HC Deb 13 November 1950 vol 480 cc1506-15

10.1 p.m.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

I beg to move:

That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Order, dated 2nd November, 1950, entitled the Meat Products and Canned Meat (Amendment) Order, 1950 (S.I., 1950, No. 1764), a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd November, be annulled.

The purpose of this Prayer is to draw attention, in the first place, to the fact that this Order raises the cost of living. It may be that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food will say that the increase in the price is justified by the improved quality, but that is something about which we shall have to find out a little later on. The first point, therefore, is that this Order puts up the price of sausages. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Dr. Hill), who will second this Motion, is going to deal with the nutritional aspect of the present-day sausage.

In the main, I will not touch that subject. I think it was Julius Caesar who said of Gaul that it was divided into three parts; and so is the sausage. There is the skin, the meat and the filling. I want to talk a little about all three, but, as I have already indicated, my hon. Friend the Member for Luton will deal with the parts separate from the skin.

You, Mr. Speaker, like me, have an interest in sausages. It is possible that your interest, in one respect, may be greater than mine because, as a graduate of Cambridge University, you will be delighted to know that the best sausages are known as "Cambridge." However, they are not made at Cambridge but at Dudley Port, in Staffordshire, which is not quite as attractive. Apart from the special interest that you, Mr. Speaker, have in sausages, I also have a certain indirect interest which I will mention later on. It is not sufficiently great to prevent my going into the Division Lobby but, in due course, I will have to declare it.

Sausages are put into skins. According to the Trade Returns for the first nine months of this year—and this may surprise many hon. and right hon. Members —the imports of bladders, casings and sausage skins were worth no less than £3,078,000. I have not been able to find sausage skins, as distinct from bladders and sausages; but these figures show that sausage skins are an important feature of our trade.

I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will draw the attention of the President of the Board of Trade to one point. Last night I looked up to see how many sausage skins were imported. I was referred to page 35 in the Trade Returns. I looked up that page and found no reference to sausage skins; but there was a reference to brisling, of which £857,000 worth were imported. I know that brislings are a painful subject with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food; therefore, I have no doubt that will stimulate him to ask the President of the Board of Trade to correct the index of Trade Returns. I find that "skins, sausage"—the other way round—are on page 34. [Laughter.] Surely, there is no harm in pointing out that the index of a monthly publication shows a substantial error and asking that it should be corrected in future. Most hon. Members opposite, if they had tried to find out the imports of sausage skins, would never have found it if they had worked at it all day.

Sausages are strange things. I had some personal experience as a small boy. My mother had a sausage machine, and I made a few in my time. The first thing was to buy the skin. Then we got some decent pork, which is difficult to get under the present administration. In the days of Tory misrule, we could get plenty of decent pork. Then we used bread and sage. Of course, we cannot get any sage out of the present Ministry of Food. They do not know what the word means.

I must mention my special interest. I happen to be chairman of a company which produces semolina. Semolina, as most people do not know, is the product of grinding up wheat large instead of small and turning it into flour. Semolina is a wheat product and, therefore, is the basis of macaroni. Flour is a subsidised product, and, although semolina is a product of wheat, it is not subsidised. When people make sausages today they use rusk and not semolina, which I, from a selfish point of view, think is a mistake. That is why I have declared my interest. Rusk is made by turning flour into toast and then grinding it up, which is an awful waste of fuel and labour. Sausage manufacturers use that because it is so much cheaper than the unsubsidised semolina. Therefore, the public interest and what happens to be my interest are identical.

On many occasions I have urged upon officials at the Ministry of Food that this system forces people to waste fuel and labour in first of all making bread then toasting it, then grinding it up to produce rusk and using that instead of semolina as a filling for sausage, and that if only they made an adjustment in the subsidy we should get better and cheaper sausages, and sausages of higher nutritional value. That, however, is no doubt a point with which my hon. Friend the Member for Luton will deal.

We import sausages into this country. In the first nine months of the current year we imported £305,000 worth of sausages of all kinds, although what "all kinds" means I have not quite discovered. The average price per cwt.—I do not buy them by the cwt., but I have deduced this from the Board of Trade returns—is £16 12s. The imports for the same nine months last year were £571,000 worth, and the average cost per cwt. was £19 10s. The price of imported sausages per cwt. has dropped from £19 10s. to £16 12s. [An HON. MEMBER: "A fall in price."] A fall in price despite devaluation. Therefore, I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will explain why for home-produced sausages he is putting up the price. It is true that the price of pork has gone up. In the first nine months of this year we have imported £4,842,000 worth of pork. The price per cwt. works out at £8 10s. Last year when we imported rather less—£3½ million worth—the average price percwt. was £8 2s., so that there has been a rise in the price of pork.

Now I come to the skins, imports of which are very large—over £3 million worth, and rather more this year than last year. The price of skins per cwt. has gone up from £42 to £49. It sounds rather dreadful that pork only costs £8 10s. a cwt. and the skins cost £49 a cwt. So next time hon. Members eat sausages they should treat the skins with a little more respect than they have in the past.

I have endeavoured to give the House some kind of picture of what a sausage really is. We have not had any of them recently. Last time I mentioned sausages—I will not say in this Chamber but in the Chamber that used to be here—my friend Major Gwilym Lloyd George was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, and he advised me that if I got a Grade A sausage, I should be very delighted. I have never discovered what is a Grade A sausage and I do not suppose the present Parliamentary Secretary has heard of such a thing.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

Those were the ones the hon. Gentleman's mother made.

Sir H. Williams

The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension; my mother did not make them; I made them, and they were very much better than any the Parliamentary Secretary is now making available. In all seriousness, I raised this issue for the purpose of drawing attention to an element, a not very large element, in something which is raising the cost of living. It is no good any of us getting excited at party conferences on the subject of the cost of living unless, on every occasion where we can challenge an increase in the cost of living, we do challenge it. My purpose in moving this Prayer tonight is that I thought it would be useful to the House to learn a little more about sausages than they previously knew, but also, and primarily, to draw attention to an increase in the cost of living.

10.12 p.m.

Dr. Hill (Luton)

I beg to second the Motion.

I hope the House will forgive me if I do not fulfil the threat of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) and expound on so imprecise a subject as the nutritional value of sausages. I should like to draw attention to two points in connection with their composition, both points involved in this Order. In the first Schedule it is laid down that the minimum meat content of beef sausages, beef sausage meat, and beef slicing sausage shall be 50 per cent. If one turns to paragraph 1 (a), however, one reads: Provided also that any fat of vegetable origin used in, the manufacture of beef sausages, beef sausage meat, or beef slicing sausage shall be deemed to be meat for the purpose of assessing the meat content of any of those products.

Sir H. Williams


Dr. Hill

That means that sunflower seed oil can be substituted for sirloin if, for a moment, one may make the assumption that sirloin has ever found its way into sausages. It means that, for the purpose of this Order, instead of stating quite frankly that the minimum meat requirement is 37½ per cent., it is stated to the world, with an air perhaps of satisfaction, that the requirement is 50 per cent. whereas, in fact, cotton seed oil, sunflower seed oil, almond oil and, were there any available, the oil of groundnuts, could be counted as meat in the composition of the sausage.

I will not weary the House with any discourse on nutrition but, whereas oil has certain values in some forms, most of them of a lubricant rather than a nutritional character——

Dr. Morgan (Warrington)

Cod liver oil?

Dr. Hill

That is not a vegetable oil. I suggest that it would be more honest in an Order of this kind, laying down a minimum, if, in fact, the minimum really related to meat and did not permit vegetable oil to masquerade as meat for the Minister's purpose.

Perhaps I may make my second point in the form of a question to the Parliamentary Secretary. Has any additional meat been made available for this purpose? I am told that the present position in the London area is that no pork is available to the butchers at all—no pork for any purpose, sausages or other. Is that the case? If it is so, has it not a somewhat hollow ring that the Minister, in order no doubt to fulfil a promise which, in a hasty moment, he made some time ago, should through this Order presume to suggest to the public that their sausages will be stronger whereas, in fact, in the absence of any pork meat, the number of sausages made by the butchers will be approximately equal to those which have obtained before the issue of this Order—namely, none at all.

Will the Minister then, as this is, in fact, a statement to the public that their sausages will be more potent, in terms of building food than they were before, tell us whether, and to what extent, additional pork, additional beef, have been made available to those who manufacture sausages? Secondly, will he say whether such additional meat, if any, has gone only to the manufacturers of sausages—those non-butchers who specialise in the manufacture of sausages—or whether it has gone to the butchers generally? I suggest that it would be fairer for the community generally if such meat as is available for sausages were distributed to butchers generally, so that it could be allocated at least in relation to the number of ration books, rather than that it should go only to the manufacturers of sausages.

In any case, I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will answer the question upon which depends whether or not this is a paper victory merely for nutritional strength and a real addition to the people's food; what amount is being made available in pork and in beef to the butchers of this country for the making of sausages?

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Summers (Aylesbury)

I do not propose to detain the House more than a moment or two, but before the Parliamentary Secretary replies I would ask him to deal with this point: whether, in fact, the effect of this change is putting the cost of living up or down? My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), who moved the Prayer, said that the increased price of sausages automatically meant that the cost of living would go up. I have heard it said that, because the housewife is going to get a greater value of sausages than the increased price she is going to pay for those sausages, the calculators of the cost of living assume that, because she will get better value for money than before, the cost of living is going down.

My reason for imagining that such a strange calculation may, in fact, be the case, is that when beer was strengthened and the price remained the same, there was, in fact, in that part of the cost of living, a calculation of a fall of three and a half points between the month of April this year and the month of May. I should like the hon. Gentleman to say whether this idea, that stronger quality at the same price resulted in a lower cost of living index, as happened in the case of beer, happens also in the case of sausages.

10.18 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Mr. Frederick Willey)

I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentlemen who have raised this matter because, at any rate, it gives me an opportunity of removing some appalling ignorance that lies in certain quarters. Mention has been made of canned sausages.

Sir H. Williams

I did not mention them.

Mr. Willey

Of course, some imported sausages are canned sausages, and they are selling apparently at 3s. 4d. a pound. Reference has been made to fats of vegetable origin. Their use is not obligatory upon the manufacturers. It is permissive. All we are doing is saying to the manufacturer that he can follow, if he wishes, his prewar practice. But, we are putting a limit to the extent to which he can use fats of vegetable origin in his sausages. The hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) asked me about the butchers; but, as I think he indicated, it was a case of special pleading for the butchers. This Order does not profess to increase the supplies of pork to the butchers. It allows the manufacturers of pork sausages to increase the price they charge and also to increase the meat content.

I was asked whether this was a real or a paper concession. Well, the hon. Member for Luton had better try the sausage. That is the best test of whether the sausage has improved or not. I was asked by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) what effect this had upon the cost of living. These price increases have an effect upon the cost of living, and I do not wish to avoid that consequence. These modest price increases will, we estimate, cause an increase in the index of 0.07 per cent.

As has been indicated, this Order increases the maximum price of sausages, and it does so for two reasons. The first is that the manufacturers felt that the allowance they were receiving was inadequate. The allowance had not been adjusted since 1947, apart from an adjustment made in April, 1949, to take into account the general increase in the price of meat. Manufacturers complained generally that their manufacturing costs had increased since 1947; and they complained in particular—and this was patent—that there had been a substantial rise in the cost of casings, and without casings one cannot have sausages. Indeed, they maintained that they were producing sausages at a loss, and whilst that might be very desirable for the consumer, it is not a state of affairs that is likely to continue indefinitely. We were satisfied that they had made out a case, and that is the first ground upon which the increased prices were allowed.

At the same time, as the hon. Member for Luton said, my right hon. Friend has been anxious to improve the quality of pork sausages.

Sir H. Williams

Hear, hear.

Mr. Willey

He is reinforced in that, not only by the approval of the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), but by frequent and constant representations made to him by housewives and other organisations. The manufacturers themselves wish to produce a sausage approaching pre-war quality; they feel they should be able to compete with meat products now coming into this country in greater quantity. My right hon. Friend accepts this; he believes that it is his responsibility, not only to check wherever he can any rise in the cost of living, but also to improve wherever he can the standard of living, and to provide a wider choice. Representations were made that a wider choice should be provided to those people who wished to buy sausages and he felt this was an opportune time to increase the meat content of the pork sausage and restore it, for all practical purposes I believe, to its pre-war quality.

Dr. Hill

Is additional pork being made available, or does it mean fewer sausages of greater strength?

Mr. Willey

I have already dealt with that point in answer to a supplementary question last week. The position is that the decision taken on quality is a decision taken regardless of the supplies obtaining at the moment. It is a decision based upon this: that, rightly or wrongly, the Minister believes that the housewife wants a wider range of choice in purchasing sausages. Now the fact is obvious: if the meat made available for manufacturing sausages remains the same there must be fewer sausages, and there will in fact be at most 6 per cent. less sausages.

Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)

I wish the hon. Gentleman would say, so that it may be reported in HANSARD, where we could try one of these sausages, because I am sure there would be a rush to try them tomorrow morning.

Mr. Willey

I am advised—I am only saying this on advice and not in the light of experience—that one can get such a sausage in the tea-room. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be very obliged to the hon. Gentleman if he will let him know what he thinks of the new sausage. There is now available at a higher price a better sausage.

Sir H. Williams

And fewer sausages.

Mr. Willey

The general prospect about pork is that as we have breeding stock of 361,000 pigs as against 290,000 this time 12 months ago, the supplies of pork should improve during the next months. As they improve, of course, the number of sausages of improved quality will also increase.

Mr. Summers

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether the increase in the price of the sausage and the quantity of meat in it are both taken into account in arriving at the cost of living index figure?

Mr. Willey

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would put that question to the Minister of Labour.

Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)

The manufacturers state that they want a rise in the selling price of the sausage. Is this a camouflage to enable the manufacturer to raise the price of the sausage without compelling him to put any more meat into it?

Mr. Willey

I do not know why the hon. Gentleman should be unduly critical of the sausage manufacturers. As I have explained, as plainly as it is possible to explain, this price increase in the case of pork sausages contains two elements. One is the increased manufacturing cost, including the increased cost of the casings, and the other is the increased meat content of the pork sausage.

Mr. Baldwin

If the manufacturer wants to increase the price of sausages because he is not getting a sufficient margin, in what way is he getting a better deal by this Order.

Mr. Willey

We are striking a fair balance about this. We are not being charitable. We are saying to the sausage manufacturers that they have made out a case for increased price because of the increased manufacturing cost. They are also entitled to an allowance because of the increased meat content now going into the pork sausage. Really there is no more in it than that.

Mr. Nigel Fisher (Hitchin)

I asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Food the other day whether there was going to be more meat to fill these newer and better sausages.

Mr. Speaker

Meat does not arise under this Order. This only puts more meat into certain sausages and the question whether there is more or less does not arise under this Order. Therefore, any argument on the increase in the supply of meat—and I think that the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) was getting very nearly out of order in developing an argument on those lines—I must rule out of order.

Mr. Fisher

I thought that the whole argument turned on the content of the sausage. That is the main point with which the Parliamentary Secretary was dealing, and the main point of the hon. Member for Luton, who seconded the Motion. If you rule it out of order, Mr. Speaker, I have nothing further to say on this matter.

Sir H. Williams

Briefly, I think that it has been established, that sausages are going to be dearer, and a little better, if one can get them, which is very doubtful. Having regard to the fact that the Government have made such a mess of their imports of pork, it is no good our protesting and, therefore, I do not propose to press this matter to a Division.

Question put, and negatived.