§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:in view of the mismanagement and lack of foresight shown in the supply of meat, whether home-produced or imported, and of the recent reduction in the weekly ration to the lowest level yet endured in this country, this House has no confidence in the capacity of His Majesty's Government to deal with the meat problem.The question that you, Mr. Speaker, should now leave the Chair cannot be put until there has been an opportunity for hon. Members to air some grievance or other. On this occasion, not unnaturally, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and others of my right hon. and hon. Friends decided that it is our duty to bring before the House the question of the most exiguous ration of meat to which the population is now reduced and to express our view that this is, perhaps, the major grievance of today. I rise, therefore, to move the Amendment which, if carried, will not have the result of removing you, Sir, from the Chair but of removing right hon. Gentlemen opposite from the chairs which they occupy, and which the sooner they vacate the better for the country.
There is this difference between today's debate and that of yesterday, which was on a similar Amendment. In the debate of yesterday and the speeches which were made from this side of the House, we were concentrating on the fears and anxieties which we thought—and, for all that, still think—are bound to follow from certain Government actions. What we are considering today is not what we think will happen, but what has happened, is happening and will go on happening—and that is the fact that, through themismanagement and lack of foresight.1946 as we call it, or, more colloquially, through the muddle of His Majesty's Government, His Majesty's lieges are reduced to eating the smallest ration of meat ever known in this country.
§ Captain Crookshank
The right hon. Gentleman has started on that point already. I did not expect to have to deal with it so soon, but I might as well get it out of the way before we go on. The ration today represents 8d. worth. It is difficult to put it exactly into weight. If it is taken in the most expensive form of steak, at 2s. 8d. a 1b.—not 2s., as the Minister wrongly said the other day—it represents somewhere about four ounces, or about the size of a matchbox. If, on the other hand, it is taken in the form in which one can get most of the material, or whatever hon. Members like to call it, that comes from fat and antique ewe mutton, one can get about six ounces. One of the experts, the president of the meat trade, puts the general average at five ounces.
To be as generous as we can with the Minister of Food, let us assume that it is six ounces which can be obtained for the 8d. I see that the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) is wondering whether that is possible. I do not believe it is with anything which can reasonably be called eatable carcase meat and not manufacturing meat but—
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I shall tell the right hon. and gallant Gentleman later, if I am called.
§ Captain Crookshank
I shall look forward this afternoon to hearing the hon. Lady's speech and I wish her every success on this and other occasions except, of course, at the polls.
Before the war this country was the largest meat-eating country in Europe except Denmark. Today it is on the lowest standard in Europe—with two exceptions of countries which were overrun during the war. The amount which was eaten in this country before the war averaged—[HON. MEMBERS: "Averaged.") It is all right. Hon. Gentlemen had better wait for it—averaged 26 ounces a week. 1947 That was the average; which is well over four times the maximum that anybody can have of the worst possible meat put on the market today. The right hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Kirkwood), who has been quite fair in making his interjections, must wait for the answer, which I propose to give him.
§ Captain Crookshank
Of course, that figure of 26 ounces to which I have referred was an average, and, of course, that means some got more and some got less—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—otherwise the word "average" has no meaning; whereas today, of course, the eight-pence worth is the maximum: nobody can get more. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If those somewhat scurrilous cheers imply that the Minister's enforcement officers are not doing their duty, then the blame must lie there. It is no good making noises at me. I have no responsibility in this matter whatever. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
Now we are going back to answer the right hon. Gentleman's question about before the war. Where would he take the comparison of the amount of meat eaten then and now? He does not like the average which was 26 ounces. Would he take the comparison with the consumption of meat of a worker earning less than £5 a week? Would he take it with that of men on unemployment benefit? Would he take it with what was given to people in workhouses? Or would he take it with the meat consumption of men who were 'on lower levels of wages, somewhere about 41s.? Will he take his choice? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] As the right hon. Gentleman is reluctant to make a choice between these, I will give the figures for all, and get them on the record once and for all.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman asked me about people who were unemployed on the Clyde for two years. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who mentioned the Clyde?"] The "Queen Mary" lay a stark skeleton in John Brown's yards, and the workers on the Clyde, particularly in my constituency, did not see fresh meat for two years.
§ Captain Crookshank
All that I can say to that is that, if the right hon. Gentleman, with all his authority, can put his 1948 hand on his heart and assure this House of the truth of that statement, that for two years none of his constituents who were out of work had any fresh meat, he is entitled to do it.
I shall now, if I may, quote what are the generally accepted facts of the situation. Of course, there may be, as there always are in every community and in every period of history, certain exceptions. We are all agreed about that.
§ Captain Crookshank
There are in these matters certain opinions which this House has always accepted, because unless we have some statistical bases for our arguments it would be better not to argue at all. We can all go home—and we shall not get any meat when we get there. I shall take these four different sections of people to compare their average with the 26 ounces which was the consumption per head before the war in this country.
First of all, I will take the great mass of people—small salary earners and wage earners who were earning under £5 a week. [An HON. MEMBER: "Luxury."] All right, it was a luxury if the hon. Gentleman likes to call it so. I am merely giving the statistical facts. I am not putting adjectives into this at all. According to the inquiry undertaken by the Ministry of Labour in 1937 to 1938, in that section of the community a worker's family of an average size—of course, this is one of those statistical curiosities of an average size of three and threequarters people—consumed on the average 20 ounces of carcase meat per head per week. Our maximum today—the highest possible maximum—is between five and six ounces.
I pass from that group to people with a lower rate of wages. This is quoted from Mr. Seebohm Rowntree's famous report, which has always been accepted in this House when dealing with topics of this kind. He gave the case of a man and his wife and three children in 1935, with earnings of 41s. 8d. a week.
§ Captain Crookshank
I am making no comments. I am merely giving the figures. That family on 41s. 8d., a husband, his 1949 Wife and three children, were purchasing just on 18 ounces per head per week. [Interruption.] Well, nobody else has ever questioned Mr. Seebohm Rowntree before.
§ Captain Crookshank
I have already given the right hon. Gentleman an answer. Those two sections of the wage-earning community, one with under £5 a week, and the other with 41s.—
§ Captain Crookshank
I cannot say what it was they had, but I am perfectly certain I can say what it was not, and what it was not was fat ewe mutton.
§ Captain Crookshank
I really do not want to speak at any great length, but having been challenged on these points I propose to make these statements in order that they may be put on the record once for all. I pass now from those two sections to unemployed persons. Again I am quoting from Mr. Rowntree, and the case is that of an unemployed man in York with a wife and four children on benefit at 36s. a week. Now, that man, at the period of this review, was getting, per head of the family, over nine ounces.
§ Captain Crookshank
If the hon. Gentleman likes to look at Mr. Rowntree's book he will find the case there. They had 9⅓ ounces per head per week, and it was made up of 2 lb. of roasting beef, ½lb. of minced beef, ½ lb. of beef sausages, ½lb. of pie meat, and 2 ounces of potted meat. That is a higher ration by 50 per cent. than is secured today. They had ½lb. of liver, too.
§ Mr. Speaker
These constant interruptions are really not helpful. Even if hon. Members do not want to hear, I should like to hear what these figures are. Then they can be answered afterwards. Let 1950 us hear what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has to say. I shall do my best to see that people are called who can give adequate answers. That is up to me.
§ Captain Crookshank
I am extremely flattered that you should wish to hear what I want to say, Mr. Speaker. I must apologise that my remarks seem to have such an effervescent effect upon other people.
I now come to the fourth category of the pre-war consumers about whom I wanted to give evidence in reply to the very proper interjection of the right hon. Member, and that is the amount of carcase meat and other meat consumed in workhouses. If hon. Gentlemen like, they can look up the dietary of the London County Council, where they will find that in 1938 inmates, as they call them—it is not my word—in public assistance institutions got each week 1 lb. of carcase meat plus 3¾ ozs. of corned beef—something like three times as much as the maximum that people can get today.
Having been diverted by that rather long answer to an interjection, perhaps I can now get back to the main theme of the grievances of the people against His Majesty's Government. The words we use are "mismanagement and lack of foresight"—muddle. "Muddle" is the word engraven on the Government's hearts. "Muddle" is the theme song of all their actions, not only in meat. There is muddle in defence, muddle in groundnuts, muddle in newsprint, muddle in coal, muddle in housing, and now the greatest of all—meat. "Muddle, muddle, toil and muddle" is their motto. The trouble is that those witches somewhere on the Whitehall heath cannot go on and sayFire burn; and cauldron bubble,because there is a fuel muddle, as well. And the blame is there, on the right hon. Gentleman himself. Go into any butcher's shop and you will see a notice: "Don't blame the butchers. Blame me." We are taking the opportunity, not only on behalf of the butchers of this country but on behalf of every housewife.
The idea this Government has always tried to put over is that it is a Government of planners. The right hon. Gentleman should be one of the chief planners, because in his hands is the responsibility for feeding the people. Yet what a 1951 muddler he himself is. He came down to the House a fortnight ago to make an important announcement, and, having been given 13 minutes of time on the Adjournment in which to do so, he so muddled his own speech that he did not get it out; he had to come down the next morning and explain what had happened. One would have thought that in itself was a sufficiently interesting Parliamentary episode, apart from this big cut in the meat ration, to have been passed on for public information, yet it was astonishing to find in the broadcast report that week of "The Week in Westminster" given by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu), no reference to meat at all. That is because the Government and their supporters are thoroughly ashamed of the position into which they have brought the country—and so they ought to be.
Between July, 1941, and November, 1945, the meat ration was kept continuously level, with only three periods when corned beef had to be introduced. Apart from that, it was completely level from July, 1941, to November, 1945, at the rate of 1s. 2d. per week. That was the period when Lord Woolton was in charge to start with, and it ended up with the much maligned Sir Ben Smith, who I am sure we would all wish to see back again after what we have had to endure since he went.
During that period, in spite of there being a war, in spite of the destruction by bombs and torpedoes, rail dislocation and the thousand and one difficulties of a period of hostility, the level of the ration was kept up. In order to keep up that level it was, of course, necessary for stocks to be accumulated well ahead of time: a bit of foresight. Since then, in what is roughly the same number of months, there have been 27 alterations in the meat ration. A startling fact from a Government of planners!
Eightpenny worth of carcase meat a week, and that the maximum, and then the Lord President of the Council, in Leeds in August, 1945, gave his motto for this Government: "We have left behind the old scarcity economics of the capitalist world." If 26 ounces of carcase meat was the old scarcity economics of the capitalist world, what on earth are we to say of the five to six ounces a week we have today? The fact is, the Gov- 1952 ernment have entirely mismanaged this problem, and have shown the most utter lack of foresight. What is even more worrying today—and the worries must be terrible to the housewives and to those who have to manage on the small ration —is the statement made by the Prime Minister on 29th January when he said:We also intend to accelerate as far as we can the measures we already have in hand for accumulating stocks of food."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 585.]I wonder what is being done there. I hope something is being done, but there is not much evidence of it in the places where one might expect to find it.
In all this distressful state of affairs. after hon. Gentlemen opposite have had their laughs and jeers—of which they have had quite a bellyful, if I might use the word, this afternoon—they will realise that their constituents are suffering in this affair; they will realise that things are not at all as happy as they like to make out when they try to laugh it off. They must be as surprised as I am when I find Government propaganda in, for example, the United States in the "National Geographical Magazine"—a paper with a great circulation, which is hardly surprising to those who know it well—saying, as an invitation to come to Britain this year:You will find abounding comfort in Britain now, with food, including famous British delicacies, plentiful in restaurants. hotels and inns.They will not find any honest helpings, such as British workmen used to have, of "meat and two veg."; they will not find much of the roast beef of old England.
§ Captain Crookshank
We are not in a war today.
We pass, in the review which I want to give to the House, to consider where, if we have not got the meat now, would we expect to get it from normally? Obviously we would expect to get the greater part from home, or the greater part from overseas: or fifty-fifty as the case may be. Let us see where we have got to in home production at present. Up till now, in beef cattle production we have not yet reached the production we 1953 had before the war. In mutton and lamb we are still 17 per cent. below pre-war. For pigs, 25 per cent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Above?"] Below pre-war. That is what we always are. We are never anything above. Let me disabuse the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite on that. It is always below. Before the war we took 58 per cent. of our pig population for pork. Today we take only 18 per cent. for pork, and two-thirds of that is only of manufacturing quality.
The result is that whereas the pattern of our consumption before the war was in the proportion of four of beef to two of mutton and lamb but one of pork, today it is four of beef to two of mutton and lamb—which is the same—but instead of one of pork it is one-tenth of pork. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about milk?"] We happen to be talking about meat today. I am quite prepared to tell the hon. Gentleman that I have another equally long, equally interesting, and equally destructive speech so far as the Government are concerned on the subject of milk, but I do not propose to give that as well. It would be out of order.
It is, of course, true that we could have already much increased our home production of meat. Hon. Friends on this side of the House have repeatedly pressed the Government—right back to the time of the Agriculture Act and ever since then we have had notable contributions and appeals—and from time to time there have been promises that feeding stuffs would become more plentiful. I know that we have had our set-backs. I know all about the droughts and floods and these things, but that was some time ago. That was in 1947. It is quite a long time ago.
If any attention had been paid by the Government to my hon. Friends, two of whom in particular, the Member for Kinross and Perthshire (Mr. Snadden) and the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan), tried to show how production could have been increased, something could have been done—and something could have been done pretty quickly with regard to pigs. I must warn the Minister that it would be most deleterious to growers and to the factories if there were sudden switches made away from what they expected to go into the factories to the pork market. That is what is happening 1954 now, and it may not help things in the long run.
Secondly, there is the meat that is imported. We have the Dominions and we have the Argentine. From the Dominions we get, as the Minister said the other day, all that they can send. I am not quite sure whether it is actually true of all the places from which we used to buy, and from the Argentine, for some months, we have been getting nothing at all. In the meanwhile, the right hon. Gentleman is scurrying round all over the place and in the most unlikely places to try to collect bits and pieces of meat; not to eke out the ration—because most of it will not be carcase meat fit to put on the ration—but in order that people with money can buy meat outside the ration.
We hear of cargoes of goats arriving at Hull. We hear of reindeer meat from Lapland, and of a lot of manufactured meat, which admittedly cannot be used for manufacture. We hear of meat at £177 per ton reported to have been bought in France, and offers made to buy mutton from Germany of all places—a defeated enemy country. What really becomes of the argument that there has been any planning and any foresight in all this?
On the other hand, what do we find? We find efforts to get goat and reindeer and all these things, and we find, even in this country, advertisements creeping into such respectable newspapers as the "Western Morning News":Wanted, live, fat, healthy horses for human consumption. We also pay top prices. Also plain horses for immediate slaughter.We find the most extraordinary things going on in the meat world. We find that Ireland is sending meat to the United States. We find that in Canada—I have a letter here from a lady as far away as Victoria, Vancouver Island—saying that:Steak and kidney pie is being sold in large quantities in the shops here, packed in Manchester, and selling for much less than similar Canadian products. It makes many people very indignant.I thought that was a very strong one, and further inquiries have since brought to my knowledge that for over two years there has been developed a considerable export scheme of English grown meat to—of all countries—the United States, Canada and the Argentine. Apparently, there are factories here licensed by the Minister to have tin plate provided for the purpose of packing meat and sending it to the 1955 Argentine. Beyond that—I do not know whether or not this will please hon. Gentlemen opposite—other countries on the list appear to be Denmark—from whom we are getting what we can in the way of meat incidentally—Russia, Japan, Germany, and. finally, Spain.
Apparently, as from May this year, the price of this meat is to be increased by 15 per cent. from which, I assume, perhaps wrongly, that up to now it has not been purchased at a really economic price. The Lord President of the Council talked about the scarcity economics of the capitalists, but in a world under Socialist administration, in which the United States sends coals to Newcastle and Great Britain sends meat to the Argentine—well! These are the two sources from which we can get meat. As I said, home production could have been stepped up. That has not been done. I agree that we are legislating about it at the moment, but we have not yet caught up with the pre-war position. The right hon. Gentleman mutters a fact under his breath of which I am well aware, that we have one million, or some such number, more animals, but they are not beef; they are milk. That is another story. That is my other speech which I have promised.
I want to turn to what the right hon. Gentleman has said, in the only speech which he made on this subject, which was, of course, the other night, when he muffed it; but he did manage then to give three lots of what he called "excuses" for the present situation. I must, with the permission of the House—I apologise if I am being rather long, but I had to make that enormous interpolation—
§ Captain Crookshank
I now pass to the three excuses which the right hon. Gentleman opposite made on 25th January. He first of all said that, of course, we are very beholden to the Dominions because of the success of the long-term contracts, and then went on to say:if only the Opposition had started those contracts a long time ago … how much better 1956 Off we should be now."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th January, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 443.]Really, anyone who takes that as an argument—that if there had been long-term contracts 20 or 30 years ago the present situation would necessarily be better than it is—knows perfectly well that it need not have been. He must also know that before the war there were perfectly good arrangements entered into by successive Governments, under the Ottawa Agreement and by preferences, as a result of which, to use the Biblical phrase, we did get our meat in due season. But we do not get it now.
The second excuse he made about home production not having gone up was that we could have had more if the Opposition had done for the home farmers what the Government have done for them during the last three or four years. What is the sense of that when, as I have just pointed out, the farmers produced more meat before the war than is being produced now; that is in spite of the boasts of what the Government have done? Anyhow, does he not remember that as a result of the war there was a complete change in meat production policy? During that time we went over to milk and cereals and lost our cattle, which naturally we had to build up since. I am saying all the time that our stocks have not been built up anything like fast enough. We have said that again and again.
The third excuse he made was, of course, the breakdown of the Argentine negotiations. I do not propose to say anything about that, partly because I have no responsibility whatever, and partly because I do not know all the factors. I do know some of the facts which have been given, but not all the factors which have moved the Government in their attitude. When my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) knew that there was to be this debate he put down a Question asking for some information, but the right hon. Gentleman said that he would not give the information until today. Without that information I make no comment, so I shall leave it to my right hon. Friend to say whatever is necessary on the subject when he winds up the debate for the Opposition.
All I do know is that the result of trade and negotiation is generally to try to get some satisfactory results for both 1957 parties, particularly if one party has a lot to sell and the other party has a great desire to buy. Yet here we have this continuing deadlock. It is very disturbing, and of course it has had its dreadful effect on the tables of the people. The fact of the matter is, I fear, that the Government as a whole are far more concerned about the cost of living index than about either the cost of living itself or the standard of living. I may be wrong, and I shall be glad if I am told so, but I somehow feel that they are crushed between the desire not to see the cost of living index go up—not the cost of living, because everyone knows that that goes bounding up whatever the cost of living index says—and their firm decision—I suppose that it still is firm—announced in the last Budget statement that the global total of food subsidies will not go up.
The effect of these two factors is that if for some reason the price of one of the subsidised goods of which as much as possible is required goes up, and if the Government have to keep tight on the cost of living index and the subsidies, the only thing that can happen is that people must have less, however plentiful it may be, in spite of the fact that, although it may be more expensive, it is probably relatively cheap in relation to other goods. That is the dilemma into which we get.
The right hon. Gentleman, not having bought Argentine meat because the Government thought the price too high—do not let the right hon. Gentleman think that I am questioning that—and the meat ration, having therefore gone down, has felt that the butchers' margin for not cutting up meat because there was no meat to cut up should be increased, and he is now paying £150,000 a week more for this purpose than when the ration was last reduced, making a total of £23 million a year. The right hon. Gentleman rather whimsically announced yesterday that:The cost will form part of my Department's trading results and will be borne out of its trading vote. The cost-of-living figures will not be affected, since the retail prices of meat are unchanged."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th February; Vol. 483, c. 208.]Therefore, in lieu of the meat we cannot have because it is too expensive, and because we are in honour bound to recoup the butchers, we find that the 1958 money is to come, not from anything which reflects on the cost of living index, but from a source which will certainly affect the cost of living, because this £23 million loss on the Ministry's trading account has to come from somewhere, which is, of course, the taxpayer. Of course, it does not hold down the cost of living, although it may hold down the cost of living index and the food subsidies. It does not check the cost of living—everyone knows that we have had Questions in the House from all sides about that.
The result is that the housewife goes out to see what she can get by way of unrationed goods, which is why we have the reindeer and the goats coming in, as well as Irish ham sent back to us from the Continent at double the price. That is why rabbits and hares have gone up to fantastic figures; it is because there is so little meat to be bought that the housewife will somehow make a sacrifice. The housewife makes a double sacrifice, because not only does she not eat her own ration so that her husband and children can have it, but she perhaps uses some of her savings to buy something that is unrationed and more expensive to make up for the loss.
The answers must be to look at the results. What is the point of a Ministry of Food, and what is the point of a Minister of Food? The Minister's duty is to try and provide us with adequate foodstuffs within the realm, whether he does the purchasing or it is left to private trade, which is something I am not discussing for the moment. If certain goods are rationed, he has to see that the ration is honoured week by week. He has to see that sufficient stocks are available to cover all emergencies. If that is what he is there for, let us look at the results. What are the results? We find that we now have 8d. worth of meat as compared with an average consumption that was four times higher before the war and one and a half times higher among the poorest members of the community, those who were unemployed and on unemployment benefit.
Does it never cross the mind of the Government that the policy has broken in their hands and that State trading in meat has collapsed? The whole point of a policy is to get some results, but a policy which reduces and reduces the meat ration until it is only 8d. worth of 1959 carcase meat, which is 5 oz. or 6 oz. a week, is a policy in ruins. In those circumstances, what surely must a wise man do? Must he not look round and say, "We have been wrong. Times have changed"? Of course at one time in our history State trading in meat was very desirable. During the war, when there was the risk of bombing, torpedoes and international dislocation, it was obviously not possible to guarantee the feeding of the people unless the whole thing was put into one hand.
But five-and-a-half years after the war, when we see the result of continuing that policy has been to reduce the meat ration to this insignificant fraction—only about half of what it was two months ago, which is a measure of the drop—is it not right to say that perhaps we ought to change? I say, and the country says, that perhaps we ought to change them. But if we cannot chance them, perhaps they can do a bit of changing. They have had advice. The 13th Report of the Select Committee went most thoroughly into the whole question of food procurement. It was decided, agreed, concluded. Hon. Gentlemen can see it for themselves on page 17. The comment of the principal witness was that the machinery of the Ministry of Food was creaking. The Report says:Your Committee agree with him.It ends:Your Committee therefore recommend that the Ministry should give active attention to the various schemes already prepared should consult with all sections of the meat trade in a re-examination of the present methods of procurement and distribution …And that was a Select Committee of the last Parliament which had an overwhelming majority of Socialist Members.
Ought not the Government to look at it again? I know the Minister is now having some inquiries made, but this was in November, 1949. We say quite emphatically that this system of State trading has entirely outlived such usefulness as it ever had. The whole policy today lies in ruins. State trading has failed to get the goods. It has led to much international recrimination, which is most unfortunate. If the general idea, as we used to be told, is that by State trading we would protect the consumer when prices rose, all I can say is: yes, it did, but by making the consumer go without. That is how he 1960 has been protected against the rise in price, by not giving him any.
The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues should think again. The trouble is, I doubt if they can or will. I will say why out of the Minister's own mouth. During the 13 minutes of the muddled speech, the right hon. Gentleman said this:… the truth is that until we have an abundance of meat we cannot abandon rationing in this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th January, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 442.]Nobody suggested that we should, but the indications are that there is plenty of meat in the world today and that we are quite within sight of the possibility of ending rationing. The right hon. Gentleman said he did not think it would happen for 10 years.—[An HON. MEMBER: "That is what the Americans say as well."] He knows that cannot be so, that in fact his right hon. Friends will not look at this question impartially in the light of the failure of their present policy. I will say why. It is because in that speech the Minister said:We just cannot believe that we can go back to the ordinary system of trading in meat."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th January, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 443.]That is pure dogma. Look at the results. The people are not getting the meat. Under the system before the war of free business, trading, commerce in meat they got meat on the average of 26 ounces per head of the population. But, of course, if you start from the prejudiced position and say, "We just don't believe it can be done," then you have lost the issue straight away. It is indeed a sorry tale of mismanagement and lack of foresight. Is any hon. Gentleman or hon. Lady opposite going to deny that? Are they going to their constituents to say that they are satisfied with the present position? Of course they are not. They will be scratching round to try to find some excuse.
§ Captain Crookshank
No, I am just finishing. There was an old club in this country which had a motto—[An HON. MEMBER: "White's."] That is not a club to which I have the honour to belong. I gather it went in more for action than for mottoes. I was about to refer to the motto of another old club which brings to my mind vividly two commodities which we are rapidly losing under this Government. "Beef and 1961 liberty" was the motto of that club. Let us have a little more of both. In order to do that we must carry this Amendment. I am perfectly certain that every hon. Member in every part of the House, if it were not for the Whips, would vote for it. In their heart of hearts they know that it is perfectly right. If we can defeat the Government on this, let me assure them of one thing, that they will leave unwept, unhonoured and, in spite of the efforts of their public relations officers, unsung.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ The Minister of Food (Mr. Maurice Webb)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman wondered if he were speaking too long. I can say with all sincerity that the House felt that he did not speak too long. We have heard an excellent speech, a speech well directed to this very serious issue. I myself have no complaint to make about it, except that I thought he was a little ungenerous in one or two of his personal references. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up."] All right, hon. Members will hear me presently.
However we want to raise an issue which all sides of the House agree to be an issue of great gravity. The recent announcement of the reduction in the meat ration, which is the cause of this debate, was to all of us, and not least to me, a matter of bitter disappointment. It was my duty to effect and announce this admittedly grievous cut in our food supplies. I think the House will readily understand, even the most prejudiced person, that this was the most distressing duty I have ever had to carry out. I am very conscious of what it has meant to our already sorely-tried housewives. It has indeed brought to them and to those engaged in the meat trade burdens and problems of a most acute kind. It is because of a very real sense of public anxiety that I welcome this debate. It enables us at least to get this severe cut in our ration in the proper perspective; and it enables me to give some answer to the many questions which I know are perplexing the minds of hon. Members on all sides of the House and all sections of opinion outside. I feel confident that I can carry reasonable and responsible opinion with me in the explanation of the reasons for our action which I shall give.
Now, obviously, no Government in its senses, and no Minister in his right mind. 1962 would deliberately seek the unpopularity and public odium arising from this acute cut which we have made in the meat ration. If there be Ministers capable of such masochistic exercise, I have never met them. Certainly I am not of that mood. We have taken our decision for the most carefully considered reasons, and I hope to be able to show that we have had the best interests of the country—the long-term best interests of the country—fully in our minds.
I hope that the House will bear with me if, in outlining the background to this problem, I begin with a survey of the world meat situation. I do so not so much because of the past, to which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman referred; I do not want to enter into any discussions about some of the facts he brought out about that; they will be answered in the course of the debate. I am much more concerned, and we have been concerned in this decision, not with the past but with the future of this country. It is that future meat situation, immediate and ultimate, which must cause all of us quite serious concern. Everything arises from that, and the House must realise the particular difficulties with which we—not merely the Government but the whole country, whether ruled by that side or this side—are faced, in a time of inadequate supplies and rising prices.
Our negotiations with Argentina are only one sector of the cost-of-living battle, a battle inherent in the chronic, persisting and growing world shortage, grievously intensified by recent world events. This situation has come about, as I hope to show, simply because we, the Government, have been fighting that battle, which is the housewives' battle. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] We shall never get the terms of trade moving more in our favour, and by so doing check the present trend, if we say as a country, as is being said by newspapers and hon. Gentlemen opposite about the Argentine meat issue: "It's only a matter of 2d. a lb. We can afford that." It is these twopences in the lb. which, in the aggregate and in the end, add up to the heavy burdens in the housewives' budget—
§ Mr. Webb
—and which strain and unbalance our national economy. It is our duty, as a Government, and mine as Minister of Food, to balance these twopences against the whole background of world supplies, world prices and world demand.
What, in the case of meat, is the situation that we must face? We must get this straight, at least. World production of meat is reliably estimated at about 31 million tons for 1950. That compares with 28 million tons before the war. That is an increase in world supplies of about 10 per cent. This increase has been mainly in North America and in the southern Dominions. In Europe, although production is steadily recovering, it is still some 10 per cent. below the pre-war figure. World demand for meat, however, has more than kept up with this increased production. Increasing populations everywhere, and a general improvement in the standard of living in backward areas, together with an increased consumption per head of the population in many producing countries —U.S.A., Canada, South America, and so on—have meant an increased call on the available supplies.
What is the result of that situation? As a result, although world production is higher than before the war, the amount of meat available for export in 1949, which is the latest year for which complete figures are available, was about 11 per cent. below the pre-war quantity. That is some 227,000 tons less than pre-war. The world position is therefore that there is considerably less meat available to meet a greater demand. The most significant result of this for us today is that Europe, which is the great meat buyer of the world, got about 440,000 tons less than before the war. The consumption per head of those European importing countries has therefore been reduced by about 25 per cent.
What other significant fact emerges? Of the European importers, the United Kingdom, that is, ourselves, has always been by far the biggest. We have always taken about 90 per cent. of the meat imports of Europe, and we have still been getting proportionately that share. Before the war, we consumed some 2,117,000 tons of carcase meat and offal, of which half was produced in this country and half imported. Of our pre-war imports of 1964 meat, roughly a half came from South America—almost entirely Argentina and Uruguay—a quarter from New Zealand and 20 per cent. from Australia.
Since the war, the quantity and pattern of our meat supplies have changed considerably. That is what we really must consider. Home production is getting back to its pre-war level, and last year provided 933,000 tons, or 55 per cent. Of our total supplies. New Zealand has done extremely well, and last year sent us 357,000 tons. She is planning, I am glad to say, to increase production still further. Australia is sending us considerably less meat than pre-war, which is partly because of droughts, and partly because Australia is one of the countries where domestic consumption has increased. Anyway, whatever the cause, last year we got 127,000 tons from Australia as against about 200,000 tons before the war. In the short term, those are the facts we have to add up. We are not likely to get a larger quantity from Australia. Indeed, partly because of the high prices of wool, we may get less. As the House knows, for some considerable time we have been discussing with Australia long-term plans for stepping up production, and I confidently expect a 15-year agreement between us to be in its final form very soon.
As for other sources of supply, that is, sources outside the main producing areas I have mentioned, and outside Argentina, to which I shall refer presently, the supplies available are very small indeed, and are only to be obtained in competition with local consumers at extremely high prices. Occasionally we have paid such prices, for example, in France this week—for which we have been blamed —in Denmark and in Holland; but the amounts we get, and can get, from those countries are negligible. Those countries are high-cost producers. We have to bear in mind many other considerations, including the difficulties on the Continent and our regulations to protect animal health in this country.
Against these inescapable and undeniable facts, what is the outlook? Even including a reasonable expectation from South America, where we have our present difficulties, the total supplies for this country will be something like 1,800,000 tons a year. That is at least 300,000 tons below the pre-war figure. 1965 In other words—and this is the grave fact that the country and the House must face—the full amount of meat we need is just not available. Meanwhile, our population has increased by nearly three millions and, perhaps most important of all, our people now all, quite rightly, expect to have meat. They could not all afford it before the war. Now, with full employment, we have an effective demand for meat far beyond anything in the past.
The central point of it all for us all is simply this: the special position of this country, which is by far the largest importer of food in the world, is the crux of the whole problem. The United Kingdom, in fact, takes some 40 per cent. of the total world trade in food, including animal feedingstuffs. Of the world meat production, only about 11 per cent. comes on the international market in terms of surplus. Of this marginal amount, the United Kingdom takes by far the largest share. This special position, of course, has its advantages in times of surplus, when cheap food is readily available, but in times like the present, of under-production and rising prices, times that by any foreseeable estimate are going to persist for a long time, it means that we in this country are highly vulnerable.
All these facts are inescapable. They may not fit into any particular kind of party dogma, but they are the facts of life for the people of Great Britain, and they must be faced whatever may be our views about the ultimate pattern of trading in meat. We on this side repeat the claim that, particularly in times of inadequate supplies and rising prices, the system of Government purchase has stood us in good stead. We have always said that Government purchase of basic foods is not a doctrinaire policy. It is a policy dictated by these facts of life in the present economic circumstances of the world.
Can any sensible person really believe that our overseas suppliers, such as the Argentine, will give up their system of State or semi-State selling—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."]—in order to let us have meat or other foods more cheaply? Would private traders get better terms out of Peron? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Bidding, as they would be, against each other, are they likely to withstand the 1966 continuous pressure for higher prices, which this country, as the main importer of foodstuffs in the world, must endure as long as over-all world supplies are inadequate?
In any case, in present circumstances there are no practical alternatives to our system of State bulk purchase. [HON. MEMBERS: "There are."] Wait and see. The first bulk-purchase contracts for meat with Australia, New Zealand and the Argentine were made at the end of 1939, and they have been succeeded by others continuously until the present day. Under these contracts we have received a total of 1,591,000 tons of meat from Australia, 3,300,000 tons from New Zealand and 4,289,000 tons from the Argentine. Since 1942 the contracts with Australia and New Zealand have always provided for their sending to us the whole of their exportable surplus of meat, less a very small percentage reserved for other markets by agreement. In very few cases of bulk purchase of food have we been able to contract to get 100 per cent. of the exportable surplus of the producing country, because the producers naturally like to keep a foothold, however small, in other markets.
The undertaking we have received from Australia and New Zealand under the contracts that they would send us a very high percentage of their exportable surplus has undoubtedly resulted in far more meat coming to this country than we should otherwise have got. During the period since the end of the war there has frequently existed in Holland, Belgium, France, Switzerland and other European countries a very strong and lively demand for imported meat.
Lately, under the pressure of the very high prices for meat ruling in North America—quite fantastic prices under private trade—similar opportunities of selling meat at high prices have arisen in the United States and Canada. If it had not been for our bulk purchase contracts, if we, or, still more, the private trade, had been buying meat from those countries in small lots, or if, as before the war, that meat was sent to us "on consignment," there can be no doubt whatever that the pull of these other markets in the conditions which I have outlined would from time to time have taken substantial quantities of meat away from us.
1967 I turn now to the question of the prices we have paid under the contracts. At the outset we fixed a schedule of prices for each type of meat, based upon those ruling before the war for meat from each of the three countries. As time went on, the exporting countries were all able to establish claims for price increases based upon increased costs and, of course, upon other factors affecting the production of meat in those countries. For a very long period, however, the percentage increases were practically the same, and as late as the year 1947–48 the average percentage increases in the meat price schedules for all three countries over the schedules in the first contract were about the same. But thereafter—let the House and the country note this—the increases given to the Argentine were much greater than those given to Australia and New Zealand. Let that be borne in mind.
§ Mr. Webb
In our negotiations with Australia and New Zealand, in which the meat prices have been reviewed, there has been, as there is always in the Dominions, the usual hard bargaining, but, generally speaking, I am satisfied that the prices which we have eventually agreed to pay to those two countries have been satisfactory to them and—what is more important—profitable to their producers. I should like at this stage to pay a tribute to the admirable way in which they have always carried out the provisions of their contracts and, in particular, to their forbearance during the past two years in not using the higher prices which we were paying to the Argentine as an argument in our negotiations with them.
I now come to the particular problem of the Argentine. We bought agreed quantities from the Argentine from 1939 to 1942, and we bought the entire exportable surplus in 1943–44. Since then our agreements have provided that we should have a very high percentage of the Argentine exportable surplus, and just that, and during the past three years the agreements have also specified the minimum quantities to be shipped. In general, before the Argentine stopped shipments in July last, which was the last occasion on which we had meat from her, the 1968 Argentine had sent us the quantities promised under the various agreements, except that in 1948–49 she had difficulty in shipping the 400,000 tons promised under the Andes Agreement.
It is important that we should get this history right. In February, 1948, came the Andes Agreement, as the result of which the Argentine is understood to have allocated sufficient of the lump sum payment of £10 million which we made to provide an increase of about 27 per cent. on meat prices to her producers. When the Andes Agreement expired, a five year agreement was concluded in June, 1949, under which we agreed to pay during the first year an average price of about £97 10s. 0d. per ton for meat. Let the House note this very striking fact. This 1949 increase given to the Argentine—it is quite recent—was an average increase of no less than 239 per cent. over the prices quoted in the first bulk contract with the Argentine. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which year?"] That was in 1939. It is a difference of 10 years. Corresponding increases for Australia and New Zealand were at the same time only 199 per cent. and 183 per cent. respectively. So already the Argentine has done fairly well out of this country.
This brings me to the immediate issue with the Argentine. The five-year agreement has never worked well, and—let the Opposition note this particularly, since they have had such a lot to say about this issue—many matters quite apart from meat have been the subject of almost continuous dispute since the signing of the agreement. There is far more to it than meat. The House must understand that we have not merely been trying to settle a dispute between their demand of £140 and our original offer of £90. We went into these negotiations not merely to settle the price of meat but also to clear up a number of important points of dispute between our two countries.
For example, there were the Argentine undertakings about certain financial remittances to British citizens—does not the Opposition care about that?—obligations such as pensions to British ex-railway employees; the very important question to private traders of the import of British goods in the less essential class; and the settlement of outstanding debts on commercial transactions with firms in the United Kingdom, like Harrods, and so on. 1969 We had to consider those things in the background of these discussions. When we came—[Interruption.] I do not complain, but I listened very carefully to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and I was hoping that I would not be interrupted when I came to make my speech. I am making a rather difficult and complex case, and I hope the House will listen to me.
Against this background, when we came to negotiate with Argentina about the price of meat for the second year of the five-year agreement, which began on 1st July, 1950, Argentina asked for an overall price of £140 per ton on all meat sent to the United Kingdom. What is more, which is not really readily understood, they wanted the price to be backdated to January, 1950. This demand for back-dating arose out of a claim for compensation in respect of the devaluation of the pound, so that if we had agreed to this £140 it would certainly have cost us well above £20 million a year and possibly as much as £30 million a year for Argentine meat alone, without considering all these repercussions.
This demand for an increase to £140 per ton, was, of course, linked with the other matters in dispute, to which I have referred, and there was no sign of any reduction of this figure of £140 per ton until the Argentine Ambassador mentioned a figure of £120 per ton on 27th December last. When the negotiations were resumed in London last month, the Argentine representatives would not go below this £120 a ton average. They made the suggestion that we could arrive at that overall figure of £120 a ton by taking a considerable quantity of chilled beef, instead of frozen beef, and by paying a much higher price for it. In fact, to arrive at that average price we should have had to pay about £158 10s. a ton for the chilled beef. The House must realise, and even a Conservative Minister of Food must realise, that such prices are quite out of line with the prices we pay to other large overseas suppliers.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
In order that the House may get a proper 1970 appreciation of this problem, if £140 a ton represents an increase of £20 million to £30 million, how much would £120 a ton cost?
§ Mr. Webb
It is not such a simple sum. This average price of £120 a ton demanded by Argentina is three times as high as the pre-war price. It is an increase in one jump of 25 per cent. over the price which we paid last year, and which, as I have already told the House, was in itself a very generous price. The price suggested for chilled beef is five times what we paid for it before the war. There are, no doubt, hon. Members opposite who will say, "Very well, but that is not too much these days." We must remember that in the sort of conditions that exist in the world at the moment, and particularly in the meat market, a price concession becomes the jumping off point for a demand for a further increase in subsequent years. The increase is cumulative, and in the light of the long-term arrangement I have mentioned, we must look ahead if we are to act as responsible Ministers.
How could we hope to resist successfully an increase in those circumstances in what we pay for meat to New Zealand and Australia? I cannot now estimate what the increases would be to New Zealand and Australia, but clearly they would not be negligible. In facing the decision to resist the Argentine demand we were facing, for the reasons I have given, including the retrospective payment and the consequential effects of other price increases, a most serious increase in our meat bill. This year, this could have been anything up to £30 million; next year, having given way, who knows? —perhaps £50 million. "Not much," it might be said in these days, but let the House consider these facts. It is not merely what the housewife can afford but what the country can afford.
§ Mr. Webb
I do not normally refuse to give way, but this is a very difficult 1971 job which I have to do, and I cannot give way.
It is not merely what the housewife can afford, but what the country can afford. Everything we buy from abroad has to be paid for by export, to the extent that every pound we spend abroad reduces the volume of our own goods in the shops in this country. If we do not accept that argument which some people dismiss as academic, as they do the over-all argument of our balance of payments and our ability to remain solvent, let us look at the housewife and her purchases. We only need an increase of £150 million a year on our food bill to add for food alone 5s. a week to the living costs of a family of four persons. If we add £50 million a year to our meat bill, we are a third of the way towards that burden, on meat alone, without considering all the other inflationary effects on equally vital and essential food imports.
My experience at this Ministry has already shown me very acutely how a price increase in one food is followed by demands for increases in other goods. This is not merely a matter of twopence on the pound. The cost of living goes UD precisely because of these twopences. It is the totality of these, in themselves, apparently bearable increases which may well lead to a crushing and unbearable burden.
I realise there are limits beyond which we cannot go in trying to hold down prices. I am not proposing to cast myself for the rôle of Canute. In the long run this country, heavily dependent as it is on imports, cannot hope to isolate itself from world movements of prices. We shall have to pay more for our imports of food this year, as we have already done for our imports of raw material, and this may well mean that, despite all our efforts, the British housewife will have to pay more for her food.
But I repudiate the suggestion, now so glibly made in so many quarters which should know better, that there is anything discreditable or foolish in our having tried to hold down food import prices and so to have attempted to change the terms of trade in this country's favour. It was no more than our duty, as prudent men, to have done this, and to have refused to take the easy and seductive course of buying food recklessly regardless of cost. 1972 Let me add this—apart from the special case of South American meat—[Interruption.] I never said a word during the speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). I tried to listen carefully to his argument, but now he seems to want to spend the whole of the time chattering.
§ Mr. Alport (Colchester)
On a point of order. Would it be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to read his speech a little more slowly, because those of us who wish to follow it find it difficult to do so.
§ Mr. Webb
Apart from the special case of South American meat and commodities which we have been unable to buy for dollar reasons, I want to make this quite clear to the House: we have not had to forgo any appreciable quantities of food because of our policy. On the contrary. The country was better fed in 1950 than in any year since the war, and we succeeded in doing this while restricting increases in retail food prices to a minimum and while keeping within the lower subsidy ceiling set by the Chancellor.
Between June, 1949, and November, 1950, the index of food import prices, taking June, 1947, as 100, rose from 110 points to 127 points—an increase of 15½ per cent. Over the same period, the index of import prices of non-food items rose from 116 to 162 points—an increase of 40 per cent. This comparison between 15½ per cent. in the case of food and 40 per cent. in the case of non-food items is the measure of this Government's success in keeping down the import price of food.
It has been suggested that we might have avoided all these troubles if the private trade had been left to handle these matters. I recognise that our aim must be to get the maximum freedom of choice for the consumer. That is our aim and our policy. But it is quite naïve to think that this is simply accomplished by going back to the pre-war system. I repeat what I said before: we cannot go back to that system; and the Opposition must face it, unless it is to deny its approval of the Government support for home farmers and Dominion producers. We are now committed, under the Agriculture Act, 1947, to guaranteed prices. We have to fulfil our obligations under long-term 1973 contracts with New Zealand and Australia. We have to consider to what extent we should continue to subsidise consumers' meat.
Within a month of taking office, I started a study of the problem of the future of livestock marketing and the problem of the importation and distribution of meat, to try to devise ways and means of meeting the obligations I have mentioned and, at the same time, avoid the rigidity of our war-time system. A lot of work has been done and, as the House knows, we are at present getting the considered opinions of all interests and of all sections of the trade about this problem, but it cannot be anything other than a long job.
Quite apart from all the business of inquiries, it will be a very delicate matter to decide at what point, given the conditions of shortage I have mentioned, it would be reasonable even to relax the present rationing system in this country. The House well knows our general ideas. The House well knows that our desire is to give the consumer and the housewife the maximum freedom of choice, and we are determined, as rapidly as possible, to evolve a system which will do that and yet carry out the long-term obligations I have mentioned.
I want to turn to another point—the payment of a rebate to butchers, which was criticised by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and, indeed, has been criticised in many quarters. It has been suggested that this is something quite improper.
§ Mr. Webb
It is being suggested by some people. I want to make it quite clear that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not himself make that suggestion. I must tell the House that the view taken by some of this payment is clearly based on quite fallacious grounds. We are simply carrying out the terms of our contract with the butchers, who are the distributors of meat under our rationing system. When the Government, in the war, became the instrument for procuring, 1974 buying and distributing meat, it made the private trade its agents in that process of distribution, and it was agreed at that time that we should enable the butchers to maintain a reasonable income for their services in the distribution of meat. As supplies would vary, because of conditions outside their control, we could not then expect them to maintain their business without some regard to adequate remuneration.
This arrangement is maintained in a very simple way. When the ration is high, we offset their profits by making a surcharge. When the ration is low, we supplement their profits with a rebate, the whole purpose being to maintain this reasonable, steady level of income as part of a well-considered contract entered into very many years ago. Over a full year the adjustment upward or downward of their income in relation to our subsidy policy adds nothing at all to the public expenditure. But an increase in payments to Argentina or anywhere else would certainly do so. We should be in an impossible position if, in facing demands for increased prices from outside suppliers of our food, we were compelled all the time to agree to them because, for the moment, it might look odd that we were making a comparable payment to our own distributors. There is really no parallel between this rebate, which is a short-term, internal payment, and an increase in price to Argentina, which is a payment abroad of a long-term and cumulative character.
Let me say a word about our home-produced supplies. The Opposition suggest that we could have done much more to increase the home production of meat. I must say that I am a little surprised at this charge, to put it mildly. It comes curiously from a party who, for all their professed concern for our farmers, did so little to help them in past years.
Their suggestion is quite contrary to the facts. There are one million more cattle in this country than before. I will give the figures in a moment. It is true that we are concentrating on milk but, by the general desire of the House and with the approval of all parties, that was the considered policy of this country. Let me now give the facts. For example, we expect that in 1950–51 the output of beef and veal will be 4 per cent. greater than before the war—not less, as the right hon. 1975 and gallant Gentleman suggested; and in the following year we expect it will be 10 per cent. greater.
The position is less satisfactory with mutton and lamb and pigmeat. This year mutton and lamb production will be only about 80 per cent. of the pre-war figure, but hon. Members, I am sure, will remember the disastrous effect of storms early in 1947. Since then there has been a steady increase in production and, although the total number of sheep is still 17 per cent. less than in 1940, it is 16 per cent. more than in 1947. The output of pigmeat this year will be only about three-quarters of the pre-war figure but—and this is the point—it will be two-and-a-half times greater than it was in 1946–47. We hope very much that by 1952–53 we shall get back to something like the pre-war figure, although this depends upon the supply of feedingstuffs. During the war the numbers of pigs fell rapidly and in 1947 were less than half the pre-war numbers. They are now back to three-quarters of the pre-war numbers—nearly 100 per cent. higher than in 1947.
Those are facts of progress and of improvement and are not anything for which we should apologise; they are things which I should have thought would have brought smiles and cheers to the faces of hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Webb
I cannot give way. This expansion in the output of home-produced livestock and meat has been achieved by a large number of measures which I need not recite in detail. I need mention only the guaranteed prices and markets assured under the Agriculture Act, 1947; the subsidies to encourage livestock production on hill farms; and the Livestock Rearing Bill now before the House.
The question we must now face is—what happens now? This is the question before all of us—before myself, before the Government, before the House and the country. In facing this question, may I say this? I have tried to put our difficulties with Argentina into the whole picture of our meat position. These negotiations started early last year. Should we have accepted then the Argentine demand of £140? Even 1976 disregarding the various other financial matters which were unsatisfactory in our trade relations with that country, my advisers—drawn from the trade—were strongly of the opinion that £90 was a fair, even a generous, price. Time has not been with us, and the international scene, which conditions all these matters, has darkened, as the House knows. But we have now to be more thrifty, not less thrifty, than we were. Let me remind the House that we have the standard of the reasonable price we pay to our southern Dominions with which to measure all other demands that come to us.
I have already explained to the House the general background of our negotiations with the Argentine. What is the present position? I can describe it quite briefly. We do not want the present impasse to continue. We want to see the traditional trade exchanges between the Argentine and this country restored to a high level. We want to buy Argentine meat for our people. We want to be able to get chilled beef again, as we did before the war, and to use it to improve the quality of the ration. In order to do this, we are prepared to pay prices that we consider reasonable. We cannot pay prices which are excessive.
All this involves highly technical considerations—the total amount of meat to be covered by the agreement, the length of the agreement, the proportion of chilled beef to be shipped, and so on. A great many of these matters have still to be clarified between us and, unfortunately, the recent technical discussions were suspended before all these points could be cleared. But we are in touch with the Argentine authorities. I can also report to the House that in a friendly interview on 31st January with our outgoing Ambassador, Sir John Balfour, President Peron said that it was not his desire that the traditional meat trade with this country should be discontinued.
These discussions are concerned with complicated commercial and technical matters. They just cannot be conducted in the Press, or on the platform, or, indeed, on the Floor of the House. In saying this, I am not trying to stifle or suppress criticism of our policy. We can take care of that, as I have tried to do. But irresponsible reports of bargains, or 1977 offers, or concessions at imaginary prices, loose chatter about our position, the Argentine position, or someone else's position, can only impede the attainment of our objective and can only prevent an early settlement of this dispute on the basis of fair terms, both to the Argentine producer and ourselves. That is what we want—not on a basis which, in the view of His Majesty's Government would impose unreasonable burdens on our country.
I have tried to get this matter in its true perspective. Our critics must ask themselves what they would have done. Was it wrong in all these circumstances to resist the Argentine demands? If not if it was right to try to bring about a more favourable settlement has there been any, time, or any circumstance, which would have enabled us to secure a settlement since without damage to our interests? I frankly confess that I wish there had been. Watching, as is my duty, our daily stock figures, it has for many recent months been for me a time of grievous and searching anxiety. I have tried not to lose my nerve, and I did not lose my nerve because I did not think this country had lost its nerve. If nerve has been lost anywhere, it is on the benches opposite.
Our fault, if it be a fault, is simply this, that we believed that the great and proud country of Great Britain was prepared to stand up to Argentina. I have tried to give an analysis to the House that gives facts and I believe that will justify the stand we have taken. I hope that, having heard it, the Opposition will feel that, having raised this issue, they should not make the situation worse by forcing a Division. If they do, we await the outcome quite confidently. It is for them to decide. If they think their interests are best served by a vote, we await the outcome with confidence and we are certain the House, in its wisdom, will reject the Amendment and uphold the honourable course which, despite its hazards, the Government have taken.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Alport (Essex, Colchester)
The signs of irritation which have been a feature of this debate on the other side of the House show how great has been the pressure rightly brought by their constituents upon hon. Members opposite and how very nervous they are with regard 1978 to the present position. The Minister spoke about keeping our nerve; there is no doubt that hon. Members opposite have lost theirs in this matter.
I listened as attentively as I could to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman and I can assure him I was very anxious to get all the details he gave, but the major points he made struck me as giving so much evidence to this side of the House of the fallacies of his whole argument, that I personally was astonished that he could get up on an occasion like this and make the disclosures which came from him. That anyone should give to the critics on this side of the House, for instance, a major point with regard to the connection which the negotiations concerning meat have had, not merely with the question of buying meat, but also with clearing up a number of "other important sources of discord," I am certain will convince hon. Members on this side of the House and, perhaps some hon. Members opposite and the country generally of the total fallacy of Government bulk buying on a political basis through the embassies now and in the future.
The right hon. Gentleman asked us what difference the use of private enterprise as an agent would make in this case. The private merchant, with his long connection and very often long friendship with his opposite numbers in the Argentine, would not have at the same time as reaching a reasonable price also to clear up "long-standing sources of political discord." Another point the right hon. Gentleman made seemed to prove the case against him. He asked this side of the House and the Press and the public generally not to indulge in loose chatter on this matter so as to give away the case and embarrass the position in which the Government, as a negotiator, found itself. One phrase he used about the "highly vulnerable" position in which Great Britain finds itself in regard to its meat supplies would, I thought, have been a sign to the negotiators in the Argentine to put up their prices straight away. Because as the right hon. Gentleman admits, as indeed is plain to many people, we are in a "highly vulnerable" position and that is surely an encouragement to those who are competing with us to make the most of it.
There was one other point on which I wish to ask for further information. I understand that in a full year the addi- 1979 tional payment to the butchers will amount to £23 million. If that is the case, will that sum count as part of the food subsidies, and, if so, how is it to be paid without raising the total food subsidies which are available for the purpose? If it is not to be met out of the food subsidies, then it is surely nothing more or less than a subsidy all the same.
The right hon. Gentleman put to those of us who sit on this side of the House the question whether we thought the Argentine would be willing to change their present methods and to accept the introduction by this country of private enterprise trading. I have here a statement by one of the Argentine negotiators which was reported in the "Daily Telegraph" of 18th January, in which he said:We told the British that we are prepared to abandon the bulk selling system immediately and allow our meat to go into private trade provided Britain will re-open Smithfield.
§ Mr. Alport
It does not appear to be the custom in this debate to do so, but I will in this case certainly give way to the hon. and learned Member.
§ Mr. Alport
The statement I have quoted was made by one of their negotiators, who presumably knows even more than the hon. and learned Member about the way the Argentine conducts its business.
A major point in this debate never entered into the right hon. Gentleman's speech, though I am sure that when we read it tomorrow, we shall derive great benefit and interest from it. There was no sort of human touch in it, no apparent consciousness—and I am sure that this does not represent the views of the hon. Gentlemen behind the Minister—that a factor in the meat situation is the happiness and the comfort of the housewives and the people of this country.
It is all very well to talk in great terms about expert opinion, to talk in great 1980 terms about diplomatic negotiations. The sooner the question of buying the food of this country is given into the hands of people who can speak not in those terms but in terms of the ordinary folk whom they serve, and for whom they try to provide the best, the better for the people of Britain generally. Therefore, I should like to relate such remarks as I wish to make to the question of what are the interests, and what would be the choice of the working families of Britain if they were allowed to make a choice in this matter.
I wish also to follow up some of the statistics which were introduced by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), who initiated this debate, because they are an important indication as to the percentage of income which was spent by all sections of working class families in Britain, not only before the last war but also before the First World War, and indeed towards the end of the 19th century. In studying those statistics it is interesting to discover that when a man and wife with two or three children were allowed to choose how they would spend their own money, even those at the very lowest income level were prepared to spend at least 7 per cent. of their income on buying meat.
I shall give one or two figures. An unemployed man in 1936, receiving 36s. a week, spent 7.2 per cent. of his income on meat in that year. Many years previously, in 1899, a man in the lowest wage-earning group of industrial workers, with an income of possibly about 20s. a week, with a wife and two children, spent 7.75 per cent. of his income on meat. It is of some relevance that the unskilled worker, doing heavy manual work, spent up to 12 per cent. of their income on meat. That is to say that in 1889, a man earning 25s. a week spent 12 per cent. of his income on meat while in 1936 a man earning 41s. 8d. per week spent 10.8 per cent, of his income on meat.
I introduce these figures only to show that if the people of this country, whether the men or their wives, were given the chance, they would undoubtedly choose to spend more on meat so as to have more meat to eat; and that the policy of the right hon. Gentleman, which is being supported by hon. Members oppo- 1981 site, I believe against their will, is penalising not the well-to-do classes in this country but the unskilled worker who at one time formed the very basis of their political support.
It is serious not only from a national point of view but from a political point of view that the party opposite should be able, as apparently they intend to do tonight, to go into the Lobby knowing that the vote they will give in support of the Government's present policy and in support of what the Minister has just said to the House, will be in direct contradiction of the interests, desires and habits of the people for whom they so often claim to speak in this House. I hope that hon. Members opposite will think carefully of this consideration because if, in the long run, they allow the disillusionment about their bona fides which is spreading along their supporters to go any further, their future hopes of winning an election, whenever the election comes, or of returning once more to power in the form in which they hold power at present, are very small indeed.
There is one other deduction I should like to make from the figures to which I have referred, namely, that the statistics available relating to the unemployed worker in 1936 show that so far from his not having had meat for two years, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested was the case with his constituents before the war, the normal amount of meat he had each week was about one and a half pounds.
§ Mr. Alport
These statistics come from the Rowntree survey of York, which I think, as my right hon. and gallant Friend said, has been for a long period agreed generally in this House to give a very accurate description of social conditions in an industrial working class area at that time. The trouble is that hon. Members opposite have spread these stories and inaccuracies about life in the years before the war for so long that they are beginning to believe them. It has become the habit to talk all this nonsense which, in their saner moments, they know it to be. For example, the President of the Board of Trade said that he never remembered seeing any children with shoes on in his school days, and afterwards he had to 1982 agree that he was talking nonsense. [An HON. MEMBER: "He never said that."]
I do not blame hon. Gentlemen opposite, it has become a habit with them, but they should try in the interests of those whom we all try to serve, the people of this country, to be a bit more accurate in their approach to this matter. They should acknowledge and realise that at the present time a man in work is getting less meat to eat week by week, even taking into consideration what he gets from the canteens, than an unemployed man was getting in 1936. That is a very serious situation indeed. Not only is the hardship on the housewife, about which we know very well indeed, but there is a great hardship on the working man of Britain.
It is monstrous that the "Daily Herald" today should, at the behest of the Labour Party, publish some views on meat, giving an impression which has been contradicted by the Minister in the House of Commons this afternoon. In answer to the question, "Why do we depend on Argentina?" the "Daily Herald" says—speaking for the Labour Party:The plain answer is that meat traders and producers under the pre-war Tory Governments found it more profitable to develop Argentine herds than to develop British or Commonwealth meat production.But the answer has been given that, in fact, the production of British farms and agriculture before the war was higher than it is at the present time. That shows once again dishonesty—I do not say dishonesty on the part of hon. Gentlemen sitting behind the Minister, because, as I say, I believe it is almost second nature to them and they do not realise what they are doing but dishonesty on the part of those public relation officers of their party who are misleading ordinary folk.
Like so many of his colleagues, the Minister of Food constantly parades the opinion of experts. I am not sure if it is constitutionally correct, but I find many Ministers, when they come to this House, claim as the "alibi," so to speak, for what they have done, the opinion of the experts. That always conjures up in my mind a picture of the Minister sitting at his desk surrounded by these great groups of experts telling him what is right and wrong. I heard the name of a dis- 1983 tinguished Member of the other place mentioned in this debate in an interruption. I sometimes think that if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen want expert advice, particularly on matters of food, they should not take so much notice of what Lord Boyd-Orr says; they should not take so much notice of what the expert dieticians at the Ministry of Food say; but they should go to the best expert, the expert I always trust in these matters. who is the mother or the wife.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)
First of all may I ask the House to forgive me if my voice does not carry quite as well as it usually does, but I have a very bad cold. [An HON. MEMBER: "Malnutrition."] No, it is not. It is what the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) would call "a dose of the flu." It is rather unfortunate for the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) that I should follow him, because the whole of my experience in the ordinary work-a-day world has been in food distribution. It is also very unfortunate for him that this afternoon one who actually worked with me in food distribution, and who is a butcher, has come to this House and is in the gallery.
I can tell the hon. Member that his conception of the working-class people in an industrial district is far removed from the truth, as I know from the experience of myself and my friend in the gallery. If the hon. Member cares to, and if my friend is still here, we will give him, chapter and verse, and illustrations galore to show him how the working-class people did get meat in those inter-war years.
§ Mr. Alport
I should like to know whether the hon. Member and his friend are denying the authenticity of the Rowntree Survey?
§ Mr. Winterbottom
The hon. Member has asked for an expert opinion. I am giving him an expert opinion for what it is worth. I can take him into districts from which I come, along with my friend, and show him hundreds of homes that never saw a pound of meat per person during those inter-war years.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
Yes, it is perfectly true. The nearest they got to meat was bones—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] The challenge is open to the hon. Member, and my friend is in the gallery.
I know that in this debate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food will have to face a tremendous amount of criticism from many in this House on this problem of meat supplies. But it seems, from the remarks of the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) and also from the promptings of the Press, that the main criticism which can be levelled against the Minister is that it will cost the country—according to hon. Members opposite—about £23 million to lower the meat ration by 2d. per head; but that it would cost only about £4 million to £5 million to buy the necessary supplies from the Argentine to retain the meat ration.
I say the figures are wrong, because there will be a time during this year, as there was last time, when instead of being increased, the rebate to the butcher will go back to the Government. The actual figure, as I compute it, is round about about £450,000 as an average per week; a total of about £10 million. Instead of £23 million, as has been inferred by hon. Members opposite, the actual figure is £10 million.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
Let me finish my point. The fact of the matter is that this rebate will be almost completely eliminated by June of this year when, I am told by a butcher friend, the 10 per cent. increase in the supply of home-killed meat will probably allow the restoration of the 2d. less in the ration and, maybe, something more in addition. There will be a surplus, or at any rate not much rebate, paid to the butcher at that time; and I think the computation is round about £10 million which is the official figure of the cost of the rebate in this case.
I wish to ask one or two questions. First of all, if we argue that we are paying more for rebate to the butcher than it would cost to buy Argentine meat, we must ask the question: Is the problem as simple as all that? Can we seriously believe that the Minister has only that simple problem to face? That is not the 1985 problem as I see it. Has the Minister been "penny wise and pound foolish"? I believe there are so many complications which have to be taken into consideration by him that we have to go deeper into the problem than hon. Members opposite have gone. I believe that these complications are very important and have played their part in the negotiations about the meat supplies to this country; making things very difficult for the Minister of Food. It is easy to be a first-class leader of popular causes. It is very difficult to pursue the path of duty and responsibility when these responsible decisions involving unpopular actions have to be taken. We should look at this problem as if we ourselves had had to make the decisions.
Let us consider the present method of fixing margins and rebates for butchers. Who evolved these most complicated formulae? Was it the present Minister of Food? Indeed, it was not. I understand that it was the first Minister of Food. I do not know his name, though I am told that he is a right hon. Member of this House. Not only were the formulae for the margins and rebates fixed at that time, but there was also that 1¾ per cent. levy or pension which is still levied on all wholesale meat prices and which has been paid since 1939 to the members of the Wholesale Meat Supply Association and the Meat Importers National Defence Association Ltd.
I am one of those who regret the cut in the ration.
Major Hicks-Beach (Cheltenham)
Is the hon. Gentleman the only one?
§ Mr. Winterbottom
I believe that everybody regrets the cut in the ration, especially because of the circumstances which caused it. But we must not forget that there are many hon. Members opposite who are supporting the Amendment expressing no confidence, who were supporters of the formulae for margins, rebates and levies which were bequeathed to the present Minister of Food.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
Surely the hon. Gentleman appreciates the difference between 1986 war-time conditions, when these rebates were first imposed and when they were necessary, and today, when the traders themselves could go out and get the meat if they were allowed to do so?
Why have not the Government changed the system? The Government have been in power for six years.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
At the time the formulae were fixed, pressure was brought upon the then Government by the butchers' organisations for the provision of the necessary refrigerating services to ensure a continuous meat supply. That could have been provided at that time. If this debate does nothing but call the attention of the general public to the margins, rebates and levies, it will have served a useful purpose. The total overall profit of 53 per cent. between the maximum permitted prices and the cost of meat on the hook is excessive. I suggest that margins, rebates, levies and profits should be the subject of review in the near future by the Department.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
If we agree that these matters should be reviewed, we should not forget that the problem is not confined to Argentinian meat. These margins also cover home-killed meat and the frozen meat supplies from Australia. The increase in the rebate from 2s. 3d. to 4s. is a separate issue from the question of Argentinian supplies. On the question of rebates, I should indicate that there are times during the year when the Government receive from the butchers by way of surplus and do not pay out to them. I should like the Minister who replies to the debate to make that position clear, and to say how it has been affected during the last 12 months. Now I have finished with rebates, margins and prices, and I come on to—
§ Mr. Winterbottom
I come to the straight issue of Argentinian meat. We 1987 have been paying £97 10s. a ton for that meat.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
In relation to world prices, with the exception of what we pay to Australia and to New Zealand, the Argentine prices are the cheapest that can be found. World prices are far in excess of this figure of £97 10s., and I say that that is an adequate reply to the critics of bulk buying. I understand that Peron wanted £140 for chilled meat. I take the view that a compromise might have been effected had this issue not been the subject of great publicity. A more restrained attitude in this country would not have given Peron—[Interruption.] Very well then, hon. Members can have it. The Tory Party have been the biggest allies of Peron against this country.
I do not doubt that negotiations have been made all the more difficult because of this, and also because of the desire of the Argentinian authorities to substitute chilled meat for frozen meat. Hon. Members opposite must remember that, when they condemn the Minister of Food. That is one of the matters he would have to take into consideration. It is a matter which any Minister of Food and any Government would have to remember, because of the big difference between the price of chilled meat and frozen meat from the Argentine. Usually, there is a difference of between £36 and £40 a ton. Another point is the heavy expense, of providing suitable shipping to transport the chilled meat. We have not got sufficient facilities at our disposal at the moment.
We receive about two-thirds of our imported meat from New Zealand and Australia. The prices we pay are a 3out 75 per cent. of those we were paying to the Argentine. What will be the reaction of these countries if we concede the demands of Peron? Already we have had an indication in the last week of how Australia and New Zealand are thinking. We have had to raise by 5 per cent. the price we pay to New Zealand for meat. The £5 million which I mentioned earlier will be greatly exceeded if we get demands from Australia and New Zealand for increases in their prices of meat.
1988 Similar percentage increases to these countries would cause a price increase—I do not know how much, but certainly something that would affect almost every household in this country. These things have to be taken into consideration by the Minister of Food, and at a time when world prices for meat are higher than ever in history, and when America is buying from the Argentine for canning purposes for stock-piling and paying £268 per ton.
My final word is in the form of a question. Will anybody tell me where we are to get alternative supplies at the moment? I agree that the purchase of French meat on short-term contracts at present prices is not much help. We are getting as much as we can from Australia and New Zealand; we are getting as much as we can from Ireland—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] We are; we have contracted for 90 per cent.—
§ Mr. Winterbottom
That is all from the 10 per cent. balance.
The possibilities of Uruguay are being considered along with the question of the Argentine, and, probably, if a settlement is effected with the Argentine, it will condition the settlement with Uruguay. I am afraid that world prices are rising, and we shall have to face that fact if we are to supply our people. For the Minister of Food it is a problem either of the meat or the price, but we cannot apportion blame to any Food Minister who tries to keep down the price to the consumer at home.
In the long run, I believe that his policy is right, that stockpiling will finish and that his policy will then be beneficial to the whole of the people of this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "We shall all be dead."] If I may make a suggestion to the Minister of Food, I hope he will double the pig population of this country. There is a source of supply which has too long been neglected, and which could, in 12 months' time, overcome our present difficulties and increase the present very inadequate ration.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
I want to deal with this problem from a strictly business point of view, and 1989 without being unduly controversial. After all, I believe it is the desire in all parts of the House that we should find out how we can provide more food for the people of this country.
When one considers production problems in one's own factory, one has to consider supplies of raw materials, and, in this particular case, meat is a raw material. We can run out of supplies either by means of an overall world shortage or simply by bad buying. On the question of bad buying, I think that can be attributed to two prime causes—policy and system, or through the men who handle the buying of these products—and I should like to take up both of these points.
The Minister has told us this afternoon that there is an overall world shortage. Is this really true? The hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. R. Winterbottom) has re-affirmed that there is this overall shortage. However, we do know that, at the present time, there is meat available in the Argentine which we could buy, and that all that stands in the way are price considerations. We must, of course, accept immediately that we cannot allow ourselves to be victims—if I might use a word which is almost out of order in this House—of blackmail by any country, no matter what its political complexion, but the fact remains that, whenever a Government sets up bulk trading, it does not matter what its political complexion may be, the result is that food and raw materials become political counters and the people suffer in the process.
On this question of supplies, I should like to read an extract from the "Economist" of 3rd February, which, in a very devastating article headed "Eight Pennyworth of Planning," said this:But, whatever the reason, the almost incredible position has been reached that there is meat in Argentina which that country is anxious to sell; that there are consumers in this country who want to consume the meat and would willingly pay the Argentine price; that no difficulty of shipping or means of payment stands in the way, but only the obstinacy of the British Government. Moreover, this is not the only case. The Ministry of Food has recently refused to buy bacon, eggs and other foods from Denmark, Holland, Canada and other countries, and always for the same reason, that the price asked was too high. It appears to be a deliberate policy of the Ministry to refuse to allow the British people to buy food they need and want at prices they are willing to pay.1990 One is reminded of that rather silly story of the man who was trying to breed a horse that would not eat oats, and who fed it one oat less each day, but complained when the horse died that it would not co-operate in the experiment. That is what is going to happen with us. We have refused, because of our commitments to buy, to make any variation in our prices, while we ourselves as a nation and all our industries have not hesitated to charge the Argentine prices very greatly in excess of those they previously had to pay for goods which we have supplied to them.
Consider, for example, the action of the National Coal Board with regard to the Argentine. The Argentine is buying coal today from this country at something like 400 per cent. above pre-war prices. Is there any wonder, therefore, that with costs of those dimensions being imposed upon the Argentine people, they should find it impossible to supply to us at earlier post-war or pre-war prices? We ran into similar difficulties with Denmark, and we still have some troubles with them. Those of us who have business associations with Denmark, or in any of these countries with which we are trading on bulk terms, know the bitterness which, is generated by the action of our Government.
§ Mr. Paget
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? He has said that we could not expect them to charge pre-war prices when we are charging increased prices. The prices which they charged pre-war were about £37 per ton, and they are now being offered £97 10s., which is a larger increase than in the case of any of our other supplies.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
Except our coal supplies to them, and also supplies of many other materials which are directly under the control of the Government. I refer to products made from metals controlled by the Minister of Supply, who I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman does not hesitate to put up his prices to any trader in this country overnight.
Have we explored the possibilities of getting extra supplies from Uruguay or Brazil? We hear very little about supplies of meat from those two countries, but I am advised that there is a considerable possibility there. What about 1991 our home supplies? Are we to hear of any additional measures being taken by the Government to increase the production of both beef and pork? The hon. Gentleman who spoke last referred to the pig population of this country, and it is a fact that it is substantially below the pre-war figure.
Is it a question of feedingstuffs which is holding the thing back? I do not profess to be a farmer, but a mere seeker after information. I understand that maize is in short supply all over the world, but that ordinary bread grains are in plentiful supply. Would it not be possible, therefore, to reduce the extraction rate of wheat, thus releasing substantial quantites of feedingstuffs, and thereby increase our home production of meat? That would give us an almost immediate opportunity for increasing our pork supplies, but very little, if anything, appears to have been done in that direction.
Now I come to the question of bad buying. I stated that there are three ways in which that situation could be brought about, through the fault of the system, through the fault of the policy, or through the fault of the men handling the job. The Minister has told us on many occasions that the men handling the job in his Ministry are people who have been engaged in this type of work all their lives. Since before the war they did a very good job of buying the nation's food and provided us with very fine food at very advantageous prices, it follows that it is probably the system and the policy which are at fault.
If I may say so in all humility, I think that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough made one of the most brilliant speeches I have he and in this House. He showed and exposed the fallacy of Government bulk buying at this time. The Government appear to imagine that we ourselves can hold down world prices. There never was a greater fallacy. World prices are on the move, and the Government have played a very important part in bringing about the increase in world prices. The Minister of Food referred to increases in the cost of living, and said that it was the pennies and the twopences which counted. Indeed, they do, but, as we pointed out in the Budget debate last year, it was 1992 the Chancellor of the Exchequer who put 9d. on petrol, and thereby increased fares all over the country, which was an extra burden on everybody.
Therefore, it is no use reviling people outside the country when His Majesty's Government are largely responsible for what is happening at the present time. We can certainly attempt to hold prices down by refusing to buy, but the result will be starvation for the people of this country. The increase in price offered to the Argentine is, I believe, something of the order of 7½ per cent. I do not know how the Minister of Food or the Government arrived at that figure because, in the most recent Board of Trade returns, it was shown that the index figure for raw materials has gone up by 20 per cent. Yet we are only offering the Argentine 7½ per cent., although we recognise that the general increase is nearly three times that figure.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
It is 7½ per cent. on last year's prices, and the Board of Trade index of increased prices of 20 per cent. is also 20 per cent. on last year's prices. We are, in fact, comparing like with like.
The tragedy of Government trading is that the prices at which they negotiate are made public. I wish the Minister of Food could really understand this very important point. When individual traders are buying, it is not usual for A to tell B what he has paid for a certain product, but, between Governments, it is almost inevitable that the prices are made public to the world, and, obviously, one country will use them as a bargaining counter against another to get this or that advantage. Again, under the process of Government trading, the consumer inevitably pays, and in this case he is paying dearly. That is the strongest possible argument for dropping Government trading and returning it to private hands.
I wish to turn for a moment to the effect of the present position on our defence programme. We were told recently that the stocks of meat in this 1993 country are now about 18,000 tons, and that the weekly ration, even at its present miserable amount, takes about 8,000 tons. That means that we are down to less than three weeks' reserve of stocks in this country. That is almost criminal negligence on the part of the Government at this time of grave international crisis, and for that fact alone they are deserving of the most severe censure of this House and of the people of this country.
Now I want to say a word about the housewife? She, more than any other section of the British community, has suffered mightily under this Government. She has had to endure queues, power cuts—with the ruin of food as a probable result—shortage of fuel, and a higher cost of living. Now she has this miserable portion of material which passes for a meat ration, and she is distressed. I recently called a meeting in my constituency of the local butchers to find out what were the general reactions to the cut in the ration.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
It may be that some of the butchers of this country are good members of the Tory Party, but I should like to point out to the hon. Gentleman, who is rather free with his interventions, that some of the biggest butchers in the country are the Co-ops, who are very large subscribing members of the Labour Party.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
It may interest the hon. Gentleman to know that one of their managers was invited, and. I believe, attended
There is a very important factor with regard to productivity. We are now being asked for higher production in steel, coal, building, and in industry generally. I would urge the Government to realise that they cannot expect men to put in a full day's work on the miserable amount of meat on which they are fed today. It is a well-known fact that wives and mothers all over the country today are giving up their meat ration in order that their menfolk may have some semblance of food inside them when they go to work. Hon. Members opposite should remember that before the war builders 1994 and tradesmen in the building industry invariably took a chop or a piece of meat with them to the site which they ate for their midday meal. [Laughter.] It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to laugh but that was so.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough showed with considerable force and accuracy just how much meat was consumed before the war, and it does hon. Members opposite little credit to deny these facts. It is impossible to expect a high rate of productivity in this country at the present time under such conditions, and I would remind the Government that if they want higher productivity and our defence programme to be successfully pursued, they must feed the nation. If they are prepared to spend £4,700 million on arms, then it is surely worth spending a few million extra in order to provide decent food for the people of this country.
Finally, can the butchers serve this ration? I am advised that to serve an 8d. ration is almost an impossibility if every ration holder is to be served. There are many one-book customers in the country who get 8d. worth of meat. What can they get for 8d.? It may be a chop and the chop comes to 9d. What is the butcher to do? Is he to slice off a small bit of chop to bring it down to 8d.? No, obviously it has to be a 9d. chop. I am quite sure, and I believe my advice to be correct on this point, that after five or six weeks of operating on this ration, something like 20 to 25 per cent. of the rations will not be honoured in this country because it will be impracticable for the butchers to serve them.
The Government have to face frankly the realities of the situation. They have to revise their entire method of trading any say honestly to the country, "We have made a mistake and we are going to mend our ways in future and try to provide the food you need."
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
The hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper) said that he thought that in the dangers of our present situation an increase or a restoration of our meat ration was necessary for our defence. I would ask him this very simple question. Does he think that the performance which the right hon. and 1995 gallant Gentleman the Member for Gains-borough (Captain Crookshank) and the Tory Party and the Tory Press have been putting up today is likely to bring that about? Does he think it is more or less likely that the Argentine will accept our bid, which they are now considering, when every hon. Member opposite is encouraging and telling them not to do so? That is in effect what they are doing, and I will return to that subject in a moment.
First, I will have a word on the question of bulk buying, which was also honoured by the attention of the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South. What does he mean by bulk buying? Bulk buying is one of those words which have almost become a one-word "ism." It is something which evokes emotion but no longer evokes a meaning. I will give way if the hon. and gallant Member wishes to tell me what he means by bulk buying. Does he mean the elimination of competition amongst buyers?
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury and Radcliffe)
Would the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) like me to give him a definition?
§ Mr. Fletcher
The best definition is large-scale buying in which the State is the principal and in which the private trader takes no part.
§ Mr. Paget
I am sorry but I must go on, much as I should like to give way to my hon. Friend. We have had a definition from the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. W. Fletcher) as one who has considered it with some care, but what is the more ordinary definition of bulk buying? I shall come to the definition given by the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe; he need not worry. If the more ordinary definition is a single buyer and the elimination of competition in buying, then that is a situation which has existed at least since the middle 1996 '20's in the Argentine meat market. There has been no competition whatever amongst buyers in the Argentine meat market since the middle '20's. Six big meat importers formed the South American Meat Conference, which was a closed ring, and eliminated all competition in meat buying. What did they do?
§ Mr. Paget
The hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe will say that that is not bulk buying because it is not State buying. He does not mind monopoly; indeed, he is in favour of monopoly so long as that monopoly is irresponsible. The irresponsible monopoly which dealt with the Argentine situation before the war is all right. That is not bulk buying according to him, but buying by a responsible State is a different matter.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
The hon. and learned Member is definitely, but I am sure unintentionally, misquoting me. I gave him a positive definition of bulk buying. He had no right whatever to deduce from that a negative proposition which is a figment of his own imagination.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Does the hon. and learned Member consider that bulk selling by the State, as in the case of the sale of cocoa by the Ministry of Food, is equally a monopoly?
§ Mr. Paget
That seems to me to be something of an evasion of the point. I am very much against bulk buying by irresponsible people and we see the result in the Argentine. That is our trouble. The irresponsible bulk buyers exploited the Argentine producer without passing on the advantage to the home consumer, with the result that the Argentine producer reacted and the PerÓn régime resulted from the action of the meat monopolists before the war. The conditions which the meat monopolists created built up the PerÓn régime, which established bulk selling, not by the State in the ordinary sense but by a political organisation to build up its own funds. That is where the hon. Member on the benches opposite who quoted from Senor Hogan was quoting something which is absolute nonsense.
§ Mr. Turton
Can the hon. and learned Member explain why the Péronista Government allows those six firms to carry on trade and sell meat to Western European countries, and this Government does not allow them to sell any to Britain?
§ Mr. Paget
All those firms buy from the Péronista Government. The Péronista Government are only too delighted to sell to the private divided buyers, who bid each other up, but they are going to do the selling because their whole party funds depend upon it. That is why it is no use our increasing the price to the Argentine, because it will not call for any increased production in the Argentine. It will merely increase the funds available to the PerÓnistas. It will not get to the Argentine producer.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
The hon. and learned Member seems to be very much against bulk selling, but there is not much difference between bulk selling and bulk buying.
§ Mr. Paget
I am not at all against bulk selling by responsible people. I am not against bulk buying by responsible people. I am against both by irresponsible people. We have a perfectly good example of bulk selling in New Zealand by responsible people. A really admirable trade has been built up there, a trade which gives assurance to the farmer, which has called forth a steady and continuing increase of supplies and makes those supplies available to us at a reasonable price. Where there is New Zealand bulk selling and British Government bulk buying, there we have an ideal supply and demand situation which is working perfectly. Where there is a totalitarian party doing the bulk selling, brought about by an irresponsible monopoly which introduced bulk buying, one has the unfortunate situation which has arisen in the Argentine. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is that going to help the Minister to buy?"] It is going to help the Minister to buy a great deal more than what is being done by hon. Members opposite.
The hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South, spoke about starvation, while the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough said that it looked as if this country was facing unexampled disaster. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite cheer that. They have always cheered disaster. 1998 Is that likely to make the Argentinians accept our bid? The Argentine refrigeration space has been full since November. They have been having to can meat at grossly uneconomic prices. Why have they hung on? Because they have received encouragement from the Opposition and their newspapers. The Opposition have been saying in effect "Hold on; the political situation will force this Government to submit to your prices." This Government has had the courage not to submit, for the benefit of this country and to save this rising price situation.
Hon. Members opposite have said, "It is only a matter of six votes and you will have 'easy-osies'— a Government that will pay you what you want." That is what the Opposition have been saying throughout this debate. In point of fact, owing to our handling of the situation since the Korean situation arose, while food prices have gone up 15 per cent., all the other raw materials have gone up 40 per cent. in price, and they are in no less short supply. Let us get this perfectly clear. Look at the other raw materials which are not bulk bought. Is there one of them which is not in short supply today? Is there one of them which has not gone up in price far more than the bulk-bought articles? Not one of them.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman say whether he refers to stock-piling or normal consumer demands?
§ Mr. Paget
I would say the ordinary consumer demand which involves some building up in stocks. There is practically not one article which is not in short supply in this country today, and at a very much enhanced price. Let us consider the reality of this problem which is being built up to these artificial levels. The reality of the problem is that we have had a change of menu—no more nor less than that. The general nutrition position is considerably better. We do not hear from the Opposition one word of rejoicing at all the items which have gone up, such as cheese, fats, sugar—
§ Mr. Paget
No, in quantity. Not a word of rejoicing do we hear from the Opposition. I very much wish that the 1999 debates in this House could be broadcast or televised. I think it would do the people of the country good to see the joy on the faces of the Opposition at every difficulty which is imposed on the housewives. When the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough said that today they are only getting half as much as they got in the workhouse before the war, there were expressions of ecstatic joy on every face opposite. When there is bad news for England there is joy on the faces of hon. Members opposite, which can only be repeated in the Kremlin and elsewhere where our enemies congregate. At a time when this country is in danger, they have been making an attack upon the morale of their own country.
I should like particularly to refer to a recent article written by the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) in the "Daily Mail" in which he tried to persuade the people in this country that they were being weakened. He said:A grown man at work requires not less than 37 grammes as a minimum and, to be safe, 50 grammes of animal protein daily.I would say that is not doctoring; it is witch doctoring.
§ Mr. Paget
I take it that the word "animal" is not in the report. Now may I quote to the hon. Member some words from a report of the British Medical Association, of which he used to be secretary? It says this:It is generally accepted that it is immaterial whether the essential protein units 2000 are derived from plant or animal foods, provided that they supply approximate mixtures of units in assimilable form. There is at the present time no convincing evidence that an animal protein has any intrinsic value of its own.
§ Mr. Paget
I will obtain the page for the hon. Gentleman. There we see an attempt to build up this shortage of meat into a danger to the health of the people, and an attempt to take animal proteins—and, of course, "animal" is the vital word in these circumstances—and give them a witch doctoring magic. There is nothing else to it: it is an attempt on the morale of the people, contradicted utterly by the British Medical Association. That is typical of the sort of behaviour which we have been having from the Opposition—an attempt to lower the morale of the people and a constant attempt to raise the resistance of the Argentine to the acceptance of our prices. If they had had the loyalty to back us up in this matter, there would not have been a reduction in the meat ration because the Argentine would have accepted our prices.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury and Radcliffe)
In the six years in which I have been in this House I have often had the pleasure of listening to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and I have always done so with a considerable degree of respect for his devotion to factual exposition. But the speech he has made today is, I think, one of the most shocking and I cannot but say the most deliberate travesties of the truth that I have ever heard. He has tried to besmear everybody in this House and to call them unpatriotic when they have dared to criticise the Government's policy of meat buying in the Argentine. He has used many half-comprehended adjectives, such as his use of the word "animal" with regard to protein. In other words, the fumes in his head have completely prevented him from understanding or exposing the truth of what the Minister called the inescapable facts of this situation.
The hon. and learned Member said that the policy of this side of the House had resulted in forcing the Argentine to can a good deal of their meat at grossly 2001 uneconomic prices. That brings me to express my great gratitude to the Minister of Food for making in the House today what I believe was the most complete and final refutation of the benefits of Government purchase that I have ever heard. Why is this a grossly uneconomic process in the Argentine? It has gone on for many years. It is uneconomic for only one reason—that the price of tin, which for many years has been controlled by the Ministry of Supply, was this day last year £600 a ton and was today £1,390. If this country is selling tin at those prices to the Argentine, tin which they need for tin plate—either in the raw form or in the form of tin plate—naturally it becomes a grossly uneconomic process. I am not defending the Peron Government, but looking at this purely from the economic point of view.
Who is responsible for this? Is it not an act of a Government Department which has complete control over prices? The hon. and learned Gentleman should look a little more carefully at his prices and his facts. He refuses to consider the facts I am no supporter of the Argentine Government in any way whatsoever, nor is it likely—
§ Mr. Edelman (Coventry, North)
Is it not a fact that the tin market is today a free market and that the fabulous prices which are being demanded for tin are demanded by private sellers?
§ Mr. Fletcher
The tin market opened at over £1,100. The difference between £600 and £1,100 was within the control of the Ministry of Supply before the market was opened.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I have already given it; £1,390. Let me get back to what the Minister said. He made one significant and revealing remark in which he said that he was very sorry about the effect this difficulty with the Argentine would have on New Zealand, Australia and other suppliers with whom the Government had long-term contracts. That shows a complete lack of understanding of the whole idea of State trading. It is very important that on this side of the House, as well as on the opposite side, nobody should be too doctrinaire on this point.
The real essence of State trading is that it is perfectly safe and right on many 2002 occasions to go in for State trading with certain categories of people, particularly your own kith and kin within the Commonwealth, but that it is quite wrong and unsafe, and in the end invariably results in a twist being put on you, to use the same system with those who do not share your own views, are hostile to you in other ways and are, at the same time, carrying on negotiations on a great many other points which have nothing whatever to do with that particular bulk purchase.
That is exactly the failure of hon. Gentleman opposite. They will stick to the one theory, quite irrespective of whom it is to be applied to. During recent years, from time to time Canada has had to accept rather a raw deal from the Government of this country, such as the cancellation of contracts in respect of pulp and many alterations in those contracts. Is that not proof of what I say? It is perfectly possible to go to your friends and explain to them the difficult position which has arisen over a five-year contract when world conditions have altered, and to say to them, "We understand your problems and we do not want to make it difficult for your suppliers, but we are having great difficulty in trying to keep up with this contract." You can do that with certain people.
But you are making a major mistake if, through gross errors of judgment and through permanently applying the theory which is least applicable, you do the same thing to a Government about whom you have expressed hatred in the terms of hon. Members who call them Fascists. Incidentally, that must have been very helpful to the Minister. What is the major error? It is that the same people are carrying on the negotiations—the people of the Embassy, many of whom I know and who are the most able and hard-working people imaginable. They are, from day to day, having one quarrel after another with the Argentine. I should have thought it was absolutely certain that they were the last people to carry on a negotiation which is purely one of a business arrangement.
The hon. and learned Gentleman was equally inaccurate in saying that it was impossible to do a deal with the Argentine through a private enterprise unit. That is totally untrue. I did a complicated deal not so long ago by which I purchased coal on the Continent of Europe. I could not get it here; I had 2003 it turned into cement by another nation, shipped through another nation to the Argentine who were short of cement, as we were—and I was not depriving this country of the supply—and therefore was able to deal in what the Argentine was producing and what we wanted. The Government could not do it; they never even thought of it.
That is an instance of the working of people who know how international business is done and who, by doing the trade in consultation with the Government, can help the country and can invariably carry out what has not been considered by the Minister, even the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Those are the methods—those, plus long-term personal contacts which exist between individuals. Both sides will start, naturally, by reviling their respective Governments. That is usually the best beginning to a business conversation, and both sides usually have very good cause for doing it. That excellent opening gambit, on common ground, leads gradually to family discussions—"How is your son who came to stay with us in England before the war?" Then they get down to business.
If the Government would realise that, in cases where State trading inside the Commonwealth or with friendly nations cannot be carried out in certain ways, there are many occasions on which they could use private traders, I am sure they would find the private traders willing to have the policy and the range of prices planned by the Government, in consultation with them, while they themselves supply the knowledge and the action which is at present discarded because of the Government's absolute adherence to ridiculous and outmoded doctrinaire methods.
I turn now to the question of monopoly and the hard feeling which exists in the Argentine. One of the inescapable facts to which the Minister referred—and he glossed over the fact of devaluation—has remained in the minds not only of the Argentine but of every other country. The Minister and his Ministry are responsible for a practical monopoly control of cocoa. Now, cocoa plays quite an important role in every hot country, and particularly in every Latin country. The cup of chocolate—not in the same liberal form as a cup of cocoa, but as a 2004 cup of chocolate—plays quite an important part.
What can be the view of the Argentine Government or of any other Government in the world when they have seen the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry pushing up the market in cocoa, playing the market in cocoa in America? This day last year cocoa was at £220. On the day on which it was released it was at over £300. Everything that has been produced inside the sterling bloc in the way of raw materials, and which affects the life of everybody throughout the world, and the prices everybody has to pay, has gone up. Yet the Minister says he does not wish to be a Canute. He is being a Canute, and nothing else.
I think the weakest explanation I have ever heard was his refusal to accept the £220 price that he could have negotiated. He told us he could have negotiated it. Retrospective as it may be, difficult though it is to calculate the exact price, I reckon the price would have been about £10 million. I think he is going to find that he will bitterly regret not having seized the opportunity to accept an offer coming from General Peron, who, he has told us, is only too anxious again to do business with us. That particular rocket, taken in comparison with the two examples I have given where the Government have a control of monopoly as sellers, shows that the position was a great deal easier than it has been made out to have been.
I represent in this House a purely working man's constituency, with a good many heavy industries in it. I have gone round and asked many of my constituents what they think about the meat position. They are exactly the same type of people as the majority of the backers of hon. Gentlemen on the other side. If the right hon. Gentleman were to put the question to them quite plainly, he would hardly find a single voice that would not say that the extra amount of money that had to be paid—even though they do not like it, and even though they realise a great many of the long-term implications—should, nevertheless, have been paid. Why? Because they realise, in spite of the indignation of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton regarding animal fat—and to have a rush of animal fat to the head must really be one of the most painful things that can happen—and in spite 2005 of the stupidity of people who disagree with the Government, that it is going to be very difficult for them to carry on heavy industry in an increasing state of meatlessness.
Just what are they being asked to do? They have been exhorted by people on either side of the House, and outside the House, too, to make an extra effort, because an extra effort will be needed to produce more. They accept that, and are only too willing to do it, yet they are being told that they are not going to get meat. Will they get any extra eggs? I am inclined to think there will be no eggs as well. Certainly if, for an already insufficient ration of meat for men working in heavy industry, we are not going to substitute an increase in fat, and of good quality fish, too, to make fish and chips, which plays a vital part in productive industry from every point of view, we are not only going to fail to get an extra effort from them in industry, because it will not be possible, but we are going to fail to get many women into industry, because they will have more difficulties than ever in coping with household demands. That makes the thing much more serious.
I have some sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman from this point of view. Obviously, he took the Ministry over when almost every mistake had been made previously, and he inherited them. The first foolish step in the Argentine was the responsibility of Sir Stafford Cripps, whose recovery, we hope, is progressing the whole time. Nevertheless, his negotiations, and the fact that he also gave the railways away at a quite ridiculous price, and whetted the appetites of the Argentinos, showed them that they had to deal with people quite incapable of handling anything so difficult and complex as food purchase on a large scale; and from then onwards the task has been made more and more difficult by every step, including devaluation.
Now I should like to turn for one minute to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As he is to close the debate, I should like to ask him one question. With many reservations, he has, nevertheless, in the last six months been saying—I think with a quite good degree of justification—pointing to our greatly 2006 improved gold and dollar position, that it is due—and he has admitted it—in very large measure to the enormous rise in prices of the raw commodities produced within the sterling bloc. Now, it is very difficult for hon. Gentlemen on the other side to be complaining so very bitterly about the rise that has taken place outside the sterling area and at the same time to be pointing out in a fact which I rejoice—for let me point out to the right hon. Gentleman that we are thus buttressed and reinforced in our national currency by it—the improvement in gold and dollars.
What I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer is this. Is he quite certain that the policy he is pursuing—and it is his policy that makes the Minister of Food so reluctant to pay a higher price for meat—is today, in the different circumstances in which we are living, the right one? The policy of the United States is less interested in gold and dollars today than in raw materials and commodities, which they are stockpiling—I think, in a rather frenzied way—which is having a certain deleterious effect. Is the right hon. Gentleman quite certain that what he is putting by for a rainy day in the way of gold and dollars would not now really be better invested in raw materials and food?
He has been warned about it on many occasions; but now when the crisis is much more severe, when he and his colleagues are trying to arrange with other nations—very rightly—first of all through O.E.E.C., and afterwards by more direct means, some form of allocation so that prices shall not be unduly forced up, is he not, nevertheless, beginning to be persuaded that it is time that he reversed it? And if this is so, and with the Minister of Food having inherited, when he took over the house, a lot of dead and dying babies, from groundnuts to bad relationships with a great many countries, is it not time that he should consider whether his policy should not be to try once more, if he can, to buy that meat at the £120 rate?—which I think he will find extremely difficult to repeat in a very short while.
The world is in a wave of inflation, and the Minister's attitude is not only not common sense, but does not mean anything at all. What I should like him to consider very seriously is whether he 2007 will not relinquish this one-way market in the method of negotiating. He may have to pay a higher price to the Argentine, but if he then goes to New Zealand and Australia and Canada he will receive from them, as he has always received from them and always will receive from them, an immense amount of goodwill and commonsense and understanding. But it should persuade him and his colleagues once for all that one can use different methods—and must use different methods—in different countries, but that one must not reduce and play about with the food of the people for the sake of sticking to doctrinaire ideas; that one must very often do things which are most unpleasant, and yield to a pressure which, I admit, is very often an unfair one, but which is also often made difficult precisely because of the Government's own actions.
The Minister of Food, perhaps, is rather less to blame for this situation, by and large, than the Government as a whole. But the Government's policy—and the Prime Minister who is responsible for the policy—is worthy on this occasion of the deepest possible censure. Let them now come to private enterprise and harness it, with all that it can offer, to the national effort of obtaining more food everywhere throughout the world. If they do that, I am certain they will have a conspicuous measure of success which will inevitably be denied them if they stick to party slogans and the outmoded traditional love of a method which has been disproved by their own actions, and which is disproved more than ever by the hopeless position regarding meat and many other foodstuffs in which we find ourselves today.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I propose to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. W. Fletcher) a little later in my speech. Meantime I wish to address myself to the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crook-shank), who opened this debate with such an excellent speech. I told him that if I got the opportunity, I would in some measure reply to his opening remarks. He will have noted that his references to the plentiful supply of meat that he said we had in the old days was very much re- 2008 sented. It is very difficult to come to a conclusion about this good supply. In my mail bag I find letters from people writing to tell me what they used to be able to buy in the 'thirties, yet all over the country I meet so many people who are very bitter because they could not get these good things in the 'thirties.
I do not want to indulge in recriminations, because I know that recriminations are useless. I can remember the Leader of the Opposition saying during the war that recriminations were useless unless they acted as a lesson to us. I am afraid the lesson of the 'thirties has not been learned by hon. Members opposite, for all through this debate it has appeared that they would lead us to a position in which, while there might be plenty of butcher's meat in the shops, the people would not have the means to pay for it.
As the only housewife who has so far taken part in the debate, I must say that I am really scared lest we might run into the same position that the housewives of Australia and New Zealand have run into since the Tory Parties came to power there. I am afraid of seeing chops at 7s. 6d. a pound, which it will be impossible for any of us to buy. It is no use having plenty of sirloin, chops, and fillet steak in the shops if we can only look at them.
As a housewife, I am sure that I am reiterating the spirit of the women of Britain when I say we will back the Minister who is going to take a stand against this rapid increase in the price of every commodity we need. We ought to back such a Minister, and we are willing to put up with temporary inconvenience if we know that it is in the best interests of our country. That is an entirely different position from the position in the 'thirties, when we had this plentiful supply. I take it that most of us here are parents. If a parent has a plentiful supply of everything but holds it back from her children, how will the children feel towards that parent? If the parent is battling against great odds and the children appreciate it, will they not have an entirely different feeling towards that parent?
Hon. Members opposite must not feel annoyed if at times there is a bitter spirit on these benches in remembrance of the time when they were responsible, when they had all the means at their disposal 2009 but when people suffered from malnutrition, when the workhouses were full, when the maternal mortality rate, the infant mortality rate and the general mortality rate were very high. The responsibilty lies with the party opposite.
I ask the Opposition: Where is the spirit of the men of Britain? Has it departed from the benches opposite that they will not stand up to the Argentine, that they tell the Minister that he should give way? Would they have given that advice if it had been Russia who had been putting up the price? I do not think so. They would have insisted that we went without for a little while until Russia was brought to her knees. If the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough had been the Minister of Food, the newspapers would have backed him to the hilt. The housewives would have been left in no doubt whatever as to the position; they would have been told how the price of every commodity was rising abroad; how the price of every commodity had risen in Tory New Zealand and in Tory Australia; they would have been told how costs were rising, and that to save them from rising further the Minister had taken a stand. If there were a Tory Minister of Food and he saw around him rising prices of rubber, tin, cotton, wool, aluminium, copper, zinc, and everything else, and he took a stand, the newspapers would have waxed lyrical and said "He keeps his head when all around him are losing theirs and blaming him."
Someone must take a stand on behalf of the housewives of Britain, and indeed the housewives all over the world. This stand must be taken some time, and the Minister has taken it. I am very glad that some resistance has been shown to what in the end will cripple us all if prices are allowed to run riot, as they would do in the remote possibility of the party opposite coming to power.
The Minister has been criticised for bulk buying. The Opposition have urged that we should get back to free enterprise and finish with bulk buying. Where is free enterprise in Britain? I remember the Scotstoun by-election, when a message came from the Leader of the Opposition saying that the way to get clown the cost of living was to have plenty of competition and free enterprise and to stop bulk buying. In that constituency I used to 2010 do my shopping with all the other housewives. I am still wondering where the free competition was or is in Britain. For example, there are Lipton's, Limited, Maypole Dairy Company, Home and Colonial Stores, United Dairies, Peark's Dairies—[An HON. MEMBER: "The Co-operative."]—there is a Templeton's and a Cochrane's—at least those are the names above the doors, but they are one and the same big combine, formed to cheat the housewife, and she does not know that if she forsakes Lipton's for the Maypole, it does not matter a button or a "tinker's cuss," because she is dealing with the same firm.
Why are they all combined? Why do they cheat the housewife with these fancy names above the doors which mean nothing at all? I suppose that it is to preserve the appearance that there is free competition amongst all those shops. In the same area, there are bakeries—Peacock, Currie, City Bakeries, Colquhoun Company—and the housewife actually thinks they are all different firms. They are one big combine—the Weston Biscuits combine. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will not want me to tell them anything, about it: they know all about it.
§ Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)
Would the hon. Lady tell us why these housewives go to these monopolistic stores if they are selling things for shillings higher than the Co-operative Society?
§ Mrs. Mann
I think that the membership of the Co-operative Society is the reply to the hon. Gentleman. We get all this from the Conservative children who come to our meetings, and who get their information from the Central Office. I know all about it. The Co-operative is, at least honest enough to put its name above its doors. That is point one. Point two is that one can become a member of the Co-operative Society on payment of 1s. 6d. Can anyone get into the Unilever combine for 1s. 6d.? Point three is that if I am dissatisfied, or all the other housewives are dissatisfied about prices or services, they can go to the annual general Co-operative meeting and lodge their complaints; but in the monopoly which I am describing the housewife is not admitted.
I come to this point: it is a combine to eliminate competition so that the house- 2011 wife gets no benefit from the competition between them, and the combine is primarily designed to buy cheap by bulk buying. Hon. Members opposite may deny that. The hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. W. Fletcher) talked about our method of bulk buying, but if his hon. Friends indulge in it—
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
In the case of nearly every commodity in these groceries, which are in fact not a combine, and I deny that they are—the hon. Lady must bring some proof—the price is controlled by the Ministry of Food.
§ Mrs. Mann
That is another one which the youngsters of the Conservative Party put to us about the prices being controlled by the Ministry of Food. This week-end, when all soap powders and so on were announced to be increased by ½d., there were quite a number of firms who were reducing the price of their packets of soap powder, and the explanation was this: the Ministry fix a maximum, and when there is a combine with 50 different names above its shops, one can bet one's boots that it is charging the maximum price fixed by the Ministry.
§ Mrs. Mann
I cannot give way again. I do not want anybody to have a false impression that I think that things have been easy with the imposition of this 8d. worth of butcher's meat. It has been a tremendous trouble. I know that the Tories could double it tomorrow if they were in power—they would charge double for the same amount. If the Minister had imposed this in the summer, when fish are plentiful, and when we have plenty of salads and lots of eggs, I question whether many of us would have worried about it all. But it has been a real hardship. During the Recess, I had three weeks at home tending an invalid, and I felt the complete hardship of this shortage. I found that the alternatives—and this makes me more bitter than anything—were very high in price. A 2012 lemon sole, for my invalid, cost 5s. per lb.; white filleted haddock, 4s. 6d. per lb. I say to hon. Members opposite that the difficulty was the high price of the alternatives and they were a high price because we had no controls. If we had had controls, the alternatives would have been much more bearable.
§ Mrs. Mann
As an illustration, Sir, may I produce my knitting. This wool, at the end of the season, in September, was 1s. 5½d. It went up to 1s. 10½d. When I got on to my next lot of socks, I was told that it would be 2s. 6d. There was no control and every shopkeeper was outbidding the other in increasing the price, so I just did not knit the 2s. 6d. wool, and I pressed for controls to be re-imposed. The President of the Board of Trade re-imposed the controls, and I bought this in London this week, not at 2s. 6d. but at 1s. 10d. I think that if we had controls re-imposed on fish and the other alternatives, the Minister would help the housewife, and the housewife would help him to beat the Argentine.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Dr. Hill (Luton)
My excuse for intervening very briefly in this debate is to suggest that one aspect of this problem has been neglected, apart from the temperamental and inaccurate references to the subject by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), and that is the importance of meat in the nutrition and health of the people of the country. I shall endeavour to state the position objectively, in spite of the temptations the hon. and learned Member has put in my way.
The first function of the Minister of Food is to provide all the necessary food to sustain the health of the people. It is generally accepted by those with some knowledge of the subject that an amount of protein, the chemical element of building food, is needed each day, and it is generally accepted that a substantial proportion of that protein must come from animal food—that is animal protein.
The hon. and learned Member, referring to a statement of mine that good health depends on eating enough proteins and that some of the proteins must be animal in origin for a grown man at work—not less than 37 grammes, and 50 2013 grammes to be safe—called in aid a report published by the British Medical Association, a body with which at one time I had some association. He proceeded by a carefully selected quotation to suggest that animal food was not a necessary element in the human diet. The sentence that he took good care to leave out, which immediately follows his quotation, is this:The Committee, however, draws attention to the important fact that the nutritional value of animal foods may in many instances be determined in no small measure by the presence of nutriment other than protein, and, moreover, this has not been sufficiently taken into account when the respective elements of vegetable and animal proteins have been compared.Having called in aid this report, he might have given a specific quotation from another B.M.A. document that refers to this point:The Committee is of opinion that a figure between 37 and 62.7 should be adopted, and agrees that 50 grammes of first-class protein per day is sufficient to maintain the health and working capacity of the average man.To suggest that 37 grammes, as a minimum, and 50 grammes, to be safe, as the proper figures for a growing man at work is an exaggeration, only reveals the temperamental difficulties in the mind of the Member who makes such a criticism.
§ Dr. Hill
I am going to answer the question, if the hon. and learned Member has the patience to listen and the intelligence to understand.
The second point—and I give it without reservation—is that animal protein can be provided from milk, meat, fish, eggs or cheese equally, the one substitut- 2014 ing for the other. The needs of the human being in terms of animal protein are generally agreed to be between 37 and 50 grammes per day, and I am willing to take some such figure as 40 as representing the reasonable average need of the working adult. On my calculations, the ration today is providing about 12 grammes of protein for older children and adults. That means that the ration is providing 12 of these 40 grammes which is the figure I am taking for the purpose of illustration, and no more.
It is true that in addition to the 12 grammes of animal protein there is such protein as is obtained from additional meals taken out, from special allowances, and from milk and fish which are not rationed. The position today is that for those who can take advantage of meals out, for those who can buy rabbits at 5s. and 6s. a lb., and for those who—and here we come to an element in the human appetite—can drink large quantities of milk and have an affection for fish day after day, there is an adequacy of proteins in terms of some 40 grammes a day.
§ Dr. Hill
I have already mentioned supplementary allowances. If we take the whole of the meat from canteens and restaurants and spread it over the population, it will come to only approximately 2 grammes a day of animal protein. If it is assumed that the human being is a machine obediently to take such forms of foodstuffs as are put in front of him without taking into account the element of appetite, then the stuff is there.
I had high hopes of the Minister of Food when he quoted from a famous figure in English history that "a little of what you fancy does you good," but I think he is laying too much emphasis on the "little" and not enough on the "fancy." I say that for this reason. Whatever dietetic textbooks may say, the plain man prefers to take much of his proteins in the form of meat, and it is a dietetic truth that the food one likes is the food one digests the better for liking it. This is a psychological question, but it is none the less important for that fact. If the people are to be told that they can go to milk and fish for the pro- 2015 teins they need, then that is by all means scientifically satisfactory, but do not let us forget that meat has been the most important nutritional element in the lives of the people of the country.
Just a few words more. It has been said—indeed it was stated in a letter to a newspaper yesterday—that the unusual amount of illness from which this country is suffering is due to the inadequacy of the food. I do not believe that for one moment. It has not been proved. For one thing it is terribly difficult to relate cause and effect and all too easy to generalise. In any case, there has not been time yet to study the effects of the smaller meat ration upon the health of the people. But it is useful for a moment to recall that 1947, in the matter of food, was a fairly reasonable year. The amount of protein in that year was about 45 grammes, which, after allowing for wastage, was a reasonable average for the community. In 1947, when there were 45 grammes of animal protein, we got 24 of them from meat. That expresses the habits of the people in the matter of animal protein in 1947 and more than half of them came from meat.
The position today is that, even assuming there are 45 grammes in all, 12 of them are got from meat, or approximately half the figure of 1947. Do not let us forget, after making a calculation imposed by the change in price, that we are now under this new ration getting approximately half of the smallest ration at any time during the war.
We may ask ourselves, what has happened since 1947? Cheese has gone up but dried eggs have gone. It seems to me that if we examine 1947 in relation to today, there has been a serious fall m the amount of animal protein available and particularly a catastrophic fall in the kind of animal protein that the people want.
I must add one last word. If it should emerge—and I hope the House will acquit me of no more than the bias which is almost inescapable in this House in the presentation of the facts—that, in fact, there is nutritional insufficiency in the diet of today, it will not manifest itself in loss of weight, but in a smaller daily output of work. It is instinctive for the human body, unconsciously to relate its output to intake. It seems to 2016 me to be a fantastic position, when at a time the nation is to be called upon for a mighty effort in production and rearmament, that the form of food which the man in the factory, in the office and at the bench likes best of all is at the miserable, beggarly level of half of what it was in the worst days of the war.
It seems to me that the people of this country will want to know why it is that it is only considerations of exchange, of the cost-of-living index, of ambassadorial exchanges and of high finance which are allowed to enter into this question. They will want to know why, in fact, the Minister of Food is not securing the food that the people need as his first duty.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Macdonald (Roxburgh and Selkirk)
We of the Liberal party welcomed the appointment of the present Minister of Food to his high office, because we saw in him a man of ability, imagination, energy, and approachability on the very difficult problems that we have been facing. But we must definitely state that he or his advisers have made an unholy mess of this meat situation. That has been due in great part to wrong judgment. We know that purposely he would not make such a mess. He has clearly stated this afternoon that no Minister or Government in their right senses would do it. But we believe from the highest motives of not allowing us to be blackmailed he has wrongly judged the market. He anticipated that prices were falling when prices were really rising, and they are much less likely now to fall than ever before because of the Korean campaign and other factors.
We are ready to admit that bulk buying in some of its arrangements has turned out satisfactory and we welcome them, but on the whole it has been a failure, partly because, as the Minister said this afternoon, bulk buying has, in some instances, been wrapped up with 2017 political implications, which were never fettered to private enterprise in the prewar importations of our food stocks. It seems to me quite wrong that this question of meat and what price we pay for it should be tied up with sterling balances and other things, which are not associated with it at all, and which create a political atmosphere which makes it very difficult for the country with whom we are negotiating to agree to what we want.
Bulk buying is particularly unfortunate when it is between a Government mission and a totalitarian regime, especially when they know that they can afford to wait and that we cannot. In my opinion the Minister has waited too long. He has got us now to the ridiculous state that in our serious need for meat we have been forced to purchase these 4,000 tons from France at a price of £57 a ton above the average figure which the Argentine are now demanding. I know that we have heard about this earlier this afternoon, but it bears repetition. What meat was it? It had not been properly prepared for export, because the French at the time did not expect to export it and therefore it has had to be used for manufacturing purposes. We spent £177 per ton for meat for manufacturing purposes. Do we realise what that means in actual cost? It is £228,000 more than we would have paid Argentina at the price they are demanding for fresh meat. It has to be paid by someone, either by the housewife, by subsidy or in some other way.
The absurdity of the position is indicated—and I give the "News Chronicle" as my reference in this matter—by the fact that that it would have cost us £5 million extra to agree to what Argentina is wanting at the present time. In other words, as the Minister said this afternoon, the average price of chilled meat and frozen meat which Argentina was demanding was £120 a ton, while the highest price that the Minister was prepared to go was £104 per ton, or £16 a ton less. In the "News Chronicle" article it is stated that it would really cost us about £5 million to agree to their demand. We realise that that is hard currency, but it is our belief it should be paid, particularly when we see the alternative is to keep the butchers, who do not want to be idle but want to work and have enough meat to be able to serve the public, having to be subsidised. We shall have to pay 2018 them every year approximately £20 million.
This afternoon the Minister told us that that is an internal matter which will even itself out, while if we paid what Argentina want that would be an external matter. We must be prepared to pay those additional amounts, because as the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) put it, speaking with his great knowledge of these things, without this additional meat for the people, how can we ask them to give the greater productivity which this country must have to reduce the present high cost of living?
A further reason that the Minister has given is that he has been fighting this fight against Argentina in order to keep down the cost of living. I know that hon. Members of the Conservative Party consider that it was to keep down the cost-of-living index, but whether or not that was the case it was certainly to keep down the cost of living. The Minister has defeated his object in this matter by the fact that the average housewife, knowing that her family cannot manage on the microscopic meat ration, has been forced to purchase expensive tinned meat and rabbits and fish at exorbitant prices. Her family has had to have something, and she has to turn to alternatives.
The prices entered into with Argentina when first this haggling started were those which existed before devaluation. They have since been slightly increased, but now we are asking Argentina on our part to pay approximately four times more, or 400 per cent. more, for the coal that she imports from us, as compared with the price she paid pre-war. We are saying that there has been hard bargaining, but we must remember that we have been bargaining hard with Argentina, and quite rightly. I am glad that we are doing it, in the interests of the country.
The Minister has said that if he had agreed to these prices our loyal friends and relatives in New Zealand, who have always come to our aid in the past, would have been forced to ask for increased prices. I believe that the Minister will need to pay increased prices to those very good friends of ours in the not very distant future, because I do not believe they will' otherwise be able to maintain their present supplies to us, with wool at its present price. The wool position 2019 encourages those people to keep their beasts alive rather than to send them to us. The Minister himself is a representative of a wool constituency and I am sure will bear out the truth of my argument.
We believe that Britain, as the Minister said this afternoon, was the highest meat consuming country per head of population in the world, before the war. I may be wrong, but I think that was the fact. I believe that the people of Britain are prepared to pay higher prices in order to secure adequate supplies. Those higher prices would have to be paid by the people in higher cost of living, which we are all struggling to keep down, or by way of higher subsidies. If we are to have increased subsidies, we cannot get a quart out of a pint pot from the finances of this country, and we shall have to make sacrifices in other directions. I believe that as a nation we are so wedded to meat, which is one of the cheapest of the basic foods, and that it is so essential to the health of the people to have meat in plentiful supply, that the housewife would be prepared to make a sacrifice in order to secure an adequate meat supply.
We have heard from the Minister some details of the Government's meat negotiations, but we ought to hear a great deal more. I hope that in the winding-up speech a good deal more information will be made available. We shall be interested to know the proposals of the Government—if they decide to continue bulk buying—to prevent a recurrence of crises of this type. If we get out of this crisis now—whether we pay them or they agree to our price—we can be quite sure that while political implications are attached to bulk buying there will be a series of such crises, particularly as the tendency is for upward prices because of the Korean war and the general upset throughout the world.
The Minister touched on the question of home-produced meat. We are interested to know what arrangements the Government are making to increase those supplies. The Minister's reference to the matter was very sketchy. I have already said tonight that bulk buying has proved successful in some cases, but in a number of cases, which I could quote if the Minister challenged what I say, it has been a failure. From whom could I better quote than from the man who has 2020 been responsible for the meat purchases of this country, Sir Henry Turner? He was the expert who has been buying meat for the Ministry of Food since the beginning of the war. On his retirement last October, he said that he was convincedthat this system of bulk buying had outlived its usefulness, we are getting less and less of the qualities we want and I am sure we are getting a smaller quantity than we should if the trade were entrusted with the job.Hon. Members must take notice of a statement made by a man who has been in that responsible position for so long.
I should like to put a few proposals to the Minister, although I am a layman speaking to the expert. From his far greater knowledge and as a result of his experience, the Minister may find them impossible of acceptance, but I do ask him to give them consideration before he tears them to pieces. My first proposal is this. It is not, as the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) has just stated, that we are lacking in backbone and manhood if we agree to pay these prices to Argentina. I believe that we are now in an impossible position in the negotiations and that we must pay the prices for as short a time as possible, on a short-term contract. There is only £16 difference per ton in what Argentina is asking. If the Minister feels that a long-term contract is advisable, well and good, but I would suggest a short-term contract, in view of the other proposals which I am going to make.
There was a statement in January by the Argentine Commercial Attaché in London. I believe it was that his Government would be prepared to abandon bulk selling if Britain would give up bulk buying. The statement made it possible for us, if we so desired, to revert to the excellent meat importing arrangement that existed in this country before the war. I know that some hon. Members opposite say that as this meat would come through private enterprise we should not revert to that system, because a great many people in this country did not get as much meat as they ought to have got in those days. That was partly due to the vast number of unemployed people who were unable to buy meat. There was nothing really wrong with the system of meat importation. Meat was not expensive, and was the most excellent in quality in the world. It was available to British people of all classes. We should revert to that system at as early a date as we can.
2021 Then I believe we should endeavour to purchase all our meat supplies from the termination of those short-term contracts or when the present contracts run out with Australia and New Zealand. By putting the buying back into the hands of private enterprise, subject to the control that the Government would be the eventual purchaser behind the meat importers, and that no meat importer would receive an import licence for any consignment unless the Government approved of the price at which he was purchasing the meat.
By this method we should get the benefit of a flexible system. The Minister stated that one buyer would be competing with another and pushing the prices up. The position would be the reverse because the Government would have the right to refuse to accept any but the lowest quotations which they received. We should then have the skill and ability of one trained negotiator against that of another in the overseas markets.
§ Mr. Daines (East Ham, North)
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the Australian Government have entered into very heavy capital commitments in North Australia for new roads, railways and abattoirs, the basis of which is a long-term agreement with this country to purchase their meat? How can that be squared up?
§ Mr. Macdonald
I understand that that is to be at prices to be negotiated; the prices have not yet been fixed. That arrangement is still fluid, and it would not be too late in that case to cancel or amend it. I understand from Australian sources —I lived in Australia for a large number of years—that they have not got very far with the development of that area, so that if we wished to have a freer economy in regard to the importation of meat it could be done.
We believe that as much feedingstuffs as possible should be purchased and imported so that we can increase at as early a date as possible our livestock of beef, mutton, pork and poultry. We know that we cannot discontinue altogether our purchases of pigs from abroad because we shall never, I assume, be able to grow all that we require in this country, though we can grow a great deal more than we are growing at present. We have welcomed, as a party, the introduction of the Livestock Rearing Bill, the Hill 2022 Farming Act and similar legislation which we hope will substantially increase the quantity of livestock in this country within the next few years.
We believe that the Ministries of Food and Agriculture should be merged so that there would be a joint policy on behalf of both our home-produced and of our imported food supplies. It would cut down a considerable amount of administrative expense. I do not mean that we should get rid of the whole of the staff of one Ministry by such a merger, but there would be considerable economies and we should get much quicker and less differing opinions. We also believe that a Ministry of that kind would have far greater power in standing up to the Ministry of Defence and the Service Departments in preventing the needless use of much of our valuable agricultural land for military purposes.
I do not mean that it is needless to have training grounds, but many of our training grounds might be sited on far less valuable agricultural land if we had such a joint Ministry. I also believe that such a Ministry could stand up more firmly to the Forestry Commission. My constituency has quite valuable hill farming land which has been taken by the Forestry Commission. We need forests, but we still have many millions of acres of open spaces which could be better spared from the point of view of food production than some of the hill farms.
In 1938 the meat supplies of this country—the Minister gave very much the same figures this afternoon—were approximately half home produced and half imported. The figures were 1,058,000 tons of imported meat and 1,404,000 tons of home produced meat. Ten years later, in 1949—the last year for which figures are available—we imported 813,600 tons, much of which was inferior to the quality of imported meat pre-war, and home produced meat amounted to 795,600 tons. Therefore, with a larger population—the Minister was careful to point out that by 1949 our population had increased by three million—our supplies of meat were down by between 500,000 and 600,000 tons a year.
Surely it is possible by some of the means that we have suggested to bring our meat import figures back to at least their pre-war rate and perhaps increase 2023 them in order to make good the temporary reduction in home produced supplies. Through no fault of the Minister or the Government, those supplies were sadly reduced by the blizzards and floods of 1947. They are rapidly being made up again, although they have not yet got back to normal.
We appreciate the motives which have actuated the Minister of Food in this matter, and we know how difficult his job has been, but we feel that he has left himself open to the most severe censure by the fact that he has delayed too long in these negotiations and has misjudged the market. I believe that in the matter of bulk buying of meat, as in many other matters directly affecting the life and comfort of millions of our people, the Government have been wanting in foresight, re-sourcefulness and speed of action.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Moeran (Bedfordshire, South)
I have listened with attention to all the speeches from the Opposition, including that of the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill). Apparently the hon. Member would like more meat; so would we all. Apart from the fact that he put his plea in the demagogic rhetoric of which he and other hon. Gentlemen opposite are such masters—always ready to turn the hardships of the common people to political advantage—I listened unsuccessfully for any shred of a shadow of a suspicion of an alternative programme to put in place of the programme which the Opposition criticise. It is perhaps fortunate that the hon. Member for Luton no longer holds his office with the British Medical Association, because apparently he now contradicts their statement that there is at the present time no convincing evidence that animal protein has an intrinsic value of its own. [HON. MEMBERS "What about vegetarians?"] The late lamented George Bernard Shaw was indeed a man of vigour and intellect on a vegetarian diet.
The policy—if such it can be called—put forward by hon. Members opposite seems to add up to a plea that bulk purchase, or State buying—as the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) referred to it—should be abandoned in favour of private enterprise, and the suggestion that we 2024 should get back to the unemployment figures of 1937 as an example of—
§ Mr. Moeran
—the standard of diet which we might expect under a Conservative Government. I should be delighted if any hon. Member opposite would come to my constituency and tell the ordinary working people that the unemployed man of 1937 had a better diet than the employed man of 1951. Or perhaps they would like to visit Jarrow or some of the other constituencies of my hon. Friends and say that.
§ Mr. Moeran
The problem—it is, of course, a real problem—of our meat supplies, as a food importing country, can only be understood if it is seen against the background and the context of the world food situation. I want to take up the point, upon which my right hon. Friend the Minister touched in his speech, of the world conditions in which we have to purchase our food supplies. As he mentioned, we are the largest food importing country in the world, and the significant fact of this century is that progressively, with increasing momentum, world food supplies relative to population has been declining; so that, compared with the situation before the war, world food production is only 95 per cent. of 1939 production; but relative to population, which has increased by 10 per cent. in that time, we produce only 86 per cent. per head of the population today, compared with pre-war.
That is the world situation in which we have to purchase our meat as well as all our other food supplies. But there is this difference between today and any previous period of our history, that whereas in the 19th century, with its rapidly growing population, there were untouched virgin territories to feed the millions, today there are virtually no virgin territories. We have reached the frontiers of cultivable land—I except the possibility of the development, for example, of the deserts, because that is a long-term possibility which does not affect the immediate situation.
2025 That is the situation against which the performance of the Minister and the Government must be judged. These are not temporary conditions; they are not even permanent; they are worsening conditions in the world at large. That is not a fact which can be affected by any one Government alone. If the present tendency of world population continues, with the pressure it brings on the markets for food, the population of 2,000 million today will be in the neighbourhood of 3,000 million in the 1980's, while the food supplies of the world, of which meat is an essential part, will have dropped in the same period to 80 per cent. or less of the pre-war food and meat supplies. A fact not often realised is that however we buy our food from America, we can only buy their surpluses, and these are likely to be absorbed by their own growing population within the next 15 or 20 years.
These are facts. Hon. Members opposite make these debating points about wanting more meat and what private enterprise can do, but whatever the enterprise, public or private, whatever the financial arrangements—Marshall Aid, dollar reserves or gold reserves—none of those affect the basic fact of declining world food supplies and increasing population and higher standards of living.
Further, it is not only food, but every raw material which comes from the soil, that is increasing the competition for the remaining soil. Increasing millions will want not only more food to eat, but more clothes to wear. This means more wool, more cotton. They will even want—heaven help them—more newspapers to read. They will want more rubber, and the increasing production of such commodities increases the competition for food supplies.
Looking at prices generally, we find that the wool clip of Australia last year fetched an all-time high of £A286 million. For the 1950–51 period it will be almost double, probably in the neighbourhood of £A530 million; and the increasing price of wool is an incentive to breed more sheep for wool, and a disincentive to breed the sheep for food. The price of leather hides has increased about six times since before the war. The price of cotton is seven and a half times higher than it was. Rubber has gone up seven times. All 2026 these commodities come from the same soil which must produce our food.
I am stressing these points because we must recognise them as the fundamental realities behind the present meat shortage and the food shortage which must exist for any food importing country in the future. I am not criticising the Opposition or pre-war Conservative Governments for these factors. We criticise them because they did not use even the supplies available; but these factors of declining food resources cannot be laid at the door of any Government. The result of this decline is that every food importing country is buying its meat in a progressively hardening market. We are faced with the position that more and more countries are manufacturing more of the manufactured goods with which we used to pay for our imports, and are making more and more pressing demands on the dwindling world larder of food supplies.
No responsible Government can ignore those worsening world conditions; the most we can do today is to use our bargaining power to achieve the best bargain we can. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite and other Members of the Opposition have suggested that we should scrap bulk buying. Yet bulk purchase is the major instrument by which we have kept our price level as low as it is. Let me quote from the "Economic Survey of Europe, 1949," made by the United Nations Economic Committee for Europe, that the terms of trade moved 16 per cent. against European countries. Against this country it was only by 8 per cent.—by only one half of the deterioration in terms of trade of other European countries. The Committee says:The smaller deterioration in British terms of trade reflects the influence of its bulk purchase agreements in restraining price increases.That same document, produced by a quite impartial body, goes on:On the side of imports, the price advantage was almost exclusively due to the favourable terms that the United Kingdom was able to negotiate under its various hulk purchase agreements.Those are the agreements which hon. Members opposite would have us tear up as so many scraps of paper, and revert to the competition between private buyers by struggling in the jungle to buy the dwindling supplies of meat.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris
How are you going to get more meat to the housewives? That is all that matters.
§ Mr. Moeran
Hon. Members will continue, I have no doubt, to make capital out of these difficult conditions and to suggest that their party would overcome them. We do not complain about that; we have learned to expect it from hon. Gentlemen opposite. I am concerned to outline some of the facts behind the difficult position in which this country, under whatever Government, must find itself. However skilful our negotiations, we must recognise that the real solution of our food and meat problems does not lie in the hands of the Minister of Food alone. On the contrary, if we are to face this worsening world position in the coming years we have to produce more of our own food. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to get that recognition. I was also glad to hear the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Macdonald), because I believe that kind of approach is valuable and constructive.
We are in the position that we are producing today approaching 50 per cent. of our food supplies. Before the war the proportion was one-third. It is now higher than it has been during this century, and by 1952 we shall be producing rather more than half of our food supplies; but we have to increase that amount still more. Today, only five per cent. of the whole working population is producing our food, and the proportion of workers who are concerned in food production is lower in this country than anywhere else in the world. This is a terrific achievement, but it is a precarious state of disproportionate production of food against the production of manufactured articles, which, in a long-term policy, if the international situation allows us a long term, we must redress. We can only ignore that disproportion at our peril.
Such a redress would result in a profound change in the whole of our attitude to our food production and in the standards of production. For production per man-hour, we should have to substitute maximum production per acre in order to get the maximum off our land. We are living in a state of unbalanced ecology in which our own food production is too low and results in the existing increasing 2028 difficulties in the international meat market.
I know that it is the task of the Opposition to oppose and criticise, but I should like criticism to be made against that background and in the context of that world situation, so that it may be constructive rather than destructive. In the light of contributions made by hon. Members opposite in this debate and in the past, that may seen no more than a pious hope. We on this side, at any rate, must recognise these realities upon which I have dwelt if we are to save our people from the increasing difficulties of a declining world food production over an immeasurable number of years.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
Two or three Members of the Labour Party have tried to argue that we do not need meat and that people can get on without it. That may be theoretically true, but I should find it very difficult to persuade the fishermen in Morecambe Bay, the quarrymen in North Lonsdale, or the agricultural labourers in Furness—or, indeed, any working man in my constituency who votes for me or who does not—that that was true. Fish and eggs are good in their place, as are nuts and beans, but a man cannot do a good day's work on fish and eggs, nuts and beans, when he has been accustomed to meat.
§ Sir I. Fraser
If I may continue, possibly the point will be covered. I have promised to be very short and do not want to continue any longer than is necessary.
Meat is necessary to us in these islands to give us the strength to work and the morale to deal with the problems that lie ahead.
§ Sir I. Fraser
I am sorry, no. I am not discourteous but I have promised to be brief.
I read in "The Times" the other day that the T.U.C. had suggested at a meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that a great many of their members would be willing to pay a little more for their 2029 meat. It is the duty of hon. Members to report to the House what their constituents think. My constituents think that the Government have failed to supply the meat. They do not think that it is all the fault of the Government, but they do think that it is mainly the Government's fault. They think that the policy is wrong and ought to be changed.
My opinion is the same as that of the T.U.C. That is the opinion of a great many of my constituents. They would not mind paying a little more if they could get a decent joint on a Sunday. That need not necessarily raise the cost of living, because at present the very high price of all the alternative good foods is accounted for by the fact that the housewife cannot get a decent joint on Sunday. It therefore would be a good change of policy, in my opinion and in the opinion of, I should think, the majority of my constituents, to import more meat, including some of the excellent chilled meat, and to let people buy it even if they have to pay a slightly higher price.
That would be an incentive to work. Do not miners always work best a week or two before Christmas? Everybody knows that they want to put by an extra pound or two to buy a goose. Would not the whole of the people work better if they could spend their money on something good like a piece of good meat? Why do they waste so much money on football pools and other things? Because there is nothing good on which they can spend their money.
I want to make some brief remarks about how we in this country can help out the present situation. From November to June we could produce literally millions of pigs. A pig's litter is from nine to 12. There is no substantial animal that breeds so well, that grows to maturity fit for killing so soon, or converts feedingstuffs into good meat more effectively than the good old pig. There is no reason why, if we really set about it, we should not have millions of pigs here in Britain, and quickly. It takes two or three years to get beef, but it does not take more than a year and a half or two years to get pigs.
Could we not have a bold policy of bringing in the feedingstuffs necessary for such a scheme? There is nothing new 2030 about it. The method has been suggested to the Government by the National Farmers' Union. Can we not adopt it? I say to the Government that I believe that if all my constituents, in town and country, were here and able to vote, they would all vote against the Government tonight.
§ 8.18 p.m.
Mr. Dames (East Ham, North)
When I was thinking over this debate earlier today, my mind went back to the various debates we have had on meat since 1945, and I thought that not only was this the first occasion when the Opposition had asked for a debate on meat when they were thoroughly justified in doing so, but that in that justification, the minimum of embarrassment would be caused to the Government in their negotiations with the Argentine. But having listened most carefully to every speech from the Opposition, I have come to the conclusion that if the Argentine Government in their negotiations want any arguments, or wish to deploy any pressure, against our Government in those negotiations, then they have been amply supplied by hon. Members opposite.
The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport), who made the first back bench speech on the Opposition side, pointed to the Minister and said that my right hon. Friend had spoken without any regard to what ordinary people think and that he relied for his case on documents. I think that I have paraphrased carefully what the hon. Member said. I noticed, however, that when the hon. Member tried to make his case about how ordinary people live, he was compelled to quote from documents rather than to call to his aid his own experience.
I want to tell the hon. Member that when anyone on this side talks about the "bad old days," there are many hon. Members on these benches who have tasted what that expression really means. I say with all respect to the hon. Member for Colchester, whom I know only as a Member of the House, that without actually living the life of ordinary people and their poverty, one can never truly understand what the working people feel and how they react. For what it is worth, I make a present of the point, and that also applies to hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Alport
The hon. Member was kind enough to refer to some remarks I made. I can accept, and all hon. Members of course accept, that great hardship was suffered during the years between the wars. Great hardship is also being suffered now, particularly by the old age pensioner, who is in a very much worse condition as far as food is concerned, than was the unemployed man before the war.
I was going on to say that, having listened to all the speeches, I think I am being strictly fair in saying that every speech, including that of the Front Opposition Bench speaker gave no regard to price. That goes also for the Liberal speaker. They were concerned to get supplies, irrespective of what the prices were. The only reason for that is that, taking the Opposition as a whole, price has never been a factor which has worried them in their private lives. I most bitterly resent the imputation against the Minister of Food, who was a working-class lad, brought up in a working-class home, that he should completely disregard what ordinary people feel.
The hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper) said that we were governed in this situation by world prices. That is perfectly true, but a figure even more important than the 50 per cent. of home production against imports is that 83 per cent. of the total world export of meat comes to this country. That is a vital factor, which we must take into consideration when we talk of prices. The highest importer of meat next to this country is the United States of America, and we import 10 times as much as they do.
Hon. Members now find it a subject of amusement when we refer to the heritage of the past. I do not think the Food Minister is without some blame in the situation we find ourselves in and I think that perhaps I could lay the blame just as emphatically as do hon. Members opposite on certain aspects of his case, but the fact is that this situation is a heritage of the past. [Laughter.] Most certainly. What do hon. Members find so amusing about that? Before the war their Government directed the tendency of trade and where they did not do it in terms of political action as a Govern- 2032 ment, they did it in the business field. The whole direction of the meat trade by economic pressure and by its coincident political action was towards driving us into the hands of the Argentine. Hon. Members perhaps do not like me to make the point because it looks as if I am being unduly political, but let me read another quotation:How did it ever come to be that we are so dependent on the Argentine? Mark it down to the evils of the past. Trace it back to successive Governments and importers too who ignored the Commonwealth countries which could today have been rearing the cattle we need. The importers bolstered up the Argentine producers because Argentine meat was easier to ship. The politicians had neither the energy nor foresight to develop and protect their own Empire. The nation pays today for their folly.
§ Mr. Daines
That was published in the "Daily Express" on 3rd July, 1950, and the hon. Member who intervened may now note where it comes from.
The hon. Member who spoke for the Liberal Party brought forward what I thought a rather fantastic scheme, but I did notice the signs of respect with which all his remarks were heard by hon. Members above the Gangway. I presume that was because they had the Division very much in mind. Running right through the speeches today has been condemnation of bulk purchase and the suggestion that all we have to do is to get rid of the whole of this set up, "let the boys have a go," and then the meat will come in. But the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby), who has been conspicuous by his absence today, apparently does not think so, and I believe he is quite a good Conservative. This is what he said:If we are to confine the purchase of meat to competing private traders in present circumstances the price would be forced up to calamitous heights.That was in the "Daily Mail" on 31st March, 1949. So, apparently, he is not too smitten with the arguments which are being put up by his hon. Friends. When hon. Members appeared before us at the last General Election they made great play with the phrase.A vote for the Conservatives is a vote against the rising cost of living.The truth of the matter is that the real policy of the Opposition is to get us back, 2033 even in this world of scarcity, to rationing by price. That is what they really mean.
I think hon. Members will appreciate that it is always wise in these political debates—and this is primarily a political debate—not to confine one's research purely to blue books and official Government documents. In carrying my researches into the rather peculiar channels one has to explore in order to get the right sort of material for this type of debate, I have found a very interesting magazine, which I am certain hon. Members opposite recognise, called "Tory Challenge." I believe it is one of their official publications. I do not think the literary quality of it is very high because, by the side of the article from which I wish to quote there is an alleged funny drawing and the article is headed "Mug-town and the Press," so we need not worry unduly about its literary quality.
There is, however, in it a very important article by Mr. J. Wentworth Day, a gentleman known to many of us in another capacity. I am told he fought my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) at the last election and that he was a perfect genius at using facts and figures. The fact that the facts and figures have no relationship to reality never worried him. In the course of his article—and this is a very serious point I now am going to make—he uses, to bolster up his case for the Conservative Party against bulk purchase, the following statement. I am quoting now Mr. J. Wentworth Day's article:In a long letter to me on this subject His Excellency Carlos A. Hogan, the Argentine Ambassador writes, 'The only real criticism if you are not satisfied with bulk purchases and the present system of rationing and price control is to advocate the freedom of the meat trade, and the re-opening of the markets where meat will find its own price level in accordance with demand, and whether the British housewives will have the same choice as according to your article the German, Dutch and French. They would then be able to buy all the meat they like, in any quantity they like, and at whatever price suits their pockets and I assure you that this will suit the Argentine.'I want to deal with the two arguments used by the Argentine Ambassador, and to make a general comment on the letter itself. Did freedom, in fact, exist in prewar days so far as the buying organisations of this country were concerned? I would remind hon. Members opposite that their Conservative Government was forced to set up a joint committee of in- 2034 quiry with the then Argentine Government to inquire into the trade. What they found out was that the importing organisations were a private monopoly of six companies in agreement, and that the finance of the exporting companies of Argentine were under the control of the importing companies in this country. Those are the actual hard facts which they found out. In fact, there was no freedom from control, and if we on this side were to do away with bulk purchase, we should immediately revert to the prewar type of set up where it would be a private monoply so far as the buying organisations were concerned.
Let me deal with the second argument of Senor Hogan. This is what he says:British housewives will have the same choice as German, Dutch and French.Precisely. The average British retail prices today—and I am subject to correction on a fraction of a penny—are 1s. to 2s. 4d. a lb. in this country. The German and Dutch average prices are 2s. 6d. to 3s. 6d. a lb., and the French vary from 2s. 1½d. to 5s. 8d. a lb.
I have only one other comment to make. I think that the Argentine Ambassador to the British Government should have had a little finer sense of diplomatic etiquette than to lend himself to the writing of letters to Tory Press propagandists in order to provide them with party propaganda. That, in my judgment, considerably exceeds what one has the right to expect from an Ambassador.
§ Mr. Butler
I should like to say that, so far as I personally am concerned, there has been no contact whatever to my knowledge with the Argentine Ambassador.
§ Mr. Daines
May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that I am quoting from an article in the Tory magazine "Challenge," which is a publication well-known to the right hon. Gentleman in his capacity as art official of the Tory Party. It is written by Mr. J. Wentworth Day, and I presume from the way the article is compiled that Senor Hogan was written to by Mr. Wentworth Day and in reply 2035 wrote the letter from which I have just quoted.
§ Mr. Butler
I do not want to spoil the hon. Gentleman's case, but may I say, first of all, that I am not an official of the Tory Party; secondly, that I would not accept any responsibility for Mr. Wentworth Day; and, thirdly, that there has been no official contact between the Tory Party and His Majesty's late Ambassador to the Argentine, or with the Argentine Ambassador which is, I think, a very important point.
§ Mr. Daines
I do not want to labour the point. I accept that the right hon. Gentleman is not now an official of the Conservative Party in the ordinary party sense, but he is close to their inner councils, and I believe I am right in saying that he has considerable influence in this type of propaganda. I beg him to investigate the whole incident, and to appreciate the dangers involved. One could almost excuse an innocent person, but a man with the experience of Mr. Wentworth Day, who has never failed to get involved in libel actions, and so on, as is well-known to the right hon. Gentleman, cannot be excused. As I say, I do not wish to labour the point; I think I have made it quite plain enough.
My final point is this. It seems to me that what we are really facing is a situation where the Opposition are so concerned about making party propaganda, and are so desperately anxious to push along anything in order to get His Majesty's Government out of power—and the Leader of the Opposition is right in the vanguard in this connection—that they are prepared to do what they are doing today, to use every stick available to them. They do not care two hoots what the price of meat may be so long as they can turn the Labour Government out of office. I warn hon. Members opposite that the time may come when they will become the Government, but Lord help them when they face the responsibility of dealing with the dangerous propagandist speeches they made when they were in opposition. They are indeed, as this debate shows, victims of their own propaganda.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Baldock (Harborough)
I want to make two points very briefly, one concerning English meat 2036 and the other concerning imported meat, and Argentine meat in particular. We have heard from both sides of the House that we are getting less meat in the butchers' shops today from our own farms than we were getting before the war. I believe that that position could have been otherwise.
I will not deal now with what might have been done had there been a greater sense of urgency in the agricultural field. I will pass over the feedingstuffs which might have been purchased with the sum of over two million dollars recently spent on the importation of coal, and what would have happened if, instead of building up our dollar reserves to quite the same degree, we had diverted those resources to building up our feedingstuffs, which are constantly rising in price and which would have been very good stock. If those things had been done, more meat would have been forthcoming. But one particular and practical point I should like to stress is that if only the Government had fulfilled the promises they made in connection with rural water supplies, a considerable difference would have been made to the meat situation.
I am thinking in particular of especially good feeding land in Leicestershire, in my constituency and in that part of the Midlands. The whole machinery exists for the provision of these water schemes. Arrangements have been made for the provision of finance but, owing to administrative tangles and difficulties and obstacles put in the way by the present administration, practically nothing has been done to provide water supplies to those areas since the war. There are fields and farms and whole villages and tracts of country which still remain completely under-watered.
As anyone who has had practical experience of agriculture will know, it is very difficult to get beasts to thrive without an adequate water supply. It makes al the difference to their progress and the type of carcases they produce. The water supply to that area, which is the best feeding land in the country, is totally inadequate; and the spectacle can be witnessed of the uneconomic and primitive method of water being carried, not from the wells as one might expect, but to the wells, to be tipped down the wells to fill them up, even in the middle of winter in some cases, if there 2037 happens to be a short dry spell. That is a position which could well have been overcome if advantage had been taken of the machinery which exists, but five years have passed and the opportunity has been lost. So much for English farms and home production.
On the question of imported meat, as an agriculturist and business man I do not believe it is always the best policy to drive a very hard bargain, especially with people one want to come back again and again. That is precisely what has been attempted not only with the Argentine but with our own Dominions and friends overseas. May I give the House the relative prices that were being paid for meat in four different countries last autumn?
The price that we were paying in the Argentine for beef per live cwt. was 60s. 7d. last autumn; the price we were paying our own farmers was 99s. 3d. The price we were paying in Canada was 213s. 4d., and in the United States 241s. 10d. There is an enormous difference there, and if I were a farmer in the Argentine I should feel a little riled and galled if I knew that it was possible to sell meat for 241s. 10d. per live cwt. and I was only receiving 60s. 7d.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Mr. Frederick Willey)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is pursuing an interesting line of argument. Perhaps he would indicate what prices he would pay now.
§ Lieut.-Commander Baldock
We are never told the details of what prices are being offered at present. We have already been warned by the Minister of Food how dangerous it is to tittle-tattle about figures of which we have no knowledge. I am quoting figures of which I have knowledge, namely, the prices which were paid last autumn. I say that those prices were likely to lead to discontent among the Argentine agriculturists. It is hardly surprising that they have been seeking other markets than Britain, and although we may boast that we are the main importers of meat in the world, it is nevertheless true that the Argentine have been able to find a considerable number of other markets for their meat, and it is quite probable that they will expand those other markets.
We heard from an hon. Member opposite that there is a continuing decline 2038 in the food which is produced in the world today compared with the rise in the population. If that is the case, surely our position is not strengthening. If the Argentine can find further markets now, they will find more markets in the future.
§ Lieut.-Commander Baldock
I have promised to be brief, and I must go on. The same applies not only to the Argentine but to our own loyal and devoted friends in the Dominions. It has been reported that New Zealand are sending a trial shipment of 5,000 tons of meat to the United States and Canada. They would not be doing that if they were entirely satisfied with the conditions of meat buying in this country at the present time. There is something wrong with the system if our own friends in the Dominions are having to seek other markets.
Where does this argument of forcing down prices stand when we hear and know that this country is paying no less than £450 a ton for hides in the Argentine as opposed to about £120 for meat, or £177 a ton for low-grade meat in France? That makes nonsense of the argument that it is impossible to pay any higher prices than we have done in the past. This argument does not seem to me to hold water at all.
I feel there must be some inconsistency in the views of His Majesty's Ministers. When there is a coal scarcity there appears to be no great difficulty in raising the price of coal and offering better conditions to those who produce it. That is done readily enough when coal is short. But when meat is short it appears that His Majesty's Ministers are unable to see the position with the same eyes. It is my belief that if some of the sympathy that is shown to those who get coal could, for a short time, be shown to those who get meat in this country, in the Dominions and other parts of the world—for they also have their trials and tribulations, quite apart from climatic ones—we should very soon have adequate meat supplies on our tables.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Mellish (Bermondsey)
The hon. and gallant Member for Harborough (Lieut.-Commander Baldock) has followed the general line of the Conservative Party, which is to prove completely that their 2039 previous propaganda to the public has been a fraud. What they are saying now is that, irrespective of price, we must get what meat we can and let the cost of living and everything else go hang. That is what it boils down to.
We have had no substantial criticism from the Opposition—nothing to show how they would arrange it so that the price of meat to the consumer would be in any way reduced. Their only concern is to advance a political argument to try to capture the support of the people of the country. Yet they were the party which claimed patriotism as their sole right. They put the Union Jack on the table cloth and regarded it as their own property. It is their party which, again and again, has appealed to the people of this country on patriotic grounds. Yet to-day they are willing to pay any price to those who will supply meat. Instead of supporting the Minister in at any rate trying to call a halt to the inflation policy of this country, they sneer at him all the afternoon, and the whole of the Tory Press has been concerned with doing the same thing.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
Would the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by helping the Minister to call a halt to inflation in this country? Does he mean that the Government are inflating the economy?
§ Mr. Mellish
We have already heard from the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. W. Fletcher). He told us how he went to his constituency and asked the question of all his constituents, and how they all told him that they would be willing to pay any price if they could get more meat. With great respect, I think hardly anyone except the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe believes that. I am convinced that my constituents would certainly not be prepared to agree that any price is good enough so long as they can have enough meat.
§ Mr. Mellish
I will read it, but I have been here all day and I heard every word the hon. Member said. The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) started the debate by telling us about the amount of meat 2040 consumed in workhouses and by the unemployed before the war. It reached the stage at which I imagined that the people in the workhouses were all in a luxurious state and that the unemployed were falling over themselves because there was so much meat about. But no one in this House really refuses to believe that the conditions and standards of our people today are very much better than they have ever been before. This party has a right to make that claim, which has been supported by the medical association.
We were told by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) to take no notice of Lord Boyd-Orr. That is a typical Conservative remark—take no notice at all of one of the most eminent people in the world on food nutrition because the type of thing he says does not suit the Conservative Party propaganda.
§ Mr. Alport
What I said, if the hon. Member will permit me to correct him, is that we should take more interest in the views of the women folk in this country than in the views of so-called experts like Lord Boyd-Orr.
§ Mr. Mellish
I believe this Government have taken notice of the real womenfolk of this country. When I came into the Lobbies today, I saw a protest meeting being held by some women. It is a revival of the old Housewives' League. If I may say so, with great respect—and I admit that I have little knowledge of the subject—they did not seem to me to be suffering from malnutrition. They seemed to be looking extremely well. Every time I look at the Opposition they do not look so bad to me. Look at the hon. Member for Bury and Radclyffe and the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Frederic Harris); they should be the last to talk about the meat shortage.
I want to make one reference to the Select Committee on Estimates, a small part of whose Report was quoted by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gains-borough. Of course, he quoted only that little bit which suited him. In the Report there is a criticism of the machine which is operated by the Ministry of Food. That machine is good old private enterprise, from top to bottom; private enterprise entirely—the Wholesale Meat Supply Association. Our Ministry of Food have paid them over £3 million for doing nothing at all. 2041 They neither toil, nor do they spin; all they do is take a handsome rake-off for work they do not perform.
We want now to deal with this problem in the proper way. First, we should look at the whole set-up of the wholesale meat supply and distribution in this country, and cut out some of the "spivs" and drones who do not do any work. I can speak for some of the people who do work in meat distribution, the Smithfield meat workers, who really do handle the meat, and I can say on their behalf that they are sick to death of watching enormous profits being made by some of those people who do not do a darn thing in the industry except get a rake-off. There has been friction in that industry, and this is one of the reasons why there has been that friction.
I have until nine o'clock, I understand, and so I would mention that there is another splendid racket going on. There have been complaints about the Minister, but let us have private enterprise out in the open on this matter, too. One of the rackets going on, supported by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name them."] Crocodile tears are shed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but those tears over private enterprise are really sickening.
I took a deputation 18 months ago to the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, now the Minister of National Insurance. That deputation consisted of men who are cutters at Smithfield Market, men who are experts at their job. They made a conclusive demonstration to the Minister. They brought along to the Ministry a side of beef—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, they had the loan of the meat from the employers, who were prepared for it to be shown for exhibition purposes. They proved to the Minister at that time that much of the sort of meat that they used to have in the workhouses—of which we heard something earlier—the scrag ends, and bit and little pieces that they got to make up the weight of meat which, we heard earlier, was given to people in workhouses, today is all tacked on to the best part of the joints, and the best prices have to be paid for it.
In other words, a good cutter in a butcher's shop is worth every penny the butcher can pay him, and this sort of 2042 thing is going on in every butcher's shop, and yet they squeal about the problems that they have to face. It is a pity they do not put their own house in order first. The Ministry were asked what could be done about it, and the answer was, quite frankly, that the only way to stamp out this sort of thing would be to employ hundreds of food inspectors. What would hon. and right hon. Gentleman opposite call them if they tried to stop it?
§ Mr. Mellish
I hope that will be in HANSARD. When the Ministry of Food endeavour to stop a thing like that, hon. Gentlemen opposite call those people snoopers. I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
I believe that the position today, serious as it may be, is one that the people of the country, in the main, do understand. It has resulted from the efforts of the Ministry to try to avoid paying exorbitant prices. I believe that the Minister himself has today cleared up one or two of the things which were troubling some of us on this side of the House. One thing about which I was much concerned was the fact that we paid a higher price for a considerable amount of meat from France than that which we were asked to pay to Argentina; but now that I have heard the Minister, and now that hon. Gentlemen opposite have confirmed me in my view, I know that this is an indication of the sort of price which we should have to pay if we went into the open market, and that our own bulk purchasing has, in fact, saved us from paying higher prices again and again. When one of my hon. Friends referred to the report of the United Nations Economic Commission which, speaking about bulk buying, said what a grand job it had done for Britain, I think the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) said it was a lot of nonsense.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Mellish
The United Nations Economic Commission has proved conclusively that bulk buying has, from the point of view of food, made this country what it is. [Laughter.] That is not funny. I should have thought the United Nations Economic Commission was a respectable body which would have the support of 2043 the Opposition. That Commission has proved that the bulk buying system of this country has been advantageous to our people. I do not know why hon. Members opposite sneer at this. Perhaps it is because they are actuated only by motives of private profit. I should have thought that, irrespective of party politics, they would have been concerned to see the best way in which our people could benefit. If an independent body of this kind says these things, it is to be respected and not sneered at.
Once again we are faced with the fundamental difference between ourselves and the Opposition. To them it is a question of private profit. They are not concerned about who is sacrificed so long as the traders whom they represent get a profit. To them, the profit motive is the overriding factor in everything they do. Private profit is the only god they know. I am convinced that the decent people of this country, the people who understand and appreciate the position, will not sneer at the Minister of Food, and if they are prepared to read this debate I believe that, as decent patriotic British citizens, as opposed to the Tory Party, they will give support to the Minister of Food.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
We are now reaching the. concluding portion of a memorable debate which was opened by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) with what I think the whole House will agree was a most remarkable and felicitous speech. I feel that my right hon. Friend, if I may so call him, the Minister of Food was not quite so gratified by the speech as some other hon. Members. Apart from himself, and perhaps his Parliamentary Secretary, there was universal approbation of that speech. I feel that my right hon. and gallant Friend has left me a rather difficult task, because in this House it is impossible to repeat a Parliamentary performance of that sort. He also had the wisdom to leave me to discuss the Argentine negotiations—a task which no speaker on either side of the House who has a sense of patriotism would find other than delicate. I propose, however, in the course of my speech to address myself to some of the issues which arise between ourselves and the Argentine.
2044 I feel very pleased that I should be able to oppose the Minister of Food. He has many virtues, the greatest of which I think, is that of humanity. When he took office I was extremely pleased to notice that he issued a Press statement in which he objected to the use of the term "calories"; he said that he did not understand it. I think that was a very good human start for a Minister of Food, or for a Minister of any sort, at any rate in this Government. He then went on to say that his slogan was: "A little of what you fancy does you good." If I may say so, he has achieved his ambition quicker than any other of His Majesty's Administration. In the meat ration which he is now proffering to the public, he has fulfilled at any rate one of his own legitimate expectations, to use the words of Burke.
I do not wish to devote my oration solely to personalities. I wish to address myself to the gravity of the situation which is experienced on every side of the House, and which is particularly felt by every housewife in the country. If I may introduce a personal note, I would say that it is not usual in my own family life for my wife to take an undue interest in the speeches which I make, and that, I think, illustrates not only her common sense but her very natural femine attraction. But in this case, she tells me that she thinks that she could make a very much better speech than I shall do.
This matter is of first-class importance to every houeswife in the country. The Minister of Food may well preen himself that by selecting classes of those who can go to canteens, and by the method of prompting people, as they can do by the power of the purse, to buy certain sorts of food outside the ration, he has in that way maintained to some degree the health of the nation; but he cannot say frankly that the ordinary housewife herself or her family is getting enough in the home to eat. Nor can he say that the ordinary old-age pensioner is himself satisfied that either by what he receives or by what he can buy, he can make both ends meet and keep life extant.
This is the human background against which the House has to examine this problem. As I believe that it is the desire at any rate of Mr. Speaker, if not of the House, that we should debate as much as possible, I shall address myself 2045 to the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman. He said, in his opening remarks, that he would give us his latest figures of stocks and told us that the total supplies today were some 300,000 tons less than they were last year. May I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, because the modest organisation which I have at my command agrees with those figures? That is very satisfactory, and that, I think, is the only conclusion on which I can agree with the right hon. Gentleman this evening.
Where I am not in agreement with him is in his not pursuing to its logical conclusion the comparison which he sought to make between the size of the stocks and the ration this year as compared with last year, and as compared with pre-war stocks and consumption, in the way in which my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Captain Crookshank) discussed it. The stocks before the war were running at a very high level, and the consumption itself, as he has explained, was some 26 ozs. per head. Now the stocks are running at a level of 1,800,000 tons, which is not a very big drop, but the ration of meat has fallen to some 5 or 6 ozs. per head.
Taking the right hon. Gentleman's statistics to start with, that is the first indictment of his whole administration of the Ministry of Food. In fact, I am obliged to agree with "The Times," which is indeed another pleasurable event in this evening's debate, in saying that there is a clear case for reviewing our meat buying policy. What do we see? We see a complete stoppage of our supplies from the Argentine since July last year. I am going to deal in a few minutes with the Argentine supplies. Let us first follow the right hon. Gentleman in his speech by running round the world to see how our supplies are coming in, because this little island, lying off the coast of Europe, is faced in its meat supplies, especially with an international situation threatening as it is at the moment, with an absolute life and death existence for our people. That makes any of us approach this debate in the most serious manner.
Let us first take New Zealand, which has come up in the race and much exceeds Australia in the provision of meat for these islands. The New Zealand 2046 supplies, judging by the only authorities I can come by, which is the Press and certain information I am able to collect, show a very heavy drop in shipments. We are now depending for the maintenance of the 8d. ration precisely on these shipments, because the home supplies do not come in at this time of the year. I should like the Chancellor to tell us whether these figures are correct, that between 1st October, last year, and 14th January, this year, shipments from New Zealand dropped from about 74,000 tons to about 55,000 tons, that is by 18,782 tons, and whether the total December shipments were only about 8,000 tons compared with about 12,000 tons in December, 1949.
I am also told that the January decline of shipments from New Zealand, this vital link in the whole chain for keeping our ration even at the 8d. level, is showing signs that New Zealand cannot sustain these supplies. If that be the case, is it true, as we have seen in the newspapers today, that the New Zealand Government have deliberately diverted a shipment of 5,000 tons from the United States market for the purpose of helping us out with our ration here at home? If that be the case, then the thanks of the House should be sent to the New Zealand Government.
That illustration of a single shipment of 5,000 tons, making all the difference in keeping our ration at between 8d. and 6d., is an indication of the tenuous thread on which we are hanging to maintain any meat ration at all in the country. I claim that it is impossible for a meat ration which does not fill one plate at one meal in one week, to be cut any further without there being no meat ration at all. I hope that the Chancellor will give us some assurances about the New Zealand supplies.
The decline or temporary decline in New Zealand shipments is due, as I understand it, to the rising prices of wool, which leads the ordinary farmer in New Zealand to keep his sheep a little longer in order to remove the wool and thereby make a bit for himself, which is a very reasonable human economic consideration. If that be so, we should like an assurance that these New Zealand supplies, which run into some 300,000 tons, are only temporarily deferred and that we may see them, even if they are old ewes, over here at a later date, in which case there will be some satisfac- 2047 tion for our digestions, although we shall have to look to the Minister of Health for our dentures.
I am also able to confirm that the Minister is right in telling us that the Australian position is very much less satisfactory than it used to be. Australia now needs some 85 per cent. of her production in meat. She is also affected by the rise in price of wool, and all this talk about the production of immense numbers of pigs in Queensland, which was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman's disastrous predecessor, and the proposed expansion of railways in the northern territories is something we must look to in the future. If we are to depend upon Australia for increased meat supplies, we must look very far ahead.
I have not a great deal to say about Canada. Canada has a very natural market in the United States. Nevertheless, they will do their best to help us, and I hope for some assurance that that market is also being explored. In the case of Eire, the position is as stated by the Minister on 26th January:We are fully satisfied that we shall get every available ounce of meat from Ireland."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th January, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 452.]As I understand the position, reading the "Manchester Guardian" of 27th January,Surprise was expressed in Dublin … at the statement made by the Minister of Food.I understand that it would be possible to get more supplies from Ireland if the Government showed a little more initiative by approaching the Government of Eire and asking them to encourage the farmers in the Republic to produce more for the British market, and that people in the trade could increase the number of cattle and sheep available for export. As our meat supplies are of such vital interest, I must appeal to the Chancellor to inform us whether his relations with the Irish Government would encourage us to expect greater supplies from Southern Ireland.
I come now to the very peculiar and revealing, purchase of meat from France by the Minister of Food. A sum of money was spent on 4,800 tons of what we are assured, perhaps to console us, was poor quality meat, the price running at £177 per ton. I am assured by the "Manchester Guardian" that a spokes- 2048 man of the Ministry of Food said that this meat was sold boneless at £102 13s. 4d. a ton and bone-full—or whatever the expression is—at £70 6s. 8d. a ton. The paper adds,On inquiry as to who is going to bear the loss, the official said that the loss would be borne by the subsidy on meat.It is reasonable to ask not only the Government, but also the House in general, if we are having all this palaver about paying the Argentine £97 10s. a ton or perhaps more when these negotiations end, why, for a comparatively unimportant purchase of obviously not first-class quality meat, does the right hon. Gentleman authorise his officials to pay £177 per ton? Does that give confidence that he or his officials are capable of managing any negotiations at all with the Argentine?
That leads me to ask the Government if they can give us, subject, of course, to the security position, any indication at all of how our stocks stand. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gains-borough mentioned the Prime Minister's statement on 29th January to the effect that we should accelerate as fast as we could the measures already in hand for accumulating stocks of food. Next week we shall be considering in all its aspects the extreme seriousness of the international and defence position, and I think it vital that the Government should be spurred to take some effective action to see that we have in this country stockpiles of the commodities most important to our salvation and safety, namely, meat and other food. I must say that from what we have heard of previous transactions, it seems unlikely that we shall get an answer in any way satisfactory or reassuring.
I do not want to spend long on the question of home production, but it is quite clear that if we are to increase our safety in a difficult time of defence we must pay first attention to the home production of meat. The Minister of Food said on 25th January:The question then arises, could we have had more meat under the present system? We could have had more if the Opposition had done for home farming what we have done for it in the last three or four years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th January, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 444.]I am almost inclined to remind the right hon. Gentleman of a phrase used against 2049 me in a Foreign Affairs debate by the late Mr. Lloyd George when he said, "You've done for it." That is precisely what the right hon. Gentleman has done. He and his friends are always claiming that the agricultural interest has been spurred on and developed, and they are putting about in the country all sorts of stories of the little that we did in our day for the British farming industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members on the other side of the House cheer that statement, but let me remind them that in almost every particular item of production, whether of beef or veal, our record is better than theirs. Beef and veal show a production now of 529,000 tons as against 578,000 tons before the war; sheep and mutton 153,000 tons as against 195,000 tons before the war; and in the case of pigs, 339,000 now as compared with 436,000 before the war. In each of these statistical figures we were doing better in the production of stock before the war than we are doing now.
As the right hon. Gentleman said himself, 58 per cent. of the pigs were used for pork before the war and now only 18 per cent. are used for this purpose. There are, as the right hon. Gentleman said in his speech, some one million more cattle; but before we get on to cattle, how does the right hon. Gentleman like this figure? It is possible under the crazy mathematical régime under which we live today, to import two canned hams of 20 lbs. each at 10s. per lb. at a cost of £20, whereas an eight-score live pig, produced by a British farmer at 49s. 9d. per score, costs only £19 16s. That is the sort of crazy economics brought about by planning in relation both to agricultural interests at home and imports from abroad.
I shall not go into great detail about home production, because it is clearly wrong for this House or any individual speaker to claim that by home production alone we can solve the meat problem, but we can, by price and by the purchase of feedingstuffs, greatly improve the situation. Perhaps the greatest expert on this subject is Professor Ellison of the University of Wales. He assures us that for each million acres of marginal land which are developed, an extra 12 to 15 per cent. can be added to our beef production. It is essential to develop that 2050 marginal land, and to use what are called the bobby calves which are now destroyed after a few days—and on which the right hon. Gentleman now makes an immodest profit by selling their hides and giving the poor farmer only about 25s.—provided we can give a price which makes beef production worth while and provided that we can buy the feedingstuffs.
From the accounts of the O.E.E.C. countries in Europe it appears that some 52 million dollars' worth of coarse grains was indulged in by the O.E.E.C. countries in selling each other feedingstuffs. It appears that of that 52 million dollars only 24,000 dollars worth were bought by this country. I say that it is essential not only to use some of our precious resources but also to indulge in this inter-European trade to improve the stock of feedingstuffs in this country in order to increase our own home-produced meat.
Now I come to the difficult question of the Argentine negotiations. The Minister said in his speech that he did not want to have an impasse with Argentina. If that is his view today, why on earth did he not hold that view a month or two ago? This impasse is one of the most remarkable in the whole of our Anglo-Argentina negotiations, and in fact in any commercial relations between two great nations it takes a lot of beating. There have been many agreements: the Eady-Miranda agreement of September, 1946, which was upset by the sterling inconvertibility decision, about which the right hon. Gentleman made no remark; the Andes agreement of March, 1948, and the agreement of June, 1949, the balance of which was upset by devaluation, to which the right hon. Gentleman made no reference whatever.
It is quite clear from any study of these negotiations with the Argentine that the rights and wrongs are not all on one side. It should also be absolutely clear that it is the duty of the Opposition to support His Majesty's Government in any international negotiations in which they are taking a genuine stand on behalf of the interests of the country. Therefore, I shall make no remarks which would make the negotiations, which, I believe, are still in being, more difficult. I would only remind the right hon. Gentleman of the words of Canning: 2051In matters of commerce, the fault of the DutchIs offering too little and asking too much.The French are with equal advantage content,So we clap on Dutch bottoms just twenty per cent.The right hon. Gentleman, in his interpretation of that old adage, buys French meat at £177 a ton and is not able to conclude, after protracted and disastrous negotiations, any agreement at all with the Argentine. Although he said that the Argentine claim had gone up by 239 per cent. on the previous offer—I believe he meant "of the previous offer"—the right hon. Gentleman did not mention that we were exporting coal to the Argentine before the war—in the days of "wicked Tory mis-rule" when we did export coal —at 35s. 11d. a ton. In 1948, under the benign economy which governs us now, we were exporting at 107s. ld. per ton. Had coal been exported this year, which appears quite unlikely, the comparable figure would be 154s. per ton. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to realise that that means a rise of some 400 per cent. in the cost of our exports to the Argentine. In the case of oil the figures show, I understand, an increase of about 40 per cent.
The reason for mentioning these figures is to indicate that the Government, which is seeking to live at the present moment in a sort of atmosphere in which they say that there is no need to regard the rise in world prices, is living in a fool's paradise. The sooner they realise that there is a different world situation from what they had envisaged, the more likely they are to reach a conclusion in these negotiations.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the question of the British-owned blocked pesos and other interests. He said he supposed that the Opposition were not interested in the remittances to pensioners, the outstanding claims in respect of the trams, the Primitiva Gas Company, and the various other remittances upon which such houses as Harrods depend. I can say that the Opposition are extremely interested in these matters. What we are more interested in, however, is to ask the right hon. Gentleman why he did not tie up a mention of these matters with some practical negotiation which leads to their solution. He has said absolutely nothing about that.
2052 I would only ask the Chancellor, who is to reply, whether in any final agreement that may be reached a "give and take" on the price of meat might not result in a settlement of these outstanding claims, which, I understand, taking a rough figure, amount to something approaching £20 million. If these claims are settled and we can get by invisible exports the benefits of £20 million, that would relieve our export trade of so much money in purchasing meat which we want so badly for our own country. It is surely in the interests of the Government to tie these negotiations together. The Opposition attach the greatest importance to the settling of these various matters.
That leads me to the vexed question of bulk buying. On this question I want to say straight away that we want to take the most practical possible point of view. We must recognise that this very day if we want to trade with the Argentine we have to trade through a bulk selling agency, known as I.A.P.I., and, whether we like it or not, that bulk selling agency exists. Let me with these words dismiss all the irrelevant remarks made by the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines), and others on the subject of the point of view of the Tory Party about bulk buying. Our view is that, new negotiations ought to start.
In this connection I should like to express profound disappointment that the speech of the Minister of Food did not indicate what line these negotiations will take. However, we should like to say that these negotiations should be undertaken with the objective of restoring private trading at the first possible opportunity between us and the Argentine. We say further that a statement has been made on 17th January this year by Senor Derisi on behalf of the Argentine Government in which he said that they told the British that they would be prepared to go into private trade provided the British reopened Smithfield Market. We agree with that observation and consider that, as part of any negotiation that takes place for future trade, the channels of private trade should be restored. We are convinced that it is only in the competitive and elastic and flexible way that this country will get the meat it so ardently desires.
2053 It is perfectly clear, as "The Times" stated only this last week, that both the trade and the farmers wish to get away from State buying and the detailed control of the Ministry of Food. The truth is that however estimable the character and the name of the right hon. Gentleman may be, the name of the Ministry of Food stinks in the noses of the ordinary citizen and especially of the British housewife. The sooner we can get away from the control of the Ministry of Food the better.
In this connection I should like to answer the right hon. Gentleman's statement that we could not get away from bulk buying and at the same time give guarantees to British farmers for the home produced crop. I always thought it was one of the greatest weaknesses of Sir Stafford Cripps when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer that he never openly acknowledged that it is perfectly possible to organise a guaranteed price system for farmers and yet get away from the incubus of the Minister of Food and the bulk buying system. At any rate, the economists who can aid us are perfectly capable of devising such a scheme and giving security to the British farmer, and the sooner that lie is nailed, the happier we shall all be in the country districts.
In dealing with this question of bulk buying, I simply want to remind the House that it is not only in the Argentine where this system has already broken down. On 14th December, 1949, Mr. Gardiner said in Canada:We do seem to be at or near a crossroads where the plan based on government to government sales cannot be continued.The New Zealand Federated Farmers Meat and Wool Council on 21st February of this last year announced that the Ministry of Food did New Zealand a grave injustice by its defective storage and inefficient distribution of New Zealand meat. It is quite clear that by reliance on bulk purchase our relations with the Argentine are worse than they have ever been in history. The Minister of Food steps into an unaccustomed and unusual place and takes over the job of Foreign Secretary. In fact the whole of our international relations become jeopardised and embittered by this method.
Before the Chancellor rises to make his speech I want to refer to one other matter. That is the claim made from the opposite 2054 side of the House that they were out to reduce the price and to stop rationing by the purse. In fact, exactly the opposite is happening. By the Government's refusing to face the necessity of, if necessary, paying more to buy meat for the ordinary ration, they are forcing the ordinary housewife and citizen to go outside the ration and to buy either expensive fish, expensive chilled food, expensive boiled fowls if they can afford them, expensive hares at such prices as 9s., expensive rabbits at 6s., and fried lamb cutlets from overseas at approximately 6s. a lb., in order to find something to eat. This is the most dishonest racket ever put forward by the Government.
What they are doing is refusing to pay £20-£30 million, which is the figure given by the right hon. Gentleman, to improve the legitimate ration, and they are forcing people outside the ration and thus making the cost of living go up without letting it appear on the index. That is a manoeuvre which will do the Government more harm than anything else, because there is no sensible housewife who knows anything about the cost-of-living index, who does not also know the cost of living of herself and her children, and she knows that it is becoming a great deal too high. We are, in fact, having rationing by index and nourishment by purse and price, and that is the policy for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible.
I said that I would end at this hour to give the Chancellor an opportunity to answer some of the points I have raised. My conclusion is to appeal to the Chancellor to define the further efforts which will be made by the Government sincerely to improve the meat ration. I appeal to him to face the facts of the meat situation and to tell the British public frankly what is happening. The petty and ignorant economic theory which is ruling the present Government is deceiving the British public. It is reducing our production effort, it is imperilling our health, and is endangering international relations. There is not a housewife in the country who does not feel a sense of frustrations due to the activities of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. They are clinging with their supporters, like huddled and bedraggled limpets, to every rock, exposed to every wind and gale that blows. The more they cling, the more exasperation 2055 will grow, and finally they will be swept away by one of the most human of all elemental forces—the desire to eat and the desire to live.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gaitskell)
The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), in the course of his speech, asked me some questions about stockpiling. That is, I think we should all agree, a subject which we would not wish to bring into the party battle. It is closely connected with defence and is, of course, a matter on which one has to be very careful in what one says. But I assure the right hon. Member and the House that we are taking all possible steps to increase our stocks of raw materials and foodstuffs, provided, in the first place, that the physical supplies are available, and secondly—we must not altogether overlook this—that in our attempts to increase our stockpiling, we do not drive up the prices against us to an extortionate extent. Hon. Members will agree that one must have some precautions on that matter, but subject to that, we are doing our best. For obvious reasons, however, I cannot give the figures.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), in the course of a hard-hitting, good-humoured and debating speech, scored a number of points in the manner of a debating speech by providing a carefully selected series of statistics. He told us that before the war the average consumption of meat per head was, I think, 26 oz. and he contrasted that with the present ration. I was wondering how he obtained the figure of 26 oz. I can only suppose that he took the total meat supply of 2.1 million tons and divided it by the population. If so, his arithmetic was not precisely accurate. As a matter of fact, it is per head slightly more than that. It is about 29 oz. I do not know whether the right hon. and gallant Member would like to confirm that that was the way he reached the figure.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I can only assure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that I 2056 think that would be quite a reasonable method of ascertaining the amount of meat consumed per head. However, if he were to do that, I think it would be reasonable also to compare that with the present situation, that is to say, take the total meat consumed in the country and divide it by the population. Of course, if one does that, one does not get a figure of one-quarter of the pre-war total at all. In fact the figure under normal conditions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Yes, I say under normal conditions when we are receiving meat from the Argentine—[Interruption.] It has been a noticeable feature of the attitude of the Opposition throughout this debate to try to pretend that we are committed permanently to a policy of an 8d. ration. That is quite untrue.
Perhaps I may go on with the figures. At a total consumption of 1.8 million tons, the per head consumption is 23.4 oz.—[An HON. MEMBER: "If we had it."] If we take the case where we are receiving no meat from the Argentine as at present and we assume that for the full year we have a total meat supply of 1.4 million tons, the amount per head is not one-quarter of the 26 oz., or 29 oz., but is 19.3 oz.; that is to say, it is two-thirds of the previous ration. [Interruption.] Really the right hon. and gallant Gentleman must not be allowed to twist the figures in this way.
§ Captain Crookshank
I gave the figures as they stand today. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman's argument is similar to the statement that if we had bacon, we could have bacon and eggs, if we had eggs.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is, of course, a past-master at comparing like with unlike; I am comparing like with like: the consumption per head before the war and the consumption now, and the answer is that it is two-thirds and not one-quarter. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The facts are unchallengable and it is no use hon. Members saying "No." If they were not perfectly clear, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would dispute them.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
We have had a great deal of discussion in this debate about 2057 bulk purchase, and of course I quite agree that, in analysing this problem, we have to ask ourselves whether or not bulk purchase is desirable. For our part, we are not in any way doctrinaire.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—Really, hon. Members should remember we have quite recently abandoned bulk purchase in the case of timber in Europe. We have dropped it in a number of other cases. We take the view—and I rather thought that the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden at one point in his speech agreed with this—that this is a matter which depends on circumstances. What we say is that over a wide range of foodstuffs and materials we are quite satisfied that in present conditions this is the best method.
§ Mr. Turton
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether his party have now abandoned their plans for the nationalisation of the procurement and wholesaling of meat as stated in "Labour Believes in Britain"?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
We are talking about the bulk purchase of imported foodstuffs, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will listen to the arguments in connection with that. Before last night's Division, I think hon. Members opposite were expecting that they would soon become the Government, and they may even have been thinking that they would be faced with these problems. We believe that this is the best method, because we believe that otherwise we should be paying very much higher prices, and I submit that the evidence for so thinking is overwhelming.
The prices which have to be paid in the free market, where there is no bulk purchase and no long-term contracts, are far higher. But, of course, bulk purchase operates under two conditions particularly—where we can make long-term contracts, and where the market of the United Kingdom is an important one for the producers, and where, in fact, they desire that we should buy the major part of their products and are therefore prepared to sell to us on long-term contracts because they have the advantage of a guaranteed market. I should have thought that hon. Members opposite who support that policy at home would see the advantage of it abroad.
2058 That is, of course, the position. [Interruption]. Perhaps hon. Members would allow me to develop the argument. I am perfectly aware of the point they make. I can give a number of examples of this. For instance, it is the case that whereas we buy very nearly the whole of the exportable surplus of New Zealand and Australia, because they think it worth while to sell to us at prices of £75 or £80 a ton, they are, in fact, getting for some small parcels of meat in a free market in the United States £300 a ton. If, in fact, we did not have these bilateral arrangements with them, and if we did not negotiate on a long-term basis to buy the whole of their available supplies, there would be a free market, and, of course, the meat would go to the highest bidder. Three hundred pounds a ton; is that what hon. Members opposite want?
If anybody has any lingering doubts on this matter, let him consider the situation in raw materials today. Every week that passes, one hon. Member or another gets up and asks me questions about what we are going to do regarding the prices of raw materials sold in free competitive markets. I suppose they would like to see an auction sale at Melbourne for Australian meat in the same way as wool is auctioned, when we should then pay nine or 10 times the price. Even the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. W. Fletcher), who is an expert in these matters, and who no doubt buys and sells rubber, among other things, finds it very difficult to get rubber at less than five times the pre-war price. There is no bulk purchase, there is no long-term contract, he buys in a free competitive market.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
And does the right hon. Gentleman hesitate for one second to take advantage of the open market when he is selling tin or cocoa?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Of course, it is our duty if we are selling in an open market to get the highest price we can. Really, hon. Members are so confused in their own minds that they do not understand—[Interruption]. What are we to say about the hon. Gentlemen opposite who, at this very moment, are demanding a return to free competitive enterprise when the U.S.A. is introducing Government bulk purchase for rubber? [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] In order to get supplies. 2059 And they find that necessary because they are facing a rising price situation and it is the best method in those circumstances.
All this, of course, does not mean that, when we are facing one of our Commonwealth friendly countries, we must ruthlessly exploit our position to the full. That is not our desire, and we do not desire a return to pre-war conditions when the prices paid to the primary producers of the world were far too low, in my opinion, and the result was misery and depression here. What we say is that, by reason of our operations in these limited markets where we have. bilateral negotiations, we are able to buy at far lower prices than we would if the market were open. [An HON. MEMBER: "Buy what?"] We have to look at the situation in the light of the fact that we are, of course, having to pay very much more—[An HON. MEMBER: "For nuts."]—for a large number of raw materials and some foodstuffs which we have to buy in the open markets.
As I said once before, in 1950 these rising prices of raw materials probably cost us something like £300 million in additional exports that we had to send abroad, and very much the same type of thing will probably occur in 1951. In those circumstances, is it not really the duty of every one of us to do everything we can to keep these prices down? Is it not obvious that we want to relieve our people of the burden they must otherwise carry by having to export more? Of course it is.
There is the question of repercussions on retail prices. Hon. Gentlemen opposite frequently ask me about the rising cost of living. If there is one thing that this debate has exposed, it is the utter hollowness of the professions of the Opposition on this subject. One hon. Member after another has said. "Never mind about the price, buy the stuff." And believe me, there are going to be some very valuable quotations from their speeches for us to use when the time comes.
It is the duty of the Government to take every possible action to keep down these prices, and that is exactly what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food has been doing. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about coal?"] I am talking about the prices of imports, not of exports. In fact, my right hon. Friend has recently agreed to pay slightly more 2060 for New Zealand meat and Danish bacon —5 or 6 per cent. more. Compare that, for example, with maize bought more or less in the free market. That has gone up by 25 per cent. since the Korean war started. Barley has gone up 50 per cent. and oilseeds and vegetable oils by from 33 to 100 per cent. That is the difference between the negotiations which my right hon. Friend has been conducting on a bulk purchase basis and the price which we should have to pay in a free market.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am coming to that matter if hon. Members opposite will allow me. I want to say something about the negotiations. I should like, however, to say that I am glad the right hon. Gentleman said what he did say about the attitude of the Opposition, in principle at any rate, regarding these negotiations. It is, of course, one of the disadvantages from which my right hon. Friend and I suffer that we have to be extremely careful what we say in public because what we say might prejudice the outcome of the negotiations. That is surely clear enough. When these negotiations began nearly a year ago—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Perhaps I might now continue after that interchange between the two sides. The right hon. Gentleman asked his questions and I am doing my best to answer them. He asked me about the other aspects of the negotiations. It is quite true that the Argentine did not keep the 1949 agreement. They did not allow the financial remittances. They did not allow the payment of railway pensions and dividends, despite assurances to us. They did not grant the import licences which had been promised. They did not pay their current debts; and when we began they were owing us some £13 million in blocked remittances and about £3½ million in trade debts as well, and a very serious situation was developing.
I am glad to say that in the course of these negotiations, as a result of the firm line adopted by His Majesty's Government—[Interruption.] The Opposition are complaining that we are taking too firm a line. As a result of that we have at least obtained the payment of the commercial debts. We have not succeeded so 2061 far, as I told the House on Tuesday, in obtaining the payment of the other financial remittances. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the meat?"] I am coming to that in a moment. We made an opening bid of £90 a ton, and at that time we considered, as we still consider, that it was a very fair offer in comparison with what was being paid to the southern Dominions. We were prepared to go up to £97 10s., and we were even prepared to accept that as a provisional price and accept whatever came out of the negotiations at a later stage, but unfortunately the Argentine would not accept that arrangement without a time limit which really meant that no effective negotiations could take place.
All this time the only firm proposal that came from them was £140 a ton. I ask hon. Members opposite: do they really believe that we ought to have accepted that offer, knowing that it would not only involve our paying the Argentine £20 million to £30 million, but that it would also have serious repercussions on the price which we should certainly be asked by New Zealand and Australia? We say that they were quite unjustified to ask that price, and we were absolutely right in refusing to pay it. It was not until 27th December that finally—and I repeat, because of the firm line that we adopted —the Argentine came forward with an offer of £120 per ton, and chilled beef to be resumed, so that in effect we should get a better product for our money. That was on 27th December—not until six months after the original negotiations had begun.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
That would cost us about £13 million a year. The point is this. We were prepared to negotiate on the basis of accepting chilled beef. We told them so, and once more at this point the prospects looked bright, and negotiations began again in London. Unfortunately, there were only two meetings between the experts, and the Argentine then said that nothing less than an average price of £120 was open to discussion. They refused to give us any firm assurance of how much chilled beef we would get—obviously an extremely relevant point—nor how long the agreement would be for.
2062 In those circumstances the talks had to be suspended, but I want to emphasise that there was no question of a break, and we are perfectly ready for further negotiations. As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, we are, in fact, in touch with the Argentine Government. The real question is, what else should we have done? Should we have paid the £140 or not? I believe that the sense of the House is that we should not have done so.
§ Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
The real question is whether negotiation between States is the best way to get results.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I have shown, with a number of illustrations, that negotiations between States have been a most powerful influence in keeping down the cost of living at home. It has been argued that we should have accepted the Argentine arguments about devaluation. I do not agree with that for one moment. The Argentine is not a dollar country. She does not work on a dollar currency. Her exports are not paid for in dollars but are paid for in sterling, and sterling can be used to buy commodities throughout the sterling area, wherever she chooses. If it comes to a comparison between price increases there and here, then there is little to choose between the countries. So far as coal is concerned. I agree, of course, that the price has gone up above the pre-war price, but there has been no—[Laughter.] I do not know why hon. Members are laughing at that. This is a British export. [HON. MEMBERS: "No; a British import."]
Of course, no one regrets more than my right hon. Friend and the Government that it has not, so far, been possible to bring the negotiations with the Argentine to a successful conclusion and that, in consequence, we have been obliged to cut the meat ration so severely. We are perfectly well aware of how hardly this bears on the people. We shall do all we can to get an agreement which is fair and reasonable, but we cannot accept that we should have been or should be ready to agree to pay any price rather than cut the ration. If that were to be our attitude and if it were known—and hon. Members opposite have been doing their best to imply that—we should be completely at the mercy of another country.
2063 We cannot for one moment accept the view that bulk purchase is to be condemned. The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. And it is because this Amendment implies that we have done wrong in standing out for reasonable prices and in fighting the battle of inflation it is because this Amendment implies that we should long ago have surrendered; it is because this Amendment is totally un-
§ justified in its strictures and, if accepted, would be absolutely fatal to our hopes of a fair agreement on Argentine meat, that I ask the House to reject it.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes. 306; Noes, 298.2067
|Division No. 32]||AYES||[10.1 p.m.|
|Acland, Sit Richard||Delargy, H. J.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)|
|Adams, Richard||Diamond, J.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)|
|Albu, A. H.||Dodds, N. N.||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Donnelly, D.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Driberg, T. E. N.||Janner, B.|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. J (W Bromwich)||Jay, D. P. T|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Dye, S||Jeger, G. (Goole)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C R.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C||Jeger, Dr. S. W (St. Pancras, S.)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Edelman, M.||Jenkins, R. H|
|Ayles, W. H.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||Johnson, James (Rugby)|
|Bacon, Miss A||Edwards, W J. (Stepney)||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)|
|Baird, J.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)|
|Balfour, A.||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J||Evans, S. N (Wednesbury)||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)|
|Bartley, P||Ewart, R.||Jones, William Elwyn (Conway)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Fairhurst, F.||Keenan, W.|
|Benn, Hon. A. N Wedgwood||Fernyhough, E||Kenyon, C.|
|Benson, G.||Field Capt. W. J||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W|
|Beswick, F.||Finch, H. J.||King, H. M.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon A (Ebbw Vale)||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Kinghorn, Sqn. Ldr. E|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Follick, M.||Kinley, J.|
|Blenkinsop, A||Foot, M. M.||Kirkwood, Rt. Hon. D|
|Blyton, W. R.||Forman, J. C.||Lang, Rev. G.|
|Boardman, H||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Lee, F. (Newton)|
|Booth, A.||Freeman, J. (Watford)||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)|
|Bottomley, A. G||Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Lever, N. H (Cheatham)|
|Bowden, H. W.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T N||Lever, L. M (Ardwick)|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Ganley, Mrs. C. S||Lewis, A. W. J. (West Ham, N.)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Gibson, C. W||Lewis, J. (Bolton, W.)|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Gilzean, A.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Glanville, J E (Consett)||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.|
|Brooks, T. J. (Normanton)||Gooch, E. G.||Logan, D. G.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Greenwood, A. W. J (Rossendale)||Longden, F. (Small Heath)|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Wakefield)||McAllister, G.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Grenfell, D. R.||MacColl, J. E.|
|Burke, W. A.||Grey, C. F.||McGhee, H. G.|
|Burton, Miss E.||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||McGovern, J.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S)||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||McInnes, J.|
|Callaghan, James||Griffiths, W. D. (Exchange)||Mack, J. D.|
|Carmichael, James||Gunter, R. J.||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A||Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Mackay, R. W. G. (Reading, N.)|
|Champion, A. J.||Hale, J. (Rochdale)||McLeavy, F.|
|Chetwynd, G. R||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)|
|Clunie, J.||Hall, J. (Gateshead, W.)||McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.|
|Cocks, F. S||Hall, Rt. Hn. W. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Coldrick, W.||Hamilton, W. W||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Collick, P.||Hannan, W.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Collindridge, F||Hardman, D. R.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)|
|Cook, T. F.||Hardy, E. A.||Mann, Mrs. J.|
|Cooper, G. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Hargreaves, A.||Manuel, A. C.|
|Cooper, J. (Deptford)||Harrison, J.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K (Peckham)||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George|
|Cove, W. G.||Hayman, F. H.||Mellish, R. J|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A (Rowley Regis)||Messer, F.|
|Crawley, A||Herbison, Miss M.||Middleton, Mrs. L|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Hewitson, Capt. M||Mikardo, Ian|
|Crossman, R. H S||Hobson, C. R.||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Holman, P.||Moeran, E. W.|
|Daines, P.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Monslow, W.|
|Dalton, Rt Hon. H||Houghton, Douglas||Moody, A. S.|
|Darling, G. (Hillsboro')||Hoy, J||Morgan, Dr. H. B|
|Davies, A. Edward (Stoke, N.)||Hubbard, T||Morley, R.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, N.)||Morris, P (Swansea, W.)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Morrison, Rt Hon. H (Lewisham. S.)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Mort, D. L|
|da Freitas, Geoffrey||Hughes, Moelwyn (Islington, N.)||Moyle, A|
|Deer, G||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Mulley, F W|
|Murray, J. D.||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)||Usborne, Henry|
|Nally, W.||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Neal, H.||Shackleton, E. A. A.||Viant, S. P.|
|Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J.||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H.||Wallace, H. W.|
|O'Brien, T.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Oldfield W. H.||Shurmer, P. L. E.||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Oliver, G. H.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Weitzman, D.|
|Orbach, M.||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Padley, W. E.||Simmons, C.J.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Paget, R. T.||Slater, J.||West, D. G.|
|Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Dearne V'lly)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)||White, Mrs. E. (E. Flint)|
|Pannell, T. C.||Snow, J. W.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Pargiter, G. A.||Sorensen, R. W.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon W.|
|Parker, J.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir F.||Wigg, George|
|Paton, J.||Steele, T.||Wilcock, Group Capt C. A. B.|
|Pearson, A.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)||Wilkes, L.|
|Peart, T. F.||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Poole, Cecil||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Popplewell, E.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Vauxnall)||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Porter, G.||Stross, Dr. B.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Price, M. Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)|
|Proctor, W. T.||Sylvester, G. O.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Pryde, D. J.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Pursey, Commander H.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Rankin, J.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Huyton)|
|Rees, Mrs. D.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Winterbottom, I. (Nottingham, C.)|
|Reeves, J.||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)||Winterbottom, R. E. (Brightside)|
|Reid, T. (Swindon)||Thomas, I. R. (Rhondda, W.)||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Reid, W. (Camlachie)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Rhodes, H.||Thurtle, Ernest||Wyatt, W. L.|
|Richards, R.||Timmons, J.||Yates, V. F.|
|Robens, A.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Tomney, F.|
|Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||Turner-Samuels, M.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Ungoed-Thomas, A. L.||Mr. Royle and Mr. Sparks.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S.||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Clarke, Col. R. S. (East Grinstead)||Gammans, L. D.|
|Amery, J. (Preston, N.)||Clarke, Brig T. H. (Portsmouth, W.)||Garner-Evans, E. H. (Denbigh)|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Clyde, J. L.||Gates, Maj. E. E.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Colegate, A.||George, Lady M. Lloyd|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Glyn, Sir R.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Cooper, A. E. (Ilford, S.)||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Cooper-Key, E. M.||Granville, E. (Eye)|
|Baker, P.||Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Gridley, Sir A.|
|Baldock J. M.||Craddock, G. B. (Spelthorne)||Grimond, J.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Cranborne, Viscount||Grimston, Hon. J. (St. Albans)|
|Banks, Col. C.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Grimston, R. V. (Westbury)|
|Baxter, A. B.||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E||Harden, J. R. E.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Crouch, R. F.||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)|
|Bell, R. M.||Crowder, F P. (Ruislip—Northwood)||Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)|
|Bennett, Sir P. (Edgbaston)||Crowder, Capt. John F. E. (Finchley)||Harris, R. R. (Heston)|
|Bennett, R. F. B. (Gosport)||Cundiff, F. W.||Harvey, Air Codre. A. V. (Macclesfield)|
|Bennett, W. G. (Woodside)||Cuthbert, W. N.||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)|
|Bevins, J. R. (Liverpool, Toxteth)||Darling, Sir W. Y. (Edinburgh, S.)||Harvie-Watt, Sir G. S.|
|Birch, Nigel||Davidson, Viscountess||Hay, John|
|Bishop, F. P.||Davies, Nigel (Epping)||Head, Brig. A. H.|
|Black, C. W.||de Chair, S.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon Sir C.|
|Blackburn, A. R.||De la Bère, R.||Heald, L. F.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Deedes, W. F.||Heath, E. R.|
|Boothby, R.||Digby, S. Wingfield||Henderson, John (Cathcart)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.|
|Bowen, R.||Donner, P. W.||Higgs, J. M C.|
|Bower, N.||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord M.||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Hill, Dr. C. (Luton)|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Dunglass, Lord||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Braine, B.||Duthie, W. S.||Hollis, M. C.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Eccles, D. M.||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col W.||Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Hope, Lord J.|
|Brooke, H. (Hampstead)||Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter||Hopkinson, H. L. D' A.|
|Browne, J. N. (Govan)||Erroll, F. J.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss P.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Fisher, Nigel||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Fletcher, W (Bury)||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Fort, R.||Howard, G. R. (St. Ives)|
|Burden, Squadron Leader F. A.||Foster, J. G.||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Fraser, Hon. H. C. P. (Stone)||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)||Fraser, Sir I (Lonsdale)||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)|
|Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M||Hulbert, Wing Cdr. N. J.|
|Carson, Hon. E.||Gage, C. H.||Hurd, A. R.|
|Channon, H.||Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)||Hutchinson, Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)|
|Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Mellor, Sir J.||Smyth, Brig J. G. (Norwood)|
|Hyde, H. M.||Molson, A. H. E.||Snadden, W. McN|
|Hylton-Foster, H. B.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.||Soames, Capt. C|
|Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Jennings, R.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Spence, H R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)|
|Johnson, Howard S. (Kemptown)||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Spens, Sir P. (Kensington, S.)|
|Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Nabarro, G.||Stanley, Capt. Hon R. (N. Fylde)|
|Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Nicholls, H.||Stevens, G. P.|
|Kaberry, D.||Nicholson, G.||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Keeling, E. H.||Nield, B. (Chester)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge)||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Nugent, G. R. H.||Storey, S.|
|Lambert, Hon. G.||Nutting, Anthony||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Oakshott, H. D.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Langford-Holt, J.||Odey, G. W.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon Sir H.||Summers, G. S.|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Teeling, William|
|Lindsay, Martin||Orr-Ewing, Ian L. (Weston-super-Mare)||Teevan, L. T.|
|Linstead, H. N.||Osborne, C.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Llewellyn, D.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Thompson, K. P. (Walton)|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)||Perkins, W. R. D.||Thompson, R. H. M. (Croydon, W.)|
|Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Peto, Brig, C. H. M||Thorneycroft, G. E. P (Monmouth)|
|Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Pickthorn, K.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Pitman, I. J.||Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F.|
|Longden, G. J. M. (Hens. S. W.)||Powell, J. Enoch.||Tilney, John.|
|Low, A. R. W.||Prescott, Stanley||Touche, G. C.|
|Lucas, Major Sir J. (Portsmouth, S.)||Price, H. A. (Lewisham, W.)||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.||Turton, R. H.|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Profumo, J. D.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Raikes, H. V.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|McAdden, S. J.||Rayner, Brigadier R.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|McCallum, Maj. D.||Redmayne, M.||Vosper, D. F.|
|McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Remnant, Hon. P.||Wade, D. W.|
|Macdonald, A. J. F. (Roxburgh)||Renton, D. L. M.||Wakefield, E. B. (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)||Wakefield, Sir W. W. (St. Marylebone)|
|McKibbin, A.||Roberts, P. G. (Heeley)||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Robertson, Sir D. (Caithness)||Ward, Hon. G. R. (Worcester)|
|Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Robinson, J. Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Maclean, F. H. R.||Robson-Brown, W. (Esher)||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|MacLeod, Iain (Enfield, W.)||Rodgers, J. (Sevenoaks)||Watkinson, H.|
|MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)||Roper, Sir H.||Webbe, Sir H. (London)|
|Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Ropner, Col. L.||Wheatley, Major M. J. (Poole)|
|Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)||White, J. Baker (Canterbury)|
|Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Russell, R. S.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Marlowe, A. A. H.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.||Williams, Sir. H. G. (Croydon, E.)|
|Marples, A. E.||Savory, Prof. D. L.||Wills, G.|
|Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Scott, Donald||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||Shepherd, W. S. (Cheadle)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Maude, A. E. U. (Ealing, S.)||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.||Wood, Hon R.|
|Maude, J. C. (Exeter)||Smith, E. Martin (Grantham)||York, C.|
|Maudling, R.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Medlicott, Brigadier F||Smithers, Sir W. (Orpington)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Drewe and Brigadier Mackeson.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Debate arising—
§ It being after Ten o'Clock the debate stood adjourned.
§ Committee Tomorrow.