HC Deb 27 February 1952 vol 496 cc1143-5
48. Miss Elaine Burton

asked the Minister of Food how far the agreement of a 15-year meat pact with New Zealand represents a change of policy by Her Majesty's Government towards bulk buying and long-term agreements.

The Minister of Food (Major Lloyd George)

None, Sir. This is not an undertaking that the British Government will buy New Zealand meat, for 15 years or for any term, but that for that period New Zealand shall be free to send all her surplus here without restriction of quantity.

Miss Burton

Would not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that that is a splitting of hairs? Is he further aware that one of the things which the British public understood at the last Election was that Members opposite were against any form of bulk agreement such as we have had in the last few years?

Major Lloyd George

I do not agree with the suggestion that this is a splitting of hairs. This is a question of giving the New Zealand producers a guarantee that we will take all—[Laughter.] That is not quite so humorous as hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to think, because before the war there were quantitative restrictions on Dominion imports to this country. This is an assurance that, whether it be by Government purchase or individual purchase, this country will take all they can produce for 15 years.

Miss Burton

May I ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman what Government was in power before the war and which Government first introduced these bulk agreements?

Major Lloyd George

The Government which instituted bulk agreements was the late Government and they made an agreement which does not expire until 1955. We made it perfectly clear at all times when discussing bulk buying that we would under no circumstances break any contracts already made.

Mr. R. E. Winterbottom

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake on behalf of the Government to extend this principle of long-term purchasing to both Australia and the Argentine?

Major Lloyd George

Australia already has a 15 years' agreement.

Mrs. Jean Mann

Without the foresight of a Labour Government over bulk purchase, can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say what the ration would be today?

Major Lloyd George

I should think that if we had not had bulk purchase immediately after the war the ration would be much greater than it is today.

Hon. Members


Mr. Cyril Osborne

Is the Minister aware that the people of this country are not a bit interested in whether the meat is purchased by private agreement or by bulk purchase? What they are interested in is getting more meat.

Mr. Henry Usborne

In view of what the Minister said earlier, is it not correct that the difference between the policy of this Government and the previous one is that whereas that Government agreed with bulk purchase, this Government agrees with even bigger bulk purchases?

Major Lloyd George

I think the hon. Gentleman is getting a little mixed, if I may say so. There is a great difference in concluding an agreement with a definite provision that it does not preclude private purchase when the time comes. This does not tie us to 15 years' bulk purchase; it is simply an assurance to the producers that this market is open to them.

Mr. Douglas Jay

Yes, but can the Minister explain how the necessary assurance could be given to the producers without Government purchases?

Major Lloyd George

We have done the same thing in regard to sugar. The sugar traders are perfectly happy with their agreement and are prepared to take it over. I am satisfied that the same obtains with regard to this.