall, H. E.|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Herbison, Miss M.||Ranger, J.|
|Binns, J.||Hobson, C. R.||Reeves, J.|
|Blackburn, A. R.||Holman, P.||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Richards, R.|
|Boardman, H.||Hoy, J.||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.|
|Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Robens, A.|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Bramall, E. A.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Royle, C.|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Sargood, R.|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Scott-Elliott, W.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Jay, D. P. T.||Segal, Dr. S.|
|Burden, T. W.||Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.)||Shurmer, P.|
|Byers, Frank||Jenkins, R. H.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Callaghan, James||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)||Simmons, C. J.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Jones, J. H. (Bolton)||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Champion, A. J.||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Kendall, W. D.||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Kenyon, C.||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Coldrick, W.||King, E. M.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Collindridge, F.||Kinley, J.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Collins, V. J.||Kirby, B. V.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Comyns, Dr. L.||Lee, F. (Hulme)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Strauss, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Lambeth)|
|Corlett, Dr. J.||Leslie, J. R.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith|
|Cove, W. G.||Levy, B. W.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Lindgren, G. S.||Symonds, A. L.|
|Daggar, G.||Lipson, D. L.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Daines, P.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Longden, F.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Lyne, A. W.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)||McAdam, W.||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||McEntee, V. La T.||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Deer, G.||McGovern, J.||Thomas, John R. (Dover)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Mack, J. D.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Delargy, H. J.||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Diamond, J.||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)||Titterington, M. F.|
|Dobbie, W.||McLeavy, F.||Tolley, L.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Macpherson, T. (Romford)||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Donovan, T.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Mann, Mrs. J.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Viant, S. P.|
|Edelman, M.||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Wadsworth, G.|
|Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Mellish, R. J.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||Messer, F.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Weitzman, D.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Mikardo, Ian||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Mitchison, G. R.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Evans, John (Ogmore)||Monslow, W.||West, D. G.|
|Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Moody, A. S.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Farthing, W. J.||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Fernyhough, E.||Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)||Wigg, George|
|Field, Capt. W. J.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Moyle, A.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Freeman, J. (Watford)||Murray J. D.||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Naylor, T. E.||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Neal, H. (Clay Cross)||Williams, R. W. (Wigan)|
|Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)||Woods, G. S.|
|Williams, W. R. (Heston)||Wyatt, W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Wills, Mrs. E. A.||Yates, V. F.||Mr. Snow and|
|Wise, Major F. J.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)||Mr. George Wallace|
|Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Ten o'Clock, and objection being taken to further Proceeding, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again tomorrow.