§ 3.59 P.m.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
A fortnight ago we had a valuable Debate on this subject, but we were hampered by the fact that both sides of the House were labouring under a great disadvantage. They had no firm details of what they were talking about. We on the Opposition side had to rely on the reports in newspapers of what had been transacted, whereas the Government relied on certain inaccurate and incomplete telegrams. Now we have had published Cmd. 7346, which sets out in detail the Argentine Agreement, under which £95 million of this Vote comes.
Before I come to details of that Agreement, I should like to make one small point to the Minister of Food. It is a very small defect in this agreement. When we have an agreement which clearly has been put into two languages may we in future have a complete translation? I found very hampering the fact that, in this Agreement, the Government and their advisers have translated the words but they have not translated the weights. It is far better if we can have it all translated, so that we can compare it with the Trade and Navigation Returns. I wasted 20 minutes of my time translating that part of the Agreement.
1443 The first of two main general points which I wish to make, is what exactly is represented by the Vote of £100 million? The Chancellor of the Exchequer says this:What we have been able to secure, as a result of the Agreement, is, first, all the foodstuffs and feeding stuffs we wish to secure from the Argentine during the ensuing 12 months. The bill for those goods amounts, roughly, to £110 million.That would be all our purchases under this heading from the Argentinue for 12 months. Later he drew attention to a certain ambiguity about that, and said:What I meant was that the goods which we are going to buy, and have agreed to buy, and they have agreed to sell us, will cost £110 million." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1948; Vol. 447, cc. 1685 and 1692.]The only enlightenment that we can get of that from the Agreement comes from Article IV (a). The Committee will see that it sets out that:The Government of the United Kingdom agree to pay in advance to the Argentine Government for the account of the Argentine Institute for the Promotion of Trade the amount of £110 million representing the approximate sterling value of the commodities"—set out in the Schedule—and also the unshipped balances of the existing contracts; and there is mentioned the extra £10 million. From that I think it is clear—and if I am not right I hope that I shall be corrected—that £110 million represents articles in the schedule and also the unspecified unshipped balances. If we are to see what we are paying in this Supplementary Vote it is clearly necessary at some stage in the Debate for the Minister of Food to tell us the totals, not item by item, but the totals of the unshipped balances. The second conclusion which I draw from those three quotations is that it is clear that the Government are resolved not to spend more than £110 million and not to pay more than the quantities in the Agreement and the unspecified quantities of unshipped balances from the Argentine before 31st March, 1949. I hope that we shall have a clear statement from the Minister of Food before this Debate closes.
The second general point which I wish to make is this. The right hon. Gentleman may be relieved to hear that he has made it very clear, I think regrettably clear, that he does not intend to divulge 1444 what are the contract prices which he has paid to the Argentine under this Agreement. I regret it, but I have far too little time to waste to argue it. I wish to make it abundantly evident to the House that this will be a grave defect of State trading. When, in pre-war days, private enterprise was buying grain and meat for this country, the whole world knew the price we were paying. We were paying the world price. There was not the hush and secrecy attending the transactions of the Minister of Food. If he is refusing today to tell us the prices, he must realise the damaging effect that that secrecy and hush is having on his administration. We are giving the impression abroad that when the Minister and his advisers come to buy feedingstuffs and food, they are both slow and extravagant buyers for the people of this country. The taxpayers will be very chary of paying the large sums involved without any detail of the prices at which the goods have been bought.
This Agreement, and the Vote that is attending it, can be divided into five quite distinct headings: grain, feedingstuffs, linseed oil, animal fats and meat. I intend to make my remarks quite distinct under each heading. It may surprise the Minister that under one heading he will find that I shall not be unduly critical in what I have to say. I would take the Committee into my picture of the grain position in the Argentine by reminding them of the history of the matter. In 1946 there was a surplus of maize in the Argentine of 2,000,000 tons. That was a year when we were buying under a State purchasing mission and other countries were using the methods of private enterprise. Out of that surplus of 2,000,000 tans of maize we got only the leavings. The foreign and Empire purchasers, working in many cases under private enterprise, took the vast bulk. The exports to this country were 86,000 tons of maize—a paltry figure.
South Africa, to take one example, bought 330,000 tons of maize in 1946. By the end of 1946 South Africa was able to take off the rationing that restricted the buying of feedingstuffs for poultry. In July, 1947, I remember that the Minister of Food came proudly to the House saying that he had bought up all the surplus egg production of South Africa. I dearly wished that we had that maize that was 1445 bought by private enterprise, and then we could have had a surplus egg production in this country. In 1947 crops of maize in the Argentine were good and there was a surplus of four million tons. The Minister of Food bought 700,000 tons and by 1st February he had shipped 470,000 tons. There was, of course, this difference. When the Argentine were selling maize, we could have bought, if we had been more successful in our negotiations, at a price of £15 a ton. Last year, when the Minister bought the maize, the price—the only price I know—was £21 a ton, which is a good deal higher. There is an unshipped balance of maize therefore of 230,000 tons of the 700,000 tons contract.
The position in the Argentine, according to the grain report of 1st February, was that there was a surplus from the 1947 crop of just under 2,000,000 tons still left. That was months before the maize harvest in the Argentine. The crop report on the maize harvest is that it is generally developing very satisfactorily and a large crop is certain. Therefore, it is clear that the Argentine will have another exportable surplus something in the region of that which they had last year. I want to take a conservative estimate. I will put the exportable surplus for the current 1948 crop at three million tons. The Argentine have an unexpended surplus from 1947 of just under two million tons, and there will be three million tons from the 1948 crop. That means that there will be a total of five million tons of maize available for purchase by whoever wants it and can pay for it. That is a reasonably fair way of putting the position.
What is the right hon. Gentleman getting under this Vote? He is getting 1,103,600 tons of maize. We are told that he is getting that not at the price of £30 a ton but, as he admitted, at a price of just under £30—shall we say, £28—a ton. That is a price far higher than he need have paid last year, when there was this big surplus of four million tons, or the year before when it was sold at £15 a ton and when there was a surplus of only two million tons. That is a most unsatisfactory result, not only in regard to price but in regard to quantity. We need that maize badly in agriculture for general feedingstuffs and especially for poultry. Our poultry industry is starved. Hon. Members in all parts of 1446 the Committee who are interested in the poultry industry know that if we could only get double that quantity of maize it would make a great difference to the breakfast tables of the country.
But there is another complication. Notwithstanding the recommendations of the Boddinar Committee, pigs are of extreme importance to everybody—to the pig clubs and especially to the breakfast tables of the country. When I was in the Argentine last year, I discovered that there was to be an exportable surplus of barley. That was well known in the Argentine in July last year. The Minister of Food told me in October that he had managed to buy 300,000 tons of that barley. I was very pleased about that. It is a pity that it was not bought many months earlier. It is a pity that only 120,000 tons of that 300,000 tons had arrived in this country by 1st February. I suppose that the other 180,000 tons of barley is an unshipped balance, and that it is additional to the 300,000 tons of barley mentioned in this Agreement.
Hon. Members will recollect that in the Agreement it is stated that if the Ministry want 300,000 tons of barley, they can have it if they take 300,000 tons less of maize. We want both the barley and the maize. Why cannot we get more barley than that?
§ Mr. Turton
It may be that the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is cheaper to buy bacon than barley. If that is so, he makes a great mistake. We are buying bacon, and I hope that we will buy more bacon, but it is far cheaper to buy the barley and feed it to our pigs to get manure to encourage the agricultural industry and to produce our own bacon, than to take the advice of the hon. Gentleman and to buy bacon.
What is the position in regard to barley? On 1st February of this year there were 536,000 tons of barley available for purchase. That figure comes from the grain report of that date. That is in addition to the 300,000 tons. Why are we not buying more barley than that? Under the heading of grain, I do not think that we are getting enough for our agricultural needs. We have been far too slow in getting into this market. It would 1447 have been easier to buy if we had bought a year or so earlier. We are late. I do not intend to rattle the Government on that. What is past is past. The Government have committed many crimes. I suggest that they should be buying a larger quantity than they are buying under this heading.
I now come to the question of feeding-stuffs. We are buying 76,000 tons of wheat offals and 90,000 tons of oil cakes and oil meals—a total of 166,000 tons. Last year we bought 387,000 tons. In fact, under the Agreement, we are buying only 50 per cent. of last year's total of animal feedingstuffs. The Minister must explain that figure in an attempt to justify it before the farmers of the country will begin to think that they are getting a fair deal from this Government. We have been told by the Minister of Agriculture that there is no hope of an increase in the ration of feedingstuffs before March, 1949. Is that bound up with the failure of the Ministry of Food to buy even up to last year's figure of Argentine feedingstuffs? Before the war, we were not getting these processed feedingstuffs. We were buying linseed and crushing it here. We imported 500,000 tons of linseed and, in addition, 330,000 tons of animal feedingstuffs from the Argentine.
Now, under this Agreement we are getting for the whole year only one-sixth of what we got prewar. It may be, and I hope it is, that the reason for the smallness of this figure is that there are large quantities of unshipped balances of previous contracts for animal feedingstuffs. I assure the Minister that if he tells us that is a delusive figure and that actually he has some 200,000 tons awaiting shipment and purchased, nobody will be more delighted than me and other hon. Members who are interested in agriculture.
I refer for a moment to linseed oil. Again, we need a little explanation from the Minister. We are buying only 17,800 tons of linseed oil. Last year, we bought 107,000 tons. I do not know why the amount has fallen so considerably. Linseed oil is not only important as an integral component of agricultural feeding-stuffs, but it is also of great importance to the paint and linoleum industries. It may be that there is some mistake in the figure Perhaps it ought to be higher; it 1448 may be a misprint. I say that because, taking the value in this Vote under "Oils and Fats," with the increase due to the Argentine Agreement, it comes to £16,400,000. Taking the 17,000 tons of linseed at last year's prices—which we know from the Trade and Navigation Returns, from where we are allowed to find out these things—that would cost some £3 million. Taking the animal fats at last year's prices again, that would amount to £9 million, making a total of £12 million. Thus, there is a deficiency of £4,400,000.
It may be that linseed should be a higher figure than 17,000 tons, or is it that the prices have gone up by 33⅓ per cent. over last year's price? It could hardly be that, because linseed reached its peak shortly before I was in the Argentine and since then has been steadily falling in price. I cannot understand that figure of £16,400,000, and perhaps the Minister will explain it.
Taking the next item—animal fats—we are getting 40,000 tons, whereas last year we obtained 17,800 tons under that heading. I think that the negotiators and the Minister of Food are to be congratulated for having obtained so much animal fats under this agreement. I have a suspicion that this has probably been one of the easiest tasks of the negotiators, and I will explain that to the Committee. For some reason which I never could quite understand, the right hon. Gentleman in 1946, when he negotiated with Argentina, bought the carcases and the hides but left behind all the animal fats which would have made so much difference to the housewives' fat ration last year. Here, we are at last getting back to common sense, and we are buying not only the carcases, but also the tallow and the lard.
Finally, we come to meat, and this is one of the hardest parts of the White Paper to understand. Up to now, I have been talking of raw materials, and meat is the finished product, but, until we can get the foodstuffs into this country and get the necessary build-up for our store cattle industry, it is quite clear that a great part of our meat ration must come from Argentina. I regard the meat ration as an essential incentive to production at the present time. After all, if we increase the meat ration, both in the coalmines and the 1449 steel works, we shall get a greater production in so far as we increase the ration. What is being done here?
Last year, we imported 500,000 tons of meat from Argentina. Here, we are importing 420,000 tons—a cut, I think that is the right phrase, of 80,000 tons. It is perfectly true that, of that cut, 67,000 tons comes in canned corned meat and 13,000 tons in frozen meat. I think that many other hon. Members and myself have no great affection for canned corned meat. I lived for a long period of my life with the old "bully," fried "bully," "bully" fritters, "bully" stew and all the variations which the Army Catering Corps could devise, but it does not appeal to me in its canned form, and I think the right hon. Gentleman is right in reducing the amount of canned meat. If he reduces it, however, he surely must replace it by frozen meat, and that cut cannot be justified at the present day without further explanation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us that.
Generally, my view on this Agreement which we are discussing is that, with the exception of animal fats, where we have got a very tardy return to common sense, we are not getting the feedingstuffs and meat which this country requires. I know that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government have difficulties over this, and I recognise them, because I know that when we go in for State trading with Argentina we are in a very great difficulty, but that is a difficulty which is inherent in the State trading system. Under State trading, at a time when commodity prices are high, we find that the selling Government will take good care that it gets all the advantages over the purchasing Government. That seems to me to be an argument against State trading, and hardly an argument in defence of the Government.
This Argentine Agreement has failed us and has failed agriculture. It has whetted the appetite of Colonel Peron, who got his railway victory and his Andes victory, and he now goes off to the Falk-land Islands and Antarctica. I think the Minister of Food has been far too complacent and subservient to Argentina and should have got us a far better deal. I recognise that, when Colonel Peron comes on to the Falklands and Antarctica, he is dealing with much sterner stuff than 1450 the complacency of the Minister of Food. When he has to deal with the Foreign Secretary and the British Navy, he may find that these are different stuff to tackle. This is not a successful agreement, and this Vote represents money spent in a very poor shopping effort by the Minister of Food. He should have bought more with this money when we require these foodstuffs and feedingstuffs so urgently. I hope that, when the Minister of Food retires, as in the interests of the housewives and the farmers he soon must, he may go home and copy the example of Sir Neville Henderson and write a book—"Failure of a Mission."
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Mellish (Rotherhithe)
I do not want to take up too much of the time of the Committee in replying to the points of the hon. Gentleman opposite, who described the present Minister of Food as being most inefficient, but I would like to say that that is only the opinion of the Opposition, and that the vast majority of the people are very satisfied with the manner in which and the methods by which the Minister of Food arranges the rations of the people of this country. Most of the criticism levelled against my right hon. Friend by the hon. Gentleman opposite was most unfair. In their criticism, hon. Members opposite seem to forget that we are standing on our own feet, and that what the Minister has to do today, is due to the inefficiency of people in the pre-war years who did not develop our own agriculture. As a consequence, the Agreement with Argentina is only one of those things which we have unfortunately to accept, because we have to feed our people, and beggars cannot be choosers. I hope the Minister will regard the criticism of the Opposition as being quite unimportant, because the vast majority of the people of this country are more than satisfied with the way in which the Ministry is arranging their rations.
The point in which I am interested in this Supplementary Estimate is that concerning transport, warehousing and ancillary services, on which we are spending £22 million. I am rather interested in this, because I represent a constituency which contains perhaps the largest amount of warehousing accommodation in this country. I would like to draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that, in the opinion of the people who 1451 work in these warehouses, insufficient attention is given to the methods by which our food is being stored. I have had a great number of complaints from our people who work in the docks. They assure me, for example, that sugar has been stored in the open over periods of something like three years without having been inspected, and consequently a lot has deteriorated. I brought a complaint to the Minister's attention, some time ago, about 18,000 cases of grapefruit. It is true that part of the cargo was found to have arrived in a damaged condition when the cases were offloaded from the ship, but they were not inspected, and consequently were allowed to deteriorate, and most of the cargo went bad.
§ Mr. J. S. C. Reid (Glasgow, Hillhead)
On a point of Order. For the further course of this Debate, it would be most useful to have your Ruling on this matter, Major Milner. If you look at the Supplementary Estimates, you will see that the original Estimate for transport, warehousing and ancillary services was £29,300,000. The Estimate, as now revised, is £22,300,000. Therefore, less has been spent than was contemplated under this head. I should like your Ruling, Major Milner, whether a Debate on a matter of this sort is competent. We desire, of course, to have the widest possible Debate, and I do not in the least want to stop the hon. Gentleman, but in order that the matter may be put right and that we may know where we stand, in this and future Debates, I would welcome your Ruling as to whether or not the hon. Gentleman is in Order.
§ The Chairman
Speaking without notice, so long as there is a change in the Supplementary Estimate, as compared with the main Estimate, whether the change be up or down, I think it is in Order for this Committee to debate it.
§ Mr. Mellish
The point I particularly want to establish is that this money is being paid out and I feel we ought to get better value for it. I was talking about the question of 18,000 cases of grapefruit, a tremendously large consignment, probably enough to supply the whole of London for one weekend. Most of that cargo was allowed to go bad. There was a further incident that I 1452 brought to the attention of the Ministry—not, in this case, the Ministry of Food, but the Ministry of Transport, because I felt they were responsible at the time—and that was the case of a large cargo of tea loaded when the workers had already complained of the condition of the craft. Nevertheless, regardless of the complaints, the cargo of tea was loaded and many thousands of cases of tea were lost.
I want to make it clear that I do not hold the Minister of Food responsible for this. I recognise that in the tremendous field which he covers certain things are bound to go wrong in the administration, but I maintain—and I am very serious about this—that there must be stricter supervision, particularly at the ports where this food is stored, in view of the shortage of foodstuffs in this country and in order to ensure that what is available is fairly rationed. I would like to have from the Minister of Food, when he replies, some information as to what steps are being taken about the storage of food in docks and warehouses, and whether any improvement can be made.
Hon. Members opposite have made constant complaints about the number of enforcement officers employed by the Ministry of Food, and yet it is rather extraordinary that they are complaining, too, from time to time, of certain discrepancies and certain black market operations. At Question time we get all these complaints. I believe the answer is that we must have more enforcement officers to do this work. I think it is necessary, and if these people do their job, particularly in the docks and warehouses where this food is stored, I believe they will be doing a first-class job of work.
This is particularly interesting to me in my position as Member of Parliament for a docks area. The dockers cannot understand, for example, why sugar is so severely rationed when thousands of tons have been there for two or three years. It is very difficult for them to understand. They cannot understand why their wives have to give up so many points for a tin of grape fruit when 18,000 cases are allowed to deteriorate. It certainly is not logical. I want to make this clear; I have told our people that they are as much responsible as the people who own the warehouses, 1453 because if they see anything going on they must tell us about it. I have their assurance that we shall have proper co-operation from them, but I should like to hear from the Minister of Food on this question, in particular. Apart from the complaints I have made, I still maintain, from my own experience outside, that our rationing system is the fairest in the world. It is accepted by everybody, except the Opposition, as the finest system in the world, and the Minister of Food can be assured that we, on this side, are behind him 100 per cent.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
The hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Mellish) rather contradicted himself. He chided us on these benches, and said that the people of England are very satisfied with the work of the Minister of Food. I think that tribute is rather extraordinary, coming from the hon. Member, since his predecessor was, of course, Sir Ben Smith. He himself would not have been in this House if the first Socialist Minister of Food had not been a complete failure.
§ Mr. Mellish
It was suggested in the by-election that he had been a complete and utter failure, but the result was that the Tory candidate lost his deposit.
§ Mr. Osborne
If I may pursue that point, if he was such a great success, it is a pity the Government got rid of him. The other point I want to raise is this. The hon. Member complained to us that we are spending all this amount of money and that we ought to be getting a better value for the money we are spending. After making that complaint, he cannot surely be satisfied with the Minister who is responsible for spending all this money. There is another point I should like to make. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said that Colonel Peron had won the railway agreement and had got the best of the bargain. I rather regret hearing that said in this House, because I understood that the railway agreement was a fair agreement as between both sides, and both were satisfied with the terms.
I am sorry to see evidence of the lack of interest taken by this House in food matters. We have the benches almost completely empty on both sides when we are dealing with the most important subject 1454 for this country—that of food. Yesterday, when we were discussing Palestine, it was almost impossible to get, a seat. Today, there is no interest taken in what is fundamentally one of our greatest problems—the feeding of our people.
When the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his explanatory speech on the Argentine Agreement, he said:If it should happen that there are any other questions about the agreement which hon. Members wish to raise, I will do my best to answer them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1948, Vol. 447, c. 1689.]With your permission, Major Milner, there are a number of specific questions I wish to put to the Minister of Food in pursuance of that promise. The Minister of Food himself, finishing his speech the same day, said:I wish to repeat what the Chancellor said at the beginning of the Debate, that the advantages—and we believe that they are very substantial—to this country … are that it enables completion of the railway deal, which we think is a very real advantage to us, so that our very substantial food programme can be carried through."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1948, Vol. 447, c. 1733.]I want to deal with these two points, if I may. As I understand it, we are paying out £100 million for the food which it is promised shall be sent to us in the next 13 months up to 31st March, 1949. When the Chancellor explained the position, he said he would not give the House the detailed prices at which the purchases were made, but he said:The prices at which they were bought … were rather higher than those which we paid before.He went on to explain that by saying,That is quite natural, as there has, of course, been, on the whole, a very sharply rising market since our last contract."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1948; Vol.447, c. 1685.]I am not asking the Minister to tell the Committee how much is paid for each item. I think that in existing circumstances that would be unreasonable. I do, however, ask him to tell us whether we are paying, say, 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. more on the whole. If we are, we are paying £100 million for food, allowing for the rise in prices, that is worth only £90 million—food which, in volume, is worth £90 million. In the Memoran- 1455 dum to the revised Supplementary Estimate, we are told that we are making an extra £10 million ex gratia payment in a… single cash payment … as a contribution towards the increased Argentine costs of production in respect of the food agreed to be purchased by the United Kingdom.All this surely means that we are to get £90 million worth of food and that we are to pay £110 million for it. So few people in the country or in this Committee realise the significance of what we are doing. It means that the workers and employers of this country—and this is what I wish the Minister would put over in his publicity—have to produce more if we are to enjoy as high a standard, or as low a standard—at any rate, the same standard of comfort—in food as we have had in the past year—if we are to have the same amount of food.
It means that the people in Lancashire, for instance, have to produce 11 yards of cloth where previously they produced nine; that the people of Yorkshire have to produce it yards of cloth, whereas they produced previously only nine; that the workers of Coventry and Birmingham have to produce 11 motor cars instead of nine. These people have to produce that much more in order to eat the same amount as they did last year. The miners throughout the country have to dig II million tons of coal whereas nine million tons were enough to get the same amount of food. That is the most important consideration in this Supplementary Estimate. I beg the Minister of Food to forget narrow party points that may have been made from either side, and put over to the country this all-important economic factor—that if we are to live at anything like the same rate as that at which we have been living, we have to produce that much more to get the same amount of food.
§ Mr. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
Will the hon. Member carry that argument further, and say that the owners have to be satisfied now with £9 of profit for every £11 of profit they had last year?
§ Mr. Osborne
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I said that I was speaking of the whole country. I am tired of narrow party politics. I am trying to speak now of every one of us, and I did mention the employers as well as the workers. We are all in the same boat together. 1456 The efficiency of the country as a whole is what matters. We sink or swim together. It is no longer a case of 9d. for 4d.; it is a case of 11d. for 9d.; and the sooner we all realise that, the sooner we shall be able to get out of the troubles with which we are faced.
Mention has been made of the effect on the food subsidies. There seems to be a pathetic belief in the country that somehow, by juggling with figures and paying subsidies, our food ration can be maintained. It cannot. The food ration can be maintained only if the right hon. Gentleman can purchase more and more food, and he can purchase more and more food only in so far as we have stuff that we can sell or exchange for the food we wish to purchase. Where, I ask Ministers, are the hon. Members who should be interested in this vital factor? [An HoN. MEMBER: "Where are they on that side?"] I agree. I was speaking of both sides of the Committee. It is their absence that I deplore. We are facing a much graver problem than most Members on either side of the Committee realise. It is unfair to make certain attacks upon the Minister, because to blame him for the entire shortage of foodstuffs in the world, and for not getting more under this Agreement, is not fair to him. This Agreement has to be looked at against the background of the whole food position of the world.
I should like to read out two or three facts from the latest Economic Report of the United Nations. They are significant facts. The report, dated January, 1948, says:The world's population is now greater than a decade ago by almost 200 million, or nearly 10 per cent.
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
On a point of Order. I am the last to wish to cramp any hon. Member's style, but I want to ask what are the possibilities of allowing matters like this to be raised? How far are we to be permitted to travel amid the economic affairs of the world, on an Estimate of the Ministry of Food? I should like to know what was the relevance of the matter of the Argentine railways to this Estimate? I ask that question for the simple reason that I presume that those hon. Members who represent constituencies where there are shipyards and ports would be entitled to state what contribution the shipbuilding industry 1457 might make to the purchase of food. I am sorry that the hon. Member is not here who represents that part of Hackney where the dog track is, because, presumably, he would be entitled to say what the contribution is or should be of dog tracks to the purchase of food.
§ The Chairman
Anything which relates to the operations of the Ministry of Food is, of course, in Order. A factor affecting those operations, according to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), is that the population of the world has increased in recent years. That may be so. As to the other question, about the railways, I understood that the hon. Member merely referred to the sale of the railways as being incidental to the contemporaneous purchase of food. That would appear to be in Order.
Further to that point of Order, Major Milner. The argument appeared to be about the purchase or sale of railways as against the purchase of food.
§ The Chairman
I do not think so. The question is one of the sale, not the purchase of railways in exchange for food.
§ Mr. Osborne
If the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) had done me the courtesy of allowing me to finish my sentence, I should have been able to show, even to the satisfaction of his intelligence, that this has something to do with the purchase of food from Argentina. Not only are there 200 million more people living on the planet than there were 10 years ago, but the food production of the world last year was 7 per cent. less than food production was 10 years ago. That is a vitally important fact. If the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire does not understand that, I am sorry for him. The Report goes on to say:The world food situation is now as critical as at any time since the end of the Second World War.It is obviously unfair to blame the right hon. Gentleman for not obtaining food that does not exist. [Interruption.] I cannot understand the relevance of the interruption. With regard to the other interruption on a point of Order——
§ Mr. McKinlay
On a point of Order, Major Milner. I want to know whether the relevance of an intervention on a point of Order can be challenged. Surely, 1458 a Member is entitled to rise on a point of Order at any time, and it is for the Chairman to determine whether it is a point of Order or not.
§ Mr. Osborne
I apologise, and in that respect I withdraw. It is very relevant to the task that the right hon. Gentleman has ahead of him to consider all the factors. He cannot purchase food that does not exist. Furthermore, this Report, which I would remind hon. Members is a non-party Report, says on page 191:The world food situation is as critical this year as at any time since the end of the Second World War … Food shortages have become a chronic feature of the post-war world ''—and that is a factor we have to face. It goes on to say:… the steady increase of population may be expected to continue …Therefore, the problem of the right hon. Gentleman, instead of becoming easier, will get more difficult. There are plenty of points on which the right hon. Gentleman may be attacked legitimately, so that it is quite unnecessary to attack him groundlessly.
§ Mr. Osborne
I will come to those points in good time, and then I should like to hear the hon. lady's "Hear, hear." My final quotation from this publication is:Food production in the world's food exporting countries has greatly increased, although large parts of the additional output are being consumed domestically,by the countries who are producing it. As I understand it, something like 15 per cent. more of the world's food is being consumed by the countries which produce it. Therefore, there is a great deal less food in the world's "kitty" for the right hon. Gentleman to purchase. That is one of his basic troubles, and it is only fair to make that point clear. But I ask the hon. Lady to go out and tell her constituents that, and make it quite clear to the country that if we are to get the food that she and her party so easily promised to the country two and a half years ago, they must work a great deal harder to get it. That is the true significance of this Report.
1459 If I am not out of Order, Major Milner, I would like to give the Committee one figure in relation to railways. The railways were discussed previously both by the Chancellor and the Minister of Food. I understand that in the 10 years before Munich—that is pre-June, 1938—the British railways in the Argentine which we have now lost, sent over to this country £58 million in the way of food and raw materials for what were called financial services—interest, dividends, expenses of London offices, etc. This deal means that in the future that supply of food will be lost to us. Never again shall we have it, and the country ought to realise that. It is true that we shall have food from the Argentine for a year and a half as a result of this deal, but after March, 1949, the flow of about £7,500,000 in foodstuffs per year that used to come from our railways in the Argentime by way of financial services will be lost to us. That is also a factor to which I would like the hon. Lady to say "Hear, hear," and to explain to her constituents.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am glad to hear it. Before I conclude, I would like to ask two specific questions. In his speech of explanation the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:What we have been able to secure, as a result of the agreement, is, first, all the foodstuffs and feedstuffs we wish to secure from the Argentine during the ensuing 12 months.Surely, that was a misstatement. We have not secured all the food we wish. Had we secured all we wish to secure, there would be no rationing. Our meat would not be at the present miserably low level. Could the right hon. Gentleman explain what was meant by those words? Surely, we have not got all we want. Did the Chancellor mean that we had got all that we could afford to pay for? If so, how much more food is there in the Argentine which we could have had, had we had exports with which to pay for it? The Chancellor also said in his speech that one of the side issues to this bargain was that… the Argentine Government agreed to give a most-favoured-nation-treatment to the import of British goods, and also to grant import permits to the value of £10 million in 1948.1460 He went on to say:… it applies to certain special categories which, hitherto, had been subject to restriction on entry into the Argentine market.Can the Chancellor tell us what specific trades will be allowed to export to the Argentine within that limit of £10 million? Can he tell us the approximate proportion for each trade? Obviously, it will interest vitally the people who want to export there. The Chancellor also said:We have also agreed to facilitate the supply to the Argentine during 1948 of certain commodities which are important to their economy, including one million tons of coal."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1948; Vol. 447, c. 1685–6.]Is the one million tons of coal the limit that they could take, or is it the limit that we could send to them? I understand that before the war the Argentine railways alone took over one million tons of British coal. Then, of course, there were the gas, electricity, and other commercial undertakings, besides the country's domestic requirements. Would the Argentine have taken more coal from us over and above that one million tons if we could have supplied it? Is there any hope of increasing the one million tons?—because if there is, we could get more food, and it is that which I am after. I would like to know at what price that coal was sold to the Argentine. I am not asking for the figure, but I would like to know whether it was sold at the same price which we could have obtained in another export market. If it was sold at a price less than we could have obtained elsewhere, then we are subsidising the purchase of food. Can we have an assurance that we had a true and proper price for the coal we sold?
Finally, I want to make this special appeal to the Minister. Will he go to the country and explain in easily understood language the difficulties of the world food situation and the difficulties which he is encountering? Would he also explain to the country that if we are to maintain our standard of living and have as much food in the future as we have had in the past, we have got to work to pay for it?
§ 4.59 P.m.
§ Mr. Sparks (Acton)
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) who, I thought, made a very closely reasoned 1461 speech, based very largely on the Anglo-Argentine Trade Agreement; but there appeared to be some assumptions underlying the hon. Gentleman's speech which, I thought, were to some extent rather false. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the surpluses that were available in the Argentine—maize, barley, and linseed oil in particular—and seemed to suggest that a weakness on the part of His Majesty's Government was responsible for us securing less of those surpluses than we should have done if our negotiators had been stronger.
§ Mr. Sparks
Yes, I understood that the hon. Gentleman was doing that, but although it may be true that there are surpluses available in the Argentine, whether we are in a position to obtain them in the quantity we should like is quite a different matter. I remember reading, not so long ago, a quotation from a statement made by an important gentleman who was concerned in negotiating with us a trade agreement in the Argentine, and who said that he was responsible for burning considerable quantities of wheat so that the price of the remainder would thereby be enhanced. This meant that countries which needed the wheat which was available would have to pay a higher price. This gentleman also said that he was responsible for burning considerable quantities of linseed oil, thereby forcing up the price of this commodity, so that nations like ourselves would have to pay higher prices because less surplus was available. It is all very well to attempt to blame the Government for not securing larger quantities of the surpluses which the hon. Gentleman said now existed in the Argentine, but to do that there must be a willingness on the part of those who negotiate for the Argentine to dispose of these surpluses at a figure which we can afford to pay.
The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton suggested that we had been given no clear indication as to what quantity of barley we would be able to import. He said that by increasing our imports of barley from the Argentine we could feed it to pigs, and so provide more bacon for the home market. But the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) reminded us that 1462 the more purchases we made, the greater the quantity of goods and commodities we must export to pay for those imports. If our imports of Argentine products had been increased above the present level—assuming that could have been done—we should have had to have exported more goods to help pay for those imports. That is our national problem, not only in relation to the Argentine but to many other countries as well. Our exports are not sufficiently great to pay for all the food and raw materials we would like to import. Therefore, we must, to some extent, cut our garment according to the available cloth.
I believe that my right hon. Friend made a very good trade agreement with the Argentine, and I am quite satisfied that, far from the principle of bulk purchase sending up the cost of goods we buy, it has been a great influence in actually reducing costs. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton said there were difficulties about State trading, inasmuch as it lead to a demand for higher prices. I do not believe that because, by bulk purchase, it is possible to place a far larger order to a prospective seller. It is the law of economics that the larger the order that can be placed the lower is the purchase price which can be expected to be paid.
§ Mr. Turton
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that Senor Miranda, who increased the price of maize from £15 a ton to about £, without giving the producer more than an extra £1 per ton, has not benefited by State trading?
§ Mr. Sparks
We cannot be concerned with what Senor Miranda does with the producer. We have no right to interfere in the internal affairs of the Argentine Government. What the hon. Gentleman has just said may be true, but who are we to demand that the Argentine Government should pass more of the increased price on to the producer? It is far beyond our power to lay down such an instruction as that.
The Opposition assume a willingness to negotiate with us for the purchase of Argentine surpluses, but all we can do is to arrive at a common agreement, one which we can mutually accept. The present Trade Agreement has taken a considerable time to bring to finality, largely because the Argentine first asked for a 1463 considerably increased price on what they were proposing to sell to us—I think it was about 54 per cent. over previous prices. On the basis of the contracts entered into by the Ministry of Food, I think the general level of the increase has been confined to about 30 per cent. It is regrettable that that increased cost has to be paid, but when 30 per cent. is weighed in the balance against the 54 per cent. that was originally demanded, I think it is reasonable to say that the Agreement is the best that could have been obtained.
To blame bulk purchase for that is quite absurd. If the Minister had been unable to go to the Argentine with a large order and it had been left to private enterprise to do the job, I believe that the cost to us would have been considerably more than it is today. Those who paid the highest price would have had the greatest quantities, and those who could not pay that price would have had none at all. There would be an incentive to play one off against the other, and, in the end, the prices we should have paid would have been far higher than we shall have to pay now.
The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton said that the Agreement was not as good as it might have been, and alleged a weakness on the part of the Ministry in negotiating it; he said they were not strong enough in their negotiations. He said that the Argentine representatives walked away with what they wanted, and that our people were too weak to do very much about it. Then he went on to talk about the Falkland Islands, and what the Argentine are doing there. He reminded us that we wanted some sterner stuff to deal with the Argentine Government, and said that that sterner stuff was the British Navy. How can he hope to get a good basis for trading relationships with the Argentine when he threatens them with force——
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
I hope the hon. Member will not continue along that line, as it is right away from the Estimates.
§ Mr. Sparks
I thought the statement made by the hon. Member for Thirsk and 1464 Malton ought to be answered, but I will not pursue it. I feel sure that in our future relations with the Argentine Government we shall proceed on a basis which will lead us to expect that we can secure their co-operation in any future trading agreements which we may wish to enter into with them.
I would like to re-emphasise one or two other points which have been made in the Debate. One of them is the vital importance of food supplies to our people. In view of all the problems with which we are faced, we must, by every means in our power, seek to achieve the maximum supply of food for the people. In the great cities, like London and the provincial cities, this problem is still very serious, and is one which worries the housewife more than any other. However, despite all the difficulties, the food Position is improving; it is definitely not so bad as it was some months ago. Although there is a certain amount of queueing, there is not so much as hitherto, and we are all glad to see the increased supplies of fruit and vegetables in the shops. I am satisfied that my right hon. Friend is pursuing the right course.
When we examine the Anglo-Argentine Agreement and see the quantities of foodstuffs which are coming into this country—and that is only one of the many trade agreements which the Government are making—I am certain that the Government are laying the foundation for a better supply of foodstuffs for our people in the future. I hope and trust that they will pursue that line, and will always have, as I am sure they will, a desire to see that our people are adequately fed, and that we can get into the country the maximum supply of food. If the Government can achieve an improvement in the food supplies for the nation, they will receive the approbation of everybody in the country. I commend the Anglo-Argentine Agreement to the Committee because I am satisfied that it is welcomed by the people of the country, not only for the terms of the Agreement itself, but for the improvement to our food position, to which the Agreement very largely contributes.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stone)
I cannot follow the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) in congratulating the Minister on 1465 this Agreement, for the simple reason that it is extremely difficult to know whether or not it is a good Agreement. I should first like to add my formal complaint to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Mahon (Mr. Turton), in saying that nearly a half of the money spent by this country cannot be properly inspected by this House of Commons; so far, the money spent on defence cannot be inspected, and so far, the details of the money spent on food cannot be given. However, I can congratulate the hon. Member for Acton on being so naive as to congratulate the Minister of Food on a deal of which we have not sufficient details to enable us properly to judge.
How far is this deal for meat supplies from the Argentine likely to help us after the nine or 12 months, when the present quantity of meat has run out? That is an extremely important question. It is impossible to divide the various deals we have made with the Argentine, because obviously the production and consumption of meat is not intermittent, but must go on. For a few moments I shall address myself to what has happened, and what the future of our meat trade with the Argentine is likely to be, in view of the recently concluded Agreement.
We come up against a very grievous problem. Here, I must differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) and the hon. Member for Acton, by saying that the joint effect of bulk buying and bulk selling organisations is, generally, disastrous to food production. Put simply, what is happening is that the farmers in Argentina are being paid 50 centavo a kilo for meat which is being sold to us at 88 centavo a kilo, plus whatever part of the £10 million is allowed to the Argentines. It stands to reason that the great growth and upward trend of which those two hon. Members spoke, and those glorious arrangements which would lead to further and greater production, are just "baloney." There is a grave danger that, far from increasing production, this fantastic impact of the right hon. Gentleman and his opposite number Senor Miranda, the two devil's advocates in this black market trading of a very special character—supping, I hope, with very long spoons—is not in the least likely to extend and to increase the amount of food production in the world.
1466 Turning to the more specific details of this Agreement, on the face of it, to the simple-minded Argentinian and the simple-minded Englishman there are obvious specific advantages. Our meat is continuing to be invoiced here at the same price as it was invoiced at in the 1946 Agreement. It is being invoiced here at something of the order of 8d. or 9d. a 1b., plus, of course, this mysterious £10 million, which is going no one knows exactly where. As hon. Members know, under the former Agreement we bought 83 per cent. of the Argentine meat surplus, which meant that 17 per cent, was disposable elsewhere by the Argentine Government. Under the new Agreement considerably more than 17 per cent. will be disposed of.
What is not happening, of course, as the hon. Member for Acton suggested, is that marginal prices are coming down. We are buying meat at this mysterious price—this main market price—and at the same time it is perfectly possible for the right hon. Gentleman to say that we are buying well below the world price for Argentine meat, because there are several small purchases of meat of 1000 tons here and r,000 tons there, which are fetching the most fabulous prices—and naturally fetching the most fabulous prices—of 2s. 6d. and 3s. 6d. a kilo, while we are paying 1s. 6d. or is. 7d. on the invoice. That is normal enough, but it is nothing of which to be proud.
The point is that money is not going to the farmer, but is again going to this organisation—the rather more powerful opposite number of the Minister of Food in the Argentine. When the right hon. Gentleman says that we buy well below the world price, he means that we are buying the bulk of those small marginal surpluses that cannot be disposed of at much higher prices than we can afford. One only trades in world prices of Argentine meat if one trades in the world market. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is very well safeguarded from attack by saying "Well, of course, the world price for Argentine meat is 3s. 6d. a kilo." That, again, is complete "baloney." At the same time, the Minister is safeguarded in this country from informing those other persons from whom we do buy meat, of the price at which we are buying. He is able to say that we buy it at a secret price, and to puzzle farmers in, say, 1467 Australia or Canada, or even on the British home market; while Senor Miranda is able to say to his farmers, "I have got this extra £10 million. You may get some of it one day, boys." From both sides, this type of black pact seems, on the face of it, fairly satisfactory.
§ Mr. Sparks
Is the hon. Member blaming the Minister of Food for the fact that Senor Miranda will not pass on to the producer the increased marginal price?
§ Mr. Fraser
If the hon. Member will let me continue, I was intending to try to develop that point in a moment. The 1946 Agreement, as far as meat is concerned, as we look back on it, was undoubtedly, from the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman as against Senor Miranda, a considerable or rather comparative triumph. Here, I should like posthumously, as it were, to congratulate the Minister of Food, or whoever it was at that time, on having pulled off that 1946 Agreement. The point is—and this is another extraordinary result which eventuates from this clash of State trading organisations—that Senor Miranda and the Argentine trading organisation lost very large sums of money on the 1946 Agreement. They lost money because the right hon. Gentleman's Department did not buy the meat offals—the fats, hides and chemical manures. As a result, there was a slump in the price of these hides and other things. That was a warning to Senor Miranda, and that is why this time we have been asked to pay a much higher price. This £10 million is largely to make up for the losses which Senor Miranda incurred on the 1946 Agreement.
This type of trading gets us into fantastic complications. It seems that both Senor Miranda and the right hon. Gentleman have been losers. We, not having bought or received the fats, offals, hides, chemical manures and bones, are now having to make up the losses of the Argentine Government because of their failure to sell them. The hon. Member for Acton has said that it was impossible for this country to dictate to Senor Miranda and to the Argentine Government, and that bonuses should be paid to the farmers in the Argentine to produce more meat. That is precisely what was done in 1946. In 1946, £5 million was paid, which led to a considerable increase in production, 1468 as it led to a 12 per cent. increase of price to the farmer. Not only that, but the farmers and agricultural interests were in on the negotiations for the 1946 and 1947 Agreements. If one looks at the papers, it will be seen that the Agreement in 1946 was signed by, amongst others, the Minister of Agriculture, Senor Elordi, whereas the 1948 Agreement was signed by the Foreign Minister, Senor Bramuglia. It seems that this time we were not nearly so tough in our negotiations for meat as we were in 1946. I maintain that it would have been possible for us to be more tough. After all, we were giving away a great deal. I am not referring in particular to the railways, but to the financial agreement by which we did a good turn to Senor Miranda.
Let us see how the picture develops. Immediately after the signing of the 1948 Agreement, prices on the meat market in South America rose from between 48 and 5o centavos to 50 to 58 centavos. That was generally supposed to be the result of a telegram indicating that £10 million was to be spent by this country in aiding production inside the Argentine. That did not happen, and prices are now back again, and they are likely to stay there. How does all this affect our meat supply for the future? I maintain there is a great danger that the Argentine will not be so interested in selling us meat on the basis of the agreements we have worked out. They may well turn away from us to increasing their sales of meat within South America. That is where the Government of the Argentine are inclined to turn. When I was with the Parliamentary Commission in South America, there was considerable talk about this, and General Peron himself stated in an interview that they would soon be consuming all their own meat in South America. I do not believe that is probable, but I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that they are already consuming between 7o and 8o per cent. of their own meat.
There is a danger that we have been outwitted in these conferences held with South American interests. I am convinced that when they come face to face with the immovable object and the irresistible force of the right hon. Gentleman and Senor Miranda, with Senor Miranda burning incense of linseed oil to his own gods, the only conceivable attitude for us is to be equally tough. I suggest that on 1469 this occasion the right hon. Gentleman was not as tough as he should have been. I suggest that the following things might have been done. First of all, we should have insisted that all goods were paid c.i.f. and not f.o.b. I say that because one of the great holdups is shortage of shipping and turnround of the shipping in the docks. As the right hon. Gentleman probably knows, the turnround of shipping at Buenos Aires and Rosario is a very long business indeed. Secondly, it would be much more advantageous to us to purchase the whole animal. I gather from what the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has said, that we are now moving in that direction. I believe that this should have been done before.
Lastly, I believe it would have been possible for us to insist on the farmers in the Argentine being paid a bonus on production to equalise the price which is being paid of 50 centavos to the farmers as against the price which is being paid to the Government of 88 centavos, plus whatever part of the £10 million we have offered for the meat. If that is not done, there will be a decline in production and the Argentine will sell to Chile and internally, as on both fronts the farmers are allowed more profit, with the result that next year it will be found that the negotiations are much more difficult to resume. Instead of having cornered the market, we have cornered only a part of it. The prices in those marginal areas, such as France and Belgium to whom we used to sell Argentine meat, will have gone up. There will be no guarantee that the producer is paid more to increase production, and there is the further danger of a leakage to Chile and to the neighbouring States.
To conclude, here is the typical loss and confusion which arise when the right hon. Gentleman is State trading and bulk buying from a bulk seller. If the worst comes to the worst, he must get in touch with these other people who are bulk buying and bulk trading. The final folly and delusion of this State trading system is that it will eventually mean that all the countries in Europe will have to gang up to buy from Senor Miranda at the price they fix. There is the danger that this system will lead to that result. That is really one of the most fantastic conceptions possible. But it is a remedy we 1470 may well be forced to adopt. I hope that I have demonstrated to some extent that this deal will not lead to an increase in meat production in the Argentine. On the contrary, it will lead to a diminution and leakage of Argentine meat elsewhere. If next year we have to approach Senor Miranda, we shall undoubtedly get the worst of what is already a poor deal, through the lack of firmness of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ 5.3o p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
I do not want to speak at length, because I do not think the Minister of Food requires anything more than the result of the Paisley election to encourage him on his path. That election raged for 10 days on the question of food.
§ Mrs. Mann
Neither, Mr. Beaumont, with all respect, do I find Senor Miranda's name in the Estimate. The housewives were in the majority at that election. There were housewives' meetings for to days, and they gave a very effective vote of confidence to the Minister. I have something to say on the Estimates. Usually, I am critical in this House, but I say to the Minister that, from one end of the country to the other, there is no difficulty whatever in defending his policy with the housewives. As a matter of fact, I often think that it has been much too successful for our opponents.
I am, however, going to put forward a little criticism about something that is very irritating—something that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not understand, because it is the irritation of private enterprise still pursuing the profit motive and upsetting the arrangements of the Minister. I think that my criticism would relate to wages, salaries and expenses. In spite of the enforcement officers, there is in Glasgow a very large black market. In the whole of the city there are times when it is impossible to find onions, and even children under 18 cannot find bananas. It is most disturbing to have members of a family, walking with a huge bar, of onions and bananas, say to one," Why do you go to the shops? You will never get them in the shops." I know one woman who bought shallots at 1s. 6d. per pound when she could get 1471 five big Spanish onions at 2 lb. for 1s. 6d. in the black market.
All the women in Glasgow know the stances of the spivs. Spiv stance No. 1 is Maxwell Street and Argyll Street, and anyone who wants bananas will get them there at 6s. per dozen. Spiv stance No. 2 is Howard Street and Jamaica Street. There one can get onions at 1s. 6d. for 2 lb., but there is never 2 lb. in a 1s. 6d. bag. One can get table apples there when they are unprocurable in the shops. Spiv stance No. 3 is at the top of Buchanan Street and work there begins at 5 o'clock at night, when the workers are rushing to the bus station. It is often intercepted, and then makes its way to Spiv stance No. 4 in Dundas Lane, which runs between Buchanan Street and Queens Street, to catch the professional classes, who are charged 10s. per dozen for bananas.
It is irritating in the extreme to know that in spite of the protests that I and others have made these stances continue. The police intercept them on occasion. Two policemen went to No. I stance one day and said, "How much are you selling these for?" They immediately dropped the price, and said "three shillings per dozen." The policemen shouted, "Come here, housewives, take your choice. Bananas are going at 3s. per dozen." The whole barrow-load was sold in less than half-an-hour. Then there are the enforcement officers——
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady's interesting account, but there is nothing in the Estimate dealing with enforcement officers.
§ Mrs. Mann
I am looking at what was issued to me—Supplementary Estimate, page three, Class X Ministry of Food—which states:Supplementary Estimate of the amount required in the year ending 31st March, 1948, to pay the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Food.1472 Does not that include enforcement officers?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I must direct the hon. Lady's attention to the survey which deals with the amount of the Supplementary Estimate.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, West)
Further to that point of Order, Mr. Beaumont. May I call your attention to the fact that your predecessor in the Chair during the speech of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) gave as his Ruling that the whole of the concerns of the Ministry of Food would come under review during this Debate? It was a very wide intervention that was made by the hon. Member for Louth, and most of us were expecting that we would have a similar opportunity.
§ Mr. J. S. C. Reid
As I was responsible for asking for the last Ruling, Mr. Beaumont, may I say that I understood your predecessor to rule that if there was any change in the Supplementary Estimate either upwards or downwards compared with the original Estimate, that was a matter for Debate; but he was not asked to rule, and did not rule, that we could discuss matters that remain unchanged in the Supplementary Estimates.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for informing me of what took place. Obviously, I was not present when the Ruling was given. I am tied down to the fact that we are discussing the Supplementary, Estimates, and, therefore, must deal with what is on the Supplementary Estimates.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
On a point of Order. I can understand your difficulties, Mr. Beaumont, but the discussion has taken a very wide range, and if it is right for Members on the Opposition Benches to discuss the difficulties of food supplies from South America, surely it is in Order for the hon. Lady to discuss the point which she is trying to make?
§ Mrs. Mann
I apologise for not having acquainted myself with the tricky points of procedure. I should like to go on to say, apart from the salaries, that the distribution of these commodities in Glasgow is really disgraceful. The salaries and expenses of the enforcement officers ought to be cut off right now, because they are not enforcing the Minister's orders at all.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) into the intricacies of shopping in Glasgow, but I must congratulate her on her very full knowledge of where to shop in the black market.
§ Mr. Baldwin
Most decidedly I inferred nothing of the sort, but I congratulated the hon. Lady on the knowledge which she has obtained on this matter. However, I do not intend to pursue that point. There are two points which confuse hon. Members and the people in the country generally, and I hope the Minister will deal with them. The first one is, are there foodstuffs available in the world? The second is, if these foodstuffs are available, can we pay for them? My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) made it quite clear that in the Argentine there are feedingstuffs available. The Chancellor of the Exchequer a few days ago said we had secured all that he required, which inferred surely that there must be still more available?
If those feedingstuffs are available, the next point is, are we able to pay for them? The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) dealt with the point whether we could pay for them, and I am going to suggest that we can. We have recently contracted an agreement with Holland to send to them £70 million worth of goods, including coal and steel, and in return for that £70 million worth of goods we are taking back £28 million worth of agricultural products, including 100 tons of glasshouse grown strawberries. We recently bought 10,000 tons of carrots from Denmark, 1474 whilst at the same time our farmers could not sell the carrots which they had available. The two most important trading commodities in the world today are coal and steel, and they are the two commodities which either the Argentine or Russia would be very pleased to get from us. I want to suggest that instead of sending steel and coal to the Continent to bring back agricultural products which we can grow in this country, we should send those two commodities to the Argentine or to Russia and bring back coarse grain. This would enable our farmers to get on with the job which they want to do.
Our pig houses and poultry houses are empty today because the farmers have not got the feedingstuffs, and yet the Minister of Food is making contracts all over the world for eggs, bacon and poultry. The whole process means that the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture are not co-operating. In the recent White Paper on our economic position the target has been laid down for an increased production from the land of this country of £100 million before 1952. That is chicken feed as far as the farmers of this country are concerned, but we cannot attain that target unless there is co-operation between the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture. I would like the Government to amalgamate those two Ministries, and make the Ministry of Food subordinate to the Ministry of Agriculture. Every country in the world seems to be able to produce the manufactured article in the way of bacon and eggs except this country, and the job of the Minister of Food seems to be to buy all over the world and prevent his colleague the Minister of Agriculture increasing the output of this country.
Quite seriously, I suggest that it is about time we started trading our coal and steel for the coarse grains with which we could produce bacon, eggs and poultry. We could produce every egg, every bit of bacon and every bit of poultry which are necessary to meet the home demand if we could get the feedingstuffs for our farmers. To say that we have not the means of getting them does not in my mind seem sense. We are trading these two commodities at the present time for something which our farmers can grow here. Last year we imported lettuce from the Continent at 1475 the same time as our farmers were ploughing their lettuce into the land. I would suggest to the Minister of Agriculture that he considers altering his methods.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ The Minister of Food (Mr. Strachey)
It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I say a word about the main subject which has been raised so far in this Debate, which is the Argentine Agreement. I will deal first with the speech of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). He began with a point with which I can agree although there was little else in his speech with which I can agree. That first point was that he wished that these White Papers and other State documents were put out in uniform weights and measures, and so save us from the arithmetic at which he and I both have some difficulty. I hope that that suggestion has been noted in official quarters.
He went on to ask about the unshipped balances from the last agreements which we had with the Argentine. As I think he saw, it is quite true that those unshipped balances are contained in the financial statement of the amount and value of foodstuffs which we anticipate will be shipped during the currency of this new agreement, but they are not contained in the schedule which appears on page 4 of the Agreement of the quantities which are new purchases, and, therefore, additional to any unshipped balances. That leads me to the next major point which he made. He asked whether these quantities put down in the schedule were necessarily exhaustive, and all that we were going to buy in the Argentine during this period.
§ Mr. Strachey
Of these commodities or of any other for that matter. That is a most important point which is germane to remarks made by a number of speakers. The answer to it is that these are not necessarily exhaustive, and if the hon. Member turns to Article 3 of the Agreement he will see that stated in so many words. I will read the Article:The Government of the United Kingdom and the Argentine Government agree that the commodities and quantities set out in the above-mentioned Schedules are not necessarily exhaustive and may be supplemented during 1948.1476 That is a vital point which is laid down in the Agreement, and, if I may say so with respect, vitiates a great deal of the argument which the hon. Member put before us. These quantities, in other words, are quantities which we thought, all things considered, it was wise and prudent for us to purchase in this particular market at this particular moment. That must be quite without prejudice to the quantities which we purchase in this market at other moments or in other markets at this moment.
Therefore, it would be wrong to suggest that because there might be further quantities of some of these foodstuffs available in the Argentine, we are necessarily estopped from purchasing them, or that those commodities that we have purchased there recently or mean to purchase in the near future from other sources, are the total quantities and that this is the last of the items that we shall purchase in the Argentine. These remarks are very relevant to the complaints which were made about bulk buying. The hon. Member told us that if we came along with a huge order to well-organised sellers such as the Argentine Government and put all our cards on the table, buying everything we wanted, we were apt to pay prices that were too high. That might or might not be the case.
In those circumstances we have not done that. We have bought particular quantities, not by any means all that are available in the market in most cases. It would have been unwise to buy all the food available at this moment in those circumstances. Therefore, it is not the case at all that under the present buying arrangements it is necessary to buy, for example, our whole animal feeding commodities in one transaction. We have not done that in this case and do not necessarily mean to do it in other cases.
Then the hon. Member complained that, in contrast to private enterprise, we did not divulge the prices at which we bought. When private firms purchased these commodities before the war, did they at once rush into print and publish the prices at which they had bought? I think not. Mr. J. V. Rank, for example, made large purchases of grains from the Argentine and elsewhere then, on his firm's account, as he now makes them on the nation's account. He no more published his prices when he was making 1477 purchases on his firm's account than he does now, when he is purchasing on the account of His Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. Strachey
There were, and there are, market prices, but the particular prices paid by particular buyers in particular transactions are not divulged. These buyers were not accustomed to divulge their prices when they bought on their own account. That is the reason why they are so insistent now that they should not be urged to divulge the prices when they are buying upon Government account. That is the reason they give.
The hon. Member said he was getting the impression that we were very bad shoppers. He used a long series of epithets and said how careless we were when we were buying. It is not so much that he gets that impression but that he is sedulously giving that impression and is very anxious to give it. I do not think it does us very much harm. As he was speaking I rather wished that he would give that impression in some of the markets from which we have purchased. Speeches like his might serve a useful purpose. If he went out and made that speech in Buenos Aires or Ottawa, he might convince the organisations which have sold to us in those markets that we paid very generous prices, and that would be a very useful service.
§ Mr. Turton
On this side of the House, unlike hon. Members of the right hon. Gentleman's party, we do not run our own country down when we are abroad. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Strachey
I very much wish that the hon. Member's colleagues, whose names have just been mentioned on this side of the House, were here to hear that remark of his. More outrageous cases of running down this country abroad than those of which those two Members were guilty, I hardly know.
§ Mr. Strachey
Yes, in a broadcast on one occasion, too. If the hon. Member would make the type of speech that he made today in those markets, he would, at any rate by accident, do this country a service by convincing the sellers to us 1478 that we paid them generous prices. We have paid them fair prices. The hon. Member would find it very difficult to convince them that the prices have been too high at any rate. He would find their view of the matter to be that the prices had been very much on the low side. It would be of considerable use to the Ministry of Food if the view of the prices paid which the hon. Member expressed could be emphasised very strongly in the capital cities I have mentioned and in other places from which we have bought.
The hon. Member then made various points about the supply of maize that had been available from the Argentine in different years. He mentioned 1946 and said that while the other countries which maintained private buying in 1946 had been able to buy plenty of maize, we had only obtained derisory quantities from the Argentine. The situation in 1946 was bad. The world was so short of cereals, that countries of the world were under the heaviest possible international pressure to refrain from buying coarse grains for animal feeding purposes. The hon. Member mentioned South Africa. It is true that they did make a purchase of grain from the Argentine but, to feed to their livestock? Not at all. They made that purchase of coarse grain because they had an appalling drought and were suffering from famine, and they used the grain for direct human consumption by their native population. It did not go to South African chickens.
§ Mr. Turton
Then why did the South African Government take off the control of poultry feedingstuffs at the end of 1946?
§ Mr. Strachey
I cannot answer for the South African Government, but that purchase of grain was made. If the hon. Member will look it up he will see that it was made because the South African Government were able to show to an international organisation that it could not feed its people with grain for human consumption. If hon. Members are anxious to throw doubt on the word of that Dominion Government I shall be sorry. I accepted the word of that Government and so did the international organisation to whom the application was made. That was why that purchase was made by South Africa, and by other governments at that time.
1479 Then the hon. Member expanded upon the quantities of maize which he said were available in the Argentine today. I think it is true that when the new maize harvest is reaped, as it will be in a few weeks, there will be large quantities of maize available in the Argentine. We bought considerable quantities, about 1,200,000 tons. Further quantities may well be available but we cannot buy them all. We cannot monopolise the export of maize from the Argentine. It may be that the market will become less a seller's market and more a buyer's market. That is quite possible, and it is even likely. It is not impossible that larger additional quantities of coarse grains—maize, barley or the like, will become available there or elsewhere.
The same considerations which I have just mentioned apply to the other commodities with which the hon. Member dealt, such as oil cake and various linseed products. 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. That does not in the least mean that we may not at some other time and in other circumstances which may be more favourable, buy additional quantities from there or elsewhere.
I come now to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Mellish). It is quite true that we keep sugar in stock for long periods—not large quantities, but small quantities. Sugar is a commodity which does not degenerate, and I can assure my hon. Friend that when on some occasions we keep reserve stocks of sugar in warehouses for long periods, it does not mean that sugar is wasted or that it is unnecessary or inadvisable to do so or that it is not most carefully inspected to see whether there is any danger of degeneration.
I come now to the speech of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) who was kind enough to refrain—I am not speaking ironically—from blaming me for the creation of the present world food shortage. He even refrained from making me directly responsible for the fact that the population of the world had gone up by 200 million. He is quite right; I played no significant part in that, at any rate. It is quite true that the world situation is as he put it forward from his 1480 extracts from numerous official publications, and I am grateful to him for emphasising that this is the background of the world situation against which all of us and every country in the world have to operate and to attempt to feed its people adequately today.
He asked me to devote myself to telling the people of this country that that was so and to explain to them that we can only obtain those quantities of food which are available by selling our exports to pay for them. We certainly endeavour to do that. I should have thought that one of the criticisms that could hardly be levelled against this Government at the present moment was of failure to put the economic facts of the situation before the people of this country. We have just done so in a document which the whole Press has greeted as being of a stark frankness and which has given a wealth of detail and example of the whole economic situation of the country, not only of the balance of payments, such as no Government has ever before put in front of its people—certainly no Government in the history of this country.
The hon Member was right in saying that if the terms of trade turned against us we must send more tons of steel, coal and the like for every ton of foodstuffs which we import. The terms of trade have turned not enormously but appreciably against us in past years. There is some hope and some possibility that we have reached the worst point—the nadir—of that tendency. As we know, there has been a significant—at least, we trust and believe that it is significant—fall in the prices of certain basic foodstuffs in the United States, which are apt to govern the world prices, in recent weeks and months, and we hope and believe that there is a chance that the terms of trade may, at any rate, cease moving in the wrong direction. I agree with the hon. Member most sincerely that we must realise that until and unless the terms of trade turn back again in a more favourable direction to us, the very utmost export effort is needed from the workers and employers alike—the employers' effort is very important and sacrifices are needed from them as well as from their forces of workpeople—in order to secure our supply of foodstuffs today.
The hon. Member exhorted me most eloquently to say all this. Goodness 1481 knows, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said it frequently enough, but no doubt it cannot be said too often. In return, I would ask the hon. Member to exhort his leaders to say much the same thing. While he was making those exhortations, I could not help having recalled to my mind certain statements made in the past six months or year by one of my predecessors in this office, not my immediate predecessor, but Lord Woolton. He took a very different line, and told us that any deficiencies of foodstuffs we had in this country were entirely due to the mismanagement of my humble self or the Government as a whole. He told us nothing of the terms of trade or the effort needed for exports to purchase our food or still less of the world food shortage. While I welcome the hon. Member's exhortations to me, I suggest that he might exhort his own leaders to go out and do likewise——
§ Mr. Osborne
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, may I have answers to the specific questions I put to him? I asked about the trade deals in regard to coal.
§ Mr. Strachey
The hon. Member asked whether we sold our coal to the Argentine in this deal at the full world price. The answer is, "Yes, we did." The hon. Member also wanted to know whether this one million tons of coal was the limit to our export to the Argentine. Certainly not. As Article III, which I read out, says:… the commodities and quantities set out in the above-mentioned Schedules are not necessarily exhaustive.
§ Mr. Strachey
It is not a question of whether we could have supplied more coal. It is quite possible that we shall supply more than one million tons of coal. All that the Agreement lays down is that we have an obligation to the Argentine to supply one million tons of coal, and that we must fulfil; but if they wish to purchase, as I think they very well may, and we have available, as I also think we very well may—thanks to the efforts of the miners—more than one million tons of coal, it can go up. I believe the prewar figure was more in the nature of two million tons. It is quite possible that this year or next we can approximate to that 1482 higher figure. As the hon. Member says, that will be most helpful in financing our purchases of these and any other foodstuffs we buy. I am entirely in agreement with that.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) devoted his remarks chiefly to the question of the meat prices. His main complaint, and it is an understandable one, was that in the case of meat—and it is true also of cereals—the arrangements of the Argentine Government are such that only a proportion of the price which they receive is passed on to the producer. He must realise that it is not in our power to modify the internal arrangements of the Argentine Government. He seemed to think that somehow or other if we bought by private enterprise instead of bulk purchase that would induce the Argentine Government to pass on——
§ Mr. Strachey
Unless I am wrong, that is what the hon. Member suggested—that somehow or other the Argentine Government would pass on a greater proportion of these prices if we bought from them through ordinary trade channels. I simply cannot follow him there. I see no reason to suppose that Señor Miranda and the Argentine Government should modify the economic arrangements which they like and which suit them simply because we purchase in a different method.
§ Mr. Fraser
My point was that I was asking the right hon. Gentleman to get tougher with them. Obviously, if we are dealing with a bulk selling country, bulk purchase is one of the methods, but I pointed out that if there had been neither bulk selling nor bulk buying we would have been in a better position.
§ Mr. Strachey
That is highly hypothetical. These Estimates do not cover Senor Miranda's policies but extend only to ours. I could not, therefore, enter into that. Certainly, if we had abandoned our organised buying we should have had far less power to influence the conditions of the transactions and not far more. That is the only position I take.
The hon. Member then went on to refer to the Meat Agreement of 1946, which we call the Turner-Miranda Agreement because it was negotiated by Sir Henry Turner on behalf of this country and Senor Miranda. The hon. Member called 1483 that Agreement a triumph. It was interesting and pleasing to me to hear that, because I recall the things it was called at the time when it was made, which were anything but a triumph. However, as he said, he called it posthumously a triumph. That Agreement, which was negotiated in the early months of my period of office, was considered by hon. Members at the time anything but a triumph, but it is true to say that, in the light of after events, it was certainly not a bad piece of bargaining on the part of the buyers of this country. The hon. Member suggested that the Argentine sellers actually lost money over that Agreement. I hope, and I do not think, that is quite true, but certainly it was not an Agreement which confirms the charges of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Mahon (Mr. Turton), that our buyers are slow and easy-going people, always overborne and always getting the worst of the agreement. If there is any question of the Argentine sellers actually losing money on that Agreement, it hardly looks as if we were negotiating on that basis.
§ Mr. Strachey
I know the price of meat, like the price of many things in the world, has gone up in the last two years. That is a fact we all have to face, but if the hon. Member examines the new Agreement, he will find there is no suggestion of retrospective payment in respect of any earlier agreement.
I should be out of Order if I referred to the tips to my enforcement officers mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann), and I pass at once to the speech made by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin). I agree entirely with him that there is no better use for our scarce exports—he instanced steel and coal—than to make these agreements, and he gave the example of the Argentine and Russia for the purchase of essential foodstuffs for this country. That is just what we have done. We have made an agreement with Russia for a large quantity of coarse grain. Under the Agreement which we are discussing this afternoon, we have a contract with the Argentine for a large quantity of coarse grains, and many other foodstuffs as well. Of course we have had to pay for these 1484 things in part by coal and by steel, and I agree with him that in the present circumstances that is perhaps the best use we could make of these very precious exports, of which we have only a limited quantity today. That is precisely why I commend to the Committee this Agreement, the financial provisions of which we dealt with more fully when we discussed it previously.
§ Mr. Baldwin
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Russia and the Argentine. I specifically mentioned the deal with Holland, and suggested that we sent our coal and steel to Holland to bring back exactly the things we can produce in this country.
§ Mr. Strachey
We made a deal with Holland, too, in which we purchased some foodstuffs—cheese, for example. That does not seem to me an unwise thing to do. [HON. MEMBERS: "Strawberries."] We have made an agreement with Poland in which we have purchased a great many eggs, not nearly as many as we could use, but at any rate a contribution to our supplies. But these argeements, which I wish were bigger, are subsidiary to these two main agreements with Russia and the Argentine because those are the places from which we can get coarse grains as well as other foodstuffs in large quantities. Therefore, there is really nothing between the hon. Member and myself, and I ask him to become a convert to this Agreement, the financial provisions of which I believe are fair, sound to both parties and, on the food side, the transaction is just the kind he mentioned, by which we have supplied many of the goods which the Argentine so urgently needs, while she has supplied many of those foodstuffs and other raw materials which we so urgently need.