HC Deb 13 December 1950 vol 482 cc1159-62
The Minister of Food (Mr. Maurice Webb)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I desire to give the House information concerning the purchase of meat from the Argentine.

As the House is aware, the Government have consistently refused since July last, to pay the higher prices which the Argentine authorities have asked for their meat, since they regard such prices as unreasonable. I am sorry to say that, despite our efforts and hopes, there has been no improvement in the position as regards these negotiations. No meat has been shipped from the Argentine for some months; home supplies have fallen with the onset of winter. It will, therefore, be necessary to reduce the meat ration from Sunday, 31st December, to a level of 1s. worth over-all, of which 10d. will be carcase meat and 2d. canned corned beef. There will be no change in the existing allocation of manufacturing meat.

I regret to have to announce such unpleasant news, but I am sure that the House and the country will support our decision, which has been taken in the best interests of consumers. However, I am glad to say that I have better news of two other ration foods. I shall be able to increase the domestic sugar ration from 8 oz. to 10 oz. a week from 31st December and the cheese ration from 2 oz. to 3 oz. a week from 28th January. I intend also to increase sugar allocations to food manufacturers, and I am considering how far I can restore them to the level at which they stood before the domestic ration was reduced; but anything I can do in that way will have to wait until towards the end of January. I should, of course, like to be able to increase the bacon ration in January. I cannot as yet see the supplies available which would enable me to do so, but I am not unhopeful that some increase may be possible towards the end of January.

Mr. Eden

I have no doubt that the whole House will share the Minister's regret at the first part of his statement. With regard to the meat position, can he tell us whether there is any possibility of obtaining any meat from other quarters, particularly from the Commonwealth where, I know, plans are being worked out, and also from France which, I understand, has had, and in the future may have, supplies of meat available? I believe it is the desire of all of us to make ourselves independent, as far as we can, of this particular commitment, which always seems to treat us rather hardly.

Mr. Webb

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the spirit of his question. We are, in fact, searching everywhere for extra supplies. We have had a small amount—5,000 tons—from France but in the main we are dependent on our traditional sources of supply. We get all we can from the Commonwealth, but this does happen to be one of their lower periods. They are doing all they can to help us, and the House can be sure that every ounce we can get we shall get to help us out of the difficulty.

Mr. Eden

Is the Minister sure that he has obtained all the meat he can get from France? I have heard rather a different report—that the Ministry regard French meat as not so good in quality. I must say that, judging from what we get, it is a jolly sight better than we have here.

Mr. Webb

We are expecting to get some pork in January from France, but we must not think of it as being any very large quantity.

Mr. Chetwynd

Can the Minister say whether negotiations with the Argentine have been broken off?

Mr. Webb

Yes, they have been broken off.

Mr. Turton

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what steps he has taken to get meat from the Irish Free State—Eire—which is sending food to the Continent and the United States of America?

Mr. Webb

We are taking all the meat the Irish Free State are prepared to send us and we shall continue to do so.

Mrs. Jean Mann

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement about a reduction in the meat ration will be an incentive to fish prices rising still further? Will he, therefore, control fish prices as soon as possible?

Mr. Webb

Obviously, in view of the meat situation, that is a fact that we must take into account in considering fish prices.

Mr. Churchill

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that a reduction of the meat ration stimulates quite abnormally, the consumption of bread and other forms of food?

Mr. Webb

Yes, indeed. We are aware of that and we are doing our best to supplement other sources of food supplies.

Mr. Niall Macpherson

What is happening about the import of meat from Uruguay?

Mr. Webb

We had expected to begin shipments of about 15,000 tons. We entered into arrangements with Uruguay last week. As the House may know, and hon. Members may have seen from the papers, the Argentine are trying to press them not to send that meat. We hope they will resume shipments.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

Can the Minister assure the House that the whole of this reduction is not being carried by the ordinary ration and that catering establishments are carrying a corresponding share of the cut?

Mr. Webb

All these arrangements are made on the basis of equality.

Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing

Can the Minister make a statement on the tea position? Is there likely to be a restoration or an increase in that direction?

Mr. Webb

If it had been possible I would have made that announcement today, but when it is possible it will be made.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

Whatever the rights or wrongs of the Government's decision about trade in meat with the Argentine, do not three facts—one of which we had in Question time—first, that we are to get more manufacturing meat on the ration; second, that we are to have corned beef in winter; third, that the ration of carcase meat is to be reduced to an all-time low level, expose the wrongness of the Government's policy of State trading?

Mr. Webb

I should have thought that this situation would have driven any intelligent person to an entirely opposite conclusion.