HC Deb 09 November 1951 vol 493 cc493-587


Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [6th November]: That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as follows: Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.— [Mr. Dodds-Parker.]

Question again proposed.

11.14 a.m.

The Minister of Food (Major Lloyd George)

I am not at all sure that I am not entitled to claim that indulgence which hon. Members so kindly extend to Members making their maiden speech, because, although I have been a Member of this House for a great many years, it is the first time I have had the privilege of addressing hon. Members in this Chamber. Further, I feel I am entitled to some consideration because the path which lies before me is not a very pleasant one. We heard from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Wednesday an assessment of the economic position of the nation as he found it on taking office. It was, as he said, a grave statement of a grave position. He proposed certain remedial action and, as the House knows, the effect of that action will fall fairly heavily upon the field for which, as Minister of Food. I am responsible.

I think the House will agree that the Chancellor did not unduly stress the fact that the grave economic position was one which he inherited—one for which he was not responsible; nor do I want to stress this aspect of the food position. I simply want to give the House and the country a factual picture of the food situation as I found it.

It was at the beginning of 1942 that I last spoke to the House of the food position. I am bound to confess that I did not then think that some nine years later I should be called upon to address the House again to deal with the difficulties of our food position. When I spoke in 1942 I drew attention particularly to the difficult position at the beginning of 1941. We were then at war and going through a very trying period and, when I spoke at that time, I thought it was right that I should give hon. Members the facts.

We are again in difficulties—of a different nature it is true—and I propose to give the facts today as I did then. Nine years ago, when I was talking of the winter of 1940–41, in describing how the nation was at that moment enduring its worst trial so far as food was concerned, I said: All our principal nearby sources of supply had been cut off, we were enduring intensive aerial bombardment of our ports and our industrial centres, and our shipping was subjected to most determined attacks by submarine and from the air."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1942; Vol 378, c. 536.] It is true that today there is no aerial bombardment and no torpedoing of our ships; but, owing to our financial position, our supplies are in a very similarly dangerous position to that of 1941. Not only are our incoming supplies restricted by forces which, though of a different nature from those with which we had to content in 1941, are no less potent in their effect, but also the nation's larder contains smaller stocks of the principal foodstuffs. Leaving out of account the stocks which have been accumulated and set aside for strategical purposes. I have found that our stocks of wheat and flour, margarine and cooking fats, sugar and butter, to take a few examples, are all well below the level of 1941.

From one point of view this reduction of stocks is not altogether surprising, since under normal peace-time conditions it is not customary to maintain over-large commercial stocks. The ideal is a regular flow of the largest possible quantity of food from reliable sources of supply. But the stock position has an all important effect when we are faced with a situation such as exists today.

For some years past, we have had to struggle against limitations imposed by a shortage of dollars. Now, in addition, we are obliged to curtail imports from Europe as well, for currency reasons. No longer are we bound to save dollars alone, but our deficit in Europe drives us to cut down our expenditure over one of our best and most reliable areas of supply. Then, there is the stern reality of the supply position itself. At the moment, we cannot obtain all the supplies that we should like to have. Argentina is not able to deliver the quantity of meat that we should like, and we should welcome much more butter and meat from Australia. That is the broad picture. What follows from it?

One thing followed within a few hours of taking up my present office, namely, the announcement of the reduction of the meat ration. That decision to reduce the ration to 1s. 5d. this weekend was urgent and inescapable. It was forced upon us by the state of the nation's larder and, indeed, it had been forecast by my predecessor. The Prime Minister has already stated in his speech the other day that there is no assurance that the 1s. 5d. ration can be maintained until the middle of next year. I want to make it perfectly clear to the House that any reasonable hope of keeping it up to that level must depend on certain assumptions, of which I will mention two.

The first is that we should not be disappointed in our expectations from Australia. As the House well knows, consumption by the Australian people has been increasing greatly, and they have not been able to send us as much meat as they have been able to do in the past. The second important factor is that of supplies from Argentina. We cannot be absolutely sure that they will be able to let us have the 200,000 tons which they have agreed to ship before next April. They have their own difficulties, but we have their assurance that they will do their best.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already announced a cut in certain items of privately imported food, including canned ham and canned meats. I shall say a general word later about the cut in this sector of the food front, but, in view of what I have just said about the rationed meat position, I might mention here the importance to the nation's diet of the privately imported canned ham and canned meats.

Private imports of canned ham began last year, and, from very small beginnings, this trade increased until, in the first half of this year, over 30,000 tons of canned ham was brought into the country. The private trade in canned meats also began in 1950. In the first half of 1950, only just over 22,000 tons of canned meats came into the country. In the second half of 1950, that tonnage had gone up to 50,000, and in the first half of this year it reached the figure 75,000 tons, which the House will agree is a very remarkable increase

These meats have been a most welcome addition to our other foods. I think there was a feeling among some hon. Members during the Chancellor's statement when he referred to this subject that it was, in any case, desirable to exclude expensive private food imports of this sort. I do not share that view. In my opinion, it is a most unfortunate necessity that we must cut down in this way. I think most people will agree that these additional foods are, for the most part, not luxuries at all, but find their place in the larders of all classes of the community for use, for example, in sandwiches in packed meals.

It may interest the House to know that the value, in terms of meat rationing, of the imports or consumption of these particular canned ham and canned meats generally is very nearly equal to 3d. per week per person, which is a very substantial contribution. The recent addition of these foods to our diet is the result of the successful enterprise of private traders, and it is a striking illustration of what can be done by individual energy and enterprise. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why stop it?"] I have tried to explain that we have to stop it because of the deplorable state of our finances.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

Surely, the short answer is that we have to stop it because this private enterprise is much more expensive than we can afford?

Major Lloyd George

I am interested in the short answer, and if anybody has got a short answer to this situation he must be a very clever person. It is a very interesting thing that this free enterprise, to which this great country has owed its great prosperity and wealth in the past, is now being held up by the hon. and learned Gentleman as one of the causes of the present situation. If that is the remedy of the party opposite, no wonder we are in the position in which we now find ourselves today.

What we want to do is to give every encouragement to the people who show enterprise in this and other directions to increase the wealth of this country. Anyway, this is a very striking example of what can be done by leaving people free to scour the world, as they used to do before the war, to feed this country on a standard higher than that of any other in Europe. So far as I am concerned, as soon as we can get out of the mess we are in. I shall do everything I can to encourage these people to go to other parts of the world in order to buy food products.

It is particularly unfortunate that we have to deprive ourselves of the benefits of their labours, because, as I shall show, the prospect of obtaining additional supplies of our basic rations is not very rosy. [An HON. MEMBER: "Under private enterprise we shall have no rations at all."] I wish to point out, to the hon. Gentleman who suggests that under private enterprise we would not have any rations at all, that a very substantial contribution to our rations, amounting to 3d. per person per week, has been made by private imports of canned meats. It is not that we cannot afford this enterprise, but that we cannot afford the incompetence of the former Government. It was the Government of the day that was responsible; that is what I mean, not the present one.

Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)

Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us whether, in view of what he said, it is proposed to end bulk buying forthwith?

Major Lloyd George

One really must not read things into my statements that are not there. I never made that statement, and nobody has ever suggested it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I challenge the hon. and learned Gentleman to point to a statement by any responsible person saying that it was the intention of the Government to end bulk purchase as soon as they were returned to office. It is quite untrue, because I have personal knowledge of agreements made with the Dominions and the Commonwealth generally which we could not possibly upset.

Mr. Bing

May I refer the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to the statement of the Conservative candidate for Horn-church? The Minister will no doubt let me have a letter, which I can publish in the Hornchurch papers.

Major Lloyd George

I do not think I ought to give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman, because we cannot govern the whole country on what happens in Horn-church.

The House knows what the meat position is. As matters stand, we cannot, for supply reasons, in the immediate future expect much increase in supplies from the chief exporting countries, and, if we could find additional supplies elsewhere the financial stringency would probably prevent us from buying them. The same position applies to butter and to rationed cheese.

As regards sugar, it had been hoped that by now we should be receiving much larger quantities from the British Commonwealth. However, for reasons beyond the control of Commonwealth producers—mostly climatic—Commonwealth supplies are less, considerably less, than was expected. We are taking, and shall continue to take for at least the next two years, every ton of sugar that Commonwealth producers can offer us, but we shall still need large quantities of sugar from other quarters. The prospects are that the sugar will be available in those other countries to meet all our needs, but there is little hope that we shall be able to afford the dollars to buy it, at any rate for some time to come.

Mr. Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

Is my right hon and gallant Friend satisfied with the present contract made by the last Government with Jamaica? I believe that that requires looking into, and I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will do so.

Major Lloyd George

I shall certainly look into it, but I cannot give any information at the moment, as my hon. Friend will appreciate.

There has lately been some improvement in the world position of oils and fats, but here again I fear that the financial position of the country may prevent us from taking early advantage from it. To the old problem of shortage of supplies is now added, in aggravated form, the problem of not having enough money to buy the supplies available

I have given the facts of the food situation as I found them. No doubt the main concern of the House at the moment is to know the exact effect on the food position of the additional cuts in imports which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already announced. Out of the total saving of £350 million in our programme of imports, something like £160 million will be made by cutting imports of food. The largest section of this saving will be the cut in the private imports of food from Europe and other non-sterling countries, which are at present brought in under open general licences. Instead of the uncontrolled import of foods under these open general licences, we shall have to decide what limit will be placed on each commodity in the selected list, and only allow licences for those limited amounts. The reduction in these private imports of food will be about £100 million a year. It will fall, of course, on those unrationed foods which, over the last 18 months or so, have proved an increasing and welcome addition to the basic rations.

I have already mentioned canned ham and canned meat. These privately imported foods also include various sugar and sugar fat mixtures, canned fruit, canned vegetables and fresh fruit and nuts. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cheese?"]. No, not cheese. I am sorry that the serious economic state of the country makes it necessary to do without these items, and I should like to point out that if it had not been for the substantial quantities of food brought to this country by this means, the cuts which the Chancellor has mentioned would not have been possible without severe reductions in rationed foods.

I cannot yet say how much of each of these items of privately imported foods we shall be able to afford to allow in. We are not excluding any cheese; or oranges, lemons, or tomatoes; or any of a quite wide variety of other foods. We want to keep as much as we can of those that are most valuable to all classes of the community, and we shall have to exclude primarily those that are the most expensive and least necessary. [An HON. MEMBER: "Wines and spirits?"]. That is not dealt with under this; it is dealt with in another way. There is no difference; it is dealt with by a different method, that is all. I hope to be able to give the House this detailed information within a few days.

I am well aware how anxiously not only consumers but members of the food trades and food manufacturing industries are awaiting details, and I should like to assure them that we are dealing with this matter very urgently, and that I shall make an announcement at the earliest opportunity.

The balance of the saving on the food front will have to come either from the non-rationed foods which my Department still imports on Government account, or from a reduction in the imports of rationed foods and grain. How this reduction can best be made is a matter for very careful examination, and we intend to arrange matters so that it should have the least harmful effect on ration levels. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already said that for the time being we shall have to do without some increases in the consumption of rationed food for which we had hoped. There may, indeed, have to be ration reductions. I do not propose to anticipate any such announcements. I think it best that I should keep to the good rule of not anticipating changes in the ration. If these are necessary I shall, of course, announce them without delay.

So far as animal feedingstuffs are concerned—

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Before leaving that part of his speech, would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell the House what he proposes to do to encourage that succulent and nutritious food, fish? What does he propose to do to encourage cheap fish in the large consuming areas of the South?

Major Lloyd George

I am bound to say that I shall do what I can, but a good deal depends on the number of fish and the particular time of the season. We are rapidly approaching the time when we are in difficulties with fish, especially in the early year. But obviously anything that we can do to increase food supplies, particularly non-dollar foods, or foods purchased with our own currency, will be done. I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that everything will be done to get whatever food we can.

If I may return to the question of animal feedingstuffs, which is also very important from the point of view of feeding this country, subject to some modest adjustments in particular rations which will have to be made in the near future, we shall do our utmost to maintain the general average level of feedingstuffs distribution which has been made to producers during the past year.

I have very briefly given the House a picture of the position. As I say, as soon as I am able to do so I will give the House the details of the particular things that we have to do. Hon. Members will agree that the situation in which we find ourselves is serious. People of this country have shown, on many occasions, that they will face any situation as long as they know the facts. I have endeavoured this morning, as far as food is concerned, to give the known facts, and I am confident they will face this grave position with their customary courage and resolution.

11.38 a.m.

Mr. Maurice Webb (Bradford, Central)

I trust that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will not find it embarrassing, nor consider it insincere, if I congratulate him on his appointment. He may well feel, of course, as I did, that this is a matter for commiseration rather than congratulation, but since he has returned to the House I feel that it would be the wish of all of his friends in all sections of the House to congratulate him on his arrival back in the House of Commons.

In a way, I suppose it is a good thing that he has had to face at the outset the grim facts of life which have for quite a long time now, and will do for a long time to come, governed the food situation of this country. What he has had to say this morning, and what was said earlier in the debate, by both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, was no surprise to me, and certainly no surprise to those of us on this side of the House who have long known the underlying gravity of our food situation.

Let me say at once that our food problem goes far beyond our present balance of payments crisis, grievous though that is in itself, and we shall get all muddled up in our thinking about it if we make an entirely different assumption. When we pass through this critical phase, as we shall, when we have again balanced our books, as we will—certainly that is the resolve and determination of all on this side of the House—after our efforts have once again put us on a solvent basis. we shall still face, for years to come, the most searching and anxious problem in this vital business of feeding our overcrowded island. As I have said repeatedly in the House and outside, and certainly at every election meeting I addressed, it is sheer folly to lead our people to expect a rapid, dramatic solution of their problems. There is no such solution. I must say that I regret the right hon. Gentleman's implication, if indeed it were not an explicit suggestion, that, somehow, all our problems are due to our present financial difficulties. If he takes that view, I am afraid he is not going to be successful in grappling with his problem.

Our food shortages were not due to some defect in our political ideas on this side of the House. They were not due to any clumsiness or inactivity on the part of the Labour Ministers concerned, as was so widely and recklessly stated, and repeated this morning, and before and during the Election. Our problems are inherent in our situation as an over-populated island, which cannot ever hope to feed itself, and must now compete for diminishing exportable food surpluses with the growing demands for food right across the world. That is the shape of the food problem, and that is something which all parties, all Governments, and all responsible citizens in this country have to sit down and face.

Each of us in this House represents 55,000 electors. Every day a new constituency of that size is born into the world; 55,000 new mouths to be fed—that is the food problem of this country; that is the food problem of the world. With new demands on top of existing demands, it adds up every year to well over half the electorate of this country—all new mouths to be fed, new larders to be filled. In addition, people in the Western highly developed, highly civilized world are living much longer because of our better health system, and all that kind of thing. They are making bigger demands on our food; and what is even more significant, and a much more serious factor in our situation, is that people in the Eastern world are demanding higher food standards. They are no longer prepared to live on bowls of rice to fill our larders.

That is the situation, and it is nonsense and reckless irresponsibility to boil it down to some balance of payments crisis. It is against this background that the late Government carried on its handling of the food situation. It was no secret that there were difficulties and shortages. All responsible politicians should have known it. They had no need to wait until they had access to Departmental figures and to Treasury figures to discover facts of this sort.

They ought to have known it, as should any responsible person who thought seriously about this problem. Certainly the noble Lord, who guides the party opposite and who is now presumably to get our food supplies—he, above all, should have known it. Yet, he and most others on the opposite side did not scruple to arouse expectation of some lavish increase in our food supplies—more red meat. Just send one or two smart businessmen around the world; they will find it: they will dig it out! That was the kind of suggestion that was made.

Even so responsible a man as the present Foreign Secretary joined in the chorus, to my regret. He chided me for staying that we hoped to hold the meat ration at ls. 5d. I did that to correct the wild and malicious stories put round that it was going down to something quite catastrophically low. He was hinting that I was saying that ls. 5d. was a good ration. A meat ration of ls. 5d. is not a good ration. It is nowhere near an adequate ration for the people of this country, but it is inherent in the meat situation that confronts this country, whatever Government is in power.

Let us look at this meat situation, because it is time we did, quite frankly. The meat situation is really an outstanding example of the thesis I am making this morning, that food will remain a problem long after we have solved our present shortfall in overseas earnings. The Prime Minister told the House on Tuesday that we were 600,000 tons short of reaching the pre-war meat supplies of this country. With his great ingenuity, —how skilful he is in doing these things —he made us all feel as if this was some great startling revelation; as if he had dug out of the archives at Downing Street facts kept back from the people of this country. It is nothing of the kind. It has been known to all, whether in the Government or in the trade, during the past 10 years.

The Prime Minister ought to have known it long since. He did not have to wait to take office to find out this elementary and grave fact. It is a fact; it is there. We have to find the answer to it. I repeatedly pointed out when I was occupying the office of Minister of Food how we were finding it more and more difficult, not merely to increase our meat supplies, but to hold even our present meat supplies. At meetings of such responsible bodies as the Institute of Meat and other experts in the trade, I went over this figure of 600,000 tons. It is the grimmest figure of all facing this country. They themselves recognise it. Frankly, they do not know what the short-term answer is, and many of them do not know what the long-term answer is.

At all my election meetings I gave these facts. At meeting after meeting, housewives asked me: "Why cannot we have more meat?" I told them frankly that we cannot have more meat, and I said that the next Minister of Food, of whatever party, would have to sit down and face the facts of life. And here they are. The Prime Minister seems to have some grievance about allegations that he was a warmonger. I do not know who made them, but I certainly did not. If they were made, that was a less offensive suggestion than the repeated suggestion that meat in abundance would be available, if only some genius from the Tory Party were restored to power. Anyway, we are now down to earth—all of us—and particularly on the other side of the House, and it is high time we were.

There is no quick way out. What is the way? The only way out in the long run, and it is not a quick way out, is the way I tried to take—the way the late Government took, and the way we shall continue to take when we resume office again. It is the way of long-term contracts to open up the undeveloped territories of our Commonwealth. I urge the Minister to press forward with these schemes, and not to be diverted by doctrinaire objections to bulk contracts by his supporters. That is in the long run. In the short run, he should. I hope, still find it possible to hold the 1s. 5d. ration.

The statement that I made about that was made after very full consultation with the officials responsible and other expert officials who advise the Minister, as they advised me, and whose judgment I stand by and accept. We worked out a programme, and if things are as they would assume, taking into account all the normal hazards and failures of meat to arrive, and unless something quite abnormal arises, that meat ration should be held. I hope that my successor will make it his target and purpose to hold it right through, until we reach the beginning of the uprise in our own meat supplies. If it falls short through any unpredictable reason, such as unexpected strikes in New Zealand, and if he tells us the facts about it frankly, I am sure that we on this side will give him fair play. We shall certainly not exploit his difficulties about meat as hon. Members opposite exploited mine when I was in his position.

On the long-term solution of meat, I urge him to complete the examination that I started of the future handling and distribution of meat as soon as possible so that the industry knows where it stands. The final plan must somehow in my judgment marry consumer choice with our guaranteed prices to home and Dominion farmers. This is a technical problem of great complexity, and it is no longer relevant to argue whether the State should or should not intervene. Once the State is doling out public money to farmers at home and abroad, the State must intervene if guarantees are to be valid and productive. Equally, on the practical problem of devising methods of procuring and distributing meat and honouring those guarantees which were given to our primary producers at home and abroad, some action should be taken. They want to know what their position is so as to expand their programme of development. Our aim must be to give the consumer the freedom of choice and flexibility in buying which is essential in any good distribution scheme.

When I was in the Ministry of Food, we completed an exhaustive technical examination of that problem. We did not arrive at any conclusion, and I would press the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to complete that examination and arrive at some conclusion. I think the industry on both sides wants to know where it is. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman will find it difficult to reconcile the interests of the butchers and the farmers, but that is now his exacting job to take on. I urge him to complete that comprehensive survey and announce to the House as soon as possible the Government's long-term programme for handling this problem, because, in the end, it is going to be a material factor in improv- ing the supplies of meat at home and abroad.

Now I want to refer to the general cuts in food proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. May I say that I, personally, thought the Chancellor's statement was very brave and courageous, and we on this side, I feel sure without dissent, would want to congratulate him on the realism with which he faced his critical problem.

I must say I am not at all sure that he has done right to make food the first and most stringent of his cuts. For my part—and I am really putting the view that I put when in office and which all Food Ministers must put to all Chancellors—I would have preferred to see cuts in tobacco and petrol imports first. We would have preferred smaller imports of foreign wines and spirits, and a cut in the imports of films. It seems to me quite unthinkable that at this time we should have harassed the housewife still further while leaving the luxury of petrol for pleasure driving and tobacco completely untouched.

It is no good arguing that we could not get much from it. I think we could have got a good deal from it, but it all depends on how courageous one is in fixing the cuts. But whether one is so or not, it would have had a beneficial psychological effect on the housewife if she had seen that, as well as food cuts, there were cuts in other fields as well. I think it is a pity that the Chancellor did not feel it necessary and possible at this time to make cuts in that field. No doubt the Minister has urged this. I would press him to go on doing so, and so long as he does he will find strong support from this side of the House.

As to the cuts themslves, there can be no objection to the cutting down of such luxuries as boiled ham and other things. I do not want to make comments of a partisan nature on this and follow the right hon. and gallant Gentleman into the field in which he found himself, but we kept these things going as long as possible, though they caused a good deal of offence to our own supporters on this side of the House. But we kept them going in the belief that ham at 10s. a pound added variety to our diet and was a useful supplement to the ration, providing a meal for people who wanted to have something extra. Therefore we kept them on.

I resisted pressure to stop them on the ground that it involved the setting up of an expensive machine to administer control. I chose, where possible, to let the private trade get on with it. It is the other side which has stopped the private trade getting on with it. To put it mildly —I do not want to make any great party point about it—it is a trifle odd that a Conservative administration, pledged to economy in Departmental administration and to handing over more trade to private firms, should reverse that course, and should now be setting up another annex to the Ministry of Food with more civil servants, more forms and more controls to take away from private trade certain liberties and freedoms which it has. It is one of the things that the historians will speculate about and give judgment on.

There is one point I wish to make because it is of such importance. Has the Minister considered the effect these cuts will have on the prices of other uncontrolled foods? I refer most particularly to fish, fruit, vegetables and other things. It is now quite certain that in these circumstances we shall need the Prime Minister's "ladder" to reach the prices of some of these commodities before the winter is out. Certainly the fish merchant did pretty well earlier in the year when food was more available.

In this situation I wonder what they are going to do. My attitude to controls of perishable foods is well-known. I do not think they are good instruments for handling perishable goods, but it is quite clear that we could not have entered another winter with a grave increase in fish prices without taking some defensive action to protect the housewife. In July, on the authority of the then Cabinet, my Department arranged to set up a piece of machinery, which was a reserved scheme for fish controls. We wanted to make it flexible and effective, and to avoid some of the disadvantages of price control of this very delicate commodity. We wanted to relate it to the long-term plans of the White Fish Authority and generally to work out constructive means of control. That was the instruction that went out.

I understand that that organisation has been set up, and I urge the Minister to keep it in existence so as to be ready to bring it into effective service immediately any serious increase in fish prices takes place. I would also ask him to find other means to protect the housewife against the inevitable exploitation of these perishable foods, which will take place right across the country. I urge him too to go ahead with the plans we were getting ready for dealing with fruit and vegetables. He will find in that field that constructive work has been done, which will be acceptable to the country and will give the housewife the assurance to which she is even more entitled today than she was before.

The Minister, as I expected, has not been able to say where the cuts will fall on rationed food. There can be no complaint about that, and I should like to congratulate him on not having rushed into this field and arrive at a decision which might not be quite a wise decision. I suppose it is still not possible at least to protect these foods from any cuts. It may be too much to hope for that, but I want to stress that the Minister should remember the long-term consequences of these cuts, particularly on our rationed food. Those consequences will be much more serious than their immediate effect on our larders, serious as that will be. They will have a most serious long-term effect on our sources of supply in the coming year.

If we cut now our purchases of sugar, bacon, cheese, fats and coarse grains, which are the only fields where any cuts in rationed foods can be made, to deal with this situation, it will inevitably lead to a cutting down of production overseas. It will, for example. lead to a destruction of herds, which is the kind of thing that normally happens when markets disappear. That is a very serious contingency for any Ministry of Food. In short, even if we wanted and were able to buy again in two or three years time we may find that the food is not there.

Has that been weighed and considered? It is a most serious factor in this situation, and I would urge the Minister to raise this matter with the Chancellor of the Exchequer before any final decisions are taken, and that when they are taken at least account will be taken of that. We do not want to impose cuts likely to have the long-term consequences which I have mentioned.

At this time I think we should be straining every nerve to encourage the primary producers to go ahead with development. We want to expand food supplies overseas and give the producers the certainty of their market, encouraging them to invest their capital, energy and labour in developing their own areas. These cuts in what has always been regarded as their main food market will have a most disastrous effect on their confidence in the future. I hope that this point will be taken into account.

If there must be cuts in consumption, which I concede, could we not maintain our purchases for stockpiling? I do not mean of things like bacon, cheese and fat. We cannot store them, but we can store sugar and coarse grains. Why stop buying sugar and coarse grains? Let us bring them into the country. They are notional dollars. They are good credit, and they stand there on our side. They are just as much a buttress of our credit as any paper dollars in the Bank of England. They would not need to be consumed.

Why not buy them and bring them in? They would be a great source of strength to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in maintaining our credit. I strongly urge the Minister of Food to press on at leas: with the continued stockpiling of sugar, coarse grains and other appropriate commodities. Let him go on spending the money and putting the goods in store, not using them for current consumption. He can make the adjustments in consumption which are thought proper at the time.

If there must be cuts, I urge the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to search the manufacturing field before he touches the housewife. What about sugar for brewing and distilling?

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Webb

Cannot we save something there, before we cut the domestic ration? The 10-ounce sugar ration is not enough. The housewife really needs a ration of the order of 13 or 14 ounces before she has enough, particularly the rural housewife who has so much extra cooking to do. Serious hardship will be caused in the home, particularly in the small household and the rural household, if the ration goes down below that point. The Minister ought to do all he can to avoid difficulties in the home by looking into those other fields where cuts can be made before the housewife is attacked.

I hope that I have not dealt with these matters too sketchily. We want to take a constructive view on these benches of this very serious situation. This situation will not be without value if it reminds us all, whatever our party, how precariously we stand, as a small island without the physical means of support except those we earn by our own labours. The maladies that recur in this Island are not due. as was so glibly said and assumed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, to the failure of our ideas or of our personal ability. It is due to the fundamental economic unbalance of the world. The maladies are not going to be corrected until we restore that balance.

It really is naïve, although politically useful no doubt, to mask the real problem and to argue that it is all due to the failures and fumblings of your opponents. The truth is that this country is right up against it in the matter of food, and has been so for a very long time. We have to face that fact, not on the basis of an immediate financial crisis, but on the basis of our long-term needs. We shall run into more of these crises unless the basis of economic unbalance of the world is corrected. We cannot solve our problems so long as the United States has vast surpluses of all kinds and the rest of the world is wanting desperately the means of life.

Until that fundamental unbalance is corrected and the. financial machinery of the world is adjusted to the needs of the situation, we shall run into these problems again and again. The whole basis of the traditional economic structure of the world has been pulled out of shape.. We have to consider our future against that sombre background. Our simple task is to earn our keep. That means that we must evoke from all our useful people the fullest productive service of which they are capable. We can advance only by expanding. Cutting down is, in the end, only the road to stagnation and decay. The solution is by productive effort, meeting our bills, paying our way and standing on our own feet.

To evoke that effort, we must meet our people's basic physical needs. Food is the most vital thing. Food should rank with defence as the highest of priorities. We so regard it on this side of the House, and we regret it is not so regarded on the other side. We support, with such qualifications as I have mentioned, the measures taken, but we do insist on positive, forward action designed to solve our food problems beyond this temporary crisis. We must go into our own Commonwealth and, by common action and sharing of the risk, help them to till their soil and grow the food that we and they need. They want our goods: we want their food.

Only by recognising our mutual interdependence, by taking on the job of solving the massive poverty of the outside world, by long-term measures to insulate all that they are doing there from the hazards of blind, speculative forces—by all these great constructive acts, and only in that way, shall we fill our own larders and bring security and contentment to those on whose labour we depend for our very keep.

12.6 p.m.

Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)

With the closing words of the former Minister of Food there will be much general agreement. We are in an extremely delicate position in this island because we have always had to import a certain proportion of our food, but I feel that the former Minister of Food was extremely depressing as to the future. He seemed to imply that there was nothing that could be done and that we should always have these severe crises.

On this side of the House we believe that by better methods and more constructive arrangements we can, over a period of time, build up our food stocks. We are now taking drastic measures because of the financial situation. It has been said by the ex-Minister of Food, and indeed throughout this debate, that the Government should have known perfectly well before they came into power exactly what the conditions were. Although one may read many statistics in that admirable book the Monthly Digest of Statistics and although many of us have been aware of the dollar gap affecting this country, the fact remains that until a Government is in office it cannot possibly know what is the stock position, and what are the country's commitments, or what are the prospects of trade overseas.

The statement that was made by the Chancellor was a very courageous one and very sincere. I think it created that kind of confidence which we all badly need, and which is desired above all by our Commonwealth partners overseas. I agree—indeed, we all agree—that the measures mentioned by the Minister of Food today will cause very great hardship to the housewife. It is obvious that no Government wants to take unpopular measures, but in these last six years under a Socialist Government our assets have been so wasted that we have no reserves left to meet the emergency.

It should be made plain that the crisis which we face today is as bad as that of 1931. In regard to the terms of trade, it is certainly more serious. The only important fact which is mercifully better is that at the present time we have a high level of employment. Owing to the financial and economic policies of the last Government, we are facing a situation in which it is increasingly difficult for us to pay our way and import the raw materials that we badly need for our industries. Owing to past policies, it may well be that we shall face trouble with a fuel crisis.

People throughout the country say, "There is a crisis, but we are getting used to crises; we had them every two years under the Socialist Government." I feel that the impact of the present situation is not really properly understood. I hope very much that the Prime Minister will take the earliest opportunity of going to the wireless to explain to the people exactly what is the position. It is important to show that the cuts which are being imposed are only shock tactics, until the Government have had time to consult the trade unions and the employers' federations on how to increase production, and have had time to examine the whole policy of the future Budget.

These are only immediate remedial measures, and the whole purpose of everything that is being done in the new Parliament is to check the falling value of the pound sterling. The greatest of the housewives' problems is certainly the continuing fall in the purchasing power of the pound, which under six years of Socialist rule has fallen from being worth 20s. in 1945 to being worth only 14s. 6d. today.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

Have a look at the dollar.

Lady Tweedsmuir

It is most important to show that the measures which are being taken are for the purpose eventually of checking the ever-rising cost of living.

I sympathise with one thing said by the right hon. Member for Bradford, Central (Mr. Webb). He hoped that all the cuts would not fall only upon the housewives. He referred to imports of wines and spirits. These probably come under bilateral trade agreements which it may not be possible at this moment to cancel. As a non-smoker, I very much welcome his suggestion of a cut in tobacco rather than a cut in food, but that might not be accepted throughout the country.

Nevertheless, as I have said, these are shock tactics. I hope that when the Government have the time to examine the long-term measures they will also remember that in times of austerity the home is always hit first and last. If we are able to bring in sufficient materials for our factories, I would far rather that the working population were asked if they would for the period of the crisis consider a longer working week than that we should have cuts which hit the home.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

We ought to set an example.

Lady Tweedsmuir

I want to refer also to what the right hon. Gentleman said about the fishing industry. Coming as I do from the port of Aberdeen, I know that the trade as a whole is not in favour of controls because it is felt that if other measures are taken, which I will briefly summarise, its position will be improved, the quality of fish will be kept good and prices to the housewives will gradually fall. In the fishing industry at present it is a crisis of, above all, costs. We must do everything we can to back the White Fish Authority by improving transport facilities, and I hope that the Government will renew the efforts to see that the international over-fishing agreements are observed. I hope that they will, when they have had time, consider the question of foreign dumping. We shall always require a certain importation of foreign fish, but, on the other hand, the matter ought to be examined very carefully indeed to see whether foreign landings can be regulated.

Above all, it is a crisis of costs, and the purpose of the Government's policy is to reach the source of inflation. It is a difficult situation with the ending of the sellers' market and of the great loans and gifts which the Labour Government had, and we have also to carry a heavy re-armament programme. It should be said over and over again in this House and in the country that we are not, after all, really at peace. For a very long time we have been at war in both Malaya and Korea, and it is not right that the people out there should sometimes think that they are the forgotten men.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

The noble Lady said that we must get at the source of inflation. Will she tell me what she considers to be the source and how she proposes to deal with it?

Lady Tweedsmuir

If I went into the whole question in detail, it would take a very long time and hon. Members would not be very pleased at the length of my speech. However, briefly, the source of inflation is our spending more than we can afford and our not paying our way. The only answer in the long run is for us to sell our goods overseas at competitive prices, which we are not at present always doing with success. We believe the main objectives to be Government economy, the pruning of waste and inessentials and an increase in productive effort. We have not a single brief answer to the great problem. We do not say that State control or nationalisation is the cure. We know that many measures, both big and small, must be taken in both long-term and short-term programmes if we are to increase production.

It is true that the biggest factor in our present position is the re-armament programme. Certain right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite think that this country cannot and should not carry out the full re-armament programme. That is not our view. However, we certainly feel that we must act in the closest concert with the Commonwealth and our Allies to try to ensure that the great burden which we carry is fairly shared.

Efforts made in the foreign field are the greatest factor in aiding our economic position. Since the new Government has come into power the Foreign Secretary, at the United Nations Assembly, has put forward a definite plan for the international inspection of armaments, and also eventually their reduction. So far this has, according to M. Vyshinsky, been laughed at. M. Vyshinsky said that he had a sleepless night laughing at the plan, and he himself has put forward views which at present do not seem to be very practicable. Until we as a nation are assured that, in concert with our Allies, we can ensure the international inspection of armaments, we must continue our re-armament programme, whatever it costs.

The Opposition have said that during the General Election Conservative Party candidates did not make plain the seriousness of the position. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is an extraordinarily irresponsible statement. Anticipating those cheers from the Opposition, I procured, for greater accuracy, a copy of our manifesto, "Britain Strong and Free." Although I do not wish to repeat to the House my admirable election address, nevertheless I cannot resist quoting one paragraph. The manifesto says: …to carry out the re-armament programme necessary for survival, sacrifices by all are inevitable. Until our security is assured, these sacrifices must be made and hopes of higher standards postponed. Anyone who says otherwise to win votes is deceiving the people.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

Would the noble Lady allow me to put this juxtaposition? have an election address, which was sent to me as a voter, which said: Housing. The Conservative pledge is to build"—

Mr. Speaker

This seems to be very far from the subject.

Mr. Wigg

With a great respect, Mr. Speaker —

Mr. Speaker

We have been discussing food.

Mr. Wigg

On a point of order. The noble Lady has given way. She has been quoting from the Conservative Party manifesto to make perfectly clear that her party had warned the country of the position in which it was likely to find itself. I thought that as the noble Lady has given way, it was a perfectly fair comment on my part to quote, from the Conservative Party election address, these words: The Conservatve pledge is to build"—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is my responsibility to try to see that the debate maintains some degree of relevancy and continuity. What we have, I think by general consent, agreed to discuss today, but not to the exclusion of other subjects, is the problem of food. Whether parties live up to their pledges on either side or whether houses are to be built, seems to me to be rather off the mark. While I am quite prepared to permit an interjection for the purpose of elucidating the question, the fewer irrelevant ones we have, the better.

Mr. Wigg

Further to that point of way, and I would, therefore, if I may, order. Surely, it is within the competence of the Char that, providing I am in order, I should be allowed to make my interruption if the noble Lady has given insist upon that right. The noble Lady, who has been kind enough to give way, was quoting from the Conservative Party manifesto and making the point that her party had warned the country. I have in my possession an election address—not of my opponent—which was sent to me as a voter. It contains this statement: The Conservative pledge is to build 300,000 houses a year. I promise you we shall keep it. Would the noble Lady care to comment on that pledge?

Lady Tweedsmuir

May I ask the hon. Member from what, and whose, election address he is quoting?

Mr. Wigg

It is the election address of the Conservative candidate for the constituency in which I live—Stoke-on-Trent, South.

Mr. Speaker

There is no point of order. I hope that now the hon. Member has made his point, we can continue the debate on the subject.

Lady Tweedsmuir

I am not quite clear whether I should be in order in replying to the hon. Member.

Mr. Speaker


Lady Tweedsmuir

That is to my very great regret.

As you have said, Mr. Speaker, we are mainly on the subject of food, and I should like to mention the very welcome statement made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in which he said that this country is shortly to enter into a Commonwealth conference, which will, I hope, discuss not only the financial aspect, but also future economic development.

I hope that at that conference the position of Canada will be considered, because, although a part of the dollar area, she has in the past suffered very much from constant fluctuations of policy under a Socialist Government. It has meant a very great deal to her in constantly having to change her policy on her own food production. I hope, therefore, that Canada, at any rate, will be given an assurance that she also will have an opportunity to be able to build up her food supplies in a regular way.

I hope that in the near future we shall have a statement on the question of stockpiling and exactly what it entails, because, of course, food—certainly nonperishable goods—is also a strategic matter for defence. One of our chief troubles with high prices today is that the late Government held back from buying stocks during a certain period, hoping that world prices would fall and then, of course, with general world re-armament, they found that, on the contrary, prices rose and they had to buy at a very disadvantageous moment.

The hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) yesterday, apparently discovered that the world population was rising. Indeed, this is one of the greatest problems that the world as a whole has to face, because in 30 years' time the world population will have doubled and we do not yet see from where double the amount of food will come.

I hope very much that when opportunity comes in the Budget, the Government will consider the question of the financial restrictions on emigration. The hon. Member for Battersea, North, yesterday said that in his view the financial restrictions upon hopeful migrants overseas were very severe. That was a great conversion on the part of the hon. Member, because I remember in the last two Parliaments how Members on the Opposition benches repeatedly put forward their views that these restrictions should be alleviated.

I should like to say a word about the Opposition. The right hon. Members for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Attlee) and Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) said that the present Opposition were not going to be factious. I am sure that they are full of good intentions, but I cannot help wondering, looking back over the past few days and, again, today, whether they are not going today—Friday—to rush back to their constituencies to make the very most of exploiting the present economic difficulties. They will talk throughout the country of this chamber of horrors in which we have been engaged—I can see by the movements of hon. Members opposite that my doubts are more than justified.

Politically, the Opposition, will want the Government to fail. From the national point of view they must want the Government to succeed. Therefore, they are in a very great dilemma. We naturally expect and want criticism and helpful suggestions, but I remind the House of the many occasions, when we sat on the benches opposite, on which we supported the Government on most important matters of public policy, and often against their own backbenchers. I refer particularly to conscription and to foreign affairs, when the late Mr. Bevirt had to face a revolt of over 70 Members among his own ranks who asked him to recast his policy on foreign affairs.

We all of us know, if we admit it, that we live in extremely dangerous times, both at home and abroad. Although the nation may be divided into two on points of political principle, have we not got a mighty enough task to hand to try to tackle it together? I think we shall do well for the country if at least we try to do so with courage, with wisdom and, I hope, with heart.

12.29 p.m.

Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn, East)

The noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) has made a valiant attempt to make the best of a bad case, and she ended with a very moving plea to us on this side of the House to show that spirit of national unity, which was so obviously lacking when hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies opposite were occupying these benches. But the noble Lady really cannot complain if we go back to our constituencies, as we certainly intend to do, to point out to the electors—who, after all, have just cast a democratic vote after a very intensive campaign, which should have been a campaign of education on both sides—that in the past week we have had here the astonishing experience of a Government, within one week of taking office, precipitately abandoning the very policy on which they were elected. I should say that was probably unique in the history of Parliament. I do not think disillusionment has ever been so sudden and complete. Does the noble Lady wish to interrupt?

Lady Tweedsmuir

I do not really wish to interrupt, except to say that I hope that the hon. Lady will not just make allegations without at any rate trying to substantiate them.

Mrs. Castle

I agree but I have only had two minutes so far and even the rapid volte face of the Government took a couple of days, but I think that by the time I come to the end of my speech the noble Lady will see that I can substantiate the allegations far beyond her liking.

In the past few days we have watched hon. Members opposite choking over a diet of their own words, rammed down their throats by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the cruellest piece of forcible feeding since the days of the suffragettes. We have had, not a bonfire of restrictions and controls, but a bonfire of promises large enough to have pleased a small boy on Guy Fawkes night.

This is not just a party point; we have had very quickly demonstrated that the policy advocated by hon. Members opposite only a few weeks ago in the Election turned out to be the direct opposite of the policy required to meet the situation. In other words, hon. Members opposite only occupy the Government benches as a result of a confidence trick worked on the electors and if that is not the negation of democracy, I do not know what is.

The noble Lady has just denied to us that Conservative candidates in the Election even under-estimated the difficulties facing us, or advocated policies they were not prepared to follow. I also have enjoyed the rather dubious pleasure of reading "Britain Strong and Free" and I would remind her of the paragraph on page 23. This morning we actually had the Minister of Food claiming that there has never been any suggestion by Conservatives that there was anything wrong with State buying. I advise the noble Lady to read that paragraph on State buying: The Socialist policy of State buying provokes State selling. It has fostered recrimination between nations. It has led to the purchase of goods which we do not want. Apparently private enterprise has led to the purchase of some goods we do not want. The paragraph goes on: It has failed to get the goods we badly needed…It has given us bad quality…. Now, says the Minister of Food this morning, it is quite wrong to say that any Conservative ever said they would abandon State buying.

Major Lloyd George

I did not say that. Someone asked me a question, whether it was our policy to do away with bulk buying immediately, and I said that in certain cases that was quite impossible because the contracts were long-term.

Mrs. Castle

Are we to take it that the new Australian contract for meat, signed by my right hon. Friend when Minister of Food during the course of the Election—a 15 years contract to buy all the meat Australia could send us—is to be terminated at the end of 15 years, if the right hon. Gentleman is still in power?

Major Lloyd George

That was a type of contract which I said specifically was not dealt with.

Mrs. Castle

What type of contract was included—that with New Zealand or with the West Indies? These contracts were made with Commonwealth Governments and were entered into readily by them. A Conservative Minister of Commerce in Australia gladly signed that contract with our Socialist Minister of Food in the course of the Election and welcomed it as a great help to Australia. This talk about State buying served its purpose in the election campaign to spread a feeling that the white-collared workers of Whitehall were riding on the backs of the people, but now apparently this piece of Tory electioneering will be abandoned.

Lady Tweedsmuir

As the hon. Lady has read from that paragraph on page 23, will she read a little further where the document says: Except where obligations to our allies, or long-term guarantees to Empire countries necessitate other means, we shall strive to restore private trading in food and raw materials.

Mrs. Castle

Will the noble Lady give one example not covered in that exception?

Lady Tweedsmuir

Strawberry pulp from Holland.

Mrs. Castle

Can the noble Lady give one example affecting a basic rationed commodity in this country not covered by her exception?

Hon. Members

Go on, one.

Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

As the hon. Lady is aware, many purchases by bulk contract finished, were ended, and then started again, and I would refer once more to the purchase of strawberry pulp from Holland. [HON. MEMBERS: "Basic rations?"] The hon. Lady did not in her original allegations refer to basic commodities at all; she referred to bulk purchase of food supplies in general.

Mrs. Castle

Nor does the document from which I am quoting refer to basic food supplies. The noble Lady cannot give a single example of a basic rationed commodity which is not covered by the exception.

Then we come to another example which may have made an even more vivid impact on the electorate, the example of the broadcast of the present Prime Minister on 8th October. He, of course, made his usual wonderful play with the question of controls. It was said yesterday in the debate by another Tory hon. Member who was trying to run away from his own past that there had never been a suggestion by the Conservative Party during the Election that controls could be dispensed with in this situation. I am sorry that he did not listen to his own leader on the radio, because this is what the right hon. Gentleman said in regard to the keeping up of controls and restrictions by the Labour Government: This has hampered our recovery, fettered our enterprise and enormously added to the cost and apparatus of government. Yet this morning the Minister of Food has given an example of import control which will mean, not a reduction in the staffs of Government Departments, but an actual increase in them and an extension of the controls which have been forced on hon. Members opposite when they took up the reins of office and had to stop talking hot air. We have had some remarkable revelations from responsible newspapers. Only in the last week I noticed in the "Manchester Guardian" a most interesting leader. On 7th November it made this rather startling admission: Indeed, events compel the Government to drop partisan Toryism. It is not only dictated by the weakness of its parliamentary majority but by the compelling necessity of the times. —which is a very nice editorial way of saying that, far from the policies of the Conservative Party being the salvation of the country, if applied they would be its ruin, and therefore, they will have to be abandoned in the face of the "compelling necessity of the times."

Miss Ward

They said that about Socialism as well.

Mrs. Castle

Oh, I agree, and I am sure the "Manchester Guardian" has rapidly regretted its abandonment of objectivity and of that impartiality which used to make its name so high in journalism and which was so tragically abandoned during the Election, but they are learning rapidly. In the same leader the "Manchester Guardian" said, in answer to the argument that the facts of the situation were not known to the Tories before they took office: Their essence was known and deliberately evaded… That is the indictment of the party opposite.

Miss Ward rose

Mrs. Castle

I cannot give way again to the hon. Lady, because I do not want to be too long. There are other hon. Members waiting to speak, and I am trying not to take up too much of the time of the House.

Having shown how completely it has been necessary for hon. Gentlemen opposite to turn turtle, I would, however, issue a warning to hon. Members on this side of the House. I think we should make a very grave mistake if we thought that the conversion of hon. Gentlemen opposite was genuine or that they will continue to apply to the needs of the hour the remedies that we would have applied. We have frankly admitted in the course of this debate that the situation is serious, that cuts and restrictions are absolutely necessary, and we shall make no party play about them. But we have a perfect right to make party play about the difference in the cuts and restrictions in practice and the promises which the hon. Gentlemen opposite made. That is a very different point, because in their own document they say: We do not wish to be judged by our words, but by our deeds. And, indeed, that one is coming home to roost rather quickly. We shall not exploit the difficulties, but we shall exploit the inadequacy of the remedies if we disagree with them. I want to suggest to my hon. Friends on this side that we are in danger of falling into a very profound mistake if we believe that we shall be able to agree for very much longer with hon. Members opposite about the ways of facing the realities of the moment.

Quite clearly, in the minds of hon. Members opposite the measures we are discussing this morning and the other restrictions we shall have to discuss soon, are purely a temporary expedient, and the real division over policy will come when this temporary expedient has been carried into force and something deeper has to be done about the situation. And here we come to the exposure of the most cynical conspiracy of the whole Election, a conspiracy of hon. Gentlemen opposite on the cost of living issue. For a long time I have tried to get that matter frankly debated in my own constituency. I challenged the right hon. Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) months ago when our own Labour Government were in power to come down to Blackburn and to debate the cost of living issue with me on a public platform, but he would not do it.

Mr. Ralph Assheton (Blackburn, West)

The hon. Lady will recollect that I told her that we should both soon have opportunities of putting the matter to our constituents, which we did.

Mrs. Castle

Yes, and because we never had such a debate the right hon. Gentleman was able to hold his seat on a complete misrepresentation. I think he is going to have a little bit of trouble in squaring up what he said during those three hectic weeks with what is going to happen in this House now that we have a Conservative Government.

Let us face the fact, as "The Times" pointed out very effectively in its leading article yesterday, that these cuts and restrictions in themselves only increase the problem of the cost of living, because by reducing supplies they add to the inflationery pressure with which we have to deal. Therefore, far from solving the problem of inflation, they add to it, they exacerbate it, and make it more urgent, particularly if it is coupled with a great export drive. What is the Tory remedy for that one? "The Times," going down the list of the ways in which the internal inflationery pressure and demand can be reduced, glances at taxation and dismisses it very lightly—the first big difference between us and hon. Members opposite—and then comes to the following passage which is, of course, a complete revelation of Tory economic policy. It says: The other method of curtailing personal expenditure—and of enabling the inflation to spend itself—is to increase (or allow to rise) the prices that people pay for some of the things which they are buying now. Food is directly and heavily subsidised. Electricity, gas, and transport are sold much below their true cost, if the present cost of new equipment is taken into account. The controlled prices of manufactured utility goods still often lag far behind the prices of the raw materials from which they are made. A very doleful list. Apparently, food, clothing and fuel are, in the Conservative estimate, too cheap and not too dear. "The Times" goes on to say—and I must say I have some sympathy with it here: To a Government more or less pledged to fight against the rise in the cost of living and not to alter food subsidies 'radically in present circumstances,' all this is a very hard field for decision. Yet there is no shadow of doubt that, by one means or another internal demand must be sharply curtailed…. This is exactly what I told the people of Blackburn during the Election was Tory policy. I said that the complaints which the Conservative Party have against the Labour Government are the direct opposite to what they said they objected to. Far from objecting that the standard of living in this country has been too low during the last six years, their complaint is that for the great mass of the ordinary people it has been too high. Far from believing that prices ought to be lower, they believe they ought to be higher. That is why there has been this insidious attack upon the value of the food subsidies; that is why during the election campaign, when the report of the British Electricity Authority came out, the "Manchester Guardian" said that electricity in this country is too cheap and gave that as the reason for the peak load problem.

Consumption must be cut down by higher prices. That is the Tory policy, and that is the great dividing line between us. Of course, it is a fact that our Labour Government had an astonishing success in holding down the cost of living and the prices of essentials. Rents are another item now in jeopardy under the Conservative regime, in addition to food, clothing and fuel. It is true that for some time the extras have been rising in price, and certainly the Purchase Tax added to the cost of the in-essentials, but we were determined to hold, as we did most successfully, the level of prices of essentials. The Conservative answer to inflation is to reverse our policy of quantitative controls, such as rationing, to reject what, in fact, made it possible to hold the cost of living at low as it was held, and to substitute in its place, as they have always wanted to do, rationing by price, by the purse, which means an inevitable increase in the cost of living.

Hon Members opposite can snigger, but there are some more facts of life which they still have to learn. I would advise some of them to read the "Economic Bulletin for Europe" for the second quarter of this year, which came out two days ago. If they will study an article in that publication on the present economic position of Europe they will find two things. They will find that the difficulties we have to face in this country are, just as we said in the Election, universal in Western Europe and are due to an economic disbalance arising largely and primarily out of rearmament. They will also find, if they turn to page 12, Table 8, which gives the percentage increases in the cost of living between June, 1950, and June, 1951, that the percentage increase in Britain is the lowest for Europe except for one country. Let me give a few figures which hon. Members opposite do not like to hear. Percentage increase in the cost of living between June, 1950, and June, 1951, was in France, 21; Norway, 19; Sweden, 19; Finland, 14; Denmark, 13: Netherlands. 12; Italy, 12; Belgium, 11; Western Germany, 11; United Kingdom, 10. There is only one country below us, Switzerland, 5.

Mr. Charles Ian On-Ewing (Hendon, North)

May I raise two points? I am not clear why every newspaper appears to be a Tory newspaper, and why "The Times" is mentioned. "The Times" leader was reprinted completely in the "Daily Herald" when it praised Mr. Attlee. On that occasion it appears to have been a Labour newspaper. The next day it appears to be a Tory newspaper, because it happens to suit the argument of the hon. Lady. Perhaps she will explain, too, why the "Manchester Guardian" which has been faithful to Liberal principles for so long, is also under the same heading.

Mrs. Castle

I will give a simple definition to the hon. Gentleman. I have quoted from two newspapers which have consistently attacked the Labour Government when it was in office and during the Election. Is the hon. Gentleman now trying to suggest that in the Election "The Times" did not support the Conservative cause, and want a Conservative victory or say that the Churchillian remedies were the real remedies? I suggest this is the test. These are newspapers which wanted the Labour Government defeated in order that other policies could be put into the place of the Labour policy, and I have quoted from the policy which "The Times" said was the only answer to the problems which still exist.

We are only just at the beginning of the betrayal of the housewives. We know how much play hon. Gentlemen opposite made during the Election with the difficulties of the housewives, who are now in for a rude shock. Indeed, it will not be very long before we shall find the Housewives League applying for affiliation to the Labour Party.

I read the election address of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with great care. Under the section dealing with the cost of living he said: We pledge ourselves to review the position…of housewives "— they sure have— who suffer most from the present rise in in the cost of living, which must first be halted and then reduced. I think that we should be very wrong if we under-estimated the effect on the housewives of the cuts which have been announced this morning. I dare say some of my hon. Friends think that this is merely a question of a few little luxury imports. This is quite wrong. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, Central (Mr. Webb) when he said what a great help these supplies of canned meat and tinned ham have been. Although they have been expensive, people have been better off under a Labour Government and have been able to buy the odd quarter pound of ham here and there to eke out their other supplies. Many items involved in these outs, things like tinned meats, have been widely used—tinned fish, sardines, tinned milk and not least that great domestic standby, the biscuit.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), when he knew I was hoping to catch your eye, Sir, handed to me a telegram he had received from a biscuit manufacturer in his constituency. It reads as follows: At least 40 ninety-ninths of imported continental sweetened fat mixture is now being used to maintain supplies of biscuits and cakes in the South Wales area. Any reduction in quantity available will mean a corresponding reduction in the availability of these foodstuffs in a market still short of consumer requirements. Alternative is to increase supplies of fat and sugar from other sources. Those of us who have been engaged in domestic shopping at all, know how great is the demand for biscuits to give to the children, and how much housewives have appreciated the way supplies have been increased in the last few months. It is that sort of thing, and not merely the fondants, glacé cherries and crystallised fruits, which are to be cut. These are vital elements in a balanced diet. Presumably apples are also included in this loss. The open general licence at present obtaining for apples is apparently to be cancelled. I think we should treat this with great seriousness, because we on this side of the House really do care about the cost of living and about the burden on the housewives. When in office we considered with scrupulous care how to ease the burden which world difficulties imposed upon housewives.

I make this practical suggestion to the Minister of Food. I think the way these cuts have been carried out has exaggerated and increased the problems of the housewives to an unnecessary degree. We have had the immediate cancelling of open general licences for these important commodities, but there is a time-lag while the Ministry work out the quantities that can come in under specific percentage licences, and in the interim period there is nothing. What has happened is what always happens when private enterprise has a situation of scarcity. The prices of tinned ham have already jumped up. The prices of apples have jumped up. The exploitation of scarcity by private enterprise has started again. If the Minister of Food really cared about the housewives in the way the election speeches proclaimed, he would have clapped on price control in this country synonymous with the abolition of the open general licence.

If we are to have these reduced supplies, it is imperative that price controls of the most rigid character should be restored, both on those commodities directly concerned, such as ham, and others which may be indirectly affected, such as fish—on the apples, too, for the English apples at this moment are getting a monopoly of the home market—[HON. MEMBERS: "In quantity."]—yes, and their prices are now rising very nicely as a result of this open general licence being revoked. [HON. MEMBERS: "Two and six a pound."] I suggest to the Minister of Food that he could have done this business much more effectively, in a way which would have given much larger quantities for the same expenditure of money, if instead of operating a system of specific percentage licences based on the amount imported by the importer in a previous given period, he had controlled the maximum import price, which would mean that no apples or tinned ham were being imported above a certain price level.

That has the effect of cutting down imports. But it also has the effect of encouraging the seller overseas, who wishes to keep a market open here if at all possible, to say, "All right, you can have a smaller quantity at the lower controlled price." That is the best way of getting value for money. It does mean, of course, that if we operated that control instead of the control requiring forms, licences and extra staff at the Ministry of Food—staffs which we disbanded and which will now have to come back—we should have to match it with a maximum retail price in this country; because otherwise the lads will make hay while the sun shines.

There may still be time to consider this method; I ask the Minister to do so because it is essential that we face these difficulties and these hardships with an appreciation of what they mean to the ordinary housewife of this country, and be determined to protect her to the maximum possible extent. Hon. Members opposite have never cared for price controls and have always sneered at them, but the housewife will soon discover that, unless she has that protection which the Labour Government consistently gave her, her lot will be hard indeed and she is only just at the beginning of her cost of living problem.

1.1 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Bucks, South)

It has been interesting to hear hon. Members opposite one after another making their Election speeches upon the economic situation facing the country. I and other hon. Members on this side of the House are in a much more fortunate position because we did devote our Election speeches to the economic position facing the country, whereas it is only since the Election was over and the debate on the Address has been started that we have heard anything about the gravity of this situation from Socialist speakers.

The hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle) has complained about the hardships which have undoubtedly been imposed upon the country by the. cuts just announced by the Government, and she described, I think in unnecessarily harrowing detail, the effect upon the housewives. I suggest to the hon. Lady that if the Labour Party goes on trying to fight the last Election in the situation in which the country is at present, it will not be a case of the Housewives League applying for affiliation to the Labour Party, but before very long of the Labour Party applying for affiliation to the Housewives League.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

Very clever! Do we laugh?

Mr. Bell

It was a remarkable exercise for the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends opposite to attack this Government for initiating measures which have been made necessary by the situation which they left to us. It is quite untrue to say that this Government have in any way deserted the policy which they put forward at the Election. On the contrary, what we have done is to buy the time needed for carrying out that policy, by imposing these emergency measures which, by common consent, are entirely necessary and the necessity for which arises beyond dispute from what happened under the last Government.

Mr. Peart

The hon. Member said that these measures are of an emergency nature and that this Government are buying time to introduce other measures. Do I take it that he will advocate that his Government should cancel all those long-term bulk buying agreements that we have with other countries?

Mr. Bell

The hon. Gentleman seems to be asking me to make the end of my speech at the beginning. Perhaps he would be kind enough to wait; these matters will become clear in time. But I am not going to discuss the policy of whatever Government is in power in 15 years' time, as we were invited to do by an hon. Member opposite a few moments ago. No doubt, the circumstances of that time will dictate whatever measures will then have to be taken. As far as a 15-year contract is concerned, I am certainly not going to speculate on what will happen on its termination. We have enough troubles on our plate in the next few years without looking into the 1960's and 1970's.

As the hon. Member for Blackburn, East, who has just departed, rightly said in her speech, the true opposition between the two sides will come during this respite which we have bought with the emergency measures, when we are considering the real permanent solution to our problems, because I am sure it is common ground between the two sides of the House that the emergency proposals and the restrictions and cuts are not a permanent solution to our difficulties. It certainly is not the policy of the party on this side of the House that national troubles at the present time can be permanently solved by cutting down our imports and our general consumption. On the contrary, our final policy is one of over-riding these difficulties by an expansion of all our activities, and that is where, I think, we shall find ourselves in opposition to hon. Members opposite.

Yesterday, the hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), the former Financial Secretary to the Treasury, delivered himself of the opinion that these problems would be with us for the next 30 years. I think the hon. Gentleman has forgotten that we have bad a General Election. I quite agree that without any change of policies which the last Government have been pursuing, those difficulties might well have persisted with us because the Socialist policy of restriction and control would never have got us out of our present position, where sterling is a weak currency and nearly every other currency in the world is a hard currency in relation to sterling.

I do not agree with the opinion of the hon. Member for Battersea, North, that we shall remain in this sort of position for a generation to come. On the contrary, we must as a matter of vital national urgency get ourselves out of this position. We can only do it by abandoning the policies which the party opposite have advocated for so long and by seeking to secure in this country a new attitude of success. I think that is where we have gone badly wrong. I realise that conditions in the past may have contributed to that situation, but it is something which we have got to change for the future, and in changing it I hope there will be collaboration from all sides.

I hope, whatever restrictions the present emergency programme may impose upon us, that at the very first moment we shall relax any sort of capital restriction upon the development and re-equipment of industry. I do not know yet—it would be premature to say—whether the emergency programme which has been put forward will in any way have that effect, but if it does contain any such element, then I would say that that is something which we must regard as our first priority for relaxation, because there can be no doubt that the future of this country lies in a great measure of capital investment in the equipment and progress of our industry. If we are to have an expansionist economy we must emphasise that feature.

Many speakers during this debate have mentioned the importance of coal—

Mr. Hamilton

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The previous occupant of the Chair called to order an hon. Member on this side of the House on the ground that he was not confining his remarks to the question of food, which I understand we are discussing today Other hon. Members will bear me out when I say that he was called to order because he did not confine himself to the question of food. Now we hear an hon. Member opposite referring to capital investment and coal, and I should like your Ruling on that point for the, guidance of Members who later on might catch your eye.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

I do not think the hon. Member has so far dealt very much with the subject of coal. So long as he does not go on with that subject he is in order.

Mr. G. H. R. Rogers (Kensington, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I should like to be clear whether we are bound to keep to the subject of food today or whether we may, as in former practice, deal with any item referred to in the Gracious Speech.

Mr. J. Hudson

I do not wish to appear to be in opposition to my hon. Friends, but I did understand Mr. Speaker to say in passing that hon. Members would have the right to make general reference to other matters. I hope we shall not confine ourselves entirely to food.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It is not out of order to deal with the general subject, but there is a general agreement that the debate today shall be confined as nearly as possible to the subject of food.

Mr. Bell

I think the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton) was confusing the position with that of an Amendment to the Loyal Address.

Mr. Hamilton

Not at all. The hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber when the matter was raised.

Mr. Bell

If he was not confusing the situation, then the only excuse which I thought existed for what he said does not, in fact, exist. I shall try to confine myself as far as possible to the particular matter, but when the country is faced with this grave situation it is unavoidable that every matter should be considered as an aspect of the general situation. It is because I think everything must be seen against this background that I believe it would be quite artificial to deal with one particular topic in addressing the House today. I will, therefore, resume the point which I was discussing.

The speech I am making is not controversial in its content. I am not appealing to hon. Members opposite not to adopt a partisan view. I fully appreciate the position of an Opposition, and I do not object to their attitude, but I am trying to make some suggestions in what I believe is a very serious situation.

I have referred to coal as the fundamental element in this country's recovery. I say about that what I would say about all other problems facing this country at present. First, it is in the solution of our home problems, whether coal or food or anything else, that we shall find the solution to all our difficulties. Of course, foreign affairs bear very heavily and significantly upon us, but I am quite sure that in solving our economic troubles we shall make the greatest contribution we can to the success of our foreign policy and the achievement of world peace. I therefore regard this economic question as basic to all others. Perhaps the problem of coal is at the bottom of the economic position.

I submit that the problem of the supply of labour is, again, fundamental to that. We are naturally concerned with the productivity of labour and the contribution which our industries and our agriculture can make, by higher personal output, to the needs of the country; but there is no doubt at all that the supply of labour is also a basic factor at present.

I was very pleased indeed to hear that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has said that technical training for industry or for agriculture will feature prominently in his programme, because I think that is quite right. There is no better contribution which can be made to the recovery of this country than through the general dissemination of technical training, whether for industry or agriculture or anything else.

I fully appreciate the progress which has been made in the past; I am only saying that we must have more progress, because the training of a man is the very best way of making sure that he is an interested and enthusiastic participant in industry. Training does not only equip him better for the job; it also gives him an interest in the job and makes him a better man and a better worker. I believe a great part of the future depends on that proposal for extending still further the provision for technical or technological education. Although much has been done in the past five years, I think my right hon. Friend is quite right in his attitude, and I am sure he will have the cooperation of the trade union movement and of hon. Members opposite in assisting him in every way in carrying out that policy.

I hope I am not wandering too fat when I make this passing comment, which I think is of some importance. If the Government intend to take an increasing part in training labour for all its activities, then I hope a good status will be given to the man who has had that Government training. In the past, I have felt that that status was lacking and that some trade unions were not willing to accept the qualification of Government training as wholeheartedly as they should. That is a matter for negotiation and agreement, and I feel sure that in the present situation we shall make progress in it. It is very important that we should.

Finally, I have to make a comment which relates to all industries, but more especially to agriculture. Again, I put it forward rather tentatively. At present we have two years National Service in this country, and that is a very long period to take out of a man's life. From a personal point of view it is a considerable burden. But I am approaching it today also from the national point of view. It is a very heavy burden upon the country that for two years the young men are taken out of industry or agriculture—are taken out of production. From now on they can be taken out of agricultural production, too, because the exemption which formerly existed has been abolished.

On both sides of the House, we all agreed with the longer period of National Service for the purpose of the Korean war. If, as we hope, that Korean episode can be brought to a fortunate conclusion, that decision, as an urgent temporary and exceptional measure, to increase the period of military training, will, I hope. be reviewed. If we do that we shall greatly assist our country in carrying out the programme of expansion of its output which alone can bring us out of our present difficulties.

1.18 p.m.

Miss Elaine Burton (Coventry, South)

I shall speak today on the subject of food and be as brief as possible as I know many other hon. Members wish to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I should, however, like to make one point with reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell). I am sure he did not make the comment in a provocative sense, but I do not think hon. Members opposite realise how extremely irritating it is for us on these benches to hear them say that there is a shortage of labour, or a shortage of skilled labour, in the country at the moment, as though that were something in the nature of a recent discovery.

I represent an engineering city and, although I quote from memory, I think I am right in saying that on 1st October this year we had in the City of Coventry about 600 people looking for jobs and 3,000 vacancies for them to fill. By comparison with past history that is a completely new situation, and it is something which we on these benches can say with all modesty, knowing more about the labour position in this country than do the present Government, we have known for some considerable time.

Another point I want to take up was one made by the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir), when she said that the value of the pound had fallen since 1945 from 20s. to 14s. 6d. We all knew that, but I think the Government failed to realise what a very poor attitude it is—and I put the word "poor" in quotes—to say that, by implication, it has fallen more than other currencies, when, if we take the value of the dollar, it has fallen to 13s. 10d. which is less than our own in the same period of time. I should think higher of the Government if, when they make such statements, they would take other examples.

To come back to the question of food, I am particularly sorry that we did not have in the Gracious Speech any mention of the question of distribution of fruit and vegetables. Having raised this matter several times in the last Parliament, I know that it was the intention of the party on this side of the House, if returned to power this time, to take preliminary steps to deal with the matter. I am raising it again today, and I do hope that the speaker who is to wind up the Debate for the Government will tell us something more about the matter.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Charles Hill)

indicated dissent.

Miss Burton

I see that the Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head. We pursued the matter many times last year. and perhaps he may find an answer during our long Parliamentary holiday of December and January.

I believe, and I would have thought that every Member of the Government would have realised it, that there is a very general feeling in all parts of the House, quite irrespective of party, and in the country outside, that this matter of the distribution of fruit and vegetables was something which should be tackled. I do not know whether it comes within the province of the Board of Trade, but I very much hope that the President of the Board of Trade will take note of what I have to say. I think, further, that there is general agreement in this House that the major cause of the high cost of fruit and vegetables in the country is the high cost of distribution. Nobody will quarrel with that.

We on these benches put forward during the Election an alternative to the present system of marketing of fruit and vegetables. I think it had particular value in that it was to be a voluntary scheme which traders and consumers could use or not, as they desired. It was interesting to note the reaction to that scheme in the country. It had a very cautious reception from the National Farmers' Union. The Retail Trade Federation said it was a political expedient, and the Agricultural Co-operative Association was in favour of the principle. I would like to say that I supported it very strongly, because it did mean, at least, that something was going to be done.

What is the attitude of the Government on this matter? I have here two pamphlets. One is called "Here are the Facts," and it is issued by the National Federation of Fruit and Potato Trades, Ltd. The second one is called "Will State Auctions Mean Cheaper Fruit and Vegetables?" and it is by the Secretary of the London Fruit and Vegetable Trades Federation. Both these pamphlets criticised the proposal put forward by my right hon. Friend, the former Minister of Food, for the reorganisation of fruit and vegetable markets. The first one states that, so far as potatoes—which are price controlled—are concerned, they yield under the most favourable trading conditions a gross wholesale profit of less than one-twelfth of one penny per pound. The same pamphlet also states that the salesman's commission on cabbages, which are uncontrolled, represents less than one-half of one farthing per pound.

I know that when we go into the matter we hear from wholesalers and retailers that nobody makes these profits. In this House on 3rd April last I pointed out, in column 168 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, that, in the case of potatoes, which were price controlled, the difference between the price which the grower received for his produce and the price which the con- sumer pays in the shop was a difference of 75 per cent., and that that case was much the lowest of any of the foods I quoted.

If I make a comment on this question of cabbages, in the city which I have the honour to represent we have a newspaper called the "Coventry Evening Telegraph." This is not a newspaper which has the same political opinions as I and my two colleagues. I do not say that in any disparaging sense, but because I think it makes my case stronger for the quotation which I wish to use. On July 19th last, the leader of the "Coventry Evening Telegraph" was discussing the question of vegetable prices, and it referred to growers plowing in lettuces and cabbages because they could not get a halfpenny for them at that time, whereas the housewife in Coventry was paying 8d. for a lettuce and 4d. per lb. for cabbages. The paper goes on to state: Obviously something is wrong. Does the fault lie with the present marketing arrangements, with the people who operate between the grower and the consumer, or with the fickleness of public demand? What I have been trying to do for many months is to find out what is wrong, because I am quite convinced, and I hope the Minister will agree, that something is very wrong when we see these prices charged in the shops. T do not propose to weary the House with repetition, because the figures were given in the Adjournment Debate on the 3rd April, but I would ask if such a difference really is necessary between the price which the grower receives for fruit and vegetables and the price which the public pay in the shops.

I have never said in this House or elsewhere where that large difference in price goes. I do not know at the present moment exactly where it does go, and it would be quite wrong for any of us to use our position of privilege in this House to make accusations which could not be substantiated. Obviously, however, the money goes somewhere: the difference between what the grower receives for potatoes and the consumer pays in the shops is 75 per cent., and that is a case of a controlled price. While the difference in the case of other vegetables, the prices of which are uncontrolled, were quoted on the 3rd April as ranging from 400 to 700 per cent.

During the recent General Election campaign, in common with many other hon. Members, I spent my time in Coventry in going into many small shops. I admit that every time I went to a fruit and a vegetable shop, I probably took my life into my hands and, perhaps in some cases, was lucky to get out alive. However, it was useful to hear the comments in some of these small shops and outside. When I came out, the housewives asked me if we had got any further with our plan for lowering the prices of fruit and vegetables.

Even the shopkeepers I have visited have told me that the price of vegetables was very often kept up by the supply position or by waste in the supplies which come from the wholesalers, because the only way in which the retailers could recoup themselves for the loss was to charge the public for the things they were not able to sell which were found in the sacks when the goods were bought. When I asked the shopkeepers why they did not take such goods back to the wholesalers, they told me that if they did and the goods were later in short supply they would not get any share of those goods at all.

Everybody knows, because we have listened to it often enough in the last 18 months, that distribution of fruit and vegetables is a haphazard business, but if it is so haphazard that causes a price range from grower to consumer of 700 per cent. I think it is time that something was done about it.

In the second pamphlet to which I have referred, which is called "Will State Auctions Mean Cheaper Fruit and Vegetables"? the suggestion put forward by this side of the House for the reorganisation of the fruit and vegetable markets is dealt with by the question and answer process. The only comment I would make is that at the end of that pamphlet the London Fruit and Vegetable Trades Federation say: We hope the next Minister of Food will listen to us, and do something. I personally hope that the present Minister will do something about it.

In April, 1951, the Retail Fruit Trades Federation held its annual conference, and they asked the Government to take action to cut the housewives' fruit and vegetable bill. They asked that for two reasons. First, because they were aware of the growing criticism of shoppers. I should not have thought there was one hon. Member in this House, man or woman, who was not aware that there is a continual criticism of the price of fruit and vegetables in our shops; but if any hon. Member denies that, I suggest that he or she goes out and does the buying themselves, because then they would soon find out.

Secondly, the Federation raised that point because they wished to smooth out the price fluctuations, and I think that every one of us would welcome a change in the system by which a shopper can go into two or three shops within a few yards distance of each other for exactly the same goods of exactly the same quality and pay different prices. [Interruption.] It would be interesting to know what the Government propose to do about resale price maintenance because, as hon. Members opposite know, we on this side are in favour of that.

The Federation also suggested at this conference that there should be established a publicly controlled horticultural commission, and that it should supervise the national supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables, be independent, and have wide statutory powers to enforce any controls and re-organisation it believed necessary. It would seem, therefore, that the trade were willing to joint discussions, and if the President of the Board of Trade would note that the trade federations are anxious to discuss this matter with the Government, I would hope that perhaps they might be given a chance of doing so.

Since hon. Gentlemen opposite came back to the House, in direct contrast to what they were doing in the country, they now believe that the people should know the facts. All I can say is that the people are now learning the facts, and that they have been learning the facts, as we on this side have said them for the past 18 months. I ask whoever is to reply to this debate: Have the Government a scheme for improving the distribution of fruit and vegetables? Do they hope to find one during the next three months, which will bring us up to just before Easter? If not, are they prepared now to initiate discussions with the trade to prepare such a scheme, and will they, either in that scheme or as part of it, follow through from the growers to the shops certain consignments of goods so that we can see where this large amount of money disappears on the way?

Hon. Gentlemen opposite make the point, quite fairly, that distribution costs have gone up because of increased transport and packaging costs. That is quite true. But one does not create a bogeyman by having an investigation. One creates a bogeyman by not having an investigation, and I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite whether, now that they are in power, they will give the country an opportunity of finding out where the discrepancy is in money between what the grower receives and what we pay in the shops; and whether, having found out where that discrepancy is, they will set to work to remove it.

1.34 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)

By the very nature of our present position, this prolonged and critical debate takes the form, and has taken the form, rightly, of a national stock-taking. In opening it the Prime Minister laid bare the stark realities of the general position. Twenty-four hours later the Chancellor of the Exchequer unfolded the details of our financial and economic plight. Yesterday we shivered before the disclosure of a coal shortage. Today we have learned that the food cupboard is as bare as the others.

It has been a solemn and shattering week, from which no party and no person can have gained very much pleasure. I, of course, cannot pretend to interpret the reactions of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I feel pretty sure that I should be safe in saying that my hon. and right hon. Friends realise we have inherited a sorry state of affairs, which it will take a long time and a supreme effort on the part of everyone to put right. I know that I can say on behalf of all on this side of the House that we are resolved, with the help of the nation, to put things right.

I should like to draw attention to a part of that inheritance which is now ours, a section of our national difficulties which has so far not been fully revealed to the House, but which, unless it is grasped, may confound and confuse our bravest efforts to achieve recovery. I refer to a matter directly concerned with food production, namely, the supply of steel for the agricultural machinery industry and related enterprises. I have, as the House is aware, an interest in this industry which I have to declare, and it is because I happen to know something about its problems that I venture, with the courtesy of the House, to speak about it now.

However the parties may be divided on other matters, upon this we are all agreed: that the national interests demand an immediate, substantial and lasting increase in the production of food from our own land and in the export of manufactured products from our own factories. It so happens that the industry about which I speak is capable of meeting, in large measure, both these requirements at one and the same time, and I therefore think it right that I should put the case to the House.

Let me deal with food. If we are to expand output from agriculture, particularly at this time when there is an overall shortage of manpower, the drive for mechanisation must go on with increasing speed. Thanks to the enterprise of British farmers and the energy of our agricultural machinery manufacturers, Great Britain is already the most highly mechanised farming unit in the world. That is a remarkable achievement, but it is true.

Mr. Percy Daises (East Ham, North)

That is part of the "sorry state of affairs" which the Government inherited.

Mr. Lewis

It was achieved under the Labour Government.

Mr. Stewart

I hope the hon. Gentleman will not continue to interrupt with silly remarks. It is largely because we have the most highly mechanised farming in the world that our food production during the war and since has been so much enlarged. We cannot hope to maintain, must less expand, that production unless the flow of new tractors and implements of all kinds to the farmers is continued.

How strange and unrealistic, therefore, it was when early in the present year, at the instigation of the late Government, indications were given to both farmers and the trade that the allocation of materials, principally steel, for the manufacture of those essential machines was to be reduced for 1952. It was strange because the decision ran directly contrary to the interests of both food production and exports; it was unrealistic because it apparently took no account of the remarkable development of the machinery industry in both fields, in home food production and in exports of recent years.

The House is perhaps not fully aware of the facts of that development, and I ask leave to remind hon. Members of just a few of the facts. Between 1938 and 1950, the output of agricultural tractors leapt from 10,000 to 120,000 per annum, and this year it is still higher. Market-garden tractors jumped from 600 to 30,000, tractor-drawn ploughs from 5,000 to 52,000, disc harrows from 1,200 to 12,000, mowers from 4,600 to 27,000. A large part of this increase took place during the war and what has happened since has been the direct result of private enterprise on the part of thousands of firms, without any help, so far as I am aware, from the Government.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

Would not the hon. Gentleman admit that the action of establishments like Massey-Harris, and perhaps other firms not within my own constituency of Kilmarnock, through the Board of Trade, in bringing them from Canada and directing them into that distressed area has a lot to do with it?

Mr. Stewart

If the hon. Gentleman will forbear for a moment, I was going on to refer to that. This increase to which I have referred is applied to all machines and, as I have said, is still more apparent this year. The total value of tractors and implements produced rose from something in the order of £6 million before the war to £85 million last year, and it is likely this year to exceed £100 million.

The exports of agricultural British made machinery before the war amounted to perhaps £1 million and last year to £43 million. This year it may well exceed £70 million. We have established—I am speaking about the industry as a whole, and I have spent a little time on this work in different parts of the world—solid markets for British tractors and implements in almost every country, including the dollar areas, Canada and the United States. The demand everywhere in the world for our goods is mounting. The industry is ready and eager, and, given the materials, is fully equipped to meet that demand. Here, therefore, is one of the most buoyant, aggressive, and, in our present food and financial predicament, valuable of all our industries which, given enough materials, can make a profound and ever-increasing contribution to our economic salvation.

But what do we do? What is the position which this Government takes over with regard to this matter? I offer three examples. I do not propose to use the names of the firms, although, no doubt, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), will recognise at least one of them at once. I offer three examples of the odd behaviour of the recent Government in this matter.

I have here a letter, an extract of which I propose to read to the House, from one of the great firms in this country, of United States origin. It produces harvesting machines, manure spreaders and an array of most valuable implements for the farm, including tractors. What do they say about what has recently been happening? This letter was sent to me two days ago. It states: We have only been able to place orders for 53 per cent. of our overall requirements [for steel]. This overall figure is deceptive in that it does not reveal all the story when serious shortages of material occur. Apart from the fact that we cannot balance our production and build the machines in direct relation to our available steel, there are the added costs of personnel scouring this country for steel, as they have to do, required in our purchasing department, all of which must be reflected in the price of the machine, and, as in the case of agricultural products, the food which it produces. As an example of unbalanced production, due to the shortage of steel, we are only able to build 35 per cent. of the requirements of one implement specially designed for Colonial territories— I know these territories which, given the proper equipment, would make a great contribution not only to our needs but to the needs of their people as well.

The letter goes on to say: Further, 50 per cent. of the steel for this implement will arrive so late that it will out-season the machine in the territory where it is required. This sort of thing retards development in areas where Britain must look for increased fat ration. I might add that this will have a very harmful effect on the whole project of the Colombo Plan.

Another example is of an even larger firm, a British firm, exporting from this country vast quantities of tractors and farm equipment. Their orders for 1952 amount to no less than £43½ million. Of that, £37½ million represents export orders. What does this firm tell me?

They tell me that, on the most careful analysis, they do not expect to be able to produce more than just over half, because of the shortage of steel. They have orders from Australia and New Zealand alone for £8 million worth of implements and tractors. They do not expect to be able to provide more than £4½ million worth of that great order. In fact, they tell me that their export orders alone amount to more than the total present production, and that, despite these good prospects, by all the signs they look like receiving less steel in 1952 than they received this year. That firm exports to Africa, to the Middle East and to all those countries at the starvation level which we all wish to support.

My third and last example concerns a great firm, with connections in the States, producing tractors used on the farms here and also, it may interest the House to know, used for the vital business of coal production. This firm alone has, I am told, 1,200 of its tractors on open-cast coal sites today. Considerable numbers of these tractors are now completely immobilised on the coal sites because there are no spare parts to keep them going, and no steel to produce them. Every week, I am informed, the number of immobilised tractors grows. I leave it to the House to estimate what the loss in coal production is on that account alone.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

I accept entirely the argument that it is very regrettable that this steel is not available for the colonial countries, but I put this point to the right hon. Gentleman. Is this not the inevitable result of the present re-armament programme, and will not our economic position, and the industry for which he speaks particularly, require some re-adjustment of that programme, in view of our present economic conditions?

Mr. Stewart

I was about to deal with that point, and if the hon. Gentleman will pardon me for a moment, I will come to it. I was referring to a firm whose tractors are playing so vital a part in the production of coal and food at the present time. I want to tell the House an interesting thing that happened to that firm this year.

Early this year, to meet the worsening position—the inability to produce spare parts—this company, with Government support, were compelled to order from America 750,000 dollars worth of spare parts, no less than two-thirds of which could have been immediately produced here, and for which arrangements were made, if the steel had been available. With a wiser use of our precious resources we might have saved that great expenditure of dollars and used it for other things.

I suggest that this is a senseless policy which we have been pursuing, and a suicidal one, because it has destroyed at every stage and in almost every part of the world, the very means by which we can restore our fortunes. This is the policy to which His Majesty's Government are heir. Of course, as the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) says, it arises mainly from the general shortage of steel, aggravated, as he has pointed out, by the new re-armament programme. But the higher production of food and the expansion of exports are vital to our very existence, and ought to be refounded as an essential part of re-armament.

If that is so—and I fancy I have the agreement of the House in that—why then were no effective steps taken by the Labour Government to allocate steel in adequate quantities to this most helpful and hopeful industry? The total quantity of steel required to meet the needs of agricultural machinery exports and for home production was never more than a small proportion of the total steel resources available to this country. The extra needed to enable them to meet the great demands and' orders they have got is still a small proportion of our supplies.

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer told us he had warned us previously that a crisis was approaching. Why then did he allow great quantities of steel to find their ways to less useful destinations? Why were no realistic steps taken to ensure that these precious materials were—I am quoting what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said a few days ago— switched, as they must be, to places where they are most needed "?—[OFF!cAL REPORT, 7th November, 1951; Vol. 493, c. 194.] That was the obvious step for the Government to take. They did not take it. It seems that planning in this case, as in others, was conspicuous by its absence.

I rejoice that we now have a Government who have demonstrated not only their comprehension of the situation, but their determination to deal with it in a practical and immediate way. I have every confidence that despite the difficulties and the pain, my right hon. Friends will grasp the steel nettle and bend it—[Laughter]—yes, it is a pretty good metaphor—to the real advantage of the nation at this great but challenging moment.

1.54 p.m.

Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)

In rising to make my first speech before this august assembly, I crave the indulgence of the House. However many speeches one may have made on other occasions, it must always be something of an ordeal to make one's first speech before the most critical audience in the world. I have received much good advice from many friends, and the only part I remember of it, and the part that I mean to follow, is that I must be brief. The idea seems to be that, providing I do not bore hon. and right hon. Members for more than a few minutes on this occasion, I shall be at perfect liberty to bore them for much longer periods on future occasions.

In spite of what was said by one of my hon. Friends, it is my intention to take the debate away from the receding vision of red meat and return to the general debate. Having spent a considerable time at the Election in studying the Conservative manifesto to try to discover what it was I was fighting, I looked forward with considerable interest to the Gracious Speech. But I still had no very clear idea of what was the Government's policy for dealing with the economic situation, nor did it become very much clearer from the eloquence of the Prime Minister. The idea seems to be that the Members of this House are to be put out to grass while the Government decide what was the policy on which they were elected at the recent Election.

Judging by the coal debate yesterday and the food debate today, there is no doubt that the Government need a considerable time to consider what is going to happen. But I am rather worried about what will be the reaction of the electors. Having spent so much time, money and energy in sending us here, I wonder what they will think when they find that, not only are we not necessary, but we are something of an encumbrance.

Let me get back to the debate on the first day when there was a considerable amount of shadow-boxing. We had eloquent speeches from hon. Members opposite, which added something to Conservative thought, but they did not indicate what was Conservative policy. The only two items that emerged from the first day's debate were the Government's intention to repeal the Iron and Steel Act and to make some changes in road transport, neither of which will in any way help to solve our economic problem. In fact, they might well retard its solution, and, by the de-nationalisation of iron and steel, the Government will lose a valuable instrument for sustaining employment in the event of a world slump. Because of the debate which has to take place on this subject on Monday, I will not pursue that subject any further.

It was not until the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we got any idea of the lines to be pursued by the Government. If it is not too presumptuous in such a new Member, I should like to congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on a most able and courageous speech. It must have been a very difficult speech for a Member of this Government to make, since the whole policy is based on planning and controls. I congratulate him on having the courage to acknowledge by implication how right was the policy of the Labour Government.

We do not, of course, agree with all that the Chancellor had to say, but at any rate he realised the important part which a Government must play in planning and controlling the economic life of the country. In view of what the right hon. Gentleman had to say upon the external causes of our balance of payments deficit, I hope that from now on hon. Members, on the other side will be more generous in their speeches when referring to the Labour Government, and will show more appreciation of the true reasons for the difficulties which face us.

The Prime Minister in his speech said: In the present half-year, we are running into an external deficit at the rate of £700 million a year "— a figure rather higher than that given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but still I am willing to accept it— compared with an annual rate of surplus of about £350 million in the same period a year ago That means a deterioration of more than £1,000 million a year."—[OFFICAL REPORT, 6th November, 1951; Vol. 493, c. 76.] If we place against that the fact that our imports are costing £1,000 million a year more than they cost last year, because of the rise in world prices, we shall see at a glance the chief cause of our present problems. It does not cover the whole story, but it disposes of the charge of Socialist incompetence.

Since the Chancellor has accepted the principle of planning at the national level, I hope he will accept, with all its implications, the importance of planning at the international level. This is not the only country which has a balance-of-payments problem or an internal economic problem. The only solution to the problems of the world is through international cooperation.

While I am referring to this matter of international co-operation, may I say that I hope the Government will press for equality of sacrifice in re-armament programmes among the member States of the Atlantic Pact. A statement was made in the Press yesterday that there is likely to be agreement upon a reduced rearmament programme for this country. I should like to know from the Government at a very early date whether that is true. If it is, it makes the problems which face the Government very much easier at the present time.

In the domestic sphere, I should like to add my plea that whatever sacrifices have to be made should be shared equitably among every section of the community, and that special consideration be given to the needs of the old people and pensioners generally. That might very well have special reference to the debate today, in the matter of food.

With regard to the building programme of the Government, I hope that, in attempting to answer the taunts about 300,000 houses, the Government will not neglect other essential building, such as of hospitals, factories and schools. It is upon the last point that I wish to conclude my remarks. Let us not try to solve our problems by making the coming generation pay. I look back with horror upon that period of our history when this country became very wealthy and child labour made no small contribution to it. We have made great progress since those days. As we consider our problems today, let us accept our responsibilities. Let us make whatever sacrifices may be necessary and not attempt to place our burdens upon the shoulders of generations to come.

2.4 p.m.

Colonel Ralph Clarke (East Grinstead)

It is my privilege to follow the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn), and to have the opportunity to say how pleased the House has been to listen to his thoughtful and well-reasoned speech. I only regret that there was so thin a House. The hon. Member said that he was addressing the most critical audience in the world, but I assure him that if hon. Members are critical they are also sympathetic. Not one of us here has not also faced the ordeal that he has just been through, and we know that it is one that creates inevitable anxiety beforehand. We admire the way in which the hon. Member has overcome that anxiety. We think the speech showed confidence coupled with modesty, and we hope that in the near future we may have many more opportunities of hearing him.

I do not suggest that the hon. Member's speech was in any way controversial, but I want to answer one point in the spirit in which he put it. It related to the suggestion that our constituents might think that six or seven weeks' Recess was too much. The two different functions of the Member of Parliament have, in the last few years, been rather confused. There has been a tendency to dwell too much on the legislative function and too little on the administratives. During these last six years we have had a continuous spate of legislation, much of it. as I think hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree, without as much consideration as it should have had. In the meantime, I believe that administration has got somewhat out of hand. For example, officials have increased unduly.

It is only by the new brooms, the new Ministers in the Departments, having a few weeks of intensive work there that we shall be able to catch up on some of the errors of omission and commission. It is well known that so long as the House is sitting, so long as Ministers and civil servants have inevitably to keep one eye on this House, they cannot wholly concentrate on their Departments.

I have heard practically the whole of this debate and the whole of yesterday's debate. I noticed with pleasure the greatly increased confidence with which hon. and right hon. Members on the other side have been speaking. There has been almost a joyous abandon in some of their speeches, now that they are relieved of responsibility. The opening of a new Parliament like this is always interesting. We have the situation for a time that the outgoing Ministers are in a better position in regard to the departments than are the incoming Ministers. Gradually that position changes, and the assurance of the ex-Minister departs as his knowledge fades away in the distance.

Two suggestions were made earlier to which I should like to refer. One is that the Conservative Party played some sort of confidence trick on the electorate. I say to those who make that suggestion that they surely cannot think that the country expected us in the first week to implement the whole of our programme. That would be utterly absurd.

Mr. Paget

We have not only been asking that the party opposite should implement their Election promises but we have observed that they have abandoned the whole of the other promises which they made.

Colonel Clarke

If hon. Members will wait, I shall point out one or two promises that we have already implemented. The position of the Conservative Party today is that they have been handed a large and very difficult baby at a moment when it was in a more than usually delicate state. I am delighted to see on the front Bench opposite the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) who knows a good deal more than I do about the nutrition of babies. I believe it is essential that their diet should not be changed too suddenly. Therefore, if for a time we have to continue the wholly wrong and mistaken diet which has been given to it until it is rather stronger, I can assure hon. Members that we shall ultimately gradually change the diet and start if off with Conservative principles. The Opposition will then be astonished to see how the debilitated baby will improve in health.

Mr. Daines

The hon. and gallant Member referred to a great big baby being handed to the Conservative Party. Is it really fair for him to talk so disrespectfully of the leader of his own party?

Colonel Clarke

I do not think that was really called for. It must be quite clear to other hon. Members opposite that I was speaking of a metaphorical baby.

I congratulate the Government upon having brought about a combination of the Ministries of Food and Agriculture. That has been desirable for a very long time. Those Ministries have not been working well together in the past and I believe that it will be to the advantage of all concerned that the industries which really form our fourth line of defence are co-ordinated. One of the first lessons that we have to learn from the revelations about the depth of the food crisis is that our own agriculture, which has much to contribute towards the solution, requires even more care than it has had in the past.

I listened with interest to the speech of the late Minister of Food. I rather agree with him in that I regret a little that tobacco, wine and petrol, subject to import contracts that may exist, are not among the commodities which are to be reduced in supply, but they will probably be considered later. His suggestion for stockpiling food was worthy of consideration, although I was surprised that he did not experiment with it during his time in office.

We had an interesting speech from the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), on the subject of marketing. She referred to the Dalton scheme for public auctions. I rather doubt whether such auctions would work. There has been a great deal of criticism of the scheme from many who are at present concerned with the distribution of food. One of the difficulties will be a rather simple and practicable one, and that is how to get one's containers back. The number of containers for food products is limited and at present the containers travel through recognised channels, working shuttlewise and being returned to the producer.

If we have public auctions and the purchasers take the boxes home and then use them for firewood, we shall shortly have an even more acute shortage of containers than there is now. Nevertheless, I do not see why such a scheme should not be tried. But instead of beginning with a scheme for about 30 towns, let us try out a pilot scheme for two or three towns. We have had sufficient grandiose experiments, such as those in Africa. upon which vast sums of money have been lost. Let us not have that sort of thing again.

After a General Election one naturally has fresh in mind the conditions and circumstances existing in one's constituency. I have one or two suggestions to make as a result of my election campaign experiences in my part of England. With regard to horticultural products, I found very great anxiety that something should be done to stop foreign dumping. I was surprised to find how that point came to the fore during the campaign. The feeling is that a great deal more could be produced here if only the home markets were protected. I believe that something has already been done to implement our promises to stop foreign dumping. I believe that the curtailment of the imports of fruit referred to by the Minister has already implemented some of the promises.

Mr. Daines

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that if the importation of tomatoes is prohibited, and—bearing in mind that the growers have had the best year that they have had for many years —the inevitable result will be the forcing up of the prices and fancy prices for the consumer?

Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

Pure rubbish!

Colonel Clarke

It is impossible for an industry like horticulture to draw broad conclusions from a single instance. There are a great number of products in horticulture and there is great variety in the weather. We cannot judge from a single instance like that.

There has been talk of helping the fishing industry. There is not a great deal of fishing in my part of the world but there is some, and I believe it could be encouraged if some of the present poaching were stopped. French vessels and vessels of other nationalities have been trawling quite close in shore with impunity this summer and the penalty this has incurred has been nothing like adequate and has amounted to hardly more than paying a licence for the fishing. During the summer I asked a Question on the subject and I believe that the next French poacher had his nets taken away. However, the local fishermen were so badly off that he was able to buy them back again. The maximum penalty is a fine of £50 and confiscation of gear, and it is not fair to our own fishermen if it is not imposed.

It is not only the marginal land in hill and mountain districts which requires to be improved. Within 40 miles of London there is a great deal of marginal land which could be greatly improved without the expenditure of a tremendous amount of money and effort. To the west are great areas of heathland and to the south great areas of devastated woodland, and on the way north one sees many fields which were cut in half by the railway 100 years ago and have never yet been straightened out. Today when we want regularly shaped fields and the best that can be got out of our agricultural machinery, there are considerable areas in which that cannot be achieved, and I hope this will have the attention of the combined Ministries.

Lastly, I feel that all Ministers can be helped considerably in the task of trying to make economies and to improve administration if Members will furnish them with specific cases from their constituencies. I propose to send on many that I have received during the Election. This may cause a certain amount of work, but I believe it is only by seeing the position both from the top in the Ministry and as it appears in individual cases in the constituencies, that Ministers will be able to judge for themselves the great expansion that has, very often unnecessarily. taken place in the administration and in the Civil Service in the last few years. I will not quote instances, although many spring to my mind, because I have already occupied too much of the time of the House. I hope, however, that Members on all sides will try to help administration in this way.

2.21 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I hope to be brief, and as I hope also to carry the debate rather far away from the constituency of the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke), I trust he will forgive me if I do not deal in detail with the matters he has raised. I wish to devote the main part of my speech to the production of food in the North of Scotland, but before I come to that subject there are two or three things which have been raised in the debate to which I should like to make a brief reference.

First, the cost of living. I support those hon. Members who have pointed out that the high cost of living today bears particularly hardly on certain classes such as pensioners. I ask the Government, if it is necessary that we should have austerity and other hardships, to bear in mind the particular needs of this sort of people. Next, the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) raised the question of controls on fish. She said, I think, that in her view the general attitude of the fish trade was against controls. I am bound to put it on record that, as far as the inshore fishermen of Shetland are concerned, they would welcome a return to a control scheme, on three conditions, at any rate.

The first is that it would introduce some stability into fish prices. It is not only in the interests of the consumer, but of the fisherman himself, that there should be some stability of prices and that good fish should be put on the market at a price which the housewife can pay. It is not only in my party that concern is expressed at the apparently very large margin between the price which the fisherman gets and the price which the housewife has to pay.

Secondly, we should hope that some premium would be allowed for high quality, fresh caught fish; and thirdly, and most important, we would hope that there would be some scheme for assistance over the freight charges.

Mr. W. S. Duthie (Banff)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Grimond

I see that I carry at least the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) with me on that point.

The noble Lady mentioned also the high cost of fishing gear and indicated that in her view the remedy for this was to disinflate. Unfortunately, however, the price of sisal and manilla is a worldwide price, and the most we can hope for is that production of these materials will be extended and that in the meantime experiments will be carried out in the use of, say, nylon and other alternative fibres. There is no doubt that the high cost of gear is a very disturbing factor.

The right hon. Member for Bradford, Central (Mr. Webb) spoke of the worldwide continuing need for more food and for the development of all food-producing areas. We have in our own country in the north of Scotland a very large area which, in the view of many hon. Members, could be greatly developed. We have learned that the policy of the present Government will be to continue, I think, on broad lines, the system of fixed prices and guaranteed markets under which agriculture has developed over the last seven or eight years, and I certainly welcome that.

I only want to point out that if we mean to get the maximum food production from areas like the North of Scotland, we must take into account that food producers in that area are working under difficulties and in conditions which are rather different from those in the South. We have to bear in mind that a great deal of that land is farmed by small farmers and crofters, and there are differences in tenure in comparison with the South of Scotland and England.

The first of the handicaps is, undoubtedly, freight. I am extremely sorry that the President of the Board of Trade is not in his place, although he is not far away, because I am sure he would take an interest in the freight question and would agree that one of the essentials in developing the great outlying areas of the country is a freight scheme and that a general scheme for reducing the freight on long hauls is urgently needed. It should be a first priority of the Government to work out some scheme which would apply to Northern Ireland, Orkney and Shetland, Banff, and all the other excellent places from which we can expect a great increase in our food production.

While such a scheme is being worked out, it seems to me that it might be possible to extend the assistance now given, for instance, by the Ministry of Food, in the payment of carriage for livestock, graded beasts, and so on. In my constituency, it is not only a question of the freight charges from Kirkwall or Lerwick to Aberdeen, but also of getting the stuff to Kirkwall or Lerwick. The same is true of the Highlands. It is not only a question of moving goods from, say, Inverness or Wick to the South, but of getting them to those places; and some extension of the present system by which the Minister of Food assists over freight charges from the big centres could be of great benefit in the production of more food from outlying areas and islands.

1 suggest also that in the long run it surely should be possible to sell some commodities such as coal at one price throughout Britain. I realise that this cannot be done immediately, but it seems to me that one of the advantages we might gain from nationalisation would be some scheme of this kind.

My next point is about roads. There is no doubt that there must be a decrease Government expenditure—we all realise that. We have been told that all housing is to be stopped, except domestic housing. What is to be the position about roads and particularly by-roads? If we are to open up these great areas, we have got to have better by-roads in this 20th Century. Many of those in the North of Scotland, Wales and my own constituency are fit for ponies and very little else. As the hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson Stewart) has been saying, it is vital that we should mechanise and improve our agricultural methods and a first essential to greater production is roads. I hope we are going to get adequate road grants.

Then there is the question of land development. There is no doubt that the admirable schemes such as the livestock rearing scheme, while they have done a great deal of good in some parts of the Highlands, are not so suitable for all parts. To use a famous word which has occurred often during the debate, something more "flexible" is needed, because the small man who has not the capital and has not sufficient land to draw up a comprehensive scheme under the Acts is at a great disadvantage.

I suggest also that at a time like this, when prices of feedingstuffs and fertilisers are rising very fast, there is a strong case for having a price review more often than once a year. When this review takes place, some assistance should be given towards the handicaps of small farmers and crofters in, for instance, the freight charges, and very high prices they have to pay if they contemplate an extension in, say, poultry or pigs.

I do not notice any very familiar Scottish faces on the Government Front Bench, but in spite of this I should like to put one or two questions which are of a rather specialised Scottish nature. First, what is to be the future of the Highland Panel? That is a question not far removed from this debate, because the whole of the development of the Highlands rested, at least in the view of the late Government, on this panel. We should like to know what its future is to be and what steps will be taken to put its recommendations into effect.

Secondly, the same question can be asked as regards the Crofting Commission. I hope that this Commission will go right into the crofting areas and talk to the people there about their difficulties rather than talk only to Members of Parliament, county councillors and so on. My third question relates to the White Fish Authority. Will it he cramped by the general need for economy, or will it be allowed to proceed with the erection of quick-freezing plants, the provision of refrigerated transport, and other methods of bringing the fish to the market cheaper and in better condition, which many of us think is so necessary?

I finish by referring to one general subject of the debate which is relevant to the matters which have been principally discussed today; that is, the matter discussed last night: the increase in the Bank rate. Personally, I approve of this increase in that it will deter marginal spending, but as far as I can see it is not selective. It cannot he selective unless there is a free economy and we accept its full implications, which means that that project which pays best will be carried out. But today with re-armament and the need for exports we cannot follow the full implications of freedom.

The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies took an example of a bank manager faced with the question of whether he should lend money for the production of plastics or galoshes and said he could not be expected to make up his mind about that, but he implied that if the Bank rate were raised the restriction on credit would in some way enable one to use money to the best advantage as between those two possibilities. Frankly, I do not follow him.

It seems to me that today, with our present controlled economy in which so many commodities are distorted in value by subsidy or taxation, the most the Bank rate can do is to act as a general deterrent to marginal spending, and it is very vital that the Government should bring their mind to bear on directing such resources as we have to the most necessary objects by other methods as well. Otherwise vital needs, such as agriculture, may suffer. I belong to a party which hopes to return to a free economy but no one can pretend today that we have a free economy. If we are to give attention to the production of food and arms and exports the rise in the Bank rate may have to be supplemented by physical controls.

If it is not impertinent, I should like to close by offering my congratulations to the new Minister of Food. I could have wished his sister were here to do so instead. I am not quite sure in what terms she would have done it. but on this occasion I think family affection would have triumphed over political principle.

2.32 p.m.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

It is, I think, beyond doubt that the Government have had a very bad week. I did not think that so early in our affairs we should see signs of schizrophrenia, but it is perfectly clear that the voice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was very different from the voice of the Secretary of State for the Colonies or that of the Minister of Food.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a very slick operator. A number of hon. Members who now sit on the back benches opposite know that only too well. He is far too wise to blame the Opposition for all the difficulties in which the Government find themselves at present, whereas the Minister of Food and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, not having his political wisdom and their "I.Q." not being quite so high, shelve the responsibility on to the Opposition. The Minister of Food and the Secretary of State for the Colonies will eventually be in trouble when the fact etherges that things are not going to get any better. The Chancellor of the Exchequer knows that perfectly well.

It is all very well to blame the Opposition if one is quite certain that the cuts which have had to be imposed by the Government, and would have to be imposed by the Opposition if they were the Government, would go on for only about six months and that things were going to get better; but of course they are not. In 1947 the Labour Government adopted similar steps, and the result was that after a while the crisis passed away. Then, I think from weakness and pressure from the Tory Press and the Opposition, the Government set about liberalising trade, and of course we slipped into another crisis. Under the impact of that crisis, once again we adopted Socialist methods and got out of the crisis. Then we reverted to the blandishments of free enterprise and again opened our markets, and, before we knew where we were, we were in another crisis. But now there is a big difference because, super-imposed on the economic disequilibrium which has existed since the end of the war, there is a re-armament programme of £4,700 million.

It is a mistake to think that re-armament has really got under way. In this first year the impact of the re-armament programme is as nothing to what is to happen in the second and third years. I am quite confident that if any hon. Member in this House thinks that as long as the re-armament programme continues there is any likelihood that we shall slip into easier ways, the sooner he forgets that the better it will be for him and the country. If the re-armament programme is to be carried through there are bound to be difficulties and hardships, and they have to be faced by all sections of the community. I said that from the beginning of the General Election, I said it before the General Election, and I say it again now.

My charge against the Government is that they knew that too. The present Government knew perfectly well what the consequences of re-armament would be. They boast that they backed us on the re-armament programme, which is true, but they made the utmost political capital out of the difficulties arising from re-armament, and once they succeeded in gaining political power they want us to let bygones be bygones and join with them in hoping, I suppose, that some day it will be possible to introduce a full Tory programme. I do not think events will allow that. I certainly hope that hon. Members on this side of the House will be infinitely more patriotic than the Government were when they were in Opposition.

I want to comment on two aspects of the defence programme. The Prime Minister suggested that we should have a Secret Session, presumably in order that he could give us some more information. I wish to comment on that proposal in the light of the facts, particularly for the information of my hon. Friends. In October, 1949, the present Prime Minister asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that he should be given all the information at the disposal of the Government. That was done, and he went away and promised to put forward a memorandum setting out the constructive views of the Conservative Party on the programme. So far as I know, that memorandum was never received.

In February of this year my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) approached him and offered to make available to him all the information at the disposal of the Government, and he refused to accept that. That fact is recorded in HANSARD for 19th April. If, therefore, the Prime Minister, for purely party political reasons, refused to accept the information about the defence programme in February last and the party opposite decided to divide the House on defence, we should be very wary before we walk into the trap of a Secret Session.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

The hon. Member need not come.

Mr. Wigg

I certainly will not come. I have not the slightest intention of coming, because it is nothing more nor less than the technique that the Prime Minister has employed on several occasions. Many times in his political career the right hon. Gentleman has built up an atmosphere of crisis.

Mr. Burden rose

Mr. Wigg

I have 10 minutes and 10 minutes only, and I cannot give way—the Prime Minister refused to accept any limitations on his powers of criticism by being given the very information which just over a year before he had asked for. Why then should we be gagged by a Secret Session?

I wish to turn to another proposal in the King's Speech which I regard with the gravest suspicion. That is the proposal to re-form the Home Guard. At present we are without a Minister of Defence. What we have got is a Director of Military Operations sitting in 10, Downing Street, moving divisions here and there and fleets here and there without any regard to the A and Q problems which such movements throw up. If one wants to see the consequences of the Prime Minister's work in this field, he should study a recent book on Singapore and see what happened about the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" as a result of his acting without taking the advice of the Naval Staff.

Mr. John Profumo (Stratford)

The hon. Member should withdraw. It is a wicked allegation.

Mr. Wigg

I am quoting from a recent book written by a naval officer, Captain Grenfell, and he makes the point that the mistakes that were made in moving those ships from Singapore arose from the fact that the advice of the Naval Staff was ignored.

Mr. Profumo

Does the hon. Member agree?

Mr. Wigg

I just make the point. May I hasten to add that my attention was drawn to the book by reading a review of it in a Conservative newspaper, the "Sunday Times," in which I found just that statement. The point I want to make is that the Prime Minister, by, I think, his defects of temperament, is very inclined to seize hold of operations on the grand scale and to ignore the A and Q implications of what he does. That is the point of view I am putting forward.

I now want to draw attention to one particular suggestion in the King's Speech which to my mind is fraught with the gravest political danger, namely, the suggestion that we should form a Home Guard. The proposal to set up the machinery for re-forming the Home Guard was put forward on 15th November, 1950, so that if the emergency arose we could recruit 200,000 men into that force. But now in the King's Speech, without any consultation of any kind with the interested bodies, we find the proposal put forward to establish the Home Guard in peace-time.

The question I want to ask—I have given notice to the Secretary of State for War that I proposed to raise this matter —is whether the trade unions were consulted, because the formation of a Home Guard would vitally affect trade unions in regard to the conditions under which men work, overtime, and shift work. It also affects the employing organisations. Furthermore, before this suggestion was made, was the Territorial Association consulted?

I suggest that the idea of having a Home Guard was just one of the bright ideas that has slipped into the mind of the Secretary of State for War. I suggest that the military advisers of the Government were never consulted, and that this suggestion was put into the King's Speech without any of the implications, military or industrial, ever being considered at all. Quite frankly, I am not prepared to support a suggestion of this kind without a most careful examination, particularly as the Secretary of State for War has on many occasions given evidence of an authoritarian temperament. If one reads his book, written in association with certain other gentlemen, entitled "Defence in the Cold War," one finds the right hon. Gentleman thinking in terms of a Home Guard along the lines of its being used to deal with strikes.

I am not for one moment charging the Secretary of State for War, or the Prime Minister, or, indeed, any hon. Member opposite, but I am saying that a situation of this kind could strike at the very roots of our civil liberties, because I have no illusions as to how Tory Governments act when they find themselves in difficulty. In both Australia and New Zealand Right Wing Governments have been elected on a basis of a lying propaganda, such as was this Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] Lying propaganda I said, and lying propaganda I mean.

I believe that as the months go by, and as this Government find themselves in increasing difficulty, they will do as the Governments of Australia and New Zealand have done—tamper with the civil liberties of the people of this country.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East) rose

Mr. Wigg

I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman; I have very little time left in which to conclude my speech.

I want to point out one simple thing again to my hon. Friends on this side of the House. I hope they will join with me in studying the composition of the Government. It is an interesting fact that, after very careful research, I cannot find any record of a single member of the Government ever having served in the ranks of the Armed Forces.

Mr. Profumo

Many of them served in the Armed Forces.

Mr. Wigg

Yes, I certainly agree that many of them served In the Armed Forces, but what I said was that I cannot find any record of any Member of the Government having served in the ranks.

Mr. Profumo

On a point of order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but he has made two or three provocative statements and has then refused to give way, when challenged, merely on the plea of the question of time. Is it in order for an hon. Member to make such statements and on the plea of the pressure of time refuse to give way?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

That is not a point of order. If the hon. Gentleman does not wish to give way, there is no reason why he should.

Mr. Wigg

I have never refused to give way before, and I only do so now because I promised to be as brief as possible.

Mr. Profumo

All I wanted to say was that the hon. Gentleman should know that at least one Member of the present Government, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport, did serve in the ranks. Indeed, many more people on this side of the House than on the benches opposite have served in the Armed Forces.

Mr. Wigg

I said that I have searched all the books of reference and can find no record of any Member of the Government having served in the ranks. Of course, if the hon. Gentleman assures me that there is one hon. Member of the Government who has served in the ranks, then, naturally, I accept it. If there does happen to be one then he is the exception to the rule.

The second point I wish to make is that it is beyond challenge that those who did serve—and, may I say, served with great gallantry—served almost exclusively in the Guards. I repeat, they did not serve in the ranks, but in the Guards. Of course, the Guards have a great fighting record, but they are not all the Army.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Wigg

I am sorry, but I propose to go on; I am not going to be howled down. When National Service was before this House—indeed, before it came before the House—I spoke in support of it. I believed it to be necessary then, and I believe it to be necessary now, provided the Army is organised in such a way as to produce not only good soldiers, but good citizens. Therefore, if we are going to find the administration of the Armed Forces left in the hands of ex-Guards officers in order that they can mould the rest of the Army like the Guards, I for one would change my mind.

I shall make my position even more clear. I have done my best to ginger up recruiting for the Territorial Army, but I am not prepared to take similar measures in support of a Home Guard whose administration is left in the hands of a man like the Secretary of State for War, who to my mind does not believe in democracy at all. That is what I say, and that is what I think. [An HON. MEMBER: "Give us some evidence."] I am prepared to look for the positive evidence. The evidence I have seen is very —

Mr. Burden

On a point of order. Is it right for the hon. Gentleman, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to make allegations against my right hon. Friend without first notifying him of his intention to do so?

Mr. Wigg

I am not prepared to give a blank cheque. On this issue, as on others, the Government is on trial. It has to prove itself, to live up to its own precepts. We are going to judge not the words, but the deeds. It is easy enough to say soft words about the democratic way of life. Let us see it in practice. If the Army is to return to barrack-room discipline based on what happens in the Guards, I for one am against it. I believe it is against the interests of National Service men and against the interests of the country and the Army. Therefore, I feel that when a Bill comes before this House to introduce a Home Guard hon. Members on these benches should look at it with more than one eye and, if they take my advice, do their best to oppose it.

2.51 p.m.

Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)

The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has made one thing perfectly apparent—that Britain will have a Home Guard without his support. I would remind him that she will still have a Home Guard. I do not know why he raised the question of who on this side of the House served in the ranks and who did not.

I am a member of the Conservative Party. Unfortunately, no one has asked me to become a member of the Government, but I, like many other hon. Members on these benches, have had the honour of serving as a private soldier in the ranks among many good comrades. We did not bother about what their politics were. But it may interest hon. Members to know that 30 Conservative Members of Parliament were killed in the recent wars and one Liberal Member of Parliament. Because no Socialist Members of Parliament were killed, we should not attribute to them any lack of gallantry. We know their people have died for their country just as ours have done—[Interruption.] The hon. Member wanted facts and he is getting them.

Mr. Bing

Will the hon. Gentleman—

Sir D. Robertson

I think it would be kinder to forget the rest of the speech of the hon. Member for Dudley. I have much more important things to which to turn my mind. The first is the statement by the former Minister of Food about the crisis which the nation is now in with regard to finance and food. He took a very airy view of the ability of the country to get out of our financial difficulties, and I take a very contrary one. He also took a very light view of his failure, and the failure of his party, to provide Britain with an adequate supply of food. He attributed it, or he seemed to, to a great shortage of food throughout the world, and referred to the great population about to be born in the next 30 years.

I say that one fact has been completely ignored by opposition speakers. including the former Minister of Food, which is that during the six-and-a-quarter years they have been in power Britain has enjoyed the greatest trade boom in her history. Nothing like it has been experienced. It was due to the war, due to the hunger of nations for all kinds of consumer and capital goods which they could not buy.

It has not been a question of selling goods, but of producing goods and selling them at any price with frequently a wait of two or three years for delivery. One of the reasons for the Argentinian discontent over the Andes Agreement was that they were called upon to pay four. five and six times more than the pre-war value of some of the exports we were selling to them. During this time, the like of which we will never see again, a period of great profitability has been enjoyed in Great Britain: and vast reserves should have been built up which would have stabilised the £ and brought it back to its 1939 value. The Coalition Government stabilised the cost of living during the war in a remarkable manner. They did not entirely succeed in arresting inflation, but they did a remarkable job. If the late Government had built wisely on the work done by the Coalition Government we should not be in the position we are today.

Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley) rose

Sir D. Robertson

I am not going to give way. I shall be answering the views of the hon. Member in a moment or two —and a good deal more. There is the position. We have had this period of tremendous prosperity. In fact, since 1939 there has been no selling required of any goods. People have been eager to buy them. One of the first lessons that hon. Members of this House have to learn —and I am old enough to have lived in a period when it had to be learnt—is that it is much easier to produce goods than to sell them. During the period between the two wars, about which hon. Gentlemen opposite are so fond of talking, I remember producing goods and trying to sell them in a competitive world. We have not lived in a competitive world since 1929, but we are now about to live in one.

Japan and Germany are coming back with a rush, Japan was the buyer of millions of pounds of wool 10 days ago in Sydney. It was not the United States or Great Britain, or any other nation; it was Japan. We have not had to face competition, but we shall have to do so in the future. This bridging of the dollar gap, so airily dismissed today by the former Minister of Food, will be a most severe task.

What is it we get from exports? We get food and raw materials, and the Government have been obliged to do something which I have repeated in this House time and again in the last two or three years. They have had to cut imports of food. The last thing any Government would want to do would be to cut raw materials and to bring about unemployment. That is the situation which faces the new Government, and we have had to cut food. Because of it, I say now what I have said on a number of previous occasions, that the greatest problem facing Britain is how to feed the 50 million people in this island, and six-and-a-quarter years has elapsed without any intensive food production policy being carried out.

Mr. Peart

It is a falsehood; it is untrue—

Sir D. Robertson

Other hon. Members want to speak—

Mr. Hobson

It is untrue—

Sir D. Robertson

I shall make my speech in my own way, and I am going to prove what I shall say. The greatest undeveloped area in Britain is the Highland area representing more than half of all Scotland. Not one land settlement scheme was brought in by hon. Members opposite in the six-and-a-quarter years they were in power. They carried on the work of the Coalition Government in giving 50 per cent. grants for drainage schemes and land reclamation. It has been a programme of failure. What farmer or crofter, with the high costs today, including the high cost of living and savage taxation, can find the other 50 per cent.?

The undeveloped Highland area is a great cattle country. On the Front Bench opposite is the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle), who is a butcher. He knows that what I am saying is true. It was a great cattle country; it could be a great cattle country again. It is the biggest sheep producing area in Great Britain, and it could be four or five times as big. It could carry thousands of pigs and poultry; and nothing has been done, although the writing on the wall that our export drive would be bound to slow up has been there for years. Motor cars are being returned to this country from the United States and from Canada. We paid the expense of getting them out there, and other agency high costs. Now we are bringing them back. Is there any hon. Member who thinks we stand any chance in normal times of selling British motor cars in Canada and the United States? If so they have no knowledge of the position abroad.

I am in the textile business, and it did not need the evil speeches of the former Minister for Town and Country Planning to bring about distress in that industry. We have been facing very serious dangers for months and we have been hanging on in the hope of better times. There is not a manufacturer of woollens who is in a position to sell goods and get his money back in the U.S. or Canada today.

All these things add up to this: We have got to produce much more food, and we can do it mainly in the Highland areas. Look at the map if there is any doubt in anyone's mind as to what may be done. In my area, which is a huge area in the North of Scotland, bounded by the sea on three sides, only one farmer and one crofter have been able to carry out any land reclamation. We have lost thousands of acres which have gone back to jungle. They were cleared by our forebears and then ruined by the unrestricted free trade policy of the Liberal Party and so beloved of the Socialist Party also. That destroyed the Highland farmer.

The first thing we have got to do is to restore these derelict areas to fertility, and with modern tools we can do a great deal more than our forebears did. But the first thing that is wanted is cash. Development cannot be undertaken anywhere, without money; we know that from our experiences of Africa and other parts of the world. In the Lowlands and in England many millions of money have been sunk during past generations and millions of man hours have been worked.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

The hon. Gentleman has referred to me, and I should like to ask him what type of encouragement should be offered to the farmers in the Highlands of Scotland that has not already been offered by the late Government.

Sir D. Robertson

There is an awful lot which the late Government failed to do. I am not in a position to speak for this Government, but I am in a position to say what should be done, and I was about to do so when the hon. Gentleman interrupted me. I said that cash was the first requisite, and grants up to 50 per cent. are quite inadequate. That is true. I have spoken to many farmers, crofters and landowners on this subject, and they all say they would gladly undertake this work of reclamation but they just cannot find the money.

It was the fashion in the last Parliament for Members from the Highland areas to be told, every time they asked for new roads or anything else new, that the money could not be provided. We had to see millions lost in the groundnuts which we did not get, but there was no money for the Highlands. Once the former Foreign Secretary came up to the Highlands and made a speech at Tain where he talked about £750,000 being spent on the roads. What a miserable bagatelle for any Minister to talk about as a contribution to an area needing development.

Cash is required. I know it is difficult at this time, when the nation is facing great financial strain, to go to the new Government in the plight in which they find the country and ask for more money, and I am reluctant to do it. I am perfectly willing to accept the answer that at this time it cannot be forthcoming from the taxpayer, the provider of all money for the Exchequer. But if that is so, I say to the Government: Why not go out to the joint stock banks and to the finance houses who have supported industry and supplied the cash capital for industry throughout the ages? Why not give them a chance to do this, to make loans to farmers, crofters and landowners for approved schemes of land reclamation and drainage—loans at a reasonable rate of interest and repayable within a fixed time?

It is time that the ordinary financial sources were turned to assist agriculture. I cannot imagine a better investment at this time than investing in our own land for the food of the people. I shall be sadly disappointed if the Government fail to hold such a conference with these great loyal patriotic banking firms and discuss this matter with them, because the first obstacle to be surmounted is finance.

The next obstacle is to provide contractors' crews, and I think the Government could give a lead here. An hon. Member opposite shakes his head, but I have seen contractors' crews in many parts of the United States and Canada working as a community enterprise, harvesting grain for instance. Contractors' crews could be organised for bracken cutting.

I do not know whether hon. Members opposite have any knowledge of the Highlands, but I spent three months this year in the Northern area. It was sad to see the sheep coming on to the main road to nibble at the young grass just because at some recent date the side of the road had been turned up. They come out of the bracken where there is hardly a living for a rabbit, and on to the edge of the road. Crews of bracken cutters can serve the farmers, and the farmers would pay for their assistance. That is a practical proposition. These are constructive proposals.

Mr. Ross

Where are the men to come from? We cannot even get them for road making.

Sir D. Robertson

The hon. Gentleman has put his foot right in it. He asks, where are we to get the men? In my constituency this year—not last year—we have been running at four times more unemployment than the average for Scotland. That is where we shall get the men. I drew the attention of the then Minister of Labour and the then Secretary of State for Scotland to this situation, and they were good enough to meet me the same day because of its seriousness. I made a number of constructive proposals to them, but they did nothing about them at all; they preferred these men to rot in idleness on the Labour Exchange rather than to put them to essential work.

I say that contractors' crews for bracken cutting, to serve all farmers and crofters, is a highly desirable and thoroughly practicable proposition. I also say that crews for cutting drains, with modern draining machines, is a practicable proposition. I should also like to see very skilled engineers employed by the Government, like those great water engineers of Holland, who have performed miracles in that country, so much of which is below water level. They have performed miracles in cutting drains and enabling agriculture in Holland not only to raise enough stock to feed the Dutch people but also to export food throughout the world since the end of the war.

Mr. Hobson

There is no comparison between the two countries.

Sir D. Robertson

The hon. Gentleman can make his speech—but not now. In my opinion, other crews which should be employed—and the Government can do great good in organising them and putting them at the service and the disposal of agriculture—are those for land reclamation. They could use modern tools like prairie busters, caterpillar tractors, bulldozers and so on. If that is done it will bring a very great return. There is no part of Britain capable of making a return anything like that we could get from the area from Kintyre to the north of Shetland. I feel certain that the new Government will at least address themselves to the situation, and I hope they will have some regard to the proposals which I have made.

In conclusion, I want to say something about the fishing industry. The ex-Minister of Food, who I am glad to see in his place, and who had so many talks with the fishing industry about controls, said today something which he did not say when he was in office. He told the House that he had had before him when he was in office a machine all ready for re-imposing control. In my view—and I spent 20 very happy years in the fishing industry in jobs at the highest level—[Laughter.] I know that in the Socialist Party one has to be right at the bottom before one can do a good job, but some of us managed to rise—at least we did under a Conservative Government.

The former Minister spoke about re-imposing controls, but he did not do that when he was in office. Now he wants the new Minister to re-impose them. I hope he will not. Our problem is not the price of fish; it is whether we shall get the fish or not. That is the main problem. I see the Minister nodding his head; he agrees with me. He is bound to. All around the coast of Britain and all around the coast of the Continent, fishing craft are tied up, including those at Aberdeen, because they cannot be employed profitably.

In my constituency we have many of the most skilled fishermen of the country scratching for their living. They have to sell little immature fish which should never be caught. Of course, we know prices are high, but we shall not improve the situation by introducing a maximum price control. That stops the swing of the pendulum against the fishermen, but it does not stop the downward swing. I should be perfectly willing to accept control, provided it was a guaranteed control, like that in agriculture, provided there was a fixed price. Let me assure the House that the greatest problem in fishing is not the price.

It is the first duty of the Government—and let me say that to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench—to bring about an international convention and to maintain it at the highest level. It is no good doing what we did in 1946 and leaving it to civil servants from 20 countries to think it out amongst themselves. The fact of the matter is that the fish are not there. Haddock, cod and plaice require just the same protection that we give to salmon, trout, grouse and so on. I was reading in a newspaper at the weekend that 20 Belgian trawlers have gone to Argentina because they cannot fish off the Belgian coast, and trawlers are tied up and rusting in many ports.

This is a common heritage which we all have in the North Sea, and these people, if they can be inspired by their Ministers, will be able to reach common agreement for their own safety, and I earnestly hope that it will be done.

3.11 p.m.

Dr. Edith Summerskill (Fulham, West)

I understand that the Government wish to introduce other Business before 4 o'clock, and I have given an undertaking to the President of the Board of Trade that he will be able to speak at 3.30 p.m. I therefore propose to devote my remarks to certain points emerging from the speech of the Minister of Food.

I think the whole House was a little disappointed that the Minister was unable to speak in great detail. In effect, his speech covered only what the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us on Tuesday, but the right hon. Gentleman has given us an undertaking that he will come again to the House as soon as possible and give us the details which we would all like to have. Before I make some suggestions to the Minister and also to the Parliamentary Secretary, for whom I have a fellow feeling, may I make one or two comments on the attitude of the House during this debate, and particularly on the attitude of hon. Members on the back benches opposite during the General Election?

Those of us—and there are many here —who have sat through food debates, as I have, have been struck by the docile attitude of hon. Ladies and hon. Gentlemen on the back benches opposite. I stood at the Despatch Box opposite on many occasions during the period of four years as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, and I have defended order after order against which a prayer has been tabled, and have made statements on the different aspects of our food policy.

I recall on all of those occasions the loud criticism of hon. Gentlemen opposite, their ridicule and their intolerance towards the policy which I expounded. Imagine my surprise as I sat here this morning and listened to the new Minister of Food expounding the Conservative policy, which, it seems to me, resembles in a remarkable way the policy which was expounded from that Despatch Box by successive Ministers of Food in the last Administration.

The change in the attitude of hon. Members opposite was remarkable. Not a word of interjection came from them; they sat there like small boys while the headmaster told them what they had got to do. I ask hon. Members opposite to think for themselves. I feel that for this debate the right hon. Gentleman who, I understand, is charged with coordinating the policies of the Ministries of Food and Agriculture should be here. It is quite impossible, of course, because he is a member of another place.

I have a certain sympathy for the new Minister of Food and for his Parliamentary Secretary. They have not been in a position to follow the varying fortunes of the Ministry of Food as the coordinating Minister has been able to do. He knows perfectly well what the situation is, yet, despite that fact, I think it was he—I did not hear the broadcast myself—who came to the country in a dishonest broadcast and promised the people of this country more meat. I understand that it was in an aside that he mentioned the "red juicy meat." This was enough to stimulate the gastric juices of the whole nation. There he was, qualifying to be the Father Christmas of the nation. Not only did he stimulate the gastric juices, but there is no doubt that he was also stimulating certain simple and trusting people to vote Conservative at the Election.

Lady Tweedsmuir

I happened to listen to that broadcast myself, and I should like to remind the House that my noble Friend the Lord President of the Council said that if we were to work better it would be a good thing if we had more red meat, but he went on to say, "No one knows better than I the bitter difficulties confronting the nation on food, and I believe that had we followed a different food policy we would have had better food stocks than we have."

Dr. Summerskill

I am grateful to the noble Lady. She has endorsed what I said. [Interruption.] Certainly she has. He implied to the nation that if the Conservative Party were returned to power they would know where to find that extra food. I believe that the noble Lady has come to this debate armed with the Conservative manifesto, which she has already produced. I ask her to go through her bag afterwards for that manifesto, if she has not got it here with her, and consult the part about food. I read it very carefully, and I think it is quite clear that the Conservative Party say that when they are returned they will be able to send the right buyers to those parts of the world where the food is. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite say "Hear, hear." If the Conservative Party know where there is a source of supply which has not already been tapped, why have they cut the ration? Why have not they drawn on the available stocks? Why have not these private enterprise buyers gone to those parts of the world where the meat is, bought it and brought it back?

Mr. Henderson Stewart

In seven days?

Dr. Summerskill

If they say there is not time for that—and hon. Gentlemen provoke me into saying it—why has the Minister of Food come here today and said that he cannot promise that the present rations will be maintained? Until the noble Lady questioned my statement, I had no intention of criticising the Government in this way. I was in the middle of saying that the Minister of Food and the Parliamentary Secretary—I was Parliamentary Secretary for four years, and I can tell the Parliamentary Secretary now that if he survives four years, which I very much doubt, he will be able to face anything in life which may befall him—are in an unfortunate posi- tion, because the co-ordinating Minister, who will be responsible for top-level policy, who is in charge, and who should be here. is unable to be in this House.

I have said deliberately that these promises were dishonest. I have lived through a number of elections and listened to the promises of all political parties, but at no time have I known any members of a political party to make promises which were more cruel and more dishonest. The noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) said today that it was quite impossible for Ministers to know what the position was until they took office. I must recall to her mind what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said last Tuesday. Not for one moment did he try to do what is colloquially known as "pass the buck." He made a very honest speech. He made it quite clear that the former Chancellor of the Exchequer had disclosed the exact position. Ministers knew, and every responsible Member of this House must have known, that it was impossible for any Minister of Food who took office to increase the imports of food.

Lads, Tweedsmuir rose

Dr. Summerskill

I are sorry that I cannot give way again, because I should like to keep my promise to the President of the Board of Trade, who has only a comparatively short time in which to make his speech.

I want to make one or two suggestions to the Minister of Food. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary is here, because I believe that he will be more sympathetic, understanding and receptive to my suggestions. The job of the Minister of Food is a little different from that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He must, if he is a good Minister, consider the nutritional value, as well as the monetary value, of the cuts which are to be made in the imports of the Ministry of Food. It is a most short-sighted policy for any Government to economise at the expense of the nutritional standards of the country. I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary of the Report of the Ministry of Health, I think two years ago, which attributed the low infantile mortality rate of this country to the "enlightened food policy of the Government." Those were the exact words used. It is inexpedient as well as immoral for any Government at this stage to economise simply for the sake of economy without considering the repercussions. The Minister of Food has also a gap to consider, and that is the gap experienced by the housewife between the end of one meat ration and the purchase of the next meat ration. We are told that private imports are to be cut. We are told that things like crystallised fruits are to be cut, and no one will worry about that.

I come back to the commodities which have already been mentioned, and which I consider of vital importance to fill the gap—ham and canned meat. My right hon. Friend said this morning that he had been questioned in the House about canned ham because it costs 10s. per lb. What my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle), said this morning was quite right. Housewives buy small amounts of ham. They may buy only a quarter of a pound of ham, and this has helped during the last few difficult years to eke out the meat ration. Unfortunately, the advisers of the Chancellor of the Exchequer do not include a housewife, and I do not think that he would have made the speech he made on Tuesday if he had taken into consideration the economy of the small home.

This is where the Minister of Food and his Parliamentary Secretary step in. I hope that they will have discussions with the President of the Board of Trade and with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on how we can ease the burden on the housewife. I want to suggest alternative cuts. Some have been mentioned already, but no one has gone into detail. I think that if the Ministers will address themselves to the details I am about to give, they may, perhaps, reconsider the matter.

Former Ministers know that when they are in opposition they are handicapped because, unfortunately, they are not fed by an excellent Civil Service, and they have to go to the Library to consult the Trade and Navigation Accounts and determine them as best they can. I went to the Trade and Navigation Accounts, where I found these figures. The amount of hams imported during the last nine months to the end of September from all over the world was £14,359. The amount of tinned and canned bacon and ham was £26,652,000. There was no indication of the source of supply, so I take it that a lot of it came from the Commonwealth countries, and will still come in. How can we save on those figures'?

I have not the petroleum figures. I did not put them down because I thought it might be legitimately argued that so much petrol is used for industry that this is the wrong time to cut it. I have here the figures for wines and spirits but not beer. Beer has been regarded as a working man's drink and I have excluded it. We imported about £3 million worth of beer. For the corresponding nine months to the end of December, we imported £6,681,614 worth of wine and spirits, and we got over £5 million worth of that from Europe and other foreign countries. I hope, too, that the Parliamentary Secretary will consider tobacco. We imported last year £126,352,000 worth of tobacco.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

Can the right hon. Lady break down those figures?

Dr. Summerskill

There was no breakdown of them in the Trade and Navigation Accounts.

It may be argued, particularly by heavy smokers, that to deprive the people of this country of tobacco would be a great hardship. I am receptive to that argument, up to a certain point, but let us look at the consumption last year. The House will be interested to know that while we imported £126 million worth in 1951, in the year before we imported over £95 million, so that it has gone up by £30 million in a year. What about 1949? In that year we imported over £87 million worth. Let me repeat those figures for the purposes of emphasis. In 1949, over £87 million worth of tobacco was imported; in 1950, over £95 million; and in 1951 over £126 million.

Can the Parliamentary Secretary reconcile his medical conscience with a cut in meat by meat I mean, of course, ham and canned meat as well—and the consumption of this colossal import of tobacco? I know he will be asked about it, and I know that he will have to explain to the harassed housewives how to maintain a balanced diet with this reduction in the protein content of our diet, while all the time we have this colossal consumption of tobacco.

I expect the hon. Gentleman received a leaflet from the B.M.A. last week, asking us to fill up certain particulars so that they might have data on which to make inquiries into the relationship between carcinoma of the lung and smoking. With this kind of propaganda going on and with this kind of research initiated behind the scenes, how is the Parliamentary Secretary and ex-secretary of the B.M.A. going to ask women to suffer a meat cut while there is no cut in the imports of tobacco?

Just two more questions. I want to ask the Minister of Food when we are to have the long-term proposals of the Government for food production. In this House we have sat and listened to the jeers and laughter of the present Government party during discussions on the groundnut scheme. I dare prophesy that the Minister of Food will look anxiously next year towards the groundnut scheme to find how much fat has been produced there to help him with the fat ration. There is not so much laughter today about the scheme. This is the first time in the last few years when groundnuts have been mentioned in this House without provoking jeers and laughter. What a change in the atmosphere of the House. Who knows, they may now be looking at the scheme to see what remains. The Queensland scheme is a great success, I understand, and, while the Gambia egg scheme failed, other schemes have got to be put in its place.

The final question I wish to put is to ask the Parliamentary Secretary about the substitutes for those foods which are to be cut. Again, I believe that my successor has, on the radio at different times, told people it is nice to have "a little bit of what we fancy," and he has mentioned nice juicy, red steaks. How sorry I am for him. If he is a good doctor and a good Minister at the same time, he must find substitutes for the "little bit of what you fancy" and the juicy red steaks. I foresee that he will have to find the equivalent of snoek or whale meat. I can promise him this: I wish him well, and I can assure him that when the time comes and he is in the position of having to find these substitutes, my party will not use the occasion as a political weapon against him

3.31 p.m.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)

I rise to summarise some of the arguments which have been used in this debate and to answer some of the points that have been made I am afraid that in the time at my disposal I shall be unable to answer them all—and to lay before the House some considerations of my own, from the point of view of the Board of Trade.

The debate on the Address very rightly ranges over the whole field of Government policy and probes every aspect of our national problems. Certainly, the debate today has done that. I have listened to almost every speech that has been made in it. I listened to the right hon. Member for Bradford, Central (Mr. Webb), who recalled some of his electioneering experiences and what was said on both sides. Electioneering experiences varied from place to place in the country. My constituency marches with Ebbw Vale, and it may be that my experiences in that place were different, or at any rate rather more vivid, than some of those in the rest of the area.

The debate was distinguished by an admirable maiden speech from the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Fred Blackburn). His predecessor, the Rev. Gordon Lang, was a constituent of mine and a personal friend of mine, also, as he was of many Members on both sides of the House. We welcomed the hon. Member's intervention in this debate and hope to hear him on many future occasions. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson Stewart), seemed to go to the root and heart of our problems when he demonstrated how the problems of supply of raw materials, such as steel for manufacturing agricultural implements, and our food supply, are all inextricably linked up together. It is on that aspect of our affairs that I wish to address the principal part of my remarks.

I cannot answer in detail all the points made by the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill). She said that she started off with no intention of criticising hon. Members on this side of the House, but she rather lost the thread of her original intention as she proceeded with her remarks.

Dr. Summerskill

I was provoked.

Mr. Thorneycroft

The right hon. Lady must have been most bitterly provoked. In speaking about matters which most particularly affect my own Department, I want to do it in the context of the main debate that has taken place. and against the background of the serious and sombre statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not propose to reiterate all the figures about our trading position, because however many one produces one comes back to the same answer, which is that at the moment we cannot balance our accounts either with the dollar world or with the non-dollar world either with Europe or America.

It is not using the language of exaggeration to say that we are today at a crisis in our national affairs. A deficit of 950 million dollars in four months and a deficit of £270 million with the European Payments Union are facts which cannot be just wished away and, even though world prices have moved upwards, the blunt truth is that this country ha s to go on buying. We have got to bring the food and raw materials into this country. In no other way can we sustain the complicated industrial structure upon which we depend

All I want to say in opening my remarks is that the choice that lies before us is not between doing something and some things perhaps unpleasant, on the one hand, and maintaining the status quo on the other the choice is between doing something or drifting on to a situation of ever-increasing gravity in which the value of sterling will steadily decline and many of the things upon which we and our partners throughout the Commonwealth most depend will be gravely threatened

In discussing how the crisis is being tackled, I will deal first with what I might call the field of direct action. In some ways we are rather like a family which is facing some financial embarrassment. We can think of plenty of things which might be done in the future to help us to put things right, but in the immediate prospect we have somehow to live within our means and balance our account, and, therefore, the first thing is to reduce spending. That is why we must stop buying quite a number of things for which we can no longer afford to pay. That is why we have reintroduced import control on many goods from the European Payments Union area and certain other countries.

The House will recollect that these goods have been on what is called open general licence that is to say, they were not subject to quantitative restriction on import. I shall not read out the long list of manufactured articles and the rest which are involved a copy has been made available in the Library so that the many hon. Members who 'wish to do so may study it in more detail, and the fullest information on that subject will be made available

I would remind the House that it has been the object and desire of Western European countries to try to promote the freest flow of trade between those various nations. That policy has not been pressed from one side of the House only, but from both sides. Earlier an hon. Member suggested that we could not afford free enterprise buying in this manner. I would remind the House that it was Sir Stafford Cripps himself who played a prominent and very notable part in urging before the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation the desirability of having the greatest amount of multilateral trade in that area.

Up to last Wednesday we had done remarkable well in that direction. We had taken off quota—these percentages,are on 1948 values of trade and refer to private trading only—86 per cent. for food, 95 per cent. for raw materials and 88 per cent. for manufactures. Overall, 90 per cent. has been freed from quantitative restriction, which is a matter on which both sides of the House can pride themselves.

We were, however, faced with the necessity of getting a reduction of £130 million in this section, and we have accordingly reduced food to 57 per cent.. materials to 74 per cent. and manufactures to 60 per cent.—overall, down to 65 per cent. We shall, of course, as we are bound to do, provide the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation with the justification for our actions. We are under an obligation to do that. It was always envisaged that any country which found itself in the position which we are now in should be free to bring down these amounts and percentages and justify itself in that way, and that we certainly intend to do.

Mr. Webb

Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear what he means by manufactures"? He said that manufactures were down by 60 per cent. What does "manufactures" mean?

Mr. Thorneycroft

Perhaps I was trying to speak a little too fast. I apologise. I did not say "down by 60 per cent.": I said "down to 60 per cent."

Mr. Webb

But what are the goods?

Mr. Thorneycroft

Typewriters and things of that kind. The full list of these things is available in the Library if the right hon. Gentleman cares to study it. I say this at once. It has not been an easy choice to make It never is an easy choice to make when one is cutting down. We have had to proceed broadly on these lines. We have had to leave aside, to start with, a whole mass of the much smaller imports which, if they were cut down, would require the maximum of effort, would cause the most widespread irritation and would have the minimum of effect upon the savings effected. There are various other items—textiles amongst them—which are called "Common List" and to which all European countries attach particular importance in maintaining freedom of movement in trade.

We have had to consider also the effect, of course, upon our own economy of restrictions on the import of some raw materials, such as non-ferrous metals and the like. But at the end, weighing all the arguments, we still had to get the £130 million. In the process—I admit it frankly—we have had to cut many things which we would much rather have left alone, both for our own sake and for the sake of our friends in Europe.

What I should like to say to our friends in Europe is that we have not abandoned in any way the aim, which they and we have at heart, of promoting the maximum freedom of trade in that area. We wish to continue that co-operative effort, to restore that trade when we can, and in making that attempt they will, I think, recognise our difficulties. If they do so they will do much to help us, and in helping us they will help us to help them, too.

Mrs. Castle

While appreciating the right hon. Gentleman's motives in what he has just said, is it not quite clear that by these cuts we shall plunge other European countries into similar difficulties to our own and, therefore, inevitably increase our own export difficulties vis-é-visEurope? Are we not simply in a vicious circle?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I am much obliged to the hon. Lady. She puts her finger upon one of the great problems of cutting down imports. It is not a one-sided matter at all. If we cut imports into our own country we deny ourselves the use of those imports, and we deny to the trader and the workers in the other country the opportunity of manufacturing them for common use. It is only in the dire necessity which faces us that we have been forced and compelled to take this action. We do not, pretend that it is a happy step to have to take.

The House will appreciate that in the past few days I. like most other Ministers, have been very fully occupied with these grave and serious matters which we have been discussing during the course of the debate. The import cuts were urgent and necessary, but as many hon. Members, including the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle), have said, import cuts of themselves are not enough. They staunch the wound, but they do little to restore the patient. Quite plainly, what we have all got to turn our minds to is those constructive methods which will tend, if they go to build up production, to assist industry and to promote exports.

Hon. Members who are familiar with the Board of Trade will know the vast problems which come within the compass of that Department, and I do not pretend that I can find an answer to all those problems, at any rate this afternoon. There is, however, an urgent industrial problem about which I want to say a word. It is one to which I have been able to give some preliminary consideration. It has been a controversial one, but I think that what I have to say about it will not be controversial It concerns the buying of raw cotton and the future of the Liverpool Cotton Exchange.

I wish to say two things straightaway. What matters in cotton is not whether we have a solution which fits into Conservative or Socialist doctrine. What we have got to achieve is the best way of getting adequate supplies of the right cotton to the people in the industry. Secondly, the industry itself, the men who get the cotton and the men who use it, ought to have a large say in the way the cotton is acquired. They have been in the industry for quite a long time. They know quite a lot about it, and I think that their advice ought to be sought on every possible aspect of this matter.

The House knows that it has been our view that the Cotton Exchange should be re-established. We recognised, and in particular my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in a speech in Liverpool recognised, that that was not going to be something that could be done at all quickly, or at all easily. There are differences about this, but I think there are solid advantages in favour of that free system, not least the invisible earnings we got from it; but it is also true that in fact our present foreign exchange position makes it impracticable at present to allow the free use of dollars in trading in cotton, and that fact alone would prevent a return to the free working, or completely free working, of the Liverpool Cotton Exchange.

There are substantial difficulties outside the question of dollars, connected with the expert staff and so forth. Hon. Members can make the point against me, but what I want to emphasise is that we should avoid taking any step which might obstruct in any way the free flow of cotton to the Lancashire cotton industry, an industry to which we are going to look for an expansion in our exports. Our object is that the cotton industry should get the cotton in the qualities it needs at the lowest price and with facilities and flexibility at least as great as those available to its principal competitors today.

We want the help and advice of those who deal in cotton and those who use it to evolve a scheme which will be practicable in the present circumstances, acceptable to those concerned and point the way to an enduring solution.

Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)

While we welcome the conversion of the right hon. Gentleman on a point on which very different statements were made during the Election campaign in Liverpool itself. I hope he will not suggest to the House that what has been going on in the last few years has been going on without very full consultation with the buying and selling interests on the Liverpool Cotton Commission itself. It may be thought from what he said that this has been done by a commission, but it should be made clear that the Com mission includes representatives of the buying and selling interests.

Mr. Throneycroft

I am not attacking anyone in any way. There are drawbacks to the existing system which are well known to the right hon. Member. There are criticisms which have been made. All I have said is that I am not laying down what the eventual answer is going to be. but I have said what the objective should be. We ought to bring in the people who use the cotton and deal in it in order to find a satisfactory solution. If we could lift this particular problem outside the political field, I think I should carry every hon. Member from Lancashire with me. There remains to be covered the vast field of problems—

Mr. E. Shinwell (Durham, Easington)

Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is terminating any discussion on the import question? I thought he was going to reply to what my right hon. Friend said about cutting imports.

Mr. Throneycroft

I have dealt with that.

There remains to be covered a vast field of problems. The import cuts narrow but, of course, they cannot close the gap. If we are to have the food and raw materials we require, we have quite clearly to do that by an expansion of our export trade. I am not going to indulge in exhortations to both sides of industry. Plenty have been made, but I want everyone to recognise the size of the problem we are up against. We have an immense defence programme which has to be carried through and which, I understand, is supported by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. We have inflation at home. We are short of raw materials, raw materials necessary to the engineering industry to which my hon Friend referred. Steel and coal are necessary for trading purposes, because there are many countries with whom we cannot deal unless we can produce these raw materials. We are in those difficulties. In others we are up against increasing competition from the exports both from Germany and Japan. It is quite plainly a very tough proposition to maintain or to expand exports against a background of that character.

Hon. Members opposite have asked what we would do about the control side. They said. "You cannot really get a drive in exports or the priorities which you want unless you use sonic control." I think they are right. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, Hear."] I remember standing at the Opposition Despatch Box only a year ago and saying that a Conservative Government would not hesitate to use any control it regarded as necessary in order to achieve its objective, and I see no reason to alter my statement now. But let me add this.

Controls alone will certainly not achieve the objective. Controls are no substitute whatsoever for the fiscal and other measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his speech the other day. We cannot force the exports out of this country when, in fact, we have a large scale inflation here at home. The control policy has got to go hand in hand and to be very carefully co-ordinated with these very much harder types of measures which we have been discussing in our debate on the Gracious Speech.

But perhaps our main task in this field is to persuade the British public of the vital importance of exports from this country. It is quite easy for a man who is working in a factory manufacturing a gun or a tank to understand the contribution which he makes to the defence effort. It is not quite so easy sometimes for people to understand the type of effort required to expand exports. There is a great diversity of exports and many small bits of manufacture—perhaps the manufacture of a bird cage for example—for export to some country is not understood to be important. But it may be very important as an export. Then there is the question of the tourist industry. Last year we earned £58 million from our tourist industry, which is a very substantial contribution towards overcoming our difficulties. In all these fields we have got to pull on and expand exports.

All I will say in conclusion—I have had to compress my remarks into rather a small compass—is that I believe that in the last resort the survival of this country and the overcoming of her difficulties will not be achieved by speeches made either from the Despatch Box opposite or the one on this side of the Table, but by the energy, initiative, thrift and courage of the British people. All that any Government in the last resort can do is to give some lead and to smooth the path so that the British people may start upon that road. I believe that the speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was a very good start in that direction.

Debate adjourned. — [Brigadier Mackeson]

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.