HC Deb 12 May 1950 vol 475 cc720-815

11.12 a.m.

Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

I beg to move, That this House, concerned with the hardships imposed on consumers by the present system of State trading in imported foodstuffs, urges His Majesty's Government, whilst maintaining long term agreements with Colonial and Dominion producers, to restore to the private traders the right to purchase foodstuffs in overseas markets. The Motion invites this very evenly divided House and the new Minister to examine without political preconceived prejudice, the question of the importation and procurement of foodstuffs from overseas. There is no room for prejudice in this matter. All of us are here to represent the interests of the consumers of this country and none of us wishes to forget the interests of the producers in the Empire with whom we have close ties and to whom everybody in this country owes obligations because of the very great practical help that they have given us both during and since the war. What hon. Gentlemen, and I hope right hon. Gentlemen, of all parties are seeking to work out, is a system that will ensure plenty of food for the consumers in this country, will restore consumer choice and, at the same time, will give confidence to overseas producers.

I should like very shortly to outline the history of the system of State monopoly buying. At the outbreak of war when control of distribution was put on, the private trader still procured and purchased foodstuffs under Government supervision. It was not until March, 1940, when enemy attacks upon our shipping made it necessary for the Government to control shipping, that the Government had of necessity to take over the procurement and purchasing of foodstuffs. There is, I think, general agreement that at that time there was no alternative. When we have mobilisation of shipping, we must of necessity have monopoly State trading. Where we on this side of the House have disagreed with hon. Gentlemen opposite, refers to a later period when, though the war is over and shipping demobilised, there has been little or no return from the system of State trading to private trading. Wherever we sit in this House we have to consider whether we regard State monopoly buying as a permanent feature of our system and, if we do not so regard it, to devise an alternative system.

As I see it, there are five main disadvantages in the system of monopoly trading. There is the first disadvantage that so long as we continue monopoly State trading we are unable to regain our position as a world market, and we lose the invisible exports connected with Britain's pre-war position of being an international trading centre. Others will know the figures better than I do, but I believe that £50 million of invisible exports are involved in that operation.

The second disadvantage is that State purchasing inevitably leads to State selling; and the resultant bilateral bargaining, whilst it may be good and a benefit to the consumers of this country on a rising market, is ruinous on a falling market. I know some hon. Gentlemen opposite have taken cheer from the fact that in the Economic Survey of Europe of 1948 they thought there were some helpful words backing up State monopoly trading. I would remind the House, however, that if they read that Report—which, of course, refers to a period much earlier than the present period—they will see that on page 104 it says quite clearly that— British import prices have risen more rapidly and consistently during the past two years than those for any other country. It would seem that the price rigidity embodied in the British bulk purchase arrangements tended to postpone the full impact of post-war scarcities on British import prices, and that these scarcities began to make themselves more strongly felt in the contracts for 1948, whereas other European countries, although still buying at higher prices than the United Kingdom, began to benefit in the latter part of the year from the weakening in world prices of several important commodities. We have not yet had the Economic Survey for 1949 and in that year the process which the Committee noticed in 1948 had become far more evident.

The third disadvantage I see in this system is that in State purchasing and State selling, diplomacy tends to be mixed up with business deals. When there is a dishonoured contract in business there is a remedy, but unfortunately there is not a remedy which can be taken easily when the matter is handled by diplomats. Those gentlemen who look after our State purchasing, and who determine it, are skilled in the fine art of diplomacy but they have no technical knowledge of the special products or commodities with which they deal. It is quite true that at the beginning of this system those diplomats were assisted by men who had technical knowledge derived from their pre-war business experience. As time goes on, however, the field from which that technical knowledge can be drawn becomes smaller and smaller.

The fourth disadvantage I want to point out is that with State trading, the quality of the product deteriorates. We are the largest buyer of the world's food, and therefore the selling country tends to tie into our contract produce of an average or low quality and then sells the choice quality product to private buyers coming from countries no longer engaged in State trading.

The fifth disadvantage is that State trading induces scarcity. The art of trading is that the buyer is trying to encourage as much as possible into the exportable surplus. The exportable surplus is not a definite, unalterable quality; it rises and falls according to the skill of the buyer. We see that in the business of countries producing feeding-stuffs. Where the terms are not attractive to the seller, the producing country uses its feedingstuffs for its own livestock and, therefore, the quantity of the exportable surplus of feedingstuffs diminishes. Another example can be seen today in the Argentine, which is eating or wasting 85 lbs. of meat a head more than it did pre-war—just about the whole amount of the meat which the people of this country are eating per head. The reason for that is that the buyer has failed to encourage that quantity of meat into the exportable surplus.

Mr. Speaker, you may well ask why, with these disadvantages, the system of State monopoly trading still continues. We all know that it is much easier to put on a control than to take it off, and we must admit that the decontrol from this monopoly State trading is not an easy operation and that the timing is a very delicate operation for the Ministers engaged. Let us also admit that in the last few years steps have been taken in the case of small commodities to move from State trading to private trading and in every case this has proved beneficial to the consumer. To give one example of which hon. Gentlemen on all sides will know, State trading in lemons stopped in November, 1948. At that time the price control was 3d. to 4d. each. Two weeks after State trading stopped, the price of lemons went up to 6d. each but, by Christmas, 1948, it had dropped to 1½d. and it has remained at or about that level ever since that time.

I ask the Minister to examine this problem with particular reference to four commodities in which I believe the time has now come to move from State trading to private enterprise. I suggest to the House that the time has now arrived when we should move away from State trading in meat, in cereals and feedingstuffs, in tea and in cocoa. Let me first take meat. Before the war the people of this country ate as much meat as did the people of Canada and the United States, and more meat than any other European country except Denmark; we also got the best quality meat. We are now eating 40 lb. less meat per head than pre-war and we are worse off proportionately in comparison with pre-war than any other major European country. Eighteen months ago we were not alone in State trading in meat. If I remember aright, except for Switzerland and Belgium—although in Belgium both State trading and private enterprise operated—all the other countries had our system of Government monopoly trading. Today, except for Austria, which has a small Government contract, no other country in Europe on this side of the Iron Curtain indulges in State trading in meat.

What is the reason for that change? It is because the other countries are satisfied that they get more and better quality meat from a system of negotiation by private traders, even with a Government monopoly seller such as I.A.P.I. in the Argentine. I may be told, however, that in other European countries the price of meat in the shops is higher than here. There is a good deal of exaggeration in this argument, but the important fact to remember is that since those countries have changed over from State to private trading, their prices of imported meat have dropped by 25 per cent. compared with 18 months ago when they were engaged in State trading.

Mr. Paget (Northampton)

They are paying considerably more than we are paying by State trading.

Mr. Turton

I was just coming to the other half of my argument. In that same period, what has happened to us? At that time we were paying £97 10s. a ton for Argentine beef. I challenge the Minister of Food to deny that for the beef which came from the Argentine last November and December, the price was £140 a ton, or a rise of 40 per cent. In other words, whilst other European countries enjoyed a fall in price of 25 per cent., we suffered a rise of 40 per cent. That is my answer to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget).

Mr. Paget

There is still a balance.

Mr. Turton

I should like the Minister, when he replies, to tell us something about the negotiations he is at present conducting with the Argentine Government. Whether we agree or disagree with the Minister and his methods, we all wish him well in those negotiations. What we say is that his present methods are very expensive. Let me give just one illustration. Recently we have been importing canned processed beef from Holland at 2s. 5d. per lb. That beef came originally from Uruguay. Had our private traders been allowed to purchase it from Uruguay in the first instance, it would have been very much cheaper to the British housewife.

We ask that private trading in meat should be restored, and we are supported in this by the report of the Estimates Committee of the House of Commons in the last Parliament, which, as hon. Members will agree, was an impartial body, That Committee, which contained a majority of Socialists, recommended on page 17 of its Report that: Your Committee … believe that there is room for economy and that the present machinery of procurement and distribution should be overhauled. We believe that that time is long past.

The next commodity to which I shall refer is cereals and feedingstuffs. Here, again, we are getting a far smaller share of the world's production than we did before the war. Last year, our imports of coarse grains were one-third of pre-war and, curiously enough, only one-half of the 1948 imports. Our share is falling, therefore, as the years pass by. In the case of animal feedingstuffs, our imports last year amounted to three-quarters of the total for 1948 but were a great amount less than one-third of our imports before the war.

This trade is fettered by a good deal of State control. At present the Minister both procures the grain and feedingstuffs and also imports them. He makes the purchasing arrangements, brings the food here, takes it from the port to the store, and back again from the store to the mill; he lays down the exact content of the compounds of the feedingstuffs; he does not allow a high-grade feedingstuff to be compounded; and he fixes the price.

But what is happening in other countries? In Belgium, State trading in grain and feedingstuffs has ceased and as a result Antwerp has taken over the position which was previously held by us as the great trading centre in Europe for these commodities. The Select Committee on Estimates recommended that: In view of the advantage of regaining our pre-war position in the international grain trade … your Committee consider that decisions should now be reached without further delay. I ask the Minister to consider carefully his trading in cereals and feedingstuffs. He told us as recently as 29th March that his trading in grain had involved him in very large losses; in maize there was a loss of £9 9s. a ton, and in oats the loss was very much higher. I know that the Minister's figures are accurate, but I believe that if he were to quote particular purchases by his predecessor he would reveal some even more glaring examples. I remember the time when we imported Russian barley at £28 a ton. The additional costs of transit and storage put up the price to £33 a ton, yet at that time the world price of barley was only £18 a ton.

I believe that grain and feedingstuffs are now ready for a gradual system of decontrol. The time has come when the Minister could hand over their procurement to the private traders. He should be running down his stocks of grain so that the private traders would be able to resume the full opportunities of purchasing in the near future. Whilst the Minister has large stocks, which none of us knows anything about, there are, I agree, difficulties in the way of the private trader resuming the full liberty of purchasing. As far as the compounding of feedingstuffs is concerned, the Minister should allow the feedingstuff makers to produce, without any restriction, as high a protein product as they can. The result might be more expensive, but if the protein value was higher it would be far better for our own meat producers. Finally, I believe the time has now arrived, or if it has not arrived, will arrive rapidly in the next few weeks, when the right hon. Gentleman should allow the de-rationing of feedingstuffs.

Tea is the third commodity I mentioned. This year's production is 100 million lbs. more than pre-war. Every European country that drinks tea is now drinking more than before the war, yet we are drinking 10 per cent. less tea than before the war. Our tea market is the only tea market in the world that has not yet re-opened. The Amsterdam market is now open and all the tea is going to the Amsterdam, Colombo, or Calcutta markets. The Select Committee recommended that the London Tea Market should be re-opened at an early date. That was in November and it is now May.

I understand that some of the Ministry's advisers, when there was a deputation in January, agreed with the trade representatives who came to see them that tea was an unsuitable subject for bulk purchase agreements and that the tea market of London should be re-opened. By this delay we have lost a lot of ground and a lot of tea. The tea negotiations this year have been protracted so that our agreements, which have just been announced, have come three months later than usual. Already other buyers have bought all the choice quality tea. We have bought 55 million lbs. less than in the previous year, at a higher price. I shall not stress the higher price today. To my mind it was a natural result of devaluation. Although the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that no foodstuff, except bread, would rise from devaluation, tea was obviously one of the foodstuffs bound to rise in price when we devalued the pound.

There are ugly rumours at present that, owing to the failure of State purchasing of tea, the tea ration will have to be reduced and that the Minister's tea stocks are being run down very fast. I hope the Minister will do what he can to contradict those rumours, because I think they do harm to the nation while they circulate. I hope also that in his reply he will agree that the time has now come when he should end this monopoly trading in tea to allow the housewife again to have good quality tea.

World production of cocoa is 50,000 tons over pre-war. It is now 700,000 tons, whereas pre-war it was 650,000 tons. I was surprised, when I read the Report of the Select Committee, to find that the Minister's tea buyer had said, when asked about the cocoa position: Cocoa has been in very short supply, and the supply position at the present moment is obscure. That was in May, 1949. I should not have thought that it is the normal thing for a buyer not to know what the position was. The trade know perfectly well; the figures I have given come from the trade. In the matter of cocoa, the man who handles the cocoa in the Ministry has no experience at all in the pre-war cocoa trade. Cocoa is bought by him and when bought it is handed over to the cocoa trade to warehouse and handle, and the Government pay the cocoa trade for that work.

At first sight it does not appear to be a very business-like operation. The Minister will say it must be a business like operation because last year he made £1,500,000 profit out of cocoa. But that is because he has fixed the consumer's price of cocoa so unnecessarily high that he can get his profit out of the very expensive machinery for handling it. I believe that in cocoa we have a very strong case. The Government ought now to hand cocoa back to the trade and they ought to have done it six months before. The Select Committee on Estimates made that recommendation.

On all these four products the Select Committee on Estimates, acting no doubt on the advice of the Sub Committee which heard the evidence, recommended that State trading should now cease. I am surprised not to see on the Government Front Bench the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food. He, I see from the Report, was chairman of the Sub-Committee that took the evidence, and, presumably he was responsible for the advice tendered to the Estimates Committee. He is not here, but no doubt he has talked to the Minister about the very harmful effects his Sub-Committee must have seen in monopoly trading in those four commodities. I hope the Minister will tell us that he has been persuaded by this new Parliamentary Secretary, although I am glad that he was not over-persuaded by the previous Parliamentary Secretary.

I notice that to this Resolution an Amendment has been tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Norfolk, Southwest (Mr. Dye). I am not quite certain of the purport of this Amendment. I noticed that the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) and those "feather-bedders" who follow him have not appended their names. It may be that the idea of this Amendment is to show the country that the Socialists agree with us that guaranteed prices on the market are the right remedy for home producers and overseas producers alike. But that is already quite clear in the Motion I am asking the House to consider. We say: whilst maintaining long term agreements with Colonial and Dominion producers, to restore to the private traders the right to purchase foodstuffs in overseas markets. Where I quarrel with the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, is that he tries to leave out all reference to the return of this monopoly trading to private enterprise. Has he not been persuaded by the Report of the Estimates Committee? Has he not had a word with our absent friend the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food? I would ask him to consider the matter carefully, because we know that the hon. Member for Wednesbury has the support of a large number of hon. Members opposite.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

How does the hon. Member know?

Mr. Turton

I have listened to speeches from hon. Members opposite for some time past. I have collected their statements. I have not had the privilege of reading one from the hon. Member who interrupted. In substance and tone those statements agree with the idea that producers are being feather-bedded, in the Empire and at home. I am glad that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, is not numbered amongst those.

Mr. Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

Can the hon. Member give an example of one Socialist speech which has criticised guaranteed prices?

Mr. Turton

Yes, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made a speech which had that effect and which he will no doubt remember.

Mr. Paget

I most emphatically deny that. No one has been longer in favour of guaranteed prices than I have.

Mr. Turton

Afterwards I will send the hon. and learned Member a copy of his speech and if he re-reads it, he will see exactly the point I am making. If the hon. and learned Member now agrees with that policy, well and good.

We must really establish confidence among producers both at home and in the Empire by giving them a guaranteed market, and, if we can, by giving the Dominion producers as well as home producers a guaranteed price. If we observe how a guaranteed price system operates in the case of home agriculture, we see that the farmer produces his wheat or potatoes at a guaranteed price and then sells those commodities to a private trader. There is nothing inconsistent between a guaranteed market and purchase by a private trader.

In view of that fact, I hope that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, will not move his Amendment in the form in which it appears on the Order Paper. We do not quarrel with him if he is asking, as we are, for a return to private enterprise and guaranteed markets. I ask the Minister and the House to say that a permanent solution of this problem requires a system of purchase by the private trader, not a Government monopoly, together with a system of guaranteed markets for producers at home and in the Empire. By giving such a guaranteed market, we are conferring an advantage both in regard to market and price and we should confer it upon those two classes of producers.

I ask the Minister to accept this Motion, and, when he replies, to tell us that he intends to wind up this system of State purchasing, which is a very expensive system, which has denied to the consumers of this country, the very sorely tried housewives, a fair share in the world's markets, which has stopped us from having consumer choice and has done something even more damaging, although it is a small matter; it has robbed the community of the men who have been trained in selecting and handling good quality food. Every month that we continue this monopoly State trading we are finding that in these commodity trades there are fewer men who know how to select and handle good quality food, whether meat, cheese or any other produce. I hope that we shall secure agreement, which I believe will be to the general benefit of the consumers of this country.

11.43 a.m.

Mr. Russell (Wembley, South)

I beg to second the Motion.

I wish to take up a point made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), not in the last Parliament but a few minutes ago, when he talked about the price of meat in France. He said that despite the fact that it had risen and fallen here and there, it was still higher in France, or in Europe in general, than in this country. The hon. and learned Member is probably overlooking the fact that most Europeans pay at all events very much less for their meat at the tobacconists and in the pub than we do in this country. I do not intend to argue the merits or demerits of a high indirect rate of taxation and subsidies on foodstuffs, but that is a point which has to be borne in mind. A great deal of the price we are paying here is paid in indirect taxation whereas the Frenchman in particular pays most of the cost of his foodstuffs when he buys them.

Mr. Paget

I do not think that the hon. Member quite followed my point. I said that although the margin is not as large as it was, private importers from the Argentine in Europe are paying a higher price than are the Government.

Mr. Russell

I appreciate that point but, as my hon. Friend pointed out, that margin is gradually getting less.

I have had comparisons made of the cost of food, particularly meat, imported by private traders in Europe and the cost when it is imported here by the Government. The fact that so much is paid by means of indirect taxation towards the cost on our foodstuffs must be taken into account because the position in foreign countries is not the same. There is the further point that private traders in foreign countries are succeeding in getting the supplies, and there is an abundance certainly of some kinds of meat in European countries, so much so that France is exporting pork to this country today. Obviously there must be an abundance of it.

Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)

Will the hon. Gentleman say how much horseflesh is being consumed in France?

Mr. Russell

I am speaking about pork, and the figures for imports of pork from France in the first three months of this year are 3,000 cwt.

Another point to be considered on the question of price is that in the case of many of the long-term contracts, which are made not only with the Dominions, but with foreign countries, the foreigner gets the best of it in the matter of price. That is all wrong. If we are to have this differentiation in price which seems to be a feature of all kinds of State trading, then in every ease the Empire countries should have the benefit of the higher price. I do not say that in every case it is the foreigner who benefits, but if one looks at the trade and navigation accounts for last year and the first three months of this year, one finds by a simple calculation that the average price paid for all the frozen beef, fore and hind quarters, imported from the Argentine and from Uruguay in that period was much dearer than the whole of the average price of such imports from Australia and New Zealand. I am not speaking about quality because that average covers different grades of meat from both countries, but it is the average price paid for all such imports from those countries.

The same applies to chilled or frozen mutton. While on the subject of chilled meat, I would observe that one of the great disadvantages of the system of Government bulk buying is that we are getting very little chilled meat at present, whereas before the war, there were enormous imports and an increasing trade, particularly with the Dominions. To the Argentine and other foreign countries we paid a higher price. Only in the case of lamb did the Argentine happen to be cheaper in 1949; in the first three months of 1950 Argentine lamb became dearer. The same applies to imports of sugar. The price of sugar from Cuba and Dominica in the first three months of 1950 was very much higher than that of sugar from most of the five or six Empire countries from which we obtained supplies. I agree that the reverse was the case for the whole of last year, but the margin in that case was nothing like as great as for meat.

To take butter as an example, in 1949 the average price paid to Denmark was much higher than the average paid to New Zealand. The same is true for the first three months of 1950. Only in the case of bacon from Canada, do we seem to be paying an Empire country for any considerable length of time an appreciably higher price than we are paying foreign countries. I am especially glad to see that the Canadians are getting the benefit of the higher price we are paying because under the Anglo-Canadian Wheat Agreement, particularly in the early years, the Canadians received a much lower price than the world price at the time.

I wish to turn to a point mentioned by my hon. Friend regarding the loss of international trade due to the closing of commodity markets. That is particularly true in the case of the London and Liverpool grain markets which he mentioned, and which in pre-war years did an enormous trade in grain from almost every source. That included grain not only for consumption in this country but for use in almost every importing country in the world. On the other hand, in Chicago, New York, Winnipeg and Buenos Aires the grain markets were confined very largely to operations within their own country and had very little international trade.

There was in pre-war years a profit from the sale of millions of tons of cereals which is now passed to foreign countries, together with the profits which were to be obtained from chartering, insurance and banking. I know that the word "profit" raises horrible thoughts in the minds of many hon. Members opposite, but I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be very glad indeed of some of those profits today, particularly over the question of dollar earnings.

Then there is the question of insurance facilities which were available in pre-war years in those commodity markets which are now closed. One of the claims made on behalf of Government bulk buying is that it stabilises prices. That has been disproved very drastically, particularly in the early years after the war. I would quote one example. The price of linseed oil was raised overnight from £65 per ton to £135 per ton, so that there is not much left in the argument that State trading stabilises prices.

Even though there were—and of course there clearly were—fluctuations in price under private enterprise during and before the war, it was possible for traders to insure against those fluctuations by means of the futures markets. These markets continued to even out the price movements and provide a safeguard against losses due to great fluctuations in price. All that was done without one single farthing of public money being involved. That is not the case today under Government State trading. Nowadays, when the prices go against the Government, it is the consumer or the taxpayer who pays, and not the merchants by means of the insurance facilities which those futures markets used to provide. Actually the Ministry of Food is gambling with taxpayers' money when contracts are made for overseas supplies without the possibility of hedging by means of the futures markets.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the question of bulk buying accentuating shortages, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look seriously into that question of shortages which have been prolonged by this system of bulk buying. There was an article in "The Times" a few months ago on conditions in the Argentine and some very significant revelations were made about the acreages under crops. The article stated that the wheat acreage in the Argentine had gone down from 17.8 million acres in 1938 to 14 million acres in 1948. The acreage under maize had dropped from 18 million acres in 1938 to only 9.1 million in 1948; in other words it had been nearly halved. The acreage under linseed had gone down from 7.4 million to 4.49 million. According to this article that was due to un-remunerative prices, high wages and freight charges and lack of agricultural machinery.

I am not complaining about the high wages or the freight charges; and the lack of agricultural machinery cannot necessarily be blamed on Government bulk buying. But the unremunerative prices which the Argentine producers have been getting since the war are due to the fact that the Argentine Government, as my hon. Friend pointed out, set up a bulk selling organisation which is making huge profits and not passing on the receipts obtained from the British Government to the producers. That caused the drop in the acreage, because it really is not worth while for those producers to try to produce more than ever under Government bulk selling; and the Argentine Government bulk selling was caused originally by our Government bulk buying.

Reference was also made to the experts of the Ministry who do the buying on behalf of His Majesty's Government. I would point out that however skilled these experts may be, they have not a free hand in the way that private traders have when they are doing these deals in the normal course of business. I suggest that these experts are first of all under the orders of the Ministry of Food. If they are not under orders from the Ministry of Food, they are under the orders of the Treasury.

If the Treasury allots them a certain sum of money to make a contract, and they think the time is not ripe to make that contract and to get the most advantageous price, then I suggest they are faced with this dilemma; they either have to make the contract when they know it is not the best time to do so, or they stand to have the money withdrawn by the Treasury if they do not complete the contract. There is that element of Treasury control which makes all the difference when one is considering the work which these expert buyers have to do.

One disadvantage of Government State trading, or of any form of State trading, is that one cannot plan the weather. If we look at the front page of most of the newspapers this morning we will find that there is a drought in the Argentine and floods in Canada. All these things are apt to make a great difference to long-term contracts entered into years ahead. Private enterprise can get round those things by means of the commodity markets which I have already mentioned. But those advantages are not available under a system of State trading, and that is another argument for great caution in making agreements of this kind.

There is great hope, from what has already happened, of the right hon. Gentleman giving very serious consideration to the request of my hon. Friend to bring to an end this system of bulk buying. I used to think that hon. Members opposite, or rather some of their supporters in the country, were wedded to State trading from doctrinaire reasons. In fact I know some of them are. Whether that applies to hon. Gentlemen opposite I do not know. But from what has happened in the Ministry of Food and in the Ministry of Supply—although I must not touch on that or I shall be out of order—the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessor seem to have come to the conclusion that Government bulk buying is really only necessary when there is a shortage.

At any rate, if one turns to Appendix III of the Report from the Select Committee on Estimates on food, there is a list of about 38 or 39 items—I know some are quite minor items—which have been handed back from Government bulk buying to private enterprise. That takes us up to March, 1949, but I think I am right in saying that one or two other items have been handed over in the last month or so. Grape fruit was handed back, either in April or May. That is a welcome sign. I, therefore, hope that the policy of gradually handing back trade to private enterprise will be speeded up and that we shall eventually arrive at a state of affairs in which the whole of trade will be under private enterprise as it was in pre-war years.

12 noon.

Mr. Richard Adams (Wandsworth, Central)

I am very glad to have this opportunity of taking part again in a Debate in this House following an enforced silence of some 2½ years, and although I know I cannot ask for the indulgence granted to a maiden speaker, I also know that I shall receive the good-natured tolerance which the House always shows towards someone who is trying to make a contribution and who, through inexperience, may make mistakes.

I have listened with a good deal of interest to the speeches of both hon. Members opposite this morning and I hope in the course of my remarks to touch upon some of the many fallacies in their speeches. I should like first, however, to turn to the terms of the Motion and to deal with two grave inconsistencies which are apparent in them. In the first place, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) accepts the long-term contracts in the Commonwealth and Empire. If Government long-term contracts are a good thing for the Commonwealth and Empire, why are they not a good thing when dealing with the United States, Russia, and other parts of the world? The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton does not answer.

Mr. Turton

I did not want to interrupt the hon. Member's semi-maiden speech. The reason is that a long-term contract confers a very great advantage on the selling country. I believe we should give every advantage to the Empire, but I do not see why we should give the same advantage to the Argentine which comes, I think, in quite a different category.

Mr. Adams

As I was dealing with points made by the hon. Member I certainly did not expect him to refrain from interrupting me. By his interruption he showed the weakness of his case and showed, too, that he has not examined the proposition fully enough. If he turns to the Report of the Estimates Committee on the Food Ministry last year, he will find that the Report, on which there was agreement by hon. Members of his party as well as by hon. Members on this side of the House, recommended that there should not be a hidden subsidy contained in the prices with the Colonial Empire and that where there was an element of subsidy it should be shown separately as a charge on Colonial development. If the hon. Member accepts that suggestion of the Report, we are left in the position that contracts made with the Empire should be precisely the same as those made with other parts of the world.

The second inconsistency which I find in the Motion is that the hon. Member advocates a return to private enterprise in dealing with imports from abroad but remains completely silent upon the position at home. If private enterprise is a good method of conducting trade abroad, why not at home? What about the Milk Marketing Board? Why does not the hon. Member advocate the scrapping of the Milk Marketing Board and suggest that we do away with the system of guaranteed prices for farmers?

Mr. Turton

The Milk Marketing Board is, in fact, a private enterprise organisation and not a State body. I expect the hon. Member did not hear me when I said that at present guaranteed prices are operated with private traders buying those commodities.

Mr. Adams

The fact is that the Milk Marketing Board is a monopoly set up by the Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is a monopoly. It buys all the milk produced in this country and is, therefore, a consuming monopoly. Through the system of guaranteed prices it is accounting for some £70 million of public money at the present time, and all I am pointing out to the hon. Member is this. If he wants a return to private enterprise abroad, why does he not want a return to private enterprise at home?

Mr. Hurd (Newbury)

The hon. Member should ask his hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye).

Mr. Adams

I am asking the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton. I can discuss these matters with my hon. Friends privately.

Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)

You cannot see his face.

Mr. Adams

I shall be coming to that later. The truth is that the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton is on three horns of a dilemma—if it were possible to find such an animal. In the first place, he knows full well that the Tory Party receives considerable electoral support from the farmers and landowners of this country and, furthermore, he knows that they like and appreciate this system of guaranteed prices and long-term contracts. That is why he will not suggest anything contrary to the wishes of the farmers of this country.

Secondly, the hon. Member also knows that the Tory Party receives considerable support from big business—from the middle man and the importer in the city who wants once again to make a profit in dealing with commodities from overseas. Since that does not conflict with the support which the party receives from farmers, that is why he is advocating the course he advocates this morning. Unlike myself and some other of my hon. Friends, who support the views of Lord Beaverbrook that the future of this country lies in the proper development of the Commonwealth and Empire, he does not believe in that view. Nor do most of his hon. Friends; but he realises that it is necessary to pay lip service to the four million circulation of the "Daily Express." So he removes from the terms of his Motion the long-term contracts with the Commonwealth and Empire. That, I suggest, is the reason for the ill-assorted mixture in the Motion he has put forward today.

Let us look at some of the facts. Hon. Members opposite have picked out certain items which they hoped would support their point of view but I, too, have some facts which I think the general public of this country might find of interest. They are all taken from the same report of the Select Committee as that to which the hon. Member referred. Let us take, first, meat. There was a loss or a subsidy, call it what you will, of £31,600,000-odd on meat. How was that made up? On home-killed meat there was a loss, or a subsidy to the home farmer, of £35,700,000-odd, whereas on imported frozen meat there was a profit of £2,800,000-odd, and if we take a small loss of £400,000-odd on imported canned beef there was, in addition to that, another profit on imports of other canned meats amounting to £1,700,000-odd. The net result in regard to meat is that the losses or the subsidies about which the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton has complained, are due not to State trading abroad but to the policy pursued at home.

When the hon. Member and his hon. Friends complain about the position in the Argentine, would he say how private enterprise would deal with the Government selling agency at present operating in that country? The argument of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton was that people in the Argentine were eating the meat instead of allowing it to be exported and he said private enterprise would find a way out of that difficulty. How would they find it? By paying higher prices for Argentine meat to make it more worthwhile for the meat to be exported instead of being eaten at home. Yet hon. Members have the audacity to complain about the prices we have paid to the Argentine Government.

The difficulties that the hon. Gentleman and his Friends refer to in the present situation are due not to the policy of State trading, but due to world shortages, to the difficulties in which the Government are placed in regard to the import-export position, and to the shortage of dollars. When his hon. Friend complains about not getting any chilled meat into this country he ought to know as well as we know, that this is due not to any policy of the Government but to the shortage of refrigerating shipping.

Hon. Members


Mr. Russell

Is it not a fact that it is due to this reason, that the meat cannot be distributed immediately, and the chilled meat is distributed immediately.

Mr. Adams

I admit right away that there is some substance in that.

Now let us turn to the cereal position. Again, there is a total loss or subsidy of no less than £127,500,000. How is that made up? There is a loss on home and import purchases by the Government of £41 million-odd, but over and above that there is another £80 million paid away in subsidies to the millers—an entirely internal operation—and another £9 million paid in subsidies to the bakers. I noticed, too, that the hon. Member made no reference at all to the Anglo-Canadian Wheat Agreement of 1946. Perhaps he thought that it was disturbing to his argument to know that we were buying, in the two years following that agreement, Canadian wheat at 1.55 dollars a bushel of £14 9s. a ton, whereas during that period the world price rose from 2.2 dollars to 2.8 dollars a bushel, or from £20 10s. to £26 2s. a ton. Is that a bad comment on the successful trading of this Government?

I have already mentioned milk. Without any reference to foreign trading, the milk policy which was initiated by a previous Government is costing the taxpayers of this country £70 million-odd a year. I make no complaint about that. What we have to provide in taxation for the milk policy is returned in adequate supplies of milk at reasonable prices.

The hon. Gentleman did not touch on sugar. There is a very interesting situation in regard to sugar. All home-produced sugar is bought by the Government from the British Sugar Corporation, and it is bought at a price equal to the average cost of all imported sugar, including any subsidies that may be paid to Colonial producers. What do we find? That that price is not sufficient to cover the costs of home production, and there is a deficiency payment made under the Act of 1942. What did that amount to in the period 1948–49? It was costing no less than £4,500,000. That was the subsidy paid to the home producer on a total home supply of £18 million worth. Does that suggest that there is inefficiency in conducting our purchases of sugar from abroad?

Again, let us take butter. Under the February, 1948, agreement with the Danes we paid 321s. 6d. per cwt., but at the same time Belgium and Russia were paying 394s. a cwt. and Portugal and Switzerland were paying no less than 420s. a cwt. How would private enterprise operate in this situation? Would private enterprise be buying at the low price that the Government were paying, or would it have been paying the price that was paid by Portugal and Switzerland? Would the hon. Member care to indicate what they would do? Apparently not.

All these facts, I suggest, show that by far the greater part of these huge sums of money we discuss in this House from time to time go not to support foreign trading by the Government but to bolster up and support home production. If my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) was apt when he spoke of the "featherbed" provided for the home farmers, then all I can say is that the import division of the Ministry of Food has only a rusty old iron bedstead with no mattress at all, on which to rest from its labours.

But let us not rest content with this examination of the facts. Let a good old Tory, a former Member of this House, confound the hon. Gentleman. I refer to Mr. L. S. Amery, who, in a foreword to a book on the subject of Bulk Purchase, written in 1948 for the Empire Economic Union—not a society, I may mention in passing, inclined to be friendly to this Government—said this: Much more experience is required before a final judgment can be pronounced either as to the principle itself "— the principle of bulk purchase— or as to the range of its useful application. Unlike Mr. Amery, the hon. Member has apparently made up his mind very quickly in the last two years.

I should like now to turn for a moment to an examination of the Tory account of private enterprise at work. It is, to my mind, as much in keeping with the real facts of life as the story of "Alice in Wonderland" or "Through the Looking Glass." The Tories when showing how superior private enterprise is to State trading, give us a wonderful account of keen business men sitting in the City of London and in other cities of this country looking at market reports, anxiously telephoning to all parts of the world, and watching the markets until the time arrives when the lowest price is reached. Then they hurry to all corners of the world, either by 'plane or telephone, to make their purchases at the lowest possible price.

But if that account is true of the British importer, what about all the other keen-faced business men in New York and Brussels and Paris and other foreign centres? Are they not going to do the same thing? Does the hon. Gentleman disagree with that account of the Tory description. Apparently, he does not. What happens when all these keen buyers suddenly descend upon the market? Up rockets the price. The hon. Member knows enough elementary economics to know that if the demand goes upwards suddenly it must shoot up the price. If it is true that these keen business men are sitting at their desks watching for the lowest price, is it not reasonable to assume that the sellers are sitting at home waiting for the highest price?

The truth is, as I said just now, that this account of private enterprise at work is wholly divorced from the real facts. The truth is that buying and selling are going on all the time, and that is why it is deliberately unfair of the Opposition to try to compare Government prices with market prices, for reasons which I will try to give as briefly as possible. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members opposite have got to take it and it is no good their muttering to themselves.

The real fact is that big contracts are never made at the market price or spot price at all. All large contracts, as hon. Members opposite know as well as I do, although they have never disclosed the fact to the public, are made for forward delivery, and because of the risks involved in those forward contracts to the buyers and the sellers, private enterprise has found it necessary to introduce the device of hedging, or the futures market. The price at which the commodity finally goes forward to the consumer, through the wholesale channels, and so on, is not the market price at the time when the operation was completed but the market price with an adjustment made for the profit or loss made by both the seller and the purchaser through dealings in futures; and that price is never disclosed to the public. It is a secret operation, but it is certain that it interferes with the market price.

Moreover, whatever the results may be for the buyer or the seller on one of those contracts, the truth is that there is a gentleman called a broker who is handling these futures operations and who makes a profit for himself whichever way the deal may go, and that profit has to be added to the price which is eventually charged to the consumer. The position is not even as simple as all that, because the market price is further complicated by the fact that there are many small men who are unable to enter into these operations in futures; and, what is even more serious, there are financial speculators who do not intend to handle the commodity at all but are merely there to seek a speculative profiit.

To make a real comparison between the Government purchase price and the private enterprise purchase price we should not even leave it there. We should follow things through to see what later costs are added before we reach the price which the consumer is to be asked to pay. What about freight and insurance, and so on? What about these hundred-and-one private enterprise concerns gadding about all over the world, opening up branch offices and making arrangements to ship small quantities of high quality goods?

How will those costs compare with the single Government agency operating with a small group of despised civil servants to ensure that minimum costs are added to the cost of the raw material? The truth is that it is quite impossible to find two really comparable prices in order to test the efficiency of State trading against the efficiency of private enterprise, and hon. Members opposite know that they are safe in sheltering behind that fact.

Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)

Then will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Minister of Supply has allowed most non-ferrous metals to operate in a free market?

Mr. Adams

All these things are matters of opinion, and I am giving my opinion today. It is perfectly true that in some instances, where the commodities concerned are small in quantity and highly variable, there may be something to be said for returning to private enterprise. But we are dealing today with the main foodstuff commodities which are essential for the standard of living of our people.

I am conscious of the fact that I am speaking for longer than I intended, but I should like to deal quickly with what market conditions we think are most suitable for the modern world today. I go for that definition to a gentleman who wrote the book to which I referred earlier, who has the same name as the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell)—I presume it is not the same person——

Mr. Turton


Mr. Adams

If it is, then it is all the more remarkable, because in this book on bulk purchase the hon. Gentleman says that the way to encourage production is to pay the producer a fair price and guarantee him an assured market. What we have to decide is how best this can be done, and in the few moments remaining to me I just want to point out that there is a fundamental difference in the approach between Government buying and private enterprise to this problem. With Government buying, both at home and abroad, the price is fixed in advance to cover costs, including a reasonable profit to the producer, and prices are adjusted, usually in long-term contracts annually, to ensure the required production.

In other words, under Government buying price is an instrument in planning. If hon. Members opposite want confirmation of that, they can do no better than turn to the latest information leaflet issued by their own National Farmers' Union, the leading article of which describes in exact detail the long and patient negotiations between the Minister of Agriculture and the National Farmers' Union in order that that process should be carried out properly.

Contrast that with what happens under private enterprise. Here the market price bears no relation at all to production, costs. A good harvest produces a glut, which leads to a slump with low prices. A bad harvest produces a shortage, which leads to a boom with high prices, without the slightest reference at all to the costs of production incurred by the producer. That leads constantly to the producer vainly chasing prices and trying to adjust his production to the prices which have been created on the final market. If the poet Keats had had less regard for aesthetics and more regard for economics, he could have included in his "Ode on a Grecian Urn" a line or two, adding to those figures suspended in animation the figure of the farmer chasing prices for all eternity.

Mr. York (Harrogate)

That is what the market gardener is doing today.

Mr. Adams

Yes, in a free market. I am glad the hon. Gentleman made that interjection. It is because what I have described is happening that he wants to bring them into- the system which has been created for the farmer. Under, private enterprise, price is not part of a planning instrument but is merely a reflection of the state of the market. The issue that we have to decide today is between planned economy and chaos with speculative profits. We have to ask ourselves which is better for both the producer and the consumer.

I am very conscious of the fact that I have perhaps overstepped my time, so I will now conclude. I hope that the more intelligent and progressive Members of the Opposition will join us on this side of the House in rejecting the out worn theory of private enterprise con- tained in this Motion. Perhaps I ought to make it clear that in making that appeal I am not including the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) and his followers, whom I regard as the hard core of the real Tory Party. I know only too well that for that hon. Gentleman planning and State buying are the very Antichrist expressed in terms of pragmatic formulae, and I know only too well that he and those hon. Gentlemen opposite who think like him, worship at the shrine of private enterprise with an intensity and a passionate fervour equalled only by those early Christians who expressed their faith in flagellation.

I am led to hope, however, that all sound-thinking Members will join in rejecting out of hand this Motion, which is nothing more than an ill-assorted mixture of Cobden, Beaverbrook and Chamberlain; and I hope that the rejection of this Motion will encourage the Government to move more and more into a world-wide planned economy, which alone can provide stable markets and fair prices to the producer, and which alone can provide adequate supplies at reasonable prices to the consumer.

12.29 p.m.

Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)

I am very glad to have the opportunity of taking part in this Debate because, like many other hon. Members, I try very hard to participate in Debates on subjects of which I have had some practical experience. At the commencement of my remarks, I disclose to the House that for all my business life I have been in the food industry.

I will not follow the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Adams), into what I thought was a study of economics. I prefer to keep to the practical side of this very controversial subject, on which I know that hon. Members opposite hold such very different views from those held on this side of the House. Those of our forefathers who built up our great country to take such a wonderful lead in the commercial world, would shiver in their graves, I am sure, if they could hear the remarks, the scathing comments about private enterprise, which the hon. Member has tried to put across today.

I would remind the House that the Ministry of Food, as at present composed, is a very large business undertaking, and that in the year 1948–49 its turnover reached the astronomical figures of £1,342 million. Even the greatest of the so-called monopolies of private enterprise cannot compare in any way with such a turnover. For instance, the great Unilever empire turnover is only, I believe, one-quarter of those figures. The total amount that our great nation spends on foodstuffs today on an annual basis is something in the region of £2,000 million. Thus, the Minister of Food is responsible for purchasing more than half of our country's food consumption. I would therefore bring to the minds of hon. Members the thought that they have a grave responsibility in the running of such a large business undertaking.

While not in any way wishing to decry or to be disrespectful to the civil servants in the various Ministries, and particularly those in the Ministry of Food in this case, I think it is generally understood by everyone that in the beginning, the Ministries were brought into being for administrative purposes, and I cannot conceive that they are staffed with commercial people capable of undertaking the task of general trading. Their function is an entirely different one and I think that the minds of those who work in Government Departments are entirely different from the minds of those who have to undertake day-to-day business. I feel that those of our public who are commercially-minded are normally in commercial undertakings. If they go to work in a place such as the Ministry of Food, either they cannot stick the job and the routine, unless they have lost the spirit of private enterprise, or they feel that they get to a stage when they want to get away from working with the Ministry and go back to private enterprise. Therefore, I say, with the greatest understanding of these problems, that I feel that the staff who advise the Ministers on these issues cannot be so commercially-minded as those who are working for private enterprise undertakings.

Moreover, the Ministry keeps the tightest grip on those commodities which are always in greatest demand, which means that the private enterprise traders are left, unfortunately, with the handling of those commodities which in themselves bear the greatest risks. If I may give an instance, the Ministry of Food, very grudgingly I submit, released the imports control on certain types of canned fish, while retaining the control of canned salmon and canned sardines, whereas they very kindly conceded to private enterprise the management of such things as canned snoek, squid and, I think, something in the nature of octopus. Huge losses were automatically sustained toy private enterprise importers who were restricted to trading in these commodities for which there was least demand.

I think there can be no logical argument that control should be retained only for those commodities that are always in short supply. I say that advisedly, because, looking back on our history we find that private enterprise has always been able in the past to close the gap between supply and demand. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Yes, definitely so. So, I submit, private enterprise should be given the right to handle the widest variety of supplies from world sources. When the post-war markets were rising, a case could have been made for bulk buying by the State. It would undoubtedly have been said under such conditions to be wise; but as soon as the markets began to fall, I submit bulk buying became a complete burden on the taxpayers of this country. We soon found that we were buying above the market, and were having to face losses on the stocks which the Ministry had accumulated, and, of course, on the supplies contracted for under long-term contracts.

Mr. Paget

Will the hon. Gentleman include in the long-term contracts the guaranteed prices to agriculture?

Mr. Harris

I want to address my remarks to bulk buying from overseas and from the Empire. In enlargement of the point that I was making, I will give one or two instances. The Government, as many of us know, faced a drop of nearly £10 per ton in maize import prices in 1948 and 1949. In 1947, this country imported half a million tons of sugar at 5 cents per lb. By October, 1947, the price had dropped to under 4.15 cents per lb. In 1949, Belgium refused 33,000 tons of Argentine meat at a contracted price, and the 33,000 tons came to Britain and was paid for by the Ministry of Food at a price nearly 25 per cent. higher than that at which the Belgians cancelled the contract.

The Ministry also, as is regrettably known to the public, purchased some 600,000 oases of Australian and New Zealand rabbits. Had the Ministry released these rabbits when the meat ration had dropped as low as 10d" they would not have had to sell them off at a 40 per cent. reduction in price, which has meant a loss of many thousands of pounds to the taxpayers. One could go on quoting similar instances, known to all hon. Members.

Before the war we, as a country, were the largest food importers in the world. Every country in the world was looking to us to purchase, and invariably, through our private enterprise experts, we got the very best quality, and our purchasing could be said to be definitely selective. If our food traders were allowed to work again and to go out to get cheaper food, they would get it at the right price and of a better quality, and definitely the public would have greater variety than they have today. More particularly, I submit to the House that a saving in the cost of administration and general overheads would automatically follow a reversion to private enterprise food handling and could be used in several ways. I submit that we could afford to increase the rations without having to face higher food subsidies, which are the concern of all hon. Members.

I will give one example. If meat rationing could be ended entirely, I believe that the average consumption in the country might rise by some 10 to 15 per cent. I do not believe that it would be much more than that. If that happened, the food subsidies might go up by £4 or £5 million. I submit that one of the reasons why freedom is not considered by the Government, is often because they are worried about this extra cost of the food subsidies. I believe that if buying were handed back to private enterprise, the saving in overheads and in the great costs of the ungainly handling by such organisations as the Ministry of Food, would enable us to lap up any increase in the cost of food subsidies.

Mr. Paget

Has the hon. Member looked at the Select Committee's Report on the cost of handling meat by the Ministry of Food? It is about half the cost compared with before the war.

Mr. Harris

That is no comparison in regard to the figures I have given. If this were done, what I have said would be entirely correct. It would mean that the amount of goods could be increased and that eventually we could reduce the food subsidies and the prices to the consumer.

We are told that bulk buying ensures supplies for all, but this is not borne out by the Argentine meat deliveries. When the Argentine meat deliveries failed, a drastic cut had to be made in the people's ration to l0d. a week. Private enterprise importers, with their specialised knowledge of world markets, would be able to calculate future supplies on a much more reasonable basis. It would mean that the consumer would get both fresher and cheaper goods. We all know the problems in regard to storage, which on the present basis is extremely expensive. No matter how effective the storage of perishable foodstuffs may be, deterioration does take place. The Minister will not disclose, although we have pressed him on many occasions, the amount of his food stocks. I suggest that the reason for this may be, first, so that the country may not know about the bad bulk buying that is going on, and, secondly, so that the public may not press for larger rations when the stocks are high, thereby increasing the difficult problem of food subsidies.

The Government have shown no respect for commercial considerations, but prefer to retain whenever they can the power of buying in their own hands. I suggest that the use of such powers is not justified in present world market conditions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us that, of the 34 major bulk food contracts, 26 are with the Commonwealth and Colonies. It is argued that to return buying to private enterprise would be letting the Commonwealth producers down. I submit that this would not automatically follow. Recognition of long-term contracts could still be arranged through private trade channels. Surely the Government's responsibility in this connection is to ensure stability by trade preference or import control.

Our guarantees to Empire producers must be fully implemented. The Commonwealth and Empire countries may not be so far advanced in agricultural development that they can compete with other countries, and we must therefore help them to build up their agriculture by giving them an assured market. As their efficiency increases, they will then be able to compete better in the world markets, when they will not require the artificial support that has to be given to them by these long-term contracts. The Commonwealth and Empire countries have undoubtedly earned the right to expect preferential consideration from this country. They have made great sacrifices for us. In many instances, we have not been able to show full appreciation for the assistance that has been given. Last December the Canadian Minister of Agriculture expressed dissatisfaction with regard to the action of the British food officials and Government-to-Government sales.

I submit that this type of transaction does not carry with it any political advantages. In any event, it is undesirable that the supplies of food should be in any way governed by political considerations. I submit that more Commonwealth goodwill is fostered through normal trade channels than by negotiations at Government level. As far as our overseas negotiations are concerned, including those with the Commonwealth and Empire, the human contacts that are made on a friendly basis between business men in the different countries act as a very strong link between the nations. I submit that they can go a long way towards enabling us to get adequate food supplies at competitive prices.

12.48 p.m.

Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South West)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: recognises the value of His Majesty's Government's long-term agreements with Colonial and Dominion producers, and acknowledges that by this means Britain has not only assisted the producers in the Dominions and Colonial territories, but has materially lowered costs; and urges the maintenance of this method as being vital to the best interests of our home producers and consumers. I am very glad that the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has been able to raise this subject today. I doubt whether the Conservative Party could have picked a more able Member from their point of view to move this Motion. The hon. Member certainly made a most able speech, although one can hardly say that of the seconder. I think it is true to say, however, that my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. R. Adams) knocked the greater part of the hon. Member's argument to smithereens. He left the Motion limp, weak and almost impotent after he had finished with it.

The hon. Member said he could not understand the reasons behind our Amendment, which shows clearly that he has not thought enough about the subject. He was very much in the position of a gentleman I passed on the road the other day. He was walking sedately along the road dragging behind him a very small pet dog which he was exercising—like the pet theories of the Conservative Party. How much better the hon. Member would have been employed, in leading something more useful in the House today. How much happier he would have been if he were like the man who will soon be on the roads of rural England, leading a fine horse around the countryside, which will eventually leave behind it something well worth noticing.

It is true to say that there has been a change in the attitude of Members opposite. At one time they were against all bulk purchasing; there was not a redeeming feature about it. In November, 1946, the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said: We feel that the Government's policy of bulk buying has not proved itself a success. It is quite easy to buy intelligently on a rising market, to wake up next morning and think that you have not done so badly, but it is not so easy on a fluctuating market."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1946: Vol. 430, c. 251.] All through 1946 and 1947, hon. Gentlemen opposite were criticising the policy of bulk buying. Then when we got the survey of Europe for 1948, which proved conclusively that the people of this country benefited by a system of bulk purchasing, it was not considered conclusive by the Tory Party. They argue that the Survey for 1949 might show a different tendency. The views of independent observers of the situation show clearly that we were buying cheaper than other countries which were using the methods hon. Gentlemen opposite are now advocating. In those years the British were enjoying lower prices for imported foods than other countries, who bought through private individuals.

The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton was making comparisons between Great Britain and some European countries, but none of those countries is so dependent upon imported food supplies as Great Britain. Denmark is an exporter of food, as are Holland, France, and the others he mentioned. Therefore, to take our position with that of the western European countries is not a fair basis on which to make a comparison. What suits them may give them satisfaction, but there is no guarantee that their system would be satisfactory to us. We base our policy on the facts and on the situation as we find it. Having proved the bulk purchase of essential foodstuffs to be a success over a period of years, we must ask ourselves what are the reasons now for wanting to make a change.

The Ministry of Food has already handed back to private enterprise the buying of many of the less essential foodstuffs, including some perishable goods, and today the hon. Member is advocating the handing back to private enterprise of the purchase and procurement of wheat, other cereals and all meat. He argues that the people of this country today would pay less money for bread, meat and farm feedingstuffs if we handed them back to private enterprise. He has not, however, given us the basis on which he formed that opinion. It is purely a theoretical proposition. He said that the Survey for 1949 might show there had been a change in the world's markets and the difference between the prices that the Ministry pay and those obtaining on the world markets might be narrowed compared with 1947.

But what is the position today? As the hon. Gentleman is advocating this policy in respect of wheat, I should like to quote from the "Corn Trade News" for 10th May, 1950. This is available to hon. Members in the Library. Here is what it says: The past week's advance in prices on the open American 'futures' market has brought the May wheat option to 234 cents a bushel. The net rise since early February is 18 cents per bushel and, since June last year, 45 cents a bushel. We find, therefore, that there-is a rise in America for wheat. It goes on: The main factors which have contributed to the firmness of the market include a decrease of 14 per cent. in the planned area for winter and spring wheat, adverse weather conditions in the winter belt, and delayed spring wheat seeding. So in such conditions the hon. Gentleman is advocating that the Ministry of Food should drop its system of bulk purchase and hand over to private merchants the task of finding the wheat to make the bread with which to feed our people, and he says it could be done cheaper than it is being done today. I will read further: The sequence of events from the known to the probable and possible, which might transform the American situation from a bearish to a bullish one may be as follows: Winter wheat acreage down by 8½ million acres; poor May condition of winter wheat and large acreage abandonment … But times change. With the large exporting countries reduced to four in number, and the Government of each of these countries exercising stricter control over agriculture than ever before, acreage planning has assumed great importance … Had there been an open market we doubt whether in view of the lack of reserve wheat in Canada, Argentina and Australia, any reduction of the wheat acreage in the United States or in Canada would have occurred this year. Yet as we have already pointed out, the United States have planned a reduction of 12 million acres and Canada a reduction of three million. With this great reduction this year in the acreage of wheat and the rise in the population of the world, how does the hon. Member find it possible to say that if we hand over to private enterprise we then could buy more wheat much cheaper and sell it cheaper to the people of this country? There is no honesty in any view which is not based on facts, and the facts of the situation clearly are against the opinions that have been advanced from the other side.

In view of the fact that there is this continual rise in the world's population and that the chief wheat-producing countries are restricting their acreages, how can we maintain our supplies of wheat to this country apart from long-term arrangements with the Dominions, Colonies and such other wheat-producing countries as are willing to come into this arrangement with us?

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)

Does not the hon. Member think that the fact that there is no free market is one of the reasons why these restrictions have come about?

Mr. Dye

No, Sir. Certainly I do not think any such thing, for it is not the intention of the United States of America to have a free market again. They have a farm price stabilisation policy which last year resulted in large surpluses and, therefore, very heavy subsidies to the farming community. The only alternative to giving those high subsidies is to reduce acreages. The same is true of the Argentine where acreages have been restricted. The Argentine has the problem of an increasing population, so much so that if it increases at the rate which is now indicated, within 15 years the Argentine will be able to consume all the meat it produces. We are not moving into a situation where there is likely to be an abundance of food in the world which we can buy at any price that we like to determine.

The Opposition want to return to the position of 50 years ago, when there was a rapid extension of production throughout the world, when we were the principal, if not the only, buyers in the world and when fertile virgin soil was being cultivated for the first time and was producing an abundance of food which we were able to buy cheaply. Since then there has been erosion and a tremendous loss of land which could have been producing food.

We must now face the position that if we want to maintain in this country a population of 50 million well fed, healthy people, the Government, and only the Government, can plan both home production and the development of our Colonies and Dominions and make long-term arrangements with Denmark, Poland, Russia or the Argentine. Surely it is impossible to expect that we can return to the conditions which existed at the beginning of the century and operate the methods which were suitable then. We must face the position as we see it today—one of restriction of production with the possibility of more restriction and the disruption of the normal trade arrangements which have been in operation.

The hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. F. Harris) said there was nothing like private trading relationships to cement friendships between the nations. There never has been so much private trading as there was in the first part of this century but never was there such a time of devastating wars. The hon. Member cannot argue that because private enterprise trading in the first half of this century led to peace, State trading might lead to war. Surely, the better the understanding between nations on matters of trade, as with other things, the more is there likely to be peace.

Mr. F. Harris

Not for a single moment did I imply that State trading leads to war. That is just too fantastic a statement to make. I said that the relationship between business houses and their representatives, in private enterprise trading, brought far happier relationships between the countries involved than could be achieved between Governments engaged in bulk buying.

Mr. Dye

That state of affairs existed between this country and Germany before 1914 and afterwards, so there is nothing in that argument.

Mr. Harris

That did not cause war.

Mr. Dye

But it did not prevent war. If State trading is on firm grounds, it can just as well lead to understanding and peace between the nations as any other form of trading. The Opposition have landed themselves in the difficulty that they now want two or three systems of overseas trading for this country. They want one between this country, the Dominions and the Colonies. They must, of course, have another between this country and the United States of America. Then they say to the rest of the foreign nations, "We will treat you as something quite different and allow you to be a sphere in which private enterprise can operate with a view to exploiting your people and your land." The Opposition want to buy food from foreign nations as cheaply as they can and to drive the prices down—the state of affairs which existed before the war.

Private trading led to a situation in which the prices of primary products were very low, but no one could say that at that time the people of this country were better fed than they ever have been. There were low prices between 1930 and 1934, but no one could argue that our people were healthier and were consuming more and better food in those days of very cheap food, than they are at the present. In fact, the opposite is true. We now have a bigger population which is better fed and has better health standards than was the case in the early thirties.

Mr. Hard

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that this country has had a steadily rising standard of living for the last 50 years?

Mr. Harris

Is the hon. Member trying to argue that we should not attempt to buy our goods abroad at the very best possible prices for our people?

Mr. Dye

In reply to the first interruption, there has been a steady rise in the standard of living, and a more rapid one in recent years. In reply to the second interruption, I do not believe that we should buy from foreign countries at rock bottom prices—at less than the cost of production—because trade is mutual, and if we buy food from them at very low prices, how will they be able to buy motorcars or other manufactured goods from Coventry, Birmingham, Manchester or anywhere else? I believe that that system has led to booms and slumps, to periods when a few people made big profits and to long periods when many people suffered the agonies of unemployment and poverty. It is because we want conditions here progressively to improve and the standard of living of our people progressively to rise, that we should find a better method of arranging the prices in our trade with other countries.

Mr. N. Macpherson

Is the hon. Member suggesting that we have now found a better method of determining the prices that should exist as between this country and what he calls "foreign countries "?

Mr. Dye

I am saying that we have found a better method as between this country and Canada and the other Dominions, and the Opposition agree. It is the Opposition who now say that we should have a different method of determining prices with foreign countries. It is not we who say so, and that is the difference between the two sides of the House.

Mr. Turton

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we should give a guaranteed market not only to home producers and Empire producers but also to foreign producers? Is not the effect of that argument really to diminish the value of the guaranteed market given to the home producer and the Empire producer?

Mr. Dye

Certainly not. The difference is that the home producer shall have a guaranteed price for all that he produces up to 50 per cent. more than prewar, which is what we believe to be possible. There is no doubt about that. We then want to continue the arrangements with the Dominions which will enable them to continue to supply us with increasing quantities of the foods that we need. So far as our other requirements are not made up from home and Colonial sources, we still say that the arrangement should be such as to control the quantities and the prices of those foodstuffs coming from those countries. If we do not have that system, what will happen when we move from a position of world shortage to one of world plenty?

If, then, we free the importers to buy all the food they can get and bring it here, and it is more than enough for our people, what will happen to the guaranteed prices for the produce grown at home? If food can be purchased from other countries at prices below those we guarantee to our home producers, or have to pay for the Colonies, our case is that the difference between that price should go to the Government to make up the subsidies on our home-produced food. The case of hon. Gentlemen opposite is that any profits so obtained should go to private individuals. That is the basis of the Motion before this House.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite have not related the problem of free enterprise purchasing in the world market to the problem of guaranteed prices for home produce or to the system operating with the Colonies and the Dominions. What knocked the bottom out of the market for home produce in the years before the war was the stampeding of it by importers. We could not produce meat or wheat or anything else at a profit. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are asking that precisely the same position should arise again. They have not said in any way how the price of imported food should be regulated if it is purchased well below the prices at which we are purchasing from the Dominions or paying at home. Quite clearly, then, the intention is that any profit should remain with private enterprise individuals who import food. Such a system would wreck our system of guaranteed prices for home products, and hon. Gentlemen opposite are the greatest danger to British agriculture in advocating such a system.

If we want to plan full production for British agriculture there is no alternative but for the Government to have control over all imports of the principal food products into this country, regulating them according to the requirements of the nation and at a price that harmonises with the general system of controls over home products. Someone may say, this will do away with private enterprise. That may well be so. Indeed, the conclusion which many farmers and other people reached long before the war was that we could not plan British agriculture without Government control over imports.

Mr. Hurd

Would the hon. Gentleman go a little further and say if it will also be necessary to have the State schemes arranging the marketing of home produce?

Mr. Dye

That is outside the terms of the Motion but I shall be glad to discuss that with the hon. Gentleman at some other time. We must recognise the fact that so far as the import of food into this country is concerned, the Ministry of Food must plan its flow to the country in such a way as to meet all our needs. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman brought this Motion before the House today because the ideas of hon. Gentlemen opposite of an abundance of cheap food for our people from private enterprise can be blown to the hills. We must keep our ideals mixed with realities. It would be a good thing if the hon. Gentleman for Thirsk and Malton would read the "Corn Trade News" and other publications giving information on the present world position.

1.16 p.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I beg to second the Amendment.

In view of the tenor of the Debate, I need not keep the House long because the arguments already produced on both sides have justified the understanding and thought behind the Amendment. I could not attempt to speak with authority on agricultural matters, but right in the middle of my constituency, in the middle of a great industrial city, there is actually one farm. And, of course, I have some right to take heed of the needs of cities such as Stoke-on-Trent.

I would disabuse the mind of anyone who may feel that there is any tension between ourselves and those in North Staffordshire or elsewhere who work and live on the land. There could be no better illustration than North Staffordshire, where there is a conglomeration of over a quarter of a million men, women and children surrounded by magnificent countryside which grows all the food they eat, apart from the food we import from overseas. Our relationship has always been a good and close one.

As craftsmen, we in Stoke-on-Trent are sensitive to our reliance upon workers in the countryside and upon their prosperity. In our craft of pottery manufacture we know that there has never been in the past a sufficient demand for our wares, even of the best quality ranges, when there was depression in agriculture either in this country or in other parts of the world. We accept that. Our products are greatly sought after if there is the money to buy them. So, just as we demand a proper standard of life for ourselves and reasonable wages, we are more than willing to accord a reasonable standard of life and reasonable wages and profits to those who work on the land.

The hon. Member for Thirsk and Mal ton (Mr. Turton), who moved the Motion, appeared to divide his arguments into the customary two parts. First, he made an attack upon State buying and declared its faults, and secondly, although with less emphasis because it is perhaps more difficult to do, he endeavoured to speak of the advantages of private buying. In some of the illustrations which he used he appeared to be a little shy of revealing the exact situation. For example, he said that meat had risen in price for us but had become cheaper on the Continent, but he did not say by how much and certainly did not give figures to enable us to make comparisons with present-day prices. The hon. Member equally misled the House, although certainly not intentionally, when, in speaking of tea, he said that we are limited to 2½ ozs. per week as against the 3 ozs. per head which we used to consume before the war, whereas other people abroad are beginning to consume more tea.

Meat is an important illustration. Everyone argues about and discusses the quality of meat and how much they can eat. We are a meat-eating nation. Before the war, I think, we ate as much meat per head as any other country. The average weekly expenditure on meat in an average year like 1935 or 1936 was, I believe, about 2s. 6½d. In those days, however, there were some of us who did not get very good meat. I hope that the House will accept the statement that when private enterprise had complete charge there were millions of people whose meat was of very poor quality or was diseased. Certainly in North Staffordshire the term "slink meat" was one about which we were very sensitive until recently. Since those earlier days, however, the position has been cleaned up, and if at times we find that our meat is tough, we would rather have it that way and be certain that it was not diseased and cheap as it was in the old days.

Let me mention another point about meat. The present-day average price, unsubsidised, for an average cut is probably about Is. 5d. per lb. My right hon. Friend the Minister will correct me if I am wrong in saying that the subsidy is on an average about 3d. per lb. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend now tells me that it is a little more than that. Let us assume, then, that the average out of meat without subsidy is about 1s. 9d. or 1s. 10d. per lb.—at any rate, under 2s. Where else in Europe is the price of meat anything like as cheap as that?

Surely the hon. Member for Aberdeen-shire, East (Mr. Boothby), who is very fond of fish and herrings—at least in debate—was right when he said that in the situation which faces us today, when there is a monopoly of selling, when Governments sell meat as in the Argentine, if suddenly a host of private buyers were to go to the Argentine and compete with each other for meat, the price would go up tremendously. Hon. Members on all sides of the House accept, I believe, that we buy our meat from the Argentine more cheaply, probably by about 50 per cent., than does anyone else. If, however, there is any doubt about this, perhaps my right hon. Friend will be able to explain the actual facts when he replies. We have already heard that very substantial profits are made which assist us to pay the higher prices for our home-killed meat, and I thought that everybody in the House was agreed that that was the proper course to follow.

I turn now to tea, and speak from the viewpoint of consumers. Since tea was imported originally from China and, later, from Ceylon, Britain has become very greatly addicted to a form of beverage which was first made popular because it was considered to be one of the world's most wonderful medicines, guaranteed to cure one from almost any ailment. However expensive it was in, say, 1840, the average artisan in places like Manchester would put aside considerable amounts from his wages to buy it. None of us can be sorry that the increase in the consumption of tea coincided with a decrease in the consumption of gin, from which Britain as a whole has benefited.

With our consumption of 2½ ozs. per head per week, no Continental country can approach us. I doubt whether any country consumes a higher weekly average than 2½ ozs., except possibly Australia and New Zealand. If there is, in fact, an increase in those countries, it will be a very small one. Let it be remembered that 2½ ozs. is the equivalent of about 24 or 25 teaspoonsful or approximately 50 cups of tea of reasonable colour and strength. This infers that the average person takes at least 50 grains of caffeine per week, which is 10 times the maximum daily dose which would be prescribed even as medicine. If, therefore, anyone tells me that he is not getting enough tea, I tell him to borrow from someone who has tea to spare, but that if he cannot get any more, it does not matter, because people had better not drink very much more than at present since to do so can be dangerous.

I say that, because it would not do for the House and the country to be misled by a statement which suggests that every other country in Europe now has much more tea, while we have less than before the war. Of course, other countries are having more, but their "twice as much" is probably less than ¼ oz. per head per week, whilst we are still on a ration of 2½ ozs. as compared with a pre-war consumption of 3 ozs.

The five particular points which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton were not very con-evincing. He spoke of the fact that Government buying induces scarcity, but he did not give any convincing reasons. I should have thought, as has been pointed out already by my colleagues on this side, and accepted, I think, by many hon. Members opposite, that where Government buying is associated with guaranteed prices and markets, the effect must always be exactly the opposite—not scarcity but plenty. I should have thought that scarcity was brought about by the bankruptcy and despair of the farming community, the very thing which we neither like nor want and which we cannot possibly afford. The present method which the Government pursue is only a facet, as it were, of what the world as a whole must one day undertake, and the sooner it does so the better.

There are many of us on both sides of the House who believe that a world food board or something of that kind is desirable and essential and must be brought about if we are to conserve food production even at today's level, let alone increase it to match the rising world population. A world food board will call for increases of production and will give guaranteed prices and encouragements, incentives and subsidies of every kind. If what is good for the world is now said to be not good for Britain, I am in the dilemma of being unable to understand the argument.

Then it was suggested that we are compelled to introduce diplomacy into our business arrangements, and that that is a bad thing. I am not at all satisfied that it is. We who live in the cities hold the view that our products, whether steel, iron, motor cars, pottery or anything else, have to be sold abroad, in order to buy the food which we import. We like to think that our fate is in the hands of people whom our constituents can influence through their elected representatives and the pressure which can be brought to bear upon them.

We want bargains to be made in such a way that our goods can be sold, for if we cannot sell our manufactured goods, what hope is there for our 50 million people? I should have thought the argument should be the other way round, that we introduced diplomacy into our business arrangements and asked for a quid pro quo and if both sides discussed the matter courteously and patiently without recrimination, there would be better relations between the two countries.

Those who have knowledge of conditions before the war will not deny that there has been a rise in the standard of living, a rising improvement in the health of our people in the last 50 years. In 1900, our past policy had brought us to the lowest depths. It was a policy which created the greatest malnutrition amongst our people, so that they were even shrinking in size and becoming stunted in growth.

From 1900 there has been a steady improvement, but that improvement has been very marked in recent years and has coincided with what some people call Government interference. Government interference which saves the lives of children and expectant and nursing mothers and increases the expectation of life of us all, is something which is desirable. This is an astronomical figure, but it is of interest: between 1913 and 1924, owing to the improvement in the diet of our folk, there was an increase in the expectation of life of the nation of 300 million years, which means an average of about seven years for each individual——

Mr. Hurd

What a prospect.

Dr. Stross

It would be if it were to face each of us singly, but seven years is important and we can face with comfort and fortitude the seven years that have been added. What we have to think of is that the interference of the Ministry of Food and medical officers has been more important and influential in preserving the health of the community than any other factor, more important than the anti-biotics, sulphonomides and penicillin—infinitely more important. If there were time, I would give evidence of that, but I can see that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree with this point. We say to the Minister, Let him give us plenty of food as quickly as possible and as fresh as possible and continue the good work he is already doing.

1.34 p.m.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)

I hope the House will not accept this Amendment. It seems to me that the only good part of the Amendment is its reference to long term agreements with Colonial and Dominion producers. We on this side of the House are certainly in favour of that in certain circumstances and it is provided for in the original Motion. You will have observed, Sir, the width of the discussion which has taken place today. I think that almost every subject which could be discussed in this House has been raised. I am not going to follow very many of the points put forward by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) but I was interested in his support of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the question of tea, and I wonder if the Chancellor put him up to that. Of course, we have reached the stage in our economics where the Budget depends so much on the amount of alcohol consumed in the country, that a firm warning about drinking too much tea might have a slightly fiscal aspect.

Dr. Stross

The hon. and learned Member will forgive me for interrupting, but I should not like it to go out from this House that I thought it was desirable to consume more alcohol. I would, however, tell the hon. and learned Member that it can be more dangerous to drink too much tea than a little beer.

Mr. Lloyd

My suggestion that the Chancellor was behind the speech of the hon. Member was not meant to be taken very seriously. With regard to the various arguments which have been put forward, I shall deal very briefly with those of the three hon. Members who have spoken from the opposite side of the House. The terms of the Amendment are such that it strikes at the principle of the original Motion and, therefore, I take it that we shall be in order in covering the whole field. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) prayed in aid of his argument a quotation from the Report of the Economic Survey of Europe in 1948. It should also be in the recollection of the House that on page 104 that Report states: British import prices have risen more rapidly and consistently during the past two years than those for any other country. It would seem that the price rigidity embodied in the British bulk purchase arrangements tended to postpone the full impact of post-war scarcities on British import prices, and that these scarcities began to make themselves more strongly felt in the contracts for 1948, whereas other European countries although still buying at higher prices than the United Kingdom, began to benefit in the latter part of the year from the weakening in world prices of several important commodities. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) was wise to say that we should note the development of this tendency and await the report for 1949. At present in this country we are not benefiting, owing to some of the methods adopted, from the weakening of some world prices of commodities. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West also quoted the "Corn Trade News" and suggested that because restrictions in acreages were taking place in Canada and the United States of America that was a reason for planning imports. I think it is very unwise to draw any deduction from what has happened in one year in regard to that matter. There was a time, I think three years ago—I have not come equipped with the figures—when the effect of bulk selling in the Argentine was causing a reduction of acreages there and the free market in the United States was causing an increase to the acreage under wheat there. It is quite wrong to draw a general deduction in principle from the figures for one year.

The next and very surprising argument which the hon. Member put forward, which needs a great deal of earnest consideration by this House, is the suggestion that in no circumstances must we attempt to exploit any foreign producer. The introduction of the word "exploit" produces a sort of ideological gloss upon the discussion, but what is really meant is that we must not try to buy things as cheaply as we can get them. Here we are in this country, not able to grow our own foodstuffs in toto, depending for a high standard of living on our exports, with, the terms of trade having moved against us. We cannot afford to go on with that kind of attitude of mind.

If we can give guaranteed prices and markets to home producers and our Imperial and Colonial relatives, so far as the rest of the world is concerned we must attempt to buy in the cheapest market, because, if we cannot get certain quantities of foodstuffs and other raw materials into this country on a fairly cheap basis, our costs of production are bound to go up. That is the fundamental trouble, whether with present costs of production we shall be able to sell the goods we have to export.

I quite agree that in the interests of stable world trade we want to prevent, if we can, excessive world fluctuations, but this proposition is going to foist on the British consumer responsibility for paying a price higher than the world price for various foodstuffs and raw materials" which will affect our costs of production and make it exceedingly difficult for us to live as a country. What we are really talking about in that respect are the exportable surpluses of these other countries. We wanted to get more flexibility into the disposal of exportable surpluses, something more like a world price and a world market. That can be done without undue reaction upon the producers in the individual countries.

A point made by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, was that while we were in favour of paying high prices or proper prices to our own farmers we would put that policy into jeopardy if we bought in the cheapest market overseas, that the effect of buying cheaply from overseas would ultimately mean that we should be unable or unwilling to pay the subsidies to our own farmers. He cannot be quite familiar with the way in which the Wheat Act worked because obviously there must be the system of the levy subsidy, namely that these cereals should be procured from overseas and, in the case of wheat when it goes to the millers, we must have the same arrangement of the millers paying a levy, or of a levy being paid, which is reflected in the cost of the product. The point with which we are concerned in this respect is that we want the grains to be procured as cheaply as possible for this country. It is perfectly possible under the system of the Wheat Act to iron out the difference in this country, and maintain, as in most quarters of the House we are determined to maintain, a guarantee to our own farmer and home producer.

On that note, it is appropriate to turn to the speech of the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. R. Adams) because it seemed to me that he definitely aligned himself with the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), and he must not be surprised if we regard him in the future as a "feather bedder." What he failed to understand was the distinction between State trading and bulk purchase. Bulk purchase and long-term contracts are to my mind completely different from State trading. What we on this side of the House object to is State trading. There are certain bulk contracts which may be advantageous. What I object to more than anything else is the handling of the trading operations of the nation by Government Departments. That is a distinction which can easily be drawn in practice. There are many instances where what might be called bulk contracts are at present handled by private traders. That is what we on this side of the House are pressing for.

The hon. Member talked about the chaos of the private enterprise system. I suggest to him that there is under that system much more stability and much less chaos owing to the number of small transactions which take place, than there is in the case of the intervention of a large State bulk purchaser.

Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)

This is the crucial point of the Debate. Could the hon. and learned Member tell us if, in the case for instance of a contract with a Dominion country, the Government give a long-term contract and guarantees that a certain amount will be bought over a period, and the Government fixes or guarantees the price, what precise function the private trader will perform in the transaction as a whole?

Mr. Lloyd

I think he would perform extremely valuable functions with regard to quality, arbitration and——

Mr. Foot

Surely the quality would enter into the negotiations about price?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not think so. If I may take an example which I admit is not a foodstuff but is one with which I am more familiar, in the case of cotton it is absolutely vital that the private trader should examine each consignment of cotton as it comes forward because there are so many types and grades. The same applies to cereals and most forms of foodstuffs. The first function that the private trader has to perform is in regard to the quality of particular consignments which come forward. His second function is in regard to disposal or distribution.

So far as coarse grains are concerned, I think that except for certain bulk contracts now running the Ministry is using private traders to procure them.

Mr. Foot

In the case of long-term contracts at a guaranteed price?

Mr. Lloyd

No, but the private trader is now being used to procure coarse grains. I think that is a point as to the utility of having the private trader to assist in procuring commodities but that is not the point of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot). He was dealing with the function of the private trader if there was a bulk contract at a guaranteed price. In that case the functions of the private trader are with regard to the description and quality of the goods which come forward and with regard to their disposal. Those are the functions which he can carry out within the framework of a guaranteed price and a guarantee to take a certain amount of a commodity.

Mr. Foot

Does the hon. and learned Member mean that there can be a system under which the private trader would have no entry into negotiations about price or the terms of the long-term contract, which would be made by the Government, but that the private trader would then be brought in to carry out some survey about quality which had no relation to price, and would then dispose of the commodity?

Mr. Lloyd

The grain trade are at present carrying out certain important functions for which they are paid a commission by the Government. What we are saying is that the Government can, for example, by arrangement with the Nigerian Government, arrange that the Cocoa Marketing Board shall dispose to this country of a fixed quantity of cocoa, and that there shall be a fixed price or a guarantee in regard to price, but that the interests of this country will be much better served if that cocoa is handled through trade channels. That is indeed the recommendation of the Select Committee on which there was a very large majority of hon. Members belonging to the party of the hon. Member for Devon-port. The cocoa example is not a bad one.

The hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central, suggested that the prices arrived at in bulk purchase agreements approximate to the cost of production with a margin for profit. I have with me some figures which I agree are not very up-to-date, but I ask the hon. Member to consider his argument in the light of those figures. In the autumn of 1947 the Argentine Government were receiving five dollars per bushel for wheat and passing on to the Argentine farmer 1.70 dollars per bushel. When figures like that are put forward in a bulk agreement with another State, it is complete nonsense to suggest that the cost of production is really the governing factor. In that case the price received by the Argentine farmer bore no relation to the price which the Argentine Government were charging this country.

I wish to come back to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton. The objections which he listed were five-fold. The first was the loss of world markets and invisible exports. So far no one on the other side of the House has attempted to controvert that statement. His second objection was that bulk buying leads to the creation of bulk selling organisations, and again no one on the other side of the House has attempted to controvert that.

Mr. Paget

The bulk selling organisations existed long before the bulk buying ones. Bulk selling is one of the principles of the corporate State which was exercised by Germany, Russia, Italy and the Argentine, when they became corporate States.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. and learned Member will forgive me for joining issue with him, but the fact is that the State selling organisation in the Argentine was not set up until we had announced our policy of State purchase—in 1946.

Mr. Foot

Has the hon. and learned Gentleman read the report of the Anglo-Argentine inquiry, a report made to this House in 1938, which described the way in which the Argentine Government had entered into the bulk selling process which the Argentine made at that time—1938, before the war? It was sent to one of his hon. Friends.

Mr. Lloyd

I will be quite frank with the hon. Member, I have not read that report. I am going on information which has been conveyed to me. I was told, and have been told quite definitely, that the Government bulk selling of meat organisation was set up in 1946—[HON. MEMBERS: "No".] That is my information.

The third objection which my hon. Friend raised to bulk buying, or Government trading, was that it led to friction. I see that the Minister of Food has left the Chamber. I think many of us felt there was a good deal of justification about the language he used on a particular occasion, but to say that that does not lead to friction seems to me to be going very far indeed.

Mr. Paget

Has the hon. and learned Member never heard of trade following the flag?

Mr. Turton

Which flag?

Mr. Lloyd

The Red Flag, perhaps.

Mr. Paget

Any flag?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend proceeded to argue certain specific points and I think that so far as this Debate is concerned it would perform a very useful function if we could get information from the Minister as to how he proposes to deal with those specific recommendations of the Select Committee on Estimates. Although we have had this wide political discussion, which has been very interesting, what we would like to know is whether the Minister proposes to carry out the suggestions for a quicker return to the system of private enterprise urged on him by this Committee on which there sat a large majority of hon. Members on the other side of the House.

I would remind the Minister that on page xvii, paragraph 54, there was a specific recommendation with regard to the simplification of dealings in meat. On page xxi, paragraph 69, there was a suggestion that there should be a return to the international grain markets and to say the least some steps should be taken towards that. On page xxix, paragraph 119, we have specific recommendations that the London Tea Market should be re-opened; and on the same page, at paragraph 121, there is a specific recommendation with regard to cocoa. What we should like to know is whether those steps, leading to a greater part for private enterprise to play in the procurement of food, will be taken.

I could give other examples of what I think are the evils of Government State trading. It may easily mean that bad purchases are made. They buy low grade goods and foist them on the public, the public will not have them, and the taxpayer has to bear the cost. I hope that the Under-Secretary, or whoever is to convey to the Minister what I have said, if anybody is—possibly the Patronage Secretary—will give to the Minister of Food a little present. I have in my hand a tin of Dutch brisling which the Minister at the present time is disposing of in this country. I am told it is of very poor quality indeed and it is exceedingly doubtful whether it will all be disposed of.

I also have in my hand something else which I am prepared to give him as a present. It is a tin of Skipper Norwegian brisling, which the Ministry is not selling, and if he could test for himself the difference between these two qualities——

Mr. Tomney (Hammersmith, North)

Is it not illegal to give away foodstuffs which are on points?

Mr. Lloyd

That is exactly the sort of thing which would happen under this Government. If I am prosecuted for a breach of the law I think that certain people may have something to say as to whether in fact what is done in this House is subject to the same processes of law as what goes on outside. But in order to challenge him, I am even prepared to give these gifts to the Minister outside the House; and if he chooses to prosecute me, well, let him.

The fact of the matter is that I am told there is a tremendous difference in quality between those two items and that owing to the Government buyers entering into these matters, they are trying to foist on the British public foodstuffs which really are not fit to eat in the proper sense of the word. We had a very good example of that in the case of snoek. If the Minister contrasts the quality of these two tins of brisling—and I give him as a present the point that he would have to pay a penny or two more for the Skipper's—but if he contrasts the difference in quality between them, he will realise that some of the purchases made by his Department, without any expert advice at all, are a disgrace to any business community.

Another example of the evils of Government State trading was the purchase by the Minister's predecessor of maize from the Argentine. We bought a million tons of maize under the Andes Agreement from the Argentine Government. The price has never been specifically disclosed, but it is a fairly open secret that it was at least £5 or £6 above the world price. The cost of carrying and distributing it was fantastic. Much of it had to be bagged and treated for infestation; transported to an inland store and kept there for many months; and then returned for processing to the port at which it originally arrived. No doubt under the old system, a mill might very easily have accepted it from an ocean-going steamer itself.

One of our objections to State trading is that it leads to very much more irregular deliveries. There is no control over the regularity of deliveries and there is not the same selection in quality. Very often also benefit is not obtained from normal commercial practice, and skill and knowledge. For example—I do not know whether the Minister is familiar with it or not—under the contract for the purchase of grain from Russia the most elementary mistakes were made in the form of contract entered into; and that has resulted in great cost to the people of this country. We suggest that those are some of many of the examples—and I would like to have given others—which prove it is high time that the Government gave greater scope to private enterprise to enter into the procurement of food.

The suggestion may be made, as it generally is, that the Ministry of Food are performing all these trading transactions upon the advice of experts. In the case of canned fish that is not so, and I challenge anyone to say that it is. With regard to the imported cereals division of the Ministry of Food—it is rather difficult to bring into these discussions people who are in that advisory relationship to the Ministry of Food—it would be interesting indeed to hear the Minister say that that division was in favour of the maize contract to which I have already referred; or in fact was in favour of entry into the International Wheat Agreement.

The point is not whether we have these expert advisers but whether their advice is ever taken. With regard to cocoa, it is quite clear from the Report of the Select Committee that the experts are not permitted to have any real power or knowledge at all.

Mr. Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)

The Select Committee has been mentioned in this Debate so many times that I am wondering whether the hon. and learned Member has read on page 35 of their Report that purchases on behalf of the Government are usually negotiated by senior officials of the Ministry, many of whom are outstanding personalities in their own trade. There may be exceptions, but in the main that is the case.

Mr. Lloyd

If these experts have been closeted within the confines of the Ministry for a number of years I am not quite certain that they are in full touch with normal commercial developments——

Mr. Paget

Even if the Ministry has been doing all the trading during that time?

Mr. Lloyd

No; because, curiously enough, part of the absurdity of this thing is, for instance, that the gentlemen who deal with canned fish are permitted to buy canned fish in Norway and sell it to the South of Ireland. That is one of the ways in which we have been earning some foreign exchange. The ridiculous part of the situation is that they are not allowed to try to obtain the canned fish and sell it in this country.

If I may go back to the last intervention but three and deal with the question of the Advisory Panel in regard to cocoa, I would draw the attention of the House to paragraph 121 of the Select Committee Report, which said: The Ministry have set up an Advisory Panel of three expert buyers from the trade, but they do not disclose even to this small panel of experts either the prices paid for cocoa or the stock of raw cocoa held in this country. The Panel, who are not present at the negotiations, cannot therefore fully advise on purchasing. If they do not know the prices or the stocks and they are not present at negotiations, it seems to me that the value of the experts must be limited. Then there is the further point that these experts may not have been expert buyers of the commodity on which they advise. For all those reasons, I hope the House will reject the Amendment and pass my hon. Friend's Motion.

2.2 p.m.

Mr. Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)

I would not have intervened in this Debate but for some of the points which have been made in regard to the Select Committee on Estimates and the Sub-Committee which presented this Report, of which Committee I was a member. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said that the Committee made specific recommendations and the hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) also referred to it. It is true that the Select Committee did recommend that consideration should be given to the problem of some of the commodities mentioned, but I would point out to the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, as he knows perfectly well, since he was a member of the Select Committee, that it is not within the competence of a Select Committee to make specific recommendations in regard to policy.

There were no recommendations in this Report for the abolition of State trading in any commodity whatsoever. It is true that we recommended that consideration should be given to the question of handing back the purchase of cocoa to the trade. I think there was much evidence to support that recommendation. I do not dissent from it. But it has been the policy of the Ministry of Food and the policy of the predecessor to the present Minister of Food that, where circumstances justified handing back to private trade—when supplies were adequate, and subject to other conditions—this work should be handed back. In regard to commodities which we are not nationalising, the policy generally has been to hand back to private enterprise.

Perhaps I may turn to the question of cocoa, tea and sugar. Here it is a fact that no evidence whatsoever was taken from the trade by the Select Committee. There is no evidence in this Report from the trade, in regard to cocoa, tea or sugar, and I submit that it is not quite fair to claim that a Committee which has not examined any evidence from the trade is nevertheless making specific recommendations for the abolition of State trading.

Mr. N. Macpherson

While, as a member of the Committee I must accept the point that it is not a direct recommendation, at the same time would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the mere fact that we reached the conclusion that consideration should be given to this action without even hearing the trade—which is much more likely to recommend that the purchasing should be handed back to them —is in itself quite clear evidence that there is a strong case?

Mr. Yates

I think that is a point, but we must not read into the Report that a specific recommendation is being made other than that to "give consideration"—and consideration of all the evidence may lead to a different conclusion. As a Select Committee we did not and could not object to consideration being given.

The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton quoted from this Report to the effect that we had recommended certain alterations in the distribution and procurement of meat. I do not think the recommendation of the Select Committee was that the bulk purchase of meat was wrong. There was. in fact, no evidence whatsoever to justify such a conclusion. All the evidence taken by the Committee would, I believe, show that certain economies could be made in the distribution of meat, but as far as I can remember there was no evidence which would lead us to believe that larger supplies of meat could be obtained if there were no Government trading in meat.

Mr. Turton

I know that the hon. Member will recollect that the Committee had before them, as evidence, the views of the importers of meat, who said that if the trade in meat were handed back to them they would get more meat and meat of a better quality. That is why, I presume, in paragraph 54, the Committee recommended that the method of procurement of meat should be overhauled.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

Is it not also true that that could not be achieved immediately and that the immediate reaction to beginning such a policy would be increased prices?

Mr. Yates

It is true that we took definite evidence from the trade—wholesalers, retailers, importers and so on—but my impression, and I think anyone reading the evidence carefully would get the same impression, was that when we talked about the trade taking over, most of the people representing the trade seemed extremely nervous at the idea. I was rather surprised. I expected private enterprise in meat to come forward to the Committee and say, "We think we ought to take control"; but they were very nervous about it and, while it is true that some argued in favour of private enterprise, generally speaking all the evidence went to show that it was not the slightest use any alteration taking place unless we could guarantee the doubling of the ration or at least that supplies would enable the ration to be considerably increased.

The evidence in this Report very strongly leads me to believe that it is important to have a greater public control over the supply and distribution of meat than we have ever had in the past. For example, I call the attention of the House to the analysis of the expenditure which is contained on page 311. When we were talking about economies in distribution, a number of those items came into our minds. For example, the overhead expenses total £10,764,392, which, as I understand it, means that from the time the animals leave the farmer to the time they reach the wholesaler or the butcher we have spent over £10 million. How is that figure made up? Some of these items are detailed, as, for instance, the amount for the auctioneers' commission, £725,220; auctioneers' salaries and expenses, £439,000; wholesalers' commission, £1,700,000; hides and skins, commissions, £470,832. It amazes me. I had not had any experience of the meat trade before, but in considering this Report I am amazed; and I was amazed when we were told that county accountants—52 of them—received £140,000 in salaries, while their job, so far as I could see, was to count the animals as they went through. This Report points out that these are overhead charges. I am not referring to the Ministry of Food. This is the sort of set-up that private enterprise——

Mr. Turton

This is the cost at the present time of the State control of home-killed meat.

Mr. Yates

The costs of the Ministry of Food are shown as a separate figure, and I am saying that when we talked in this Report about economies we were talking about this type of economy in distribution, which I think is very proper. It cannot be assumed from this that we consider that the State purchasing of meat is not correct. When we asked for evidence, and when we asked for the facts to be put before the Committee about the supply of meat, for instance, from Australia, it was pointed out that there were droughts in 1943 and 1946 and that these were responsible for the slaughter of 10 million animals; and obviously we had to consider that these had had effects, and would have done so whether we were purchasing by private enterprise or through the State.

I think that the recommendations that we have made in the Committee, and which I entirely endorse, are recommendations which should—and, I believe, will—be considered by the Government. Certainly I hope that they will be very carefully considered, and that the Government will come back and ask the Committee to consider the matter in the light of the experience we have had. But I do not think for one moment that there is anything in this Report that justifies the assertion that we have made recommendations for abolishing State control in commodities about which we have not taken direct evidence from the trade. In regard to meat, I think there is very definitely evidence that points to the need for greater control over the distribution of meat, more or less on the lines that a Socialist would advocate. I think that this Report has been misrepresented by hon. Members on the other side of the House today, and that they have tried to convince the House today that the recommendations are very different from what the Committee actually intended.

2.14 p.m.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Angus, North, and Mearns)

I could not help forming the impression from the speech of the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) that somehow he had not read his own Committee's Report. I am sure that if he had, he would not have concluded his speech by saying that in the case of meat the Committee recommended that the Government should put on tighter control than they have at present. Of course, I am not using the exact words of the hon. Member, but I am not being unfair to him, I think, if I put what he said in that way. I am going to speak later particularly about the supply of meat, and I shall take the liberty of reminding the hon. Member of certain paragraphs in the conclusions to which the Select Committee on Estimates came, which specifically controvert the view of the Report which the hon. Member has taken. As I know that there are many other hon. Members who are desirous of catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, I intend to be brief.

I want, first, to deal with those arguments which have been heard in favour of the retention of a system of State trading in the procurement of some of our essential foodstuffs. I shall not necessarily take them in the order in which they have been put before the House today, but deal with them as I can in the time available.

First, I want to deal with the speech of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye). The first thing that he said—and again I am not using the hon. Member's exact words—was that, in times of food shortage and increasing world population, only the Government could integrate the home production, the Empire production and the foreign production of our essential foodstuffs; only the Government could give the incentive of long-term contracts. I cannot help thinking that the hon. Member has misunderstood the whole of the case which has been so ably put forward today by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton).

We do not dispute the view that in some cases, in order to stimulate production within the Empire, it may be desirable to enter into long-term Government-to-Government contracts. I say, "We do not dispute the view." Perhaps I am going further than I ought. Let me say, then, that I am speaking only for myself, and that I do not dispute the view. Let me take the case of the present talks going on with the Dominion of Australia. Australia, as hon. Members know, is anxious to develop the north-western territories, anxious to enter into a long-term project for meat production in Queensland and the northern territory. She is seeking, we are led to believe, a 15-year contract—a 15-year Government contract for the output from those territories. Well, acceptance of the view that long-term contracts may be desirable in cases of this kind does not mean that the procurement of food should be in the hands of the Government.

Let me give the analogy of our own agricultural arrangements. Under the Agriculture Act, as the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, knows only too well, we are giving the incentives of assured markets and guaranteed prices, and I cannot see why there should be any difficulty whatsoever in doing exactly the same thing, in certain cases where it is desirable, for the Empire producer. But the essential point about the agricultural policy is that there is a periodical price review. Where it is considered necessary in the interests of Empire production to offer the security of long-term contracts to overseas growers, prices should be negotiated periodically, in relation to the world prices of commodities of comparable quality.

Mr. Paget

Would the hon. Member point out a single Empire contract that has not got that clause for reviewing prices? It is in every one of them.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

My complaint is that the price variation is at too long an interval; that we must have arrangements for a frequent review of prices.

Mr. Ross

How frequently?

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

Of course, there are differences between one commodity and another——

Mr. Jenkins (Birmingham, Stechford)

Would the hon. Gentleman have it within certain limits or without any limit at all?

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

These are matters of detail which again vary from commodity to commodity. I want to see arrangements made with the Empire in certain cases, if it is considered necessary to encourage Empire production, but I think that in many cases Empire countries might be content to rely upon the policy which I believe is agreed by all parties—that the first place in the home market must go to the home producer and the second place to the Empire producer. In the case, at any rate, of meat so great is the disparity between what we have and what we need—Sir Henry Turner of the Ministry of Food has said it is something like an extra 600,000 tons of meat a year that we need to make up a desirable ration for the people of this country—that I believe we can take all we can get from Australia for a very long time to come without a firm price guarantee.

Mr. Jenkins

It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman has now gone completely full circle in his argument. First, he said that in the case of Australia we ought to give a guarantee. Now he is arguing that there is no need for a guarantee. What would be his argument on the specific case of the Australian 15-year agreement?

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

I do not think I said exactly what is attributed to me by the hon. Gentleman. The point I was trying to make was this. If it is considered necessary with any commodity to give a long-term guarantee to the producers from Dominion or Empire countries, then I see no difficulty with that guarantee in letting the procurement be in the hands of private traders—no difficulty at all. That was the only point I was making on that aspect.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

I know that a great many hon. Members want to speak, including no doubt the two hon. Gentlemen who have questioned me, and I think it would be in their interest if they allowed me to pass on so that I may reveal what is in my mind on the other points I wish to develop.

The second point of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, went something like this. He asked how we could say that the food would be cheaper and more plentiful if its procurement were in the hands of private enterprise, and he added that it was merely a supposition on our part. I say it is proved by the fact that there has been a great loss of incentive to the overseas producer under the terms of long-term guarantees. Let me give an example which was given in another connection by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), the example of wheat from the Argentine. In the autumn of 1947, the Argentine Government were receiving from us five dollars a bushel but passed on only 1.7 dollars a bushel to the producer. The result was that the acreage under wheat in the Argentine declined by 22 per cent. below the pre-war figure. Let me now give a comparable figure for the United States under a free market. American farmers received 2.6 dollars a bushel——

Mr. Adams

A free market?

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

Under free trading conditions.

Mr. Adams rose——

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

The hon. Gentleman has made his speech. In America, instead of a decline in acreage the incentive to the producer was such that the acreage under wheat increased by 30 per cent. above the pre-war figure.

Mr. Adams


Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

In 1947. I am taking two dates which are exactly comparable in the same year. In the Argentine, under State trading there was a decline of 22 per cent. in the acreage under wheat; whereas in the United States, where free enterprise reigns, there was an increase because the producer was given an adequate incentive under free enterprise to produce more wheat, and did in fact produce 30 per cent. above the pre-war figure.

Let me give another example, that of meat. The Argentine producers of meat are paid fixed prices which are so arranged that they encourage putting on as much weight as possible, and which give no incentive for the production of quality meat, of baby beef, which was present in the times of free enterprise before the war. The result is that the meat we are getting at present from the Argentine is past its prime; it is old, tough, overweight and fat. I am quite certain that no one can deny that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] On the question of price, in times of falling world commodity prices——

Mr. Dye


Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

In times of falling world commodity prices——

Mr. Dye

What about today?

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

—long-term contracts with prices fixed in advance, as they always are under this system of State trading, almost always act to the disadvantage of the consumer in the buying country.

Mr. Dye


Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

I am not saying things I cannot illustrate by examples from recent happenings. Let me give the example of maize bought from the Argentine under the Andes Agreement. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral said it was pretty generally known what that price was. Well, I do not think it matters that it should be quoted. The price was about £27 a ton f.o.b. That was the price we agreed to give for Argentine maize under the Andes Agreement. But we were still paying £27 a ton for maize procured under the Andes Agreement at a time when the world price of maize had fallen to £20 a ton. At the beginning of 1949, Holland bought 52,000 tons of maize from the Argentine at £17 a ton—£10 a ton under the price that we, poor "mugs" that we are, were still paying under the Andes Agreement.

Then it is said that State trading is no more likely to add to friction than private trading. I almost wondered whether I ought to try to catch your eye this afternoon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I remember that when I spoke in a short Debate on 23rd March what I said gave rise to a remark by the Minister about "blackmail," which almost created an international incident, and caused the negotiations which Mr. Joint, our Commercial Representative, was having in Buenos Aires to be be broken off suddenly until an explanation had been given. I have here a cutting from a report in "The Scotsman" at the end of last month from their special correspondent in Canada. I will not quote the whole of it but only a very short passage. It says: The whole affair"— which was the negotiations with Canada over bacon— is beginning to take on a pattern which has become altogether too familiar in the post-war history of British-Canadian food contracts. Indeed, the squabbling which follows so many of these inter-Governmental agreements is one of the things which makes so many Canadians wish to get back to private trading. I could give many other examples of that kind of thing.

The next argument that was advanced—and I am dealing only with arguments advanced in this Debate today—was advanced by the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Adams), who said that private traders really cannot deal with State organisations. I suppose he had overlooked the fact that it was only because—

Mr. Adams

I did not say they could not. I asked hon. Members opposite to say how they could so deal, and nobody cared then to get up and tell me.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I will tell him how. There is not the least difficulty about it. Already I.A.P.I. is dealing with private traders from every other country in Europe at the present time. I do not think hon. Members realise that. We are the only country entering into these State-to-State contracts with the Argentine. Private traders all over Europe west of the "Iron Curtain" are negotiating with I.A.P.I. and making their own arrangements.

Mr. Paget

Every one is paying a higher price than we are.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

At the present time that is not the case. The hon. and learned Gentleman has made that statement three times, and I hope he will be able to develop it in the speech that I know he wants to make this afternoon.

Moreover, meat extracts, canned goods, poultry and wool are all being sold through private trade channels by the Argentine at the present time. There is no reason why we should not now go a step further and set the private traders to work. If we did so we would get more meat and of far better quality.

The last point made from the other Slide which I want to answer is that the long-term contract is necessary so long as there are currency difficulties, so long as there is disparity between the £ and the dollar and so long as the amount of money which we can spend in dollar countries is limited. I suggest that is no argument at all. The House will remember that under the terms of the Ottawa Agreement the Board of Trade allowed quarterly import quotas to existing importers. There is not the slightest reason why exactly the same thing could not be done at the present time; why the Treasury, in consultation, if necessary, with the Ministry of Food, should not allocate the number of dollars that may be spent upon foodstuffs, and upon each range of foodstuffs if that is desirable, to existing traders, who are perfectly capable of dividing up the business between them and making their own arrangements about it.

I want to come now to practical proposals, and I shall be very brief. I had intended to talk about grain, but this is a matter which has been well covered by the hon. and learned Member for Wirral and other speakers. I will instead close by saying a few words about meat. I suppose it is fairly well known that in the case of meat the margin between enough meat to honour the meagre ration and more than enough to give consumers all that they can afford to buy is very narrow indeed—something like 5 per cent. of our total supply. We are getting very near to that point at the present time. I think that we can anticipate that in the autumn meat will come off the ration and if it does not, that it ought to come off the ration when home-grown cattle are coming off the summer grass. That is the time, with home supplies coming forward, when the Minister may, I believe, well come forward and make his contribution to his party's election campaign in the coming autumn. I believe that then we may see that meat will come off the ration.

May I remind the hon. Member for Ladywood of that part of the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates which he seemed to have forgotten. He will perhaps allow me to remind him that the Committee recommended in paragraph 25 that when the supply of meat improves—and I suggest that has already come about—a scheme should be reconsidered which would provide for consumer choice, the skill of the butcher in buying and guaranteed prices for the farmer. It went on to recommend in paragraph 54 that the Committee believed that there is room for economy and that the present machinery of procurement and distribution should be overhauled. It also said that the Minister should give attention to the many schemes that have already been proposed and suggested that he should consult with all sections of the meat trade in a re-examination of the present methods of procurement and distribution—not only distribution but procurement.

I ask the Minister whether he has yet consulted with the trade. If he has done that, what is going to happen? Are we soon to be able to get back to private enterprise in the procurement of meat because until we do so we will not have better meat and not have restored to us the benefits of consumer choice?

2.35 p.m.

The Minister of Food (Mr. Maurice Webb)

I think that I should first explain my own relationship as a Member of the Government to this Debate. This is a Private Members' day and obviously the decision is bound to be taken by Private Members of the House. I was asked by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) whether I would accept his Motion. I do not want either to accept or reject it—that is for the House to do. I think that it would be quite improper for a member of the Government to try to interfere with a decision on a private Members' day, but I shall try to give help and guidance, and, I hope, an indication of the view which we take about the very important matters which have been discussed today. I hope that the hon. Member will accept the assurance that, so far as I am concerned. I felt that his speech was on a very high level and raised issues of great substance and importance. In so far as I cannot agree with them, I hope to be able to give to the House convincing reasons for taking the opposite view.

I am glad to see that the terms of the hon. Member's Motion are evidence, if belated evidence, of a further step in the education of hon. Members opposite. In the matter of the Government purchase of foodstuff, Members opposite are quite clearly moving from darkness to light—I will not say twilight. I shall be more agreeable and say dawn. At least there is a change. I think that it was in December, 1948, that the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), who I am glad to see with us today, said in the House that they still considered that the habit of bulk purchase was wrong. On 26th May of last year the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) made a rather guarded and courageous admission when he said: There is a little to be said for offering long-term contracts to primary producers, particularly within the Empire and Commonwealth, with price reviews of an annual nature, but let us be sure that we get something in return in addition to the mere right to buy their food."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th May, 1949; Vol. 465, c. 1546.] That is another sign of progress.

Now we have this Motion which contains these very significant words: Urges His Majesty's Government, whilst maintaining long-term agreements with Colonial and Dominion producers … I think that is a considerable advance and that hon. Members opposite are to be complimented on going so far as to accept the necessity for some form of bulk graying in some circumstances. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] We will continue the argument and see what conclusion we arrive at. May I say that I think there was an underlying basic inconsistency in the arguments of the mover and particularly the seconder of the Motion this morning. They produced evidence to show to the House that all forms of bulk buying had grievous faults and disadvantages, but if they have faults and disadvantages, why inflict them on the Commonwealth? If that is a bad way of doing business, why let the Commonwealth suffer? If in fact we accept it from the Commonwealth, we must at least agree that there is some merit about it and it has some advantages and qualities worth examination. However, perhaps they can sort that out between themselves.

There is, I think, in the Motion an implied tribute to our policy and we welcome it. I above all welcome it because the terms of the Motion seem to me to approach the whole question for the first time from the point of view of helping the consumer. That is our approach and my approach and that should be the concern of the whole House—primarily to help the consumer and to try to find some way of avoiding hardship on the consumer. We think, therefore, and it is our considered view, that in the present economic conditions Government purchase is vitally necessary in the consumers' interests.

What we want to try to do—and it is a very delicate process—is to marry the consumers' rights to the producers' interests. I do not believe that in the present situation that can be done without some considerable degree of Government bulk purchase in respect of certain commodities, as I hope to be able to show. I believe that is an indispensable part of the system by which we obtain the basic foods that are not plentiful which we distribute on the principle of equal rights. It is also an indispensable part of our basic economic policies, safeguarding our balance of payments position, safeguarding price stabilisation at home, and also encouraging the maximum development of food production in countries with which we have no currency difficulties.

The House must face this problem. How can we possibly in the next two years solve our balance of payment problem if we allow the whims and caprices of any speculative interests to decide what comes into the country? It is impossible for any Government to face that problem, if it allows that kind of inconsidred and uncontrolled interest to determine what happens to our currency and what we get from it.

Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury and Radcliffe)

Is the right hon. Gentleman arguing that we have to have State purchase in order to control what is coming into the country? Is it not perfectly possible, as has been frequently done, to set the maximum that can be imported and then leave the procurement to the trade and not to the Government?

Mr. Webb

I am going to show that in certain fields that is true, but that in certain other fields it is the opposite.

Before I speak about the way Government purchase is related to the need to ration basic commodities, I ought to give the House as much information as I can about the commodities we have handed back to private traders. Food importations on private account now amount to about one-fifth—that is in value—of the total imports. We have arrived at that by enlarging the field in two ways. Firstly, a number of commodities imported on Government accounts are now entirely in private hands. This applies to a whole range of commodities, like onions, canned tomatoes, tomato puree, lemons, cheeses, oranges, grapefruit, fruit pulp and so on, and shortly it is proposed, as has been promised, to hand over the trade in poultry, rabbits and hares to private trade. That is the first way we have tried to hand back to the private trade.

The second way is this. We have enlarged the field of private importations of foodstuffs by discontinuing or relaxing control by licensing. We have done that because it is in line with the Government's policy in O.E.E.C, where, as the House knows, the Government have taken the initiative in measures for the general restoration of European trade. I think the House upholds the Government in having taken that step. This is not, of course, confined to the O.E.E.C. countries. Under the system of open general licences now in force, many foods can be imported freely from all countries where there is no balance of payments problem.

I should say off-hand, without having the exact figures, that in the last 15 to 18 months we have handed back to private trade more than 300 items of food. That is a very substantial improvement, and we do not make any apology for reporting it to the House. Where we are satisfied that the public interest shows that private traders are the better instrument for bringing these goods into the country, we are prepared to do it, and there has been a considerable reconditioning of that side of our work.

Although in some respects we are slowly moving from conditions of scarcity to conditions of adequate supplies, it is surely common ground on both sides that we must still ration many basic foods, and these are the commodities on which we must concentrate today, bearing in mind that the current demand is un-precedentedly high, due, I think, to full employment, higher purchasing power and things of that kind. Some foods are still scarce. They are scarce for two reasons; either because the food is just not there, such as tea, or because we just have not the currency, for balance of payment reasons, to afford to buy it, which is the position in regard to sugar.

Given these problems, what are we to do? As far as purchases from dollar or hard currency sources are concerned, there must obviously be a ceiling on total expenditure, or else the job we are trying to do together as a country will not be effected. We cannot possibly in that field dream of being able to restore to private traders the right to purchase foodstuffs in the overseas markets, as the Motion proposes, to an unrestricted extent. The country's interest could not possibly enable that within the foreseeable future or in a measurable period of time. This is particularly the case where the commodities concerned are still rationed. If we have rationing, the country expects us to honour the rations. Having entered into that arrangement, we have given an assurance that the goods will be there. We have to make sure that they will be there, and if they are not there the whole of our system of distribution will break down.

Whether the scarcity arises from insufficient production or for balance of payments reasons, the result is the same, that we have to ration or allocate these commodities and ensure that each consumer gets his fair share. I know that in these days there is a tendency for Members opposite to sneer at fair shares for all, but is that not a good thing to do in any society, namely, to give fair shares? We do not make any apology for it at all. We believe it is the obligation of this House to ensure fair shares for every section of society. That is our problem. How can we maintain that rationing system with food subsidies running at a high level and price control and abandon our central control over the whole business of procuring the foods we want to maintain on the ration? That is the problem; that is the heart of the matter.

We feel that our existing system of Government purchase of basic foodstuffs serves the need of this rationing system properly and adequately. The question is whether there is any other system of purchase, other than Government purchase, which can meet these needs better. We feel that there are strong reasons why Government purchase should be considered. If this Motion means that the Opposition has been grappling with this problem and have arrived at some conclusions and have some serious suggestions to offer, we shall be pleased to examine them. Surely there is an obligation on all of us to make this instrument work, to make it flexible and to make it adequate for all the needs of the country at this time and in future years?

There may be some cases where Government purchase obviously needs examination, and it has been suggested that this is so in the case of tea. I can tell the House that we realise there are important reasons why it would be desiraable to hand back the import of tea to the London Tea Auctions. We are now at work on that situation. It is obviously a very delicate matter where we have a commodity that is subsidised, price controlled and rationed. Here we have an entirely new problem, namely, how to have private procurement of tea through the normal tea auctions and yet retain the system I have mentioned of subsidy, price controls and rationing. We are at work on that, and it is not going to be an easy thing to work out.

We are convinced, however, that the existing method is not satisfactory, and that it does not give us, on the whole, the best quality of tea. It certainly does not guarantee to us an adequate supply of tea. Therefore, we are now at work on the problem of trying to devise a new machinery by which, by re-opening the London Tea Auctions, we can at the same time maintain price control, subsidies and rationing of this commodity. I do not know whether the Opposition approve of that or not. I do not know whether the House approves that or not. I mention it, because it is a practical problem. Why have an academic argument whether bulk purchase is good or bad? In some respects it may be bad, and in some respects it may be good, as I hope to show, but in those commodities where we are convinced that it no longer satisfies the highest needs of the public, then we must make changes. We are in the process of making changes in this matter of tea.

Meat is another problem which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton. Here again is another great commodity, for which there might be arguments in favour of using private trade, but certain functions concerned with the procuring and distribution of meat in this country must, I am convinced, never go back to the private trader. Certainly that is not an immediate possibility. We are not at the moment under any stress. We can contain any increase in the supply of meat that may come to us over the next 12 to 18 months under the system now existing, and we are not proposing to make any kind of change in the system in any respect at all, because this is the best way in the present situation to maintain the guaranteed rations of meat for our people.

Let us go back to the general question. Hon. Members opposite must realise that economic and trading habits have changed in a changing world, and that we must now bulk buy because so many countries insist on bulk selling. Nobody ever answers that question. Nobody on the Opposition ever says, "How do you make sure that you do not have bulk buying when the vendor insists on bulk selling." We must face the fact that bulk buying of one kind or another has become an inescapable, indispensable instrument of 20th century world trade. [HON. MEMBERS: "In some countries."] It may be only one or two countries, but if those countries are very much concerned with producing things we urgently want, we cannot lay the law down to them and say, "You do it this way because we prefer it this way." We have got to face the position.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that in the case of the Argentine every country in Europe which trades with the Argentine, with the exception only of this country, is doing it now through private enterprise, and private enterprise is making its own bargains with the Argentine? If they do it why cannot we?

Mr. Webb

They are doing it at considerable expense to their consumers. We are getting much better prices for meat, and I hope the present negotiations will end in our favour and give us a better price than has been got by any other nation at the present time.

Mr. F. Harris

We are not getting good quality.

Mr. Webb

These are the facts of economic life. We must face the situation that we cannot go back to the laissez-faire world in which traders went out from this country, sought and secured bargains, and then came back and unleashed them on to the markets on the best possible terms. How can we possibly maintain our system of guaranteed prices and guaranteed markets to cur own farming community unless we control our imports of food? It cannot be done, and until the Opposition answer that question they have no case at all to put forward.

Mr. Turton

Surely the answer to that is to do what we used to do before the war?

Mr. Webb

If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should now again allow to come into this country imports of cheap food produced by cheap labour then he had better go to the National Farmers' Union and find out what they say about it.

Mr. York

That is not what we say at all.

Mr. Webb

Let us look at the general problem. We are fortified with a great deal of evidence that this system we are running with all its modifications and changes which we have introduced has in fact, given to the people of this country greater guarantees of security, better quality and more varied food than would otherwise have been the case. In an authoritative report, the Economic Survey of Europe, 1948, which was issued by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe—a body which could not be suspect of propaganda—there appears this statement: The explanation of the relatively low prices paid by the United Kingdom for imports of food and raw materials appears to be largely in the extensive use, which it has made of long-term contracts and bulk purchases. Bulk purchase agreements cover a large proportion of its purchases. That is an independent tribute by experts, which I think the House would be well advised to consider and not easily to dismiss.

Mr. Turton

Read the next paragraph.

Mr. Webb

I should like now to deal with what seems to me to be an inconsistency in the terms of the Motion of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, namely, that he criticises Government purchases whilst approving of long-term contracts of Government purchasers. As I said before, why if it is good for Jamaica is it not equally good for other countries? If it is bad for other countries, is it not possible that it is bad for Jamaica? I do not see how the Opposition could possibly sustain this argument that there is some inherent, fundamental imperfection in bulk purchase and bulk buying as an instrument of economic policy and yet they are quite happy to hold on to it for the Empire.

Surely if the thing is wrong, it is wrong everywhere and all the time. We ourselves say it is not wrong, but that it is a desirable and unescapable thing, enabling us to have stable and reasonable prices, not fluctuating prices, to give that kind of guarantee we want to give to our primary producers in this country, in the Colonies and in other countries throughout Europe.

One of the points put was that we were helping foreign countries by doing this kind of thing. What are those foreign countries? They are countries like Denmark, Holland and others which are now involved with us in an attempt to secure Western union, in which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has at least an interest and to which he is committed. It is part of our obligation thereto. We have not only moral obligations, but economic obligations not merely to the Commonwealth but to those countries of Europe which I have mentioned.

Our contracts with Denmark bring us most of their exportable surpluses of bacon, butter and eggs and those with Holland do the same. We want to enter into reasonable arrangements with them that will give to their producers, in so far as we can, guarantees that their markets will be there without damaging the interests of our home producers. We fail to see how we can do that if we are deprived of the instrument of bulk buying for certain commodities.

Among the recommendations submitted by the Strasbourg Consultative Assembly to the Council of Europe at the end of last year was a motion for developing and expanding a system of guaranteed markets. Is not that a line which the Opposition wants to follow? It is a line which the Leader of the Opposition wants to follow. He himself has gone to Strasbourg and has demanded the integration of Europe. How on earth can we have an integration of Western Europe without getting down to the business of bringing markets together on a basis of common security? There is the Opposition's dilemma. They are discarding something which is really inherent in all their present policies. That is a matter for them to sort out.

I have said enough to show that we approach the whole question in no doctrinaire manner. We want to dispense with those elements of bulk purchase which we believe have no relevance to our immediate needs, but we insist—I emphasise it—that bulk purchase is an indispensable element of modern trading and that it ought to be the responsibility and duty of all reasonable, intelligent, far-seeing people not to argue about it but to try to make it work and to think of creating new flexible ways of using it. Here is a situation which we just cannot escape, and for my part I am concerned to try to make this instrument something which will give us the best possible results and bring the best possible advantages to our people. Certainly we are committed to guaranteed prices and assured markets for our farmers and to stability, certainty and security, and all these things depend absolutely and inescapably upon the bulk purchase of basic foods, and for that reason I ask the House to accept the Amendment and to reject the Motion.

3.1 p.m.

Mr. York (Harrogate)

The real feeling, at any rate on this side of the House, is that the Minister has very cleverly side-stepped the issue. We could, of course, expect him to do that, but what I cannot understand is that, having spent most of his speech in saying that he agreed with the flexible way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) presented his case, he then advised the House to vote against the Motion. He has been highly inconsistent in his speech.

The Minister applauded my hon. Friend for saying that the Motion was devised in order to help the consumer and he then went on to shock his hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. R. Adams) in a way which will, I fear, lead to trouble in his party. The hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central, must have been squirming in his seat as the Minister of Food began to talk about the flexibility of the instruments that we have. When we listened to the doctrinaire Socialism—Communism, I suppose—of the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central, we realised the split in the ranks of the party opposite. I have never heard such a doctrinaire approach to any subject in this House, with the possible exception of some of the nationalisation speeches early in the last Parliament, as I heard when the hon. Member was speaking.

Mr. R. Adams

If the hon. Member disagreed with my so-called "doctrinaire approach" to the problem, why did he not interrupt me when I extended to him a very cordial invitation to do so?

Mr. York

Unlike many hon. Members opposite, we would rather hear the whole of sentences and arguments than make the childish interruptions in which the hon. Member and other of his hon. Friends are so delighted to indulge at every possible opportunity.

In the Minister's speech there were quite a number of illuminating passages which showed that he does not accept the doctrinaire approach of his hon. Friend. We were very glad of that, because it is quite obvious to any man of reason—doctrinaire people are never reasonable—that the very difficult problems involved in freeing the country's trade from war-time control can only be approached in a flexible spirit.

I wish to talk about two subjects that have not had great attention in the Debate. The first of those is tea and the second is cocoa. However, there is a further point to take up before I get on to a detailed examination of those two topics. The Minister states—and perhaps he will correct me if I am misrepresenting him—that where bulk purchase no longer serves the purpose of the Government, we must try to do away with it.

Mr. Webb indicated assent.

Mr. York

Then I will pass to my remarks about tea and cocoa on that assumption. I was disappointed when I heard the Minister talking about the difficulties of re-opening the London Tea Market. We on this side know perfectly well the difficulties, but the majority of those difficulties are of the making of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor. What he is now saying, I hope, is that his reconsideration of the opening of the tea market depends upon his undoing the mistakes which his predecessor made over the past years.

We know that the United Kingdom is still the greatest market for tea in the world, and when we make a bulk purchase, as we have been doing and as we hope one day this year we shall do—but have not done yet, and it is getting very late—it has a tremendous effect upon the entire tea market and tends to increase the price of the marginal supplies. I understand that there is no opposition to the re-opening of the London Tea Market, in Ceylon, or indeed in Pakistan. I believe that the objections made in India are weakening and, therefore, we can consider that quite a large proportion of the productive capacity of the world would like to see the London Tea Market reopened. So I cannot understand why the Minister does not make the announcement now that the Government intend to do it on, say, 1st January of next year. I cannot see from the reasoning of the Minister why he cannot make that announcement. Also, has he received a report from the mission which he has sent out to investigate the problem? Do I understand that the report has been received?

Mr. Webb indicated assent.

Mr. York

Then I am even more disappointed that the words he used today were so nebulous. I should have thought that he would have been able to announce definitely the re-opening of the tea market in London next January.

Let us go into this problem. As my hon. Friends have said, all the other tea markets are already open. There is this point to be borne in mind, that London is the only suitable tea market in the world. Calcutta is not a suitable tea market, its weather is wrong and there are other objections. Therefore, it is unthinkable that the Calcutta market can ever be a serious competitor of the London Tea Market. Colombo is open and operating, but there is no thought in the minds of the Ceylonese Government that Colombo is suitable for the world tea market. Therefore, by keeping the London Tea Market closed we are merely doing ourselves an injury and losing trade.

While the Government insist upon their present policy, we shall have to restrict quantities and qualities. The trade say that last year the housewives of this country had to accept forcibly in their tea ration at least 12 million lbs. of tea which would have been condemned before the war as undrinkable. That is the measure of success of bulk purchase by the Government in the tea market. Our consumers are forced to buy something which before the war no one would have agreed was drinkable.

Furthermore, the war-time system of contracting with the tea estates prevents us from getting the quality to which we have been accustomed, and for this reason some of the estates are encouraged to continue to produce low-grade tea instead of being encouraged, as they would be by competition and a free London market, to produce the higher qualities. In addition, any fall in the price of the low-qualities is prevented. This year, if my information is correct, we are to get lower quality tea than ever before. This is because of the bad buying policy of the Government, or, in other words, the mistakes which the Government have made, for they are the only buyers. This provides a perfect illustration of the inherent and fundamental evils of Government bulk purchase. Because they have made a bad mistake this year—nobody, I think, denies that—we are to suffer both in quality and in quantity.

Let me give a few details of these mistakes. I understand that from India and Pakistan, for example, we are to take 25 million lb. less tea than last year. There are a variety of reasons but this is mainly because of bad buying. The most serious mistake of all, however, has been made in Ceylon. The Government buyers have dilly-dallied and have let the first three months of the tea season pass without making any contracts whatever. What is more, I am informed, although I cannot verify this, that the tenders have not yet gone out for this year's crop. I may be a few days out of date but no more than that.

The result of these mistakes will be that we shall get at least 30 million lb. less tea from Ceylon than last year. We may even get 50 million lb. less, because the total remaining on the Ceylon market is, I understand, only 150 million lb. The Government of Ceylon have promised to do their best—mark those words—to give us 100 million lb. of that amount, but they cannot guarantee that we shall get it. The trade seems to think that we shall be very lucky if we get 80 million lb. The result of all this will be a serious effect on this year's ration, which means, in effect, that we shall be at least 40 million lb., and perhaps more, short in our purchases compared with last year.

This is a most serious position and may well affect the maintenance of the present ration. It will have an added difficulty for the Minister in that it will seriously reduce our stocks, which in turn will make it more difficult for the right hon. Gentleman to reopen the London Tea Market. It is necessary to have considerable stocks in hand before that market can be successfully reopened.

The delay has arisen because the Minister's predecessor was determined to do all that he could to prevent the loss of his bulk buying machinery. One of the fortunes for the country in the result of the General Election was that it caused the removal of that most inefficient Minister. I press the right hon. Gentleman not to allow any difficulties to stand in the way of reopening the London Tea Market. He must take his courage in both hands and announce the date of reopening, and then we shall know that we have some chance of maintaining the ration in 1951 and of obtaining, not only higher quality, but value for money.

I want to talk very briefly about cocoa. This is a much more simple problem because more than half the world supply comes from the Colonies. The Colonial Office, through their appointed marketing boards, sell all the West African cocoa. The Minister of Food is the sole buyer, importer and distributor. Pre-war the merchants bought either on the London market, or they bought through their own agents direct from the producers in West Africa.

Now we have bulk selling by the nominees of the Colonial Office and bulk buying by the Ministry of Food—a complete bureaucracy from the soil to the manufacturer. The curious thing is that many of these manufacturers, who are regarded by Socialists as of little value, are, in fact, doing a very great deal of the work. They are still collecting—buying, one might say, without the passing of money—the actual crop from the producers. Their agents are working in West Africa, doing the job. Also, the manufacturers store for the Ministry of Food.

As the Select Committee's Report stated, in spite of what the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) said, the Ministry of Food ought to be considering disgorging much of the control they hold at the moment. I and many of my hon. Friends go further than that. We say that the Ministry of Food perform no useful function in the purchase and distribution of cocoa and that the Cocoa Division ought to be done away with completely, making a considerable saving. We ought to allow the opportunity to buy, store and distribute the cocoa as it comes on the market. We admit at the same time that, as in the past there have been Government controls on amounts of imports coming into this country, some method of control could be exercised in regard to quantities, to get over the difficulty—which I recognise as a real difficulty—of currency problems in the world market. This is a purely personal opinion.

I want an investigation to be made at the same time into those marketing boards in West Africa. I have always been, and remain, a constant supporter of producer-controlled marketing boards, but I hope the House will recognise that these West African cocoa boards are not producer-controlled. They are merely the agents of the Colonial administration. I believe that these boards are used to obtain more money than is paid to the producers; they are used to obtain money for welfare purposes. Those welfare purposes should be paid for as a direct grant from the Treasury and not be put on the backs of the consumers of this country. I hope the Ministry will reconsider the whole of their cocoa policy with a view to getting rid of the Cocoa Division.

Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

If the welfare schemes come out of the Treasury and the hon. Member is proposing that the price should be passed on to the consumer, what is the difference in the ultimate?

Mr. York

I do not think I need answer that.

Mr. Davies

They are the same people.

Mr. York

The hon. Member is wrong; they are not the same people. For proper, above-board financial transactions it is necessary that consumers should pay the proper price for the products they are consuming and the taxpayers should pay the amount agreed for the welfare of our Colonial Empire.

I believe it is quite useless to think that a Government which is wedded, as are so many hon. Members opposite, to the system of State monopoly trading can possibly hope to work successfully a system of trading under private enterprise. I remember the Lord President of the Council using the same argument the other way round in regard to the nationalised industries and the Conservative Party. Therefore, we can say that the Socialist Party and the Socialist Ministers are incapable of a return to free enterprise buying and trading because they are resistant to the whole method under which that system works.

I am convinced we shall not get an abundance of food at reasonable prices until we are able to free trade from the shackles of the Ministry of Food. The only alternative, therefore, is to get rid of the Government, and then we shall be able to put in power a Government which is determined to make use of all the facilities of private trading and get rid of expensive and inefficient Government buying.

3.21 p.m.

Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)

I should first like to refer to what I regarded as the somewhat silly sneer of the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. York) against the predecessor of the Minister of Food, who is now Secretary of State for War. I believe that even hon. Members on the other side of the House will discover, when they look at the facts of what has happened in this country in the last four or five years, that the previous Minister of Food performed a great service to this nation. In dealing with our balance of payment problem there has been a very big diversion in our sources of food supply away from the dollar area. That had to be done in circumstances of extreme difficulty, circumstances in which every other week some hon. Gentlemen opposite, or their supporters throughout the country, would get up and jeer because of some shortage or austerity caused by the dollar shortage.

The previous Minister of Food made a speech within a week or two of coming into office in which he defended bread rationing. I remember the cheap howls that came from the other side of the House and I think that the comments made just now by the hon. Member for Harrogate were in much the same vein as the rather tawdry attack that was made on the then Minister of Food at that time.

My second comment relates to the hon. Member's reference to the marketing boards in West Africa. It was of great interest because although hon. Gentlemen have been trying throughout this Debate to pretend that they do not mind bulk purchase arrangements, long-term contracts and planned trade so long as it applies to the Commonwealth or Colonies, the hon. Member's reference to the marketing boards is a very good indication of what they are really after.

Those marketing boards in West Africa have played a big part in transforming the whole prospect of Colonial development. A situation has been brought about through bulk selling and buying whereby these Governments are able to build up reserves which they are able to use partly for welfare, and there is nothing wrong with that, but also for economic development on a far bigger scale than they were ever able to contemplate before. The major economic development taking place in West Africa and the Gold Coast is made possible by the reserves built up by the marketing boards. The hon. Member's observation was an indication how the party opposite would pursue their anti-Commonwealth policy. Now, when they are afraid to attack bulk purchase in relation to the Commonwealth, they are attacking the marketing boards in West Africa.

An important part of the hon. Member's speech revealed an even worse example of the naivety with which hon. Members opposite approach this whole subject. They instance some example of a purchase being made of an inferior commodity, or of friction which has occurred between two nations in their trade dealings, or some example of a high price in a particular case, and say that all these evils are the result of State trading, as if none of these things happened in the history of the world before 1945. Of course there were bad bargains made by private traders before. Of course there were bad purchases made by private traders before and of course there was friction, in many cases stirred up by the methods employed by private enterprise.

Let me take an example. One of the arguments used by hon. Gentlemen opposite is to suggest that all our troubles with the Argentine are due to the fact that we started bulk purchase, that that policy led to bulk selling and that in consequence we have had all the trouble with Madame Peron, and blackmail, and all the rest of it. They do not even take the trouble to find out the elementary facts. It is a great pity that the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley) is not present today because an inquiry reported to him in 1938 on the kind of trading relations which had been brought about, and almost directly brought about by the methods of the private traders which hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to restore to their business of conducting trading relations with the Argentine. There is no reason why the right hon. Member should be present this afternoon, but I refer to that report because it was presented to him when he was President of the Board of Trade before the war. The date was October, 1938, and the number of the document is Cmd. 5839

The fact is that the ill feeling between this country and the Argentine dates to a considerable extent from pre-war days when private companies were engaged in a merciless exploitation of the people in the Argentine, not for the benefit of the British consumer, but to line their own pockets. And the entry of the Argentine Government into this business dates from that time. It is quite true that they have set up a different kind of organisation now which carries through the kind of operation that was conducted before the war but the entry of the Argentine Government into the business of trying to organise the sale of meat from the Argentine dates from those pre-war days and not from the time when we had bulk purchase established in this country.

I believe that what has happened in the Argentine today is that the Argentine Government, in the conditions of a sellers' market, is seeking revenge for some of the things that were done by the private companies in the days of the buyers' market before the war. Anyone who reads the history of it can see that and hon. Gentlemen opposite need not take it from me, although I do not see any reason why they should not. They can take it from this report which provides in detail an account of how this trade was conducted and how it did give rise to the greatest suspicion and ill will between this country and the Argentine. It was not even private competition.

This talk of how, immediately the Ministry of Food clears out, private enterprise traders will come along to scour the earth to try to bring back the best joints to the British housewife is all rubbish. In the case of the Argentine before the war there were six companies banded together in a close ring. They managed the whole affair between themselves. They fixed the prices and screwed down the farmers, and exploited not only the Argentine farmers, but the consumers in this country as well. When a Conservative Government set up an inquiry to examine this whole position because this matter had reached such a point that an inquiry should be made into it, all these brave private companies—or most of them with the exception of a very few refused to give any evidence at all to the inquirers. This is one quotation from the committee's report: A trade in an important and necessary article of food which affects the economic relations between two great countries, and in which the vital interests of large sections of their populations are involved, is in the power of half a dozen private concerns which are so jealous of their rights to conduct their operations with freedom and secrecy that they have refused to co-operate in this enquiry, which was set up for public purpose by the two Governments."—— That is the Government of Britain and the Government of the Argentine.

Consider the language which was used in that report which was presented to this House. "The Economist" said: Language of such severity towards large and prosperous business concerns can rarely have been used in an official document. It is fully deserved; and the companies will have only their own contumacy to thank if the public puts their business high on the list of activities to be brought under strict public control. Those were the private monopolies which were dealing in the purchase of meat from the Argentine before the war and it is to those gentlemen that hon. Members opposite propose to restore the purchase of meat from the Argentine—and they intend to do it all in the interests of blissful, happy relations with Madame Peron and others in the Argentine.

It is too absurd a story to try to put across in this House, although it is only another example of the dishonest way in which the Opposition have dealt with the whole of this matter. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), who moved the Motion today, to put his case in the House moderately, quietly and reasonably, but that is a very different story from what has been happening outside this House. I should say that outside this House the Opposition have talked more nonsense on this subject of bulk purchase than on any other subject—and I know some of my hon. Friends may think that that is a somewhat fantastic hyperbole. I am sure it is the case and I am sure it has all been done on the promptings of Lord Woolton. They have been instructed that they must go on with this great campaign against bulk purchase.

There were none of these qualifications about Empire trade in the official Conservative document which was circulated to every elector—circulated by the million. In that, they were going to do away with this bulk purchase system. That is where they were going to make all the economies with which to make possible all the "bribes" they offered to the electors; it was all to come from sweeping away bulk purchase. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food has already pointed out, we did not hear that today from the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton. We had a very qualified Motion, hedged around with provisions, conditions and qualifications. That is exactly what we had in the Debates in May when this subject was discussed for the first time in this House for three years. That was the first discussion we had, despite the propaganda which had been going on throughout those years in the country.

Last May we had another Debate on this subject, in which the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) gave a passable imitation of a sucking dove. He had no kind of attack to make on the Minister at all. Statistics were given from the report of the Economic Commission, which have been quoted today, and the Opposition could not make a case against them at all. In spite of the fact that it was proved in the Debate in this House that millions and tens of millions had been saved for the British consumer by a system of bulk purchase, the Opposition were still quite ready to go out the next day and, on the platforms in the country, pretend that tens of millions had been squandered in bulk purchase. I think that is a pretty disreputable way of conducting their affairs.

Even more dishonest is the way in which they have tried to pretend that they are in favour of this system so long as it applies to countries in the Empire. That statement exposes their whole case against bulk purchase even more clearly than the other charges I have made, because practically all the contracts made by the Ministry of Food are made with Empire countries. I do not know what the percentage is; I think it is about 80 per cent. Certainly in the case of long-term contracts it is rather more than 80 per cent. and in the case of short-term contracts most of them are with Empire countries.

What is the deduction to draw from these contradictions? The Opposition now get up and say, "We shall sweep away bulk purchasing, but if it has anything to do with the Empire we shall leave it in those cases." What are the real facts? If anybody says he is in favour of maintaining the system of long-term bulk purchases with Empire countries he says, in effect, he is in favour of maintaining the whole principle of that system, and in favour of retaining the system as it affects the most important food commodities bought by the Ministry of Food. That has been admitted by the Opposition in this Debate.

They try to get out of this difficulty in which they have caught themselves. But they only discovered that bulk purchase had anything to do with the Empire when we told them in the first Debate in the House on this subject, and when we pointed out that large parts of the Empire are dependent on this system. Then, the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) got up and said they would have nothing to do with the bulk purchase system. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) in the Debate in November, 1947, said that he was definitely against long-term bulk purchase contracts even within the Empire. Now they have all come round.

We said in the first Debate on bulk purchases that we would have an education campaign to teach hon. Gentlemen opposite the elementary facts about the economic life of the Empire, and now they are coming along and agreeing with our teaching. They have tried to escape from their dilemma today by saying, "Of course we are in favour of long-term contracts and guaranteed prices, but we should like the private traders to do the work." That is why I asked the hon. Gentleman what exactly was to be the function of the private traders if the Government were going to make the long-term contracts and fix the prices. If the Government negotiate, whether annually, or twice a year or every two years, the price to be paid, then what functions are to be left to the private traders? The answer of the hon. Gentleman is, "Well, they will look after the quality."

I do not think we need to set up such a vast organisation as that to look after the quality, and, in fact, it would be very difficult to organise a system whereby the private trader who was purchasing, say,

meat from Australia, or meat from New Zealand, had no say about the prices to be determined. It would be a very difficult arrangement to organise, and even if we did that, I say that eventually it would undermine the whole bulk purchase long-term contract system altogether. And for this reason. Anyone who has tried to study how this proposal, this kind of contract, arose within the British Commonwealth will have seen that the suggestion for purchases along those lines was made years ago.

The first suggestion, I believe, was made in the case of West Indian sugar when the Olivier Commission went out in 1930, and it was made clear in the later West Indian Report that there was a fierce cleavage of interest between the producers of sugar in the West Indies and those people in Mincing Lane who were buying. There was a fierce cleavage of interest. Hon. Gentlemen need not take it from me: it is all in the West Indian Report. What would happen, if we established private trader buying of these commodities such as sugar, meat, and others of the essential foods—if we tried to follow the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman—with the Government fixing contracts and fixing the prices, and with the private firms looking after the quality and the distribution in this country—what would happen, of course, would be this: we should work towards the position where the fixing of prices and contracts would also be done by the firms, and once we were started on such a course in the main commodities, it would undermine and destroy the whole of this system which has been built up.

Now, I say that hon. Gentlemen who propose to undermine and destroy this long-term bulk purchase contract system applied to Commonwealth countries would deal the most fateful single blow against the economic structure of the British Commonwealth that could be dealt; and I would say further that on that point the producers of almost all the main commodities in the West Indies will agree with me, and I say that the producers in West Africa will agree with me, and that the farmers of New Zealand will agree with me, and that the farmers of Australia will agree with me. Do they want to cancel their contracts?

Mr. Hurd

They do not like State buying.

Mr. Foot

I understand that they want guarantees from this country. We are told that the farmers in New Zealand want a guarantee from this country—which we have given them—that we will buy all the meat they can sell in the next seven years. Do they want it to be given them, not by the Government which can carry out the guarantee seven years later, but by private traders? I have never heard of a more fantastic proposition. Hon. Members opposite know that they have got themselves into a frightful muddle on this subject, and every time they try to scramble out they only fall in deeper. That is what has happened to them on this Motion which they have brought to the House this afternoon.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

Are we to understand that the hon. Gentleman is wholly against the procurement of, for example, coarse grains by private traders?

Mr. Foot

No, I am not wholly against it. I am not saying that there may not be some commodities, as I think the Minister said——

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)

Keep yourself in line.

Mr. Foot

I do not have to worry about keeping myself in line. I say that for the main commodities—sugar, meat, and many other of the main commodities which have been discussed in this Debate—I believe that it would be wrong to depart from this system. In fact, I have had arguments with the Ministry of Food when, in some cases, I believe they have wrongly departed from the maintenance of this system. I have had arguments in this House on the subject of sugar contracts, where I believe the Government should have gone further in meeting the requests of the West Indian producers. The gibe of the noble Lord has, I am afraid, misfired. We do not say we should have long-term bulk purchase contracts for every commodity, but we do say that if we want to build up the British Commonwealth, it can be seen from what has happened in the past ten years what a transformation has been brought about amongst many producers who supply us with some of the most essential of our foods, and who, in fact, kept us going in the war when we could not get supplies from any other quarter.

I, therefore, say that I will go further than the Minister of Food. I think he was quite right when he said this was an indispensable instrument that we should use at this time, but I go further and say that I do not believe we can hold together the British Commonwealth of Nations, if Africa, the West Indies and some other parts of the British Commonwealth are allowed to go through what they went through under Tory régimes during the 'thirties. We cannot have a world slump again in which prices for producers go down to the rock bottom that they reached during the 'thirties—which is the logical outcome of a laissez-faire system—and see the survival of the British Commonwealth. Anybody who has been to Africa or the West Indies could see that for themselves.

Mr. G. B. Craddock (Spelthorne)

Did the hon. Gentleman have any personal experience of these dreadful conditions about which he speaks in Africa during the 'thirties?

Mr. Foot

That is the most irrelevant question that was ever asked. If the hon. Gentleman wants to find out what conditions were like in the West Indies in the 'thirties, let him go and read the official reports. Let him read what people who reported officially on the subject had to say. If the hon. Gentleman, or any Member of his party, thinks that the Colonies, for which we in this House are responsible, can go through that kind of situation again and the British Commonwealth survive, then I am not surprised at the policy they have been advocating. In fact, this is the cornerstone of the economic policy of the British Commonwealth, and that is why we on this side of the House will reject this Motion

3.44 p.m.

Mr. Hurd (Newbury)

I think it is time the House came back to a calmer consideration of the Motion. The Motion calls for a quicker return to private enterprise, and calls attention to the hardships which have been caused by State trading—not by bulk buying, but by State trading. I do not think the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) can have read the Motion.

It is our view—and it is a contrary view to that expressed from the Government benches—that State trading is not necessary to carry out guarantees to the British farmer or to the Empire producer. It is perfectly possible in several important commodities that are produced in this country to have our price guarantees without State trading and without the Government actually taking over the produce. That is being done today in the case of grain, potatoes and other important commodities. It is perfectly practicable to give guarantees to Empire producers for prices and quantities without the State getting involved in trading.

It was, indeed, done before the war with the New Zealand Producers Board of which the hon. Member for Devonport has probably never heard. They were a body who were keenly concerned to develop supplies to this country not only in quantity but in quality, and it is on the quality ground that the New Zealand farmers are so deeply opposed to the continuation of State trading in this country. It is perfectly feasible, as we on this side of the House see it, to carry out our obligations to home producers of food and Empire producers without State trading.

The Minister rather suggested that, as we are taking on new commitments in Western Europe, we must give the Danes, the Dutch, the French and others on the Continent equal preference in this country with our own producers and with our Empire producers. That is not our view on this side of the House. We feel that we owe a special responsibility to our own kith and kin here and in the Empire, and if we get the opportunity we mean to carry out that policy. It is for that rather special reason that we have in this Motion spoken of guarantees to our own producers and to the Empire producers and we have not spoken of applying that special guarantee system to the foreigner.

I want to touch particularly on the subject of State trading in feedingstuffs. It was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). I refer to it because it vitally affects the producers of food in this country and also the consumers. During the war and since, we have had to become very largely self-supporting in fodder and feedingstuffs—to the extent of 90 per cent.—and that is a very satisfactory development in national policy.

At the present time, these feedingstuffs are being bought and handled on State account. For many reasons, I wish that we did not need to import any feedingstuffs, but I think it must be agreed that with the set-up of our agriculture, which consists in the main of small farmers occupying small acreages, we shall always need to buy some special quality feedingstuffs, such as maize and oilcake, from abroad. It must be our concern as a House of Commons, in the interests of the farmers and also of the consumers, to see that these rather special supplies come into this country in the largest possible quantity and also at the best possible prices from our point of view.

The most significant change that has taken place in supplies in the last 10 years is that we are getting much less now in the way of oilseeds and oilcake and much less maize, and we are getting more flour. Flour is, of course, not a feedingstuff used by farmers. We have to look at the flour import from the other point of view. The more flour we import from Canada, the less milling offals the farmer here has for his pigs and poultry. The President of the Board of Trade, in the Debate on Anglo-Canadian trade last week, told us that the imports of flour were practically double those before the war. That has been done under State trading. It is nice for the Canadian farmer to have more offal and high quality feed for his pigs and hens but it is not good for the British farmer or the British consumer.

It is particularly bad when we have a very high rate of flour extraction in this country. As the House knows, we are now taking for human consumption 85 per cent. of the milling, and only 15 per cent. goes for animal feeding stuffs. Milling offals for pigs and poultry are little more than sawdust. Why it is that we have allowed the Canadians to retain so much of their milling offal instead of sending us the whole grain, which would be much more valuable to us for our livestock? I suggest that if we had this trade handled by practical men who are out to provide what is wanted in the country, they would not agree to accept such a large proportion of flour from Canada, and that we should be buying practically all of our supplies in the form of wheat.

Mr. Webb

Does the hon. Member suggest, then, that Mr. Rank, who handles all these proceedings for us, is inexpert and incompetent?

Mr. Hurd

This trotting out of Mr. Rank and the other gentlemen who figure in the list of the advisers to the Minister, wears a little thin as the years go on. I know several of these people personally. They are admirable men, but some of them are getting on in years. Some of them have not retained the first-hand touch with their industries that they had some 10 years ago. If those who were handling the importation of wheat from Canada had to supply us with what we really wanted, then they would allow any larger importations of flour from Canada than we must take, but would put the emphasis on buying the whole grain.

Under this system of State buying of feeding stuffs, we have not been as clever as other European countries in getting feeding stuffs on Marshall Aid account. That has nothing to do with State trading, but it is an argument that is put in favour of State trading, that we can only get preference in that way when dealing with Marshall Aid commodities and other commodities which do not enter fully into the ordinary course of commercial trading. We have not secured in that way the increased pigmeat and eggs that Holland has produced through using Marshall Aid dollars to buy feeding stuffs.

One of the problems that faces the Minister, in considering this matter of State trading in food and his obligations to the home producer, seems to be the high cost of food production compared with the costs in some other countries. One of the major factors, of course, has been the high cost of feedingstuffs. Only last March the Minister was meeting a trading loss of £9 a ton on maize, £10 a ton on barley and £13 a ton on oats that were imported. That was in order to cheapen the price of the State purchase of feedingstuffs for the British farmer.

This subsidy on feedingstuffs has now gone, and the British farmer is today paying the full price for his feedingstuffs. He is competing pretty well with the rest of the world. With what he is keeping to a price no more than the cost of imported wheat, but in pigmeat, such as bacon and pork, and also in the case of eggs, his costs are more, largely because of the price of feedingstuffs. The position today is that we have in store very large supplies of coarse grains. I am told that we have enough to last, on the present ration, until next October. These grains came from Russia, Yugoslavia and the Argentine, and they were bought at pretty high prices, as the Board of Trade Returns show. The Argentine Government saw the British buyer coming along and no one else looking around for supplies for Britain, and so they tied up the parcel very nicely for the British Government when they came along.

The fact is that Ministers rather fancy themselves as big business men. When the Minister of Food handed out some rough stuff to the Argentine the diplomatic wires got red hot. It takes a pretty shrewd mind on our side as well as one on the Argentine side to make a satisfactory bargain. When Governments get involved, international good will is liable to be upset with very little benefit as a result. Today we are getting very little from the Argentine either in meat or in grain, but we have persisted in State buying and on our part at any rate we have created ill will with the Argentine. It would be much better if Ministers kept out of trading altogether.

The Minister has shown himself a realist in what he said this afternoon, and he agrees with us when he hands back to private trading such sections of our food supplies as he has done. He has told us there has been improvement and re-conditioning—I thought that was a very nice word—in the trades which he has handed back to private firms. In the case of feedingstuffs, he could, in collaboration with the importers and the trade generally, in the course of the next 18 months, while he has got this big cushion of supplies in store, hand the trade back and encourage once again the merchant venturers in grain and oil seeds to go out and do our business for us. It was through the free spirit of our merchant venturers in the past that our country became prosperous and did a great international trade. I am convinced that through that spirit we shall regain our position in world trade and get our food in more ample supplies and at reasonable prices.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 93; Noes, 131.

Division No. 14.] AYES [4.0 p.m.
Amory, D. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Gammans, L. D. Maudling, R.
Ashton, H. (Chelmsford) Garner-Evans, E. H. (Denbigh) Mellor, Sir J.
Baldwin, A. E. Grimston, Hon. J. (St. Albans) Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)
Beamish, Maj. T V H Grimston, R. V. (Westbury) Nicholson, G.
Bell, R. M. (S Buckinghamshire) Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.) Nugent, G. R. H.
Bishop, F. P. Harvey, Air-Codre. A. V. (Macclesfield) Price, H. A. (Lewisham, W.)
Black, C. W. Harvey, I. (Harrow, E.) Remnant, Hon. P.
Boyd-Carpenter, J A. Head, Brig. A. H. Robinson, J. Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Braine, B. Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C. Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Brooke, H. (Hampstead) Heath, Colonel E. G. R. Ryder, Capt. R. E. D
Browne, J. N. (Govan) Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W Sandys. Rt. Hon. D.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T Hill, Dr. C. (Luton) Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Butcher, H. W. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Smithers, Sir W. (Orpington)
Carr, L. R. (Mitcham) Hope, Lord J. Spent, Sir P. (Kensington, S.)
Carson, Hon. E. Hornsby-Smith, Miss P Stanley, Capt. Hon. R. (N. Fylde)
Channon, H. Hudson, Sir A U. M (Lewisham, N) Stevens, G. P.
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Hurd, A. R. Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)
Craddock, G. B. (Spelthorne) Jeffreys, General Sir G Stuart, Rt. Hon. J (Moray)
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Keeling, E. H. Teeling, William
Cross, Rt. Hon. Sir R. Llewellyn, D. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral) Tilney, J. D.
Crouch, R. F. Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C Walker-Smith, D. C.
Crowder, F. P. (Northwood) Longden, G. J. M. (Herts S. W.) Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Crowder, Capt. John F. E. (Finchley) Low, A. R. W. Watkinson, H.
Deedes, W. F. Lucas-Tooth, Sir H Wheatley, Major M. J. (Poole)
Donner, P. W. McAdden, S. J. Williams, C (Torquay)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord M. McCallum, Maj. D. Wills, G.
Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter Macdonald, A. J. F. (Roxburgh) Wood, Hon. R.
Fisher, N. T. L. Maclay, Hon. J. S. York, C.
Fletcher, W. (Bury) Maclean, F. H. R. Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partlek)
Fraser, Hon. H. C. P. (Stone) Macpherson, N. (Dumfries) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok) Marlowe, A. A. H. Mr. Turton and Mr. Russell.
Adams, Richard Ewart, R. Orbach, M
Albu, A. H. Field, Capt. W J Paget, R. T.
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Follick, M. Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Foot, M. M. Pannell, T. C.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Fraser, T. (Hamilton) Pearson, A.
Ayles, W. H. Ganley, Mrs. C. S. Pearl, T. F.
Balfour, A. Gibson, C. W. Popplewell, E.
Bartley, T. Greenwood, A. W. J. (Rossendale) Proctor, W. T.
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
Bing, G. H. C. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Blackburn, A. R. Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)
Blenkinsop, A. Hall, J. (Gateshead, W.) Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
Blyton, W. R. Hastings, Dr. Somerville Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H
Bottomley, A. G Holman, P Slater, J.
Bowden, H. W. Houghton, Douglas Sorensen, R. W
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, N.) Sparks, J. A.
Brockway, A. Fenner Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr) Steele, T.
Brook, D. (Halifax) Hynd, H. (Accrington) Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R.
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.) Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Irving, W. J. (Wood Green) Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Champion, A. J. Janner, B. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Chetwynd, G. R. Jeger, G. (Goole) Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Collick, P. Jenkins, R. H. Thomas, T. George (Cardiff)
Collindridge, F. Johnson, J. (Rugby) Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Cooper, G. (Middlesbrough, W.) Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool) Tomlinson, Rt. Hon G
Cooper, J. (Deptford) Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.) Tomney, F.
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Peckham) Kenyon, C. Turner-Samuels, M
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) King, H. M. Viant, S. P.
Cripps, Rt. Hon. Sir S. Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E Wallace, H. W
Crossman, R. H. S. Lee, F. (Newton) Webb, Rt. Hon. M (Bradford, C.)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
Darling, G. (Hillsboro') McAllister, G Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Davies, Edward (Stoke, N.) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Wilcock, Group-Capt, C. A. B
Davies, Harold (Leek) Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Wilkins, W. A.
de Freitas, Geoffrey Mallish, R. J. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Delargy, H. J. Middleton, Mrs. L. Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Dodds, N. N. Mitchison, G. R. Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Huylon)
Donovan, T. N. Morgan, Or. H. B. Winterbottom, I. (Nottingham, C.)
Driberg, T. E. N. Morley, R. Wise, Major F. J
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. J. (W. Bromwich) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.) Wyatt, W. L
Edwards, L. J. (Brighouse) Moyle, A. Yates, V. F
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Mulley, F. W.
Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.) Nally, W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Evans, E. (Lowestoft) Oldfield, W. H Mr. Dye and Dr. Barnett Stross.

Proposed, words there added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That this House recognises the value of His Majesty's Government's long-term agreements with Colonial and Dominion producers, and acknowledges that by this means Britain has not only assisted the producers in the Dominions and Colonial territories, but has materially lowered costs; and urges the maintenance of this method as being vital to the best interests of our home producers and consumers.