HC Deb 29 April 1952 vol 499 cc1409-26

12.45 a.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Meat Products Order, 1952 (S.I., 1952, No. 507), dated 11th March, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th March, be annulled. We have had, on a previous matter, a prolonged debate in equable tones, and I do not intend unduly to disturb that equanimity in moving this Motion. In fact, I feel rather charitably disposed towards the Parliamentary Secretary tonight. Recently, I was asked to go to Durham to wind up the county council election campaign, but my party could not get a hall. However, when I learned that the Parliamentary Secretary was winding up for our opponents, I was much less anxious. In fact, we won a seat in the city for the first time in our history.

I want to suggest what I think the Parliamentary Secretary has in mind about this Order. I think he is going to tell the House that this is something we were thinking about when we were in office, which we might have done but never did, and that that is his justification for having done it. The position was, of course, that we had under consideration the amendment of the Meat Products Order the whole time I was at the Ministry of Food, but it is a very difficult matter—I am going to deal with the difficulties—and we took no action, except to produce the Webb sausage, which upset Members of the Conservative Party so much when they were on these benches. What I find very difficult to understand about the making of the present Order is how it came to be made when, in fact, it was made.

This Order has not taken into account at all the increased price of meat, which, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House, would shortly be imposed. Once we have the new prices for meat, the whole of this Order must be revoked and its comprehensive schedules scrapped. The interesting thing is that the Order was made on 11th March, which was the day the Chancellor made his Budget speech. In many quarters, particularly trade quarters, for instance, the tea trade, the belief has been expressed that the Ministry of Food was quite unprepared for the Chancellor's statement.

I think this action confirms that impression, because, if the Minister of Food had known that the Chancellor was going to announce an increase in the price of meat, and that that would be made in a short time, certainly very shortly after the municipal elections, obviously, he would not have made this Order at that time. He would have awaited the increase in the price of meat, which would have a consequent effect on all the products in this schedule. This only confirms the rumour that the Minister of Food was disregarded in this matter, and that his noble co-ordinator threatened his resignation.

Turning to the Order itself, I want to raise two specific and limited questions. I notice that, in the Order, we have a definition of meat, which, for the purposes of the Order, excludes poultry, game, rabbits, hares, venison and goats' flesh. I can understand quite well why that exclusion is made. It is to take this meat outside the limits of control, but, as I read the Order, it seems that this meat can no longer count as part of the actual meat content of the meat products in this Order. If that is so, is it a drafting error, or was it intended? If it was intended, why should these particular meats be excluded from the meat content of these products if the manufacturers should choose to use them? In any case, how can a provision like this be enforced?

My second question is, can the Parliamentary Secretary tell the House what effect this Order has upon cost margins? I use the phrase "cost margins" because I notice that in answer to a Question I asked today profit margin is treated in a very narrow form. I want to know, if possible, what effect this has on the margins of manufacturers or distributors.

As I have said, the amending of the previous Order was considered for a considerable time, but because of the very real difficulties we came up against no amending Order was, in fact, made. But, as I have indicated, I am in a charitable mood tonight, and I concede that from a drafting point of view the present Order is simpler than its predecessor, which depended on war-time legislation. But, having said that, I still think it is a difficult Order to follow except, perhaps, for my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) and his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). However, as I have conceded, it appears to me rather simpler than its predecessor.

My main objection to the present Order is the extent to which it increases prices of meat products. As the Explanatory Note says, "the prices of most meat products are increased." In fact, if we turn to the first group of prices as an example we find that pressed and cooked beef, mutton or lamb are increased by no less than 8d. a lb., that pressed and cooked ox or calf tongues are increased by no less than 11d. a lb., and that pressed and cooked pork by no less than 1s. 6d. a lb.

All these increases are, of course, quite apart from those that will be consequent upon the increase in the price of meat when that is made effective. They seem to me very substantial increases, and I think the burden is on the Parliamentary Secretary to explain why he chose this particular time to concede these price increases.

I know it must be a fine thing to be welcomed by the meat traders at Scarborough with the singing of "For he's a jolly good fellow," but the housewife is very upset at the increase in prices of these meat products at the very time when the meat ration is low and when the effects of the cuts in the imports of canned meats is beginning to have an effect in the shops. She now finds that she is not only getting considerably less meat and meat products than before, but that she is also having to pay more for what she gets. As I say, the burden is on the Parliamentary Secretary to explain why these price increases should now be imposed.

The amending Order also decontrols a number of products. I do not want to say more about decontrol than this. I think the burden again is on the Parliamentary Secretary to explain why he has chosen this time to decontrol these particular products knowing that decontrol will lead, as it has led, to increased prices. It is by Government action that supplies are being limited now, and I should have thought this was a most inopportune moment to decontrol even this limited range of meat products. Apart from these two factors there is a good deal to be said for the Order. It extends controls. I would point out this somewhat unexpected development from this Government to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling). It does some of the things we were intending to do, and as far as it does that I welcome it.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

It does not extend control to haggis.

Mr. Wiley

I thought the hon. Gentleman's interests went beyond haggis, but perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will explain the specific purpose of that decontrol.

What the Order does is to extend the range of price control. That is a good thing, and it is a good thing, for instance, to price control such meat products as Continental sausages. It also extends control in another way which, in principle at any rate, is desirable, and that is by extending the range about meat content requirements. But the question I put rather gently to the Parliamentary Secretary is whether this is quite the time to do that—because he made this point against me on a previous occasion—that while meat is short is it right and proper at that time to limit the availability of the canned meat products by increasing the meat content, particularly as the Government themselves by Government action are responsible for the reduction in these supplies.

I should also point out to the House that there is tucked away in this Order a price reduction to come into force in September, but because of the price increases in meat that will be still-born. Nevertheless, I would like to acknowledge this small endeavour of the Ministry even although it should be still-born, to reduce prices.

Finally, a word about sausages whose composition and price is controlled by this Order. For the purposes of this Order sausages become a specified food marked "(d)"and this is what the Seventh Schedule, paragraph 4, of the Order provides: Any skim milk used in the manufacture of a specified food marked '(d)' That is, in the old terminology of the previous Ministry, a sausage. We were more explicit in those days shall be deemed to be the equivalent to 5/3 of its own weight in meat for the purpose of assessing the meat content of the food, provided that the quantity of such milk powder does not exceed 6 per cent. of the total weight of the food. When, in the last Parliament, the Minister of Food made the amending Order about the sausage he was met with indignation by those who then sat on these benches. The hon. Baronet the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) denounced this as "grossly misleading." He went on to say: I am not over-stating my case when I say this is a gross swindle of the public … the Ministry of Food seems to have gone rather mad on this. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 1696.] He was not alone. He was supported by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport who expressed himself in equally strong terms. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury also classed this as a swindle and went on to relate it, in some way or other, to the closed shop issue and the Durham County Council, which must have made it particularly abhorrent to the Parliamentary Secretary. Will hon. Gentlemen behind the Parliamentary Secretary be consistent about this, or are they going to reveal that the so-called Prayer campaign of last year was just a farce. To use such words as "a swindle" is certainly to use very harsh language. But now the Parliamentary Secretary is asking them to support precisely the same definition.

As a matter of fact, it is worse than this, because the beef sausage, in addition to being for the purposes of this Order "a specified food marked '(d)',"is also "a specified food marked (f)'." In assessing the meat content of a specified food marked '(f),' any fat of vegetable origin used in its manufacture shall be deemed to be meat for this purpose, provided the total quantity of such fat so used does not exceed 25 per cent. of the prescribed minimum meat content. On the occasion when the Parliamentary Secretary spoke about the meat content of sausages, in November, 1950, he expressed himself with his usual vigour. He said: I will not weary the House Let me assure him that he never wearies the House— with any discourse on nutrition but, whereas oil has certain values in some forms, most of them of a lubricant rather than a nutritional character … I suggest that it would be more honest in an Order of this kind, laying down a minimum, if, in fact, the minimum really related to meat and did not permit vegetable oil to masquerade as meat for the Minister's purpose."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1950; Vol. 480, c. 1510.] Where does the Parliamentary Secretary stand this morning?

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

He is sitting.

Mr. Willey

He will have an opportunity to stand later.

The Order which he is now defending does precisely that which he complained of on that occasion. If he believed what he then said, why does he not take the opportunity, now that he has the responsibility and the authority, to alter the definition? If the sausage masqueraded then as a meat sausage, how does it come about that he is allowing it to do so again by virtue of the Order he has made and now expects the House to approve?

I said that the definition was precisely the same. In fact, that is not quite correct. The Explanatory Note states that the restriction on the use of soya is removed. Now we not only have the vegetable oils that were used before, but we have soya thrown in for good measure. I do not complain, but I wonder what the Parliamentary Secretary is going to say in view of what he previously said to the House.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to accede to the wishes of the meat traders who gave him such an uproarious reception, because they have demanded the revocation of this Order. I ask him to endeavour to get back his self-respect, and, finally, I ask him to show some regard for the housewives of this country and to avoid, where possible, any price increase.

1.4 a.m.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

I beg to second the Motion.

It is unfortunate that this debate has occurred at such a late hour, but let it be said that we desired to debate the Order one night last week when the House went very late and we thought it was only fair that at that hour the Prayer should be postponed. We still find ourselves in the unfortunate position of having to discuss this Order at a late hour, but in view of its importance we must pray against it on this occasion.

I want to admit straightaway that some time ago, certainly during the lifetime of the last Government, this Order might have been justified. I feel there was a period when there was a real need for it to be introduced. At that time there was a large importation of canned goods and prepared meats from many parts of the Continent, and manufacturers and retailers were "feeling a draught" because they had not the opportunity, owing to the low meat content fixed for canned and prepared meats of any kind, even sausages, to produce articles equal to the quality of the food coming from the Continent. Therefore, they claimed that there should be some improvement in meat content, and that there should be higher prices not only to bring these into line with the Continental meats.

But I suggest that all this has changed since the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his two announcements about the cut in the import of canned and prepared meats. Since those two cuts were made imports have been reduced to an infinitesimal amount. So, at one and the same time, the Minister of Food is saying higher meat content and higher prices, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer is saying no more importation. We consider that by this Order the form of protection and monopoly is not for the consumer interest. At the same time that the Order is introduced and the meat content laid down no alternative qualities are mentioned and no lower prices are available for people who want an article which is not of as high a quality.

It is significant that this Order is being prayed against on a day when we have been discussing unemployment in the Lancashire textile areas. There will be many people in the Lancashire industrial areas who, a month or two from now, or at all events by the time the Order comes into operation, will be hard put to it to pay for meat of any kind at all. When I think of the increased prices in this Order, the decreases in food subsidies, which will cause further increases in prices and add to that the Minister of Agriculture's latest announcement, and remember that in eight or nine months the prices of rationed meats will have gone up 8d. or 9d. a pound, and take into consideration the general rise in the cost of living and unemployment, particularly in the textile areas, I say that there is no justification whatever for this Order, whatever justification there might have been for it in the past.

Now about some of the practical aspects of the Order as I see them from my humble association with the trade. Will extra meat be available to enable the decision to allow a larger meat content to be met? My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey), has referred to speeches of the Parliamentary Secretary in the past. I would refer to what he said on 13th November, 1950. He asked: Has any additional meat been made available for this purpose?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1950; Vol. 480, c. 1510.] If that additional meat is not available then it is unfair to the home manufacturer and the home trader. We should have the right to ask the hon. Gentleman now that question which he asked my hon. Friend in reverse circumstances in November, 1950. It might be all right in August and September and down perhaps to Christmas. As soon as Christmas has turned and then to July, when supplies of home produced cattle are not available, he will have great difficulty in providing manufacturers with the increased meat content of the items in this Order.

Bearing in mind circumstances arising from incidents like the Australian drought I suggest it is doubtful whether meat can be provided to bring the Order into operation. The Ministry of Food are now using bacon factory pigs to maintain the present ration. If they are in straits like that in April they will have great difficulty in meeting the demands of this order. Will there be enough manufacturing meat to make up for the lack of Continental supplies imposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer? I would suggest that what we call bobby calves should be fed until they are ready for rationing or, alternatively, that they might be reared until they are beef rather than they should find their way into manufacturing at present. I am certain that they would meet the demand of the public more than if they were used merely for manufacturing purposes.

From my experience, and from knowledge passed to me by other members of the trade, I assert that in the case of pressed meats it is absolutely impossible to have a 95 per cent. meat content and use it properly. Most people buy quarter or half pounds, sliced. This is a small matter for the House of Commons, but it is a serious matter for people who have to deal with these things. It is impossible to slice a 95 per cent. content or to ensure that the whole of the mould of pressed meat shall be of 95 per cent. meat content. Surely, sooner or later, some trader will be in a mess about that, because a meat inspector or an enforcement officer on his track will take a sample and will say that far from there being a 95 per cent. meat content, the content might be 10 per cent.

I suggest that New Zealand and South America will never make a 95 per cent. meat content in pressed meats of any kind. Before the war, New Zealand used to send us a content of about 85 per cent. I am giving away a trade secret when I say that it was very common for traders to let down that 85 per cent. and make two moulds out of one, and that they had a very good sale even then. I say that purposely to stress my point that the 95 per cent. figure is totally impossible.

The Order deals with imported ham, on which there is no price control at a time when we are cutting supplies right off. In future, imported hams will not reach the ordinary consumer, and particularly the lower income groups, but will find their ways into catering establishments in the way of hotels and restaurants. I could go on ad infinitum with these practical points, but I do not want to take up the time of the House too long. I suggest, however, that the Order was made in consultation, perhaps, with the large packers, but certainly without consultation with small manufacturers and retailers at any point.

We heard a lot from the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. W. Fletcher) this afternoon about a breach in the Australian contracts and the difficulties in which it was landing this country. But the present British Government set the example in breach of contract last November, when contracts had been signed with Germany, France and Denmark for food that took a month to process and which was made ready for shipping. Those contracts were broken overnight, and the importers were refused licences. How can we expect other nations, even in the Commonwealth, to keep our contracts if our Government break them in that way?

My hon. Friend has said that had the Order been introduced when a Labour Government were in power, we should have found the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) having a whale of a time about the terms of the Order; the hon. Baronet the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) would have been having a whale of a time, although the word "whale" would have been spelt differently; and we should have found the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), who is now the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, gazing open-eyed at the Despatch Box opposite, with wrath exploding within him, at the terms of an Order of this kind.

How are we to expect ordinary traders, in small shops in the back streets, to understand a complicated Order of this nature? Imagine them wading through the Order, from one page to a schedule, and finding that (e), (d) or (f) applies and then having to turn over to another schedule to find how much meat they are to put into a sausage. The whole thing is ludicrous in the extreme.

Whilst these things have applied in the past, there is no excuse for continuing them now, and I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary should seriously look once more at the Order, because it will be completely out of date a few weeks from now. The Order talks about the 14th or 15th of September. By that time we shall feel the full effect of the cut in the food subsidies; we shall have the full effect of the increases as a result of the new agreement of the Ministry of Agriculture with farmers. I seriously suggest that this Order will never come into operation, and that new prices will have to be considered long before that time. It has been a waste of the time of the country and of the House for this Order to be laid.

1.21 a.m.

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

The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle), who seconded this Prayer, has painted a picture of what he says would have been the reaction of my hon. Friends had a Labour Government introduced this Order. I will shortly explain that the Labour Government were about to introduce this Order.

Mr. F. Willey

On a point of order. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to say that the Labour Government was about to introduce an Order which they were not about to introduce?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

That is not a matter for me to judge.

Dr. Hill

I am sorry that the mood of charity which the hon. Member declared himself as possessing earlier has departed so soon. But I repeat that, as the late Government were about to introduce an Order on the lines of the present Order, it is futile to contemplate the indignation which the hon. Gentleman says would have been aroused in my hon. Friends had that Order been made. That Order would have been made but for the impending Election.

Mr. Royle

I opened my speech by saying that the Order would have been justified in those days, in the different circumstances.

Dr. Hill

I accept that, and will be dealing with it a little later in my observations.

The hon. Member also referred to the complexity of this Order, and the difficulty which a small trader would have in understanding it. I have a great deal of sympathy with him on that point. But he ought to have listened to his hon. Friend, who, in the one kindly thing that he said in his observations, made clear that this Order is shorter and more simple than the Order of 1948 which it replaces.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) discarding the pallid indignation which he generally assumes on these occasions, described himself as being in a charitable mood; and well he might be, for this is just the final stage in a sequence of events with which he was intimately associated. He well knows that the recasting of the Order of 1948 was long overdue, and that it was something which the Government of which he was a member might well have undertaken.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North, referred, with justice, to certain observations of my hon. Friends and myself on the sausage, and the mode of describing the meat content of that mysterious article. I say to him that this Order takes within itself the requirements in relation to the sausage existing when it was made. When it becomes possible, as I hope it will soon, to modify these requirements in the direction of greater meat content, both of beef and pork sausages, we shall certainly dispense with that old and misleading formula under which dried milk powder and vegetable oil are permitted to be deemed to be meat for the purposes of the percentage; and we shall put into practical form the criticisms which we properly directed against the formula applied to the sausage in the Order as it stood last year, and embodied, I admit, without change in this Order. We would not wish to add to the complexities of the description of sausage content unless and until it becomes possible to vary the actual meat content of the sausage. When that moment comes the hon. Member will find, possibly to his dismay, that what we said in Opposition will be made effective on this side of the House.

Mr. F. Willey

Surely the difference between us was that the hon. Gentleman said then that it was wrong to allow such a sausage to masquerade as a meat sausage. He had the opportunity, when recasting, as he says, this Order, of dealing with that point. May I take the occasion of making quite clear to him before he develops his argument further, that I raised two specific points about the Order and pointed out that, in some respects, I approved of it. The points to which I drew his attention were the price and specific matters of decontrol. He knows as well as I do that there was no question of either being considered by my right hon. Friend or myself.

Dr. Hill

I suggest that it is quite unnecessary for the hon. Member to repeat his speech; I will deal with the points he raised. At the moment I am dealing with vegetable oil and dried milk powder masquerading as meat in the formula of the sausage as contained in the Order last year.

The hon. Member for Salford, West clearly speaks with great knowledge on this matter. I had an opportunity of meeting his father and his brother last week at a conference to which I went publicly to espouse and defend the policy of Her Majesty's Government instead of sending a telegram. Whereas the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, would have us believe that the Order he seeks to annul is wickedness itself, the hon. Member who seconded the Prayer told the House that it was all right until a month ago. I quote his words; it was all right until a month ago—I am not insisting on the period, I know quite well what he means. The hon. Member says that only in the last month or so has it become sufficiently bad to condemn. He referred to the new factor of the reduced importation of canned meats from the Continent. He said, indeed, that they had become infinitesimal or had been abolished.

Mr. Royle


Dr. Hill

Oh no, the reduction of canned meats to 75 per cent. of the figure obtaining before the cut is not to make those imports infinitesimal. The reduction by a quarter does not make them infinitesimal. There has been a reduction, admittedly—

Mr. F. Willey

More than a quarter.

Dr. Hill

In the case of canned meat products—for fear the hon. Member either did not hear or does not recall—the reduction was by one quarter; in the case of canned ham it was substantially more. The cut in ham was by three-quarters to a quarter, but in the case of canned meat the reduction was not as great as he himself suggested.

The hon. Member for Salford, West went on to some practical points which I am anxious to deal with in the time available to me. He asked me to prophesy about additional manufacturing meat. He will not be surprised if I resist his invitation to prophesy about the future position of meat generally and of manufacturing meat in particular. He said that we were driving pork from bacon to the meat ration to sustain it.

That is not true. The pork that goes to the meat ration or manufacture consists of bacon rejects and there is no deliberate policy on the part of the Government, just as there was no deliberate policy on the part of the previous Government, to drive pork away from bacon. The hon. Member went on to refer to the impossibility of slicing a meat product of 95 per cent. meat content. All I can say is that those representatives of the trade whom we consulted prior to the preparation of this Order did not share his opinion.

I want to remind the House of the real justification for putting this Order forward now. I admit forthwith that the Order does not embody such increases in the prices of meat as may follow from the pronouncement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in connection with the reduced "ceiling" of food subsidies, and clearly an amendment of this Order will, in due course, be necessary to meet that point.

The Order of 1948 which has hitherto governed the position had a war-time derivation. In those days home-produced products were rigidly controlled with the main purpose of spreading the available meat over the widest possible quantity of products. On the other hand, in the field of imports, the purpose was to secure the maximum concentration of meat so as to take the fullest advantage of the limited shipping space available. These two opposing derivations led to the complexities and anomalies in this Order in the years since the war; and when in July, 1950, the Government purchase of canned meat imports ceased—except for canned corned meat—and private purchase was resumed, obvious anomalies arose. For one thing, imported items not included in Government purchases in previous years were not price-controlled and became admissible, quite free of price control; with the result that, for example, imported jellied veal was free of price control and home-produced jellied veal was price-controlled.

Moreover, the home manufacturer was precluded in some cases from manufacturing products which were being imported, notably pork in natural juice. Again, some imported prices were fixed so low as to preclude the importation of available meat products at a time when we needed them. It was therefore decided, in the autumn of 1950, to bring this obsolete Order up to date and to place the home producer on a level with the importer and the foreign producer in this matter.

I admit that difficulties soon arose, notably the negotiations with the Argentine; those steady, but persistent, negotiations that took a year and 10 days for their completion. But in the spring of 1951, discussions began on the instructions of my right hon. and gallant Friend's predecessor, aided by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, between the Ministry and manufacturers, with a view to a revision of the Order to bring it up to date. The collection of costings began, too, in the spring of 1951. By October, 1951, the material was ready for the revised Order, but the General Election came—and this is no time at which to discuss the motives which led the party opposite to go to the country at that time.

The General Election came, and, inevitably, delay followed, but in March this year the Order came into operation. So the hon. Gentleman who anticipated that it would never come into operation has lost sight of the fact that it is in operation today, and, judging by the attendance on the benches opposite, I doubt whether the Order will be annulled this morning.

What are the purposes of the Order? They are to bring prices up to date as near as may be, and there are some increases of price involved. The increases of price relate to increases since 1948 in costs apart from meat—costs of labour, of canning, of transport, of ingredients other than meat. For even though there was an amendment of the 1948 Order in July of last year, it was concerned merely with translating into the Order the increased price of meat.

Secondly, the Order has relaxed control where control is unnecessary. It may disturb the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, when he learns that, in the field of decontrol, there has been, for the most part, no increase, and there has been, in some cases, a decrease of price following decontrol, showing that the controls which it has now been possible to abolish were unnecessary in any case and were kept on for the sake of control.

Thirdly, the Order has applied price control equally to the home product and the imported product; something which, I am sure, friends of the hon. Gentleman will appreciate is fair and reasonable. Fourthly, it has specified the minimum meat contents over a wider field. I believe that to be a sensible and desirable thing to do—to ensure for the purchaser a guarantee of a minimum meat content in practically all the products covered by this Order. It permits the home manufacturer to manufacture anything that is allowed to be imported—equally a measure of common fairness—and it gives up defining the indefinable. This is no hour at which to discuss the contents of the haggis, but I give that as an example of a nutritious article which is indefinable in terms of an Order to be laid before this House.

One doubt—let me frankly admit it—which confronted my right hon. and gallant Friend was whether to abolish this Order in its entirety, or to seek to bring it up to date and make it reasonably comprehensive. There is no midway course, for to have had a situation in which some items were controlled and some uncontrolled might have led to the diversion of raw materials into those commodities not subject to price control at the expense of those subject to price control.

My right hon. and gallant Friend had very considerable doubts on this subject. It would not have filled me with dismay had, in fact—perhaps I am now exaggerating—the benches opposite been so strong as to annul this Order, for there is very considerable doubt in our minds as to whether this Order should have been made. It has been made for, I hope, a relatively short time to deal with the anomalies which the previous Government left unresolved, but it is hoped that at an early date it will be possible to sweep away control from this field.

As the hon. Gentleman suggested, it was largely the cuts in imports, which had to be imposed as a result of the disastrous condition in which the party opposite left the country's finances, which made us feel that the moment was inopportune to do a thing we wished to do and which we will do at the first appropriate opportunity. But I do not defend this Order with any sense of pride. Indeed, it is with a certain reluctance that I defend an Order which seeks to clear up the appalling mess into which this field had got. But I hope that the fact that I do defend it with moderate and charitable vigour tonight will not be taken as expressing approval of this kind of restriction in this kind of field. The sooner we can be done with it the better, and my right hon. Friend intends at the first opportunity, which I hope will be soon, to release this field.

The hon. Member asked me about the definition of the word "meat." I wondered, as he raised that point, with what wording he would replace this definition: "Meat means bacon, ham, beef, mutton, lamb, veal, pork and edible offal." What else does he think the word "meat" could be defined as meaning, even in the legal phraseology of this Order? That is a definition which is so approaching common sense as almost to make one suspicious when it appears in the interpretation clause of an Order. All I can say is that the hon. Gentleman, as a rule so vigorous and eloquent, confesses his inability to attack his own child by relying on a criticism of so obvious and sensible a definition of that all too rare commodity, meat.

1.44 a.m.

Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)

I do not propose to detain the House very long. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I do not want remarks like that from across the floor because I am entitled, if I catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, to ask the Parliamentary Secretary for further information. I especially do not want to be interrupted by the somnambulant sounds from the hon. Gentleman opposite. I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary minds my rising, and I certainly do not mind his having the right to reply again on the matters I want to raise in relation to this Order.

I have no intention of delaying the House for a great length of time though I could prolong my speech by reminding the Parliamentary Secretary in greater detail of the speech he made in November, 1950, on the subject of sausages. It is quite easy to paraphrase that speech. The exact wording which he criticised at that time is now embodied in the Order. I am not concerned with recriminations here, but although the Parliamentary Secretary may know very little about twisting sausages I cannot claim the same for him about words. All that he has been saying tonight has been a clever bluff, a clever bit of camouflage. In reality he has seen the light. The Order to which he is a party is an act of penitence in spite of the improbability of him saying that he was wrong.

The Parliamentary Secretary has agreed that the price increases in this Order do not include the potential increases in respect of the Budget proposals. I do not want the public to be deceived. I want them to know beyond ambiguity that there are further increases coming. It does not matter whether the Parliamentary Secretary has to eat his words. What matters is that the public should know that there are more increases for them to swallow. I want them to know that the price increases under this Order have nothing to do with the price increases that will take place in consequence of the Budget proposals in spite of the coincidence in date.

This Order does, in certain cases, improve the standard of certain meat products because the percentage of meat content has been improved. For that we are glad. We do not yield to the Parliamentary Secretary in our desire for a higher standard of food. But how long will this last? Can the Parliamentary Secretary guarantee that the meat content will remain as it is in this Order when the peak home-killed meat has gone during this year? The question is, where will the meat come from and how will it be secured? Imports have been cut, in accordance with the Budget proposals, and the meat content must be increased.

But where are we to get the meat from when our home-killed meat has ceased to supply the quantity we need in the coming season? The supply cannot come from New Zealand, because we have not got the refrigerator ships to bring it. Is the supply to come from the Argentine? The Parliamentary Secretary will, no doubt, correct me if I am wrong, but I think the Protocol has already expired, and I understand that there are no negotiations with the Argentine at the moment which will enable us to have the meat when the home-killed supply has finished.

What a pity that the Ministry of Food cannot persuade the meat importers to implement their desire to eliminate bulk purchase. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary: Is it not true that they would rather not undertake the task on behalf of the Ministry of Food in the Argentine because they know that they would have to settle at a higher price than we settled, which would contradict their own argument in respect of bulk buying?

Dr. Hill

That is not true.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

House counted, and, 40 Members not being present, the House was adjourned at Five Minutes to Two o'Clock a.m. till this day.