HC Deb 26 February 1951 vol 484 cc1717-22
5. Mr. Donner

asked the Minister of Food the price paid per ton for the New Zealand meat shipment recently diverted from the United States of America to this country.

Mr. Webb

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Colonel Stoddart-Scott) on 21st February.

Mr. Donner

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that but for this act of good will on the part of New Zealand in diverting a shipment to this country, it would not have been possible to maintain the 8d. ration?

Mr. Webb

I would not agree to the whole of that supplementary by any means, but we are grateful to the New Zealand Government for their co-operation.

Sir Peter Macdonald

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that even with this diverted shipment he is able to maintain the 8d. ration?

Mr. Webb

I said in the House recently that the present ration was, we believed, the lowest we need have to go to, and I stand my that statement.

Sir P. Macdonald

Is it not the case that other facts have come to the notice of the Government since then, and that the New Zealand shipment will not be up to the standard expected at that time?

Mr. Speaker

The Question asks the price paid per ton for New Zealand meat.

19. Mr. Baker White

asked the Minister of Food how much of the French meat, bought by his Department at £177 per ton, has been found unfit for human consumption and delivered to the Eastern By-Products, Limited, glue factory at Waltham, near Canterbury.

Mr. Webb

None at all, Sir. The Press reports which made the allegation, contained in the hon. Member's Question, were totally inaccurate and were denied the following day. No French meat has been handled by any of our depots in the county of Kent, and the firm in question will confirm my statement if the hon. Member consults them.

Mr. Baker White

As this was not French meat, can the Minister explain why, when the ration is down to 8d., meat is kept in store long enough to go bad and has to be condemned when issued?

Mr. Webb

Meat has been going bad right down time. There is nothing new about that. The allegation made in the Question was a quite unfounded one; it is really a repetition of a quite unfounded story in daily newspapers, which has not been withdrawn by those newspapers.

21. Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

asked the Minister of Food whether in view of the fact that the Argentine is prepared to sell meat to Brazil at £76 per ton, he can arrange with the Brazilian Government to import the maximum quantity at that price and resell it at a reasonable profit to this country.

Mr. Webb

This suggestion is, unfortunately, quite impracticable. If arrangements were made to buy Argentine meat via Brazil at prices less than we are prepared to pay for direct shipments, then Argentina would obviously either stop selling to Brazil or increase prices to the level demanded of this country—as, I should have thought, the hon. and gallant Member would have been able to see for himself.

Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why he pays £177 per ton for old bulls which are sent over from France and which are so tough that they have to be minced? Why not try to do a deal with the Argentine somehow?

Mrs. Castle

Does not the fact that the Argentine are willing to sell this meat to Brazil at £76 a ton justify my right hon. Friend in his stand against the exorbitant price which they are demanding from this country?

Sir Waldron Smithers

Does not the answer to this Question, and to the 43 others to the Minister reveal the ghastly failure of Socialist policy and—

Mr. Speaker

A question should not be tendentious; it should ask for information.

Sir W. Smithers

I wanted to ask, Sir, whether the right hon. Gentleman noticed the dishonest attempt of the Minister of Defence, in his broadcast on Saturday, to try to justify that policy.

25. Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

asked the Minister of Food how much Argentine frozen beef, Continental B grade, surplus to Austrian requirements has been offered, ex-stores Vienna and Antwerp, to his Department; why such offers were refused; how much of this beef is still available for purchase; and at what price.

39. Major Tufton Beamish

asked the Minister of Food on what grounds be recently rejected an Austrian offer to sell 2,000 tons of Argentine meat; and how the price asked compared with the price recently paid to the French Government for similar meat.

Mr. Webb

Three thousand five hundred tons of Argentine beef were offered in Vienna at prices ranging between £134 and £170 a ton free on rail Austrian frontier, and 2,000 tons ex-cold store Antwerp at £150 a ton. I have already indicated to the House why we are not prepared to pay unreasonable prices for Argentine meat, and it would be misleading to compare these offers with our recent purchase of French meat at £170 a ton. This was a spot purchase on an open market, whereas to have accepted the other offers would have jeopardised our trading position with a long-term bulk supplier.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

If, as at present, we are getting practically no meat at all, would it not be better to give £135 per ton or more to get this quite good quality meat, which comes from young light-weight steers suitable for this market?

Mr. Webb

As I have mentioned, a mission is leaving from this country tomorrow to start negotiations. I hope that the Opposition can at least keep their mouths closed for a short time.

Mr. Harrison

Is my right hon. Friend aware that owing to the efforts of hon. Gentlemen opposite he will have to pay unfortunate prices to the Argentine?

Major Beamish

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the remark which he has just made in answer to a supplementary question is an extremely powerful argument against Government bulk buying?

31. Major Beamish

asked the Minister of Food how many tons of meat he has bought from France during the last 12 months; and what proportion of this quantity was Argentine meat.

Mr. Webb

Four thousand eight hundred tons of beef, none of which came from Argentina.

32. Mr. Hugh Fraser

asked the Minister of Food if he will make a statement on the resumption of meat negotiations with the Argentine.

42. Mr. John Cooper

asked the Minister of Food whether any further progress has been made in the negotiations with the Argentine on the purchase price of meat; and whether there is any early prospect of an agreement.

Mr. Webb

As was announced on Saturday, the Argentine Government has agreed to resume discussions on meat purchases and on other outstanding financial and trade questions. The discussions will take place in Buenos Aires and the British Delegation, which is leaving by air tomorrow, will be led by my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury.

Captain Duncan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all sorts of extraneous issues, such as pensions to ex-employees of the Argentine Railways, are coming into these negotiations and may well prejudice the real negotiations on meat, which we all want?

Mr. Webb

The negotiations do, in fact, cover all these issues. We have very serious matters of great concern, quite outside the meat question, to resolve with this country, and it is as well that we should consider them on a wide basis and secure, as I hope we shall, a complete and final settlement.

Squadron Leader Burden

How does the Minister explain that the negotiations with the Argentine for the supply of meat are only now taking place, when in the Socialist Party's hand-book, issued for the last election, it was stated emphatically that arrangements had been made with the Argentine for contracts—

Mr. Speaker

That is not a supplementary question, asking for information. It is merely throwing a brick across the Floor of the House.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Is not the fact that these negotiations are bound up with scores of other questions a conclusive argument against bulk buying?

Mr. Webb

The supply of meat to this country from Argentina was part of a trade agreement, and we have to consider the whole of the trade agreement. We cannot take out sections of it to the disadvantage of the other country and ignore the things which are to our own advantage.

33. Mr. H. Fraser

asked the Minister of Food if he will make a statement on the resumption of negotiations for the purchase of meat from Uruguay.

Mr. Webb

I have nothing to add to the reply I gave to the hon. Member on 5th February.

Mr. Fraser

Is it not most important that these negotiations should be resumed—at least 60,000 tons of meat are available in Uruguay—and should have been resumed before to strengthen our hands in any negotiations with the Argentine?

Mr. Webb

I think that we had better await the outcome of the present negotiations.