HC Deb 07 July 1952 vol 503 cc1032-51

10.37 p.m.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

I beg to move: That an humble address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Meat (Prices) (Great Britain) Order, 1952 (S.I., 1952, No. 1122). dated 6th June, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th June, be annulled. It may be for the convenience of the House if we also discuss the following Prayer, which is in identical terms and relates to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. Member suggest that we take the three Prayers together or only the first two?

Mr. Royle

Only the first two, Sir.

The purpose of the Order we are now discussing which we on this side of the House are praying against is to increase the meat prices which followed the subsidy reductions announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech. The increased meat prices are now actually in operation, and it is our desire tonight to show reason why the Order should be annulled so that we might go back to the prices which prevailed before the Order was tabled.

As it has been done so often before, it is not my intention to quote from speeches of Lord Wootton, or the Minister, or the Parliamentary Secretary. We have done that so often, and it is generally accepted that they made a mistake in their Election speeches. I shall therefore resist the temptation to quote from them again. In fairness to the Government, I should point out that the Order which we are discussing ought to be considered with Order No. 1121 which was placed on the Table at the same time, because we do not see the whole picture if we do not consider them together. The previous Order was laid so as to increase the ration.

I can see the Government's point of view in tabling two Orders at the same time, one of which increases the meat ration and the other increasing the price of meat. But I do not understand, and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary when he comes to reply will make it clear, why it was necessary to table an Order relating to the actual increase in the meat ration. For many years we have been accustomed to ration fluctuations. In 1951, for example, the ration varied from 10d. at one time to 2s. 2d. at another. And that was on the old prices.

Obviously there is nothing sacrosanct in a ration of 1s. 2d. or 1s. 7d. a week. All that was necessary, so far as I can understand it, was for the Wholesale Meat Association, or the retail buying groups, to be notified that it was possible to give more or less according to the seasonal supplies. This makes me suspect that these two Orders were tabled at the same time for the purpose of deceiving the housewife by hiding the price increase beneath the ration increase. I think the Government hoped that the housewife, because she felt she is getting a little more meat, would forget that she would have to pay a great deal more for it.

The increase in the meat ration which we are now considering is from 1s. 2d. a week to 1s. 7d. The average increase in price is 4d. a pound. On some joints it is more, on others it is not as much, but I think the Ministry have done a good job in their averaging because the overall increase is only 4d. But it should be made clear that the actual increase in the ration is only 2d. or thereabouts. I can remember the illustrious father of the present Minister of Food, who became well-known for the catch phrase "Nine-pence for fourpence" It may be that his son in turn will be remembered for the catch phrase "Twopence for fivepence," because he is charging an extra fivepence for twopenny worth of meat. This Prayer is aimed at showing how this Order affects the consumer, particularly those in the low wages groups.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

In Hankey Park.

Mr. Royle

Yes, in Hankey Park, which is a very well-known part of my constituency. Although there is part of the subsidy still remaining, meat prices are now about 60 per cent. above those in the days immediately before the war. The sharp increase which has just been imposed on the housewife is hitting her, and her family, very hard indeed. Many butchers are no longer rationing their customers—and I say that with some knowledge of the situation; they do not need to do it, particularly in mixed districts, where there is one section of the community who can afford the price of meat, and another section who can no longer afford it. It is no use the Minister coming to the House, as he did last week —I think it was last week—and saying that these rationed foods are being taken up completely, or almost wholly taken up.

I suggest very seriously to the Minister that a large mass of our people today are refusing rationed goods because they are simply unable to pay for them. Therefore, those who can afford these foods are having an advantage in the butchers' shops and other shops selling other commodities. They are reaping a benefit to the detriment of those who can no longer afford the extra meat.

The Parliamentary Secretary may well argue that the Labour Government's last Minister of Food, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, Central (Mr. Maurice Webb), also increased the meat ration in 1951; but he did it on the eve of a General Election.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

Increased the price.

Mr. Royle

Thank you; he increased the price. But that was just before a General Election. We on this side are often accused of not doing things which might have reflected against us when elections were pending, but that last price increase took place only a short time before we went to the country.

Therefore, I say that doing what we did, at the time we did it, proved the necessity for the rise; and, let it be remembered that our price rise was as nothing compared with that now being suggested by the present Government. In fact, from 1945 to 1951, the total increases on the average cuts amounted to 7d. in 6¼ years. This Government increases the price by 4d. in eight months, and if it went on for 6¼ years, well, God forbid. At the present rate of increase, instead of it being 7d., it would be 3s. for 6¼ years. So, the Government have started well in keeping meat away from the people in greatest need of it.

There may be other arguments used opposite about our increase of the price of meat, but the 1951 increase was due to rises in the prices charged to us by our Dominions and by Argentina, and also by the increased home production costs. The House realises that these home production increases falling on the farmers and the home producers had to be met.

Mr. Osborne

'Surely the two increases made by the Labour Government had to be imposed in order to keep within the ceiling imposed by Sir Stafford Cripps. The increases we are discussing have to be imposed in order to keep within the ceiling imposed by this year's Budget.

Mr. Royle

I am much obliged for that intervention. Let us remember that Sir Stafford Cripps imposed a ceiling which did not amount to a reduction, but the present Chancellor of the Exchequer imposed a reduction in the food subsidies.

It was the present Chancellor of the Exchequer who cut the food subsidies by £150 million. My right hon. Friend was compelled to increase meat prices as a direct result of the increased charges by the Argentine and the Dominions and the extra costs arising in home production. Thus, in the case of the Labour Government the price increase was absolutely unavoidable, whereas the 1952 increases are due directly to the cuts in the subsidy announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech and were, therefore, avoidable.

In order to try to indicate the case which I have to make, I will not simply state my own point of view but will quote from trade leaders on this question of price increases. The President of the National Federation of Meat Traders, the retail organisation, is reported as saying, on 26th May: I am certain that when the new prices come into operation we butchers will find that book debts will increase very drastically because the meat will have gone up to such a price that people will have difficulty in paying for it. A prominent executive member of the same organisation, representing the South-Eastern part of England, said this on 16th June: In working class districts traders are already having difficulty in selling the higher priced cuts. The new range of prices will create an impossible position in many shops. The Sheffield Meat Traders' Association passed a Resolution which contained these words: It would be in the best interests of the country if the prices of meat were maintained at a figure within the purchasing power of all sections of the community. On 26th June, only last week, the Presi dent of the National Federation of Meat Traders said: Only this morning I was in my shop and a leg of Canterbury lamb came to 17s. To me that seemed a lot of money, and that is the view of the customer. I am in entire agreement with those statements. and I say categorically that the lower income groups cannot buy rump steak at 3s. 4d. a lb. or sirloin at 3s. a lb. of lamp chops at 3s. 4d. a lb. In fact, the Government are saying to these lower income groups, "You buy the rougher cuts and the poorer quality if you can and leave the choice cuts to the expensive hotels and restaurants and the richer homes." There is no doubt about it; that is the way we can read these price increases.

I want to give three examples of what I feel these price increases mean, and I will take them from three cuts of meat: and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will look into these matters as I quote them. I take the most expensive cut—rump steak. Before the price rise, with a ration of 1s. 2d., and the price at 3s. a lb., a family of four would be able to receive 1 lb. 9 oz. and would pay 4s. 8d. for it. With the price increase, the ration became 1s. 7d., and, with the meat at 3s. 4d. a lb., a family of four now get 1 lb. 14 oz. and they pay 6s. 4d. for it. So an additional 5 ozs. of meat for that family costs 1s. 8d.

Take a cheaper cut, brisket of beef. The ration was Is. 2d., and it was 1s. 2d. a lb. before the increase. A family of four got 4 lb., and paid 4s. 8d. With the ration increased, and the price increased to Is. 6d., they now get 4 lb. 4 oz. and pay 6s. for it., the ¼ lb. costing 1s. 4d. extra. For a leg of lamb, when the family got 4 lb. they paid 4s. 8d.; now they pay 2s. 10d. a lb. and get 2¼ lb. for 6s. 8d., and 4 oz. extra in that case costs 1s. 8d. more for that family.

We are seriously concerned about this state of affairs. Many thousands of people on the industrial areas are receiving wages of £6 weekly and less. I think about the man and wife with two children at school who are today, because of this rise in meat prices, and perhaps the 1s. 8d. worth of offal added to it, having to use one-fifteenth part of their income to provide a basis for four meals.

I think I can claim to speak not only for the consumers in the industrial areas but for the traders in this industry also. I know of their anxiety that because of these increased prices the ration will not be taken up by the people who need it most. I would warn the Parliamentary Secretary to look for a little transference of meat going on—for instance, a transference from the Old Kent Road to Mayfair and. in Manchester, from Ancoats to Dkisbury. That sort of thing may be going on even now. I am certain that it will occur before many weeks have elapsed. We are appalled at offal prices.

This Order, following a string of increases in many foods, is a severe blow at the purse of the housewife. It will strike a severe blow at the nutritional standards which the late Government built up. We are proud of those standards, and of the health of the people. Cuts in the Health Services and in the capacity to buy good food will deeply affect these standards. These increases make the Chancellor of the Exchequer's appeals for wage claims restraint a mockery. I ask the House to reject this Order by supporting this Prayer, and so to show its contempt for this further attack on the people.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I beg to second the Motion.

I should like, first, to ask why there is no representative from the Treasury on the Front Bench opposite? Why have we only the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food? He is only doing what he is told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I should not object if the Deputy Patronage Secretary intervened to speak for the Treasury.

Why has the Minister set the trade by the ears? The Minister said that he was doing exactly what we did before; but the circumstances are entirely different. The Chancellor had already announced this 4d. increase and the Minister could have had official consultation with the Federation. Why did not he receive a deputation from the traders as he was asked to do and why did he not send a copy of the Schedule to the traders before he sent it to the press? Why have these two resolutions from the Meat Traders' Federation on the record, condemning the Minister? Why should he be so flatfooted and upset so many people when he does anything so unpopular as this?

With regard to the price increases I should like to draw his attention to the statement made in the "Meat Traders' Journal," which said: All first quality home-killed cuts of beef with bone are up 4d., boneless top side, silverside, thick flank, sirloin and wing ribs are raised 6d. per lb. and items such as leg, shin, neck or clod sticking have been increased by 4d. and skirt by 2d. The popular cuts of mutton and lamb and practically all pork cuts are 6d. per lb. more. The biggest increase is 8d. a lb. on imported lamb chops, imported boneless leg, loin or best end of lamb. Cuts of veal are all 2d. per lb. more, boneless 4d. How are we to get an average of 4d. a lb. on those figures? The Parliamentary Secretary knows that this is going to work out at more than 4d.

I should like him to answer the following questions: Is it the Government's intention to eliminate the meat subsidy altogether? My hon. Friend referred to meat as bearing a subsidy. Is that, in fact, the case? If so, what is the unit subsidy on a lb. of meat? When the Chancellor made his statement the results of the Price Review were not known, and no conclusions had been reached. How much is allowed in this price increase for the increase due to the farmers under the Farm Prices Review?

What do the increases paid to the farmers under that Price Review mean in terms of a unit subsidy? If we pay increased prices for meat from the Argentine it will be reasonable to expect increased prices for meat from New Zealand and Australia. Will this mean that we shall have still further retail price increases?

Finally the Parliamentary Secretary has been saving meat which could have been put on the ration. I gather that the Ministry of Food have been putting imported meat into cold storage. By doing that they will be able to sell that meat later at an increased price. What has this meant in terms of subsidy? How much have they saved?

In the debate last week the Minister said: … the subsidy bill for the financial year 1952–53 is estimated at about £310 million. Our decision to time these price increases in this way may also be assisted by some change in world price levels, which are already apparent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th June, 1952; Vol. 503, c. 61.] In other words, the Minister said that by putting off further price increases he was getting the benefit of the collapse in freight charges. There are some foods, such as some types of oils, oil seed and most animal feedingstuffs, which have been falling in price. In short he is saying, "I am reducing the food subsidy ceiling this year to £310 million. I am reducing it by £100 million and when I come to the further price increases what will be the position? The world prices of some foodstuffs will be falling and the cost of freight to the Ministry will be at least halved."

The Minister has said—and I quote his own figures; not those of the Parliamentary Secretary, which are often wrong—in reply to Questions that the present price increases, including meat, will save £129 million on food subsidies this year. So he has already saved £29 million over the £100 million, and he is looking forward later in the year to save money by the collapse in the freight charges and the fall in world food prices.

In that case, why have the Minister and the Chancellor imposed these price increases, recouping already £129 million or, to quote the figure of the Parliamentary Secretary, considerably more?

Mr. Speaker

We must confine the debate to meat; otherwise, it will stray too wide on this Order.

Mr. Wiley

I have no desire to stray widely, Sir. I am only trying to put this in its proper context.

The case for this price increase and the cut in the subsidies has been the result of the fiscal policy of the present Government. That has led to a deliberate, conscious increase in the cost of living of the people. In these circumstances, it is hypocritical to ask people not to take the course to which they are naturally driven when such price increases are imposed upon them. I believe the desire of the Ministry goes farther. They intend, if they should have the opportunity, to decontrol before the supplies of meat will be adequate to meet the legitimate and proper demands of the people of this country.

That is not only my view. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle), quoted the President of the Meat Traders' Association. I will also quote him. Mr. Curry recently said: I do feel that we have to face up to the fact that the present Government's policy is to end controls as soon as possible. That is not a very enthusiastic welcome to the Government's intentions by the traders themselves. Mr. Curry has also said: These new prices will lead us to de-control sooner than otherwise. That will be as anti-social and disastrous to the economic stability of this country as the present action of the Government.

11.7 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey), started his Prayer, if he will allow me to say so, rather offensively and aggressively. Indeed, he is rapidly acquiring a reputation as the greatest prayer in public in the country. I sometimes wonder why he is so persistent a prayer.

As the hon. Gentleman was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, he should know full well that these Prayers produce no results. When Prayers were put to him, they were met with a stony silence. Further, the hon. Gentleman knows the facts of this business. If he were a back bencher, who knew nothing about the world food situation, I could understand some of his Prayers, but he really does know the meat position. In producing the arguments which he has put before us tonight, and which his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) produced too, with much more reason and more fairly, he has not helped the poor people for whom his hon. Friend was sincerely pleading.

The hon. Gentleman knows full well that last year his Government sent to the Argentine a Minister to argue the price of meat. As a result, meat prices had to be increased against the inclinations of hon. Members sitting on these benches. His Government had no choice in the matter because the people of the Argentine, with whom the Minister argued for about eight weeks, refused to sell us their meat at a cheap price.

They would not sell it as cheaply as we wanted, for this reason. Last year, the Argentine Government asked for an increase which the previous Government had to accept, to £128 a ton, which represented roughly 1s. a lb. At pre-war prices, it would have been roughly 4d. a lb. There were hon. Members in this House who said they would not be blackmailed by the Argentine into paying this higher price because it would cause them to impose higher prices, against which this Prayer is directed The Argentine said, quite rightly, that we were charging them five-and-a-half times as much for our coal, and that, if we did that, they were perfectly entitled to ask three times as much for their meat.

The two hon. Members who moved and seconded this Prayer are doing a great disservice to the ordinary people of this country by suggesting that by Government action cheaper meat will ever again be possible. It will not. We have to face the fact that meat will cost us a good deal more in the future—not less—whatever Government is in power. Meat that has been sold in the free market between Canada and America is fetching £400 a ton—which is roughly 3s. 6d. a pound.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North, speaking with great feeling—which I appreciate—said that this Order would result in rationing meat by the purse, which he, supported by many of his hon. Friends, says is a great social evil. With that point of view I have a great deal of sympathy, but I wish to ask hon. Members if they think rationing by the purse is always and in every circumstance socially wrong, because if they do, they should say so; and if they say so, they should practise it themselves. [An HON. MEMBER: "In what way?"]

There are hon. Members opposite, I believe, who not only believe in rationing by the purse for meat, but for clothes as well. Some go to Savile Row, some to Montague Burton's. Hon. Members can choose to which they go. In this House I have heard it said on many occasions that some hon. Members cannot afford to go into the Dining Room because meat and other prices are so dear. They have to eat in the Tea Room. This is rationing by the purse. Some hon. Members opposite can go into the Dining Room and feed, some go into the Tea Room, and when we have all-night Sittings, I have seen hon Members and right hon. Gentlemen opposite go home in fine cars, while others have to walk—

Mr. Speaker

This is really getting very wide of the subject of this Order.

Mr. Osborne

I shall not pursue the point further, Sir, except to say that hon. Members must honestly face this dilemma: do they really believe that we should all have absolute equality in meat and other things? If so, they should say so, and start to practise it themselves.

My last point is that, with the Australians not being able to send us meat in the future as they did in the past, with greater demand being made on meat supplies from New Zealand in the future, with Argentina sending us only a fifth of what they sent us before the war, there will have to be a greater reduction in the supply of meat, and prices will go up. Hon. Members should go to their constituents and say that our only hope of getting cheaper meat is to produce our own in greater abundance and at a cheaper rate.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

I only want to make a few small points, because I notice that there are four lists in the First Schedule. I see that home-killed sirloin and wing ribs are 3s. a lb. In Scotland boned brisket is 2s. 6d. a pound. If I remember rightly —and my hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong—in between the wars there was a vast gap, and much greater than this between brisket and sirloin. I believe I am right in saying that sirloin at 3s. a lb. is not more than 50 per cent. above the pre-war price, while best quality home-killed beef and brisket seems about 150 per cent. above the pre-war price—at least in Scotland.

Brisket in England and Wales is 1s. 10d. a lb. In Scotland it is 2s. 6d. a lb. Scotland is paying more. Beef, lamb and mutton, and pork in England and Wales and in Scotland are nearly the same price. But when we come to beef we get this huge gap. Why? Why should a Scots working-class housewife have to pay 8d. a lb more for boneless brisket than the housewife in England and Wales?

I know very well that Scottish beef is far superior to English beef. If that is the case why is it that fillet steak is 3s. a lb. and the same price in Scotland? The housewife in Scotland who can afford to buy the more expensive cuts pays the same as the English housewife, but the working-class people in Scotland who have to buy the coarser joints have to pay more than the working-class people in England.

I ask the Minister to take this Order back and remedy this state of affairs. When the Scottish housewives learn about this the Housewives League may be re-formed in Scotland and strong protests will be made to the Parliamentary Secretary if he allows this discrepancy to continue. I beg the hon. Gentleman to change this Schedule and bring Scottish brisket within the same price level as English.

11.18 p.m.

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

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) moved this Prayer in a reasoned speech, directing his remarks not so much to the application of the increase to the various joints but to certain general considerations. He began by asking why it was necessary by Order to change the ration from time to time. Would it not be preferable, he asked, to modify the ration according to the circumstances of the moment by increasing or decreasing supplies through the wholesale channels.

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that it is abundantly necessary—I am not seeking to score a debating point here—for the housewife to know at any time what is the ration to which she is entitled. So it becomes necessary for the quantities of meat going through the wholesalers to the retail buying groups and the retail butchers to be carefully controlled so that there may be uniformity in the ration and in distribution of meat to provide that ration.

The second point the hon. Gentleman raised was the coincidence of the increases in the meat ration and in meat prices. He stated the position accurately, as my right hon. and gallant Friend stated it; the increase of ration is approximately 2d., and the increase of price approximately 3d. per week. I say approximately 2d., for if we measure the increase at the old prices it comes to slightly less than 2d.—1d. and 18/22d.—and at the new prices a small fraction over 2d.

The hon. Gentleman then raised the larger question of the effect on the lower wage consumer, a point to which his hon. Friend referred in terms of greater indignation than argument when, in his speech, he sought to prove his anger rather than his case.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) was in my position when an increase of 3d. as compared with the present 4d. was applied. He may recall the procedure used in translating into terms of retail prices an increase per lb. which is applied to the whole carcase, and indeed to all kinds of carcase. It is not an easy task. When the increase was 3d. the principles applied were approximately the same as those applied now.

Firstly, the task is the very difficult one of seeking, as it were, to imitate the free market by finding what is the proper relationship among prices for the different kinds of joint. That was done on the advice of the trade. The hon. Member waxed indignant about the fact that the Meat Traders' Federation itself was not officially consulted for this purpose. What was done was exactly the same as was done in his day. The Minister consulted a representative committee of persons, but not a committee appointed by the Federation itself. Among those people were names well-known in the trade: Mr. Baldwin, a past president of the Federation comes to mind; Mr. Salisbury was another. There were proper consultations with the people deemed by the Minister to be the appropriate people for the purpose.

Then came the second consideration; in seeking to distribute the 4d. increase, firstly throughout the wholesale field and, secondly, to the retail cuts, a high share of the increase was placed as far as possible on certain of the more expensive cuts of meat and a lesser share on some of the cheaper cuts. I do not claim any especial virtue for that. It was the principle which our predecessors sought to apply. But the hon. Member for Sunderland, North would wish to have it both ways in his examples, as in the examples given by the hon. Member for Salford, West. He takes certain of the more expensive cuts and refers to the substantial increases in the prices of those, ignoring the fact that those increases which exceed the average make possible the increases below the average for certain of the cheaper cuts.

Mr. Bence

The increases on the cheaper cuts are more than the increases on the expensive cuts.

Mr. Boyle

We quoted the low-priced cuts in demand in working-class areas.

Mr. Bence

Half-a-crown a lb. for brisket, which was 6d. a lb. before the war.

Dr. Hill

I am coming to the particular and peculiar problem of brisket in Scotland a little later, and I assure the hon. Member that I shall deal faithfully with his point. The hon. Member for Salford, West referred to rump steak.

Mr. Hoyle

And to brisket.

Dr. Hill

The hon. Member referred to rump steak, which is one of the most expensive cuts. He drew one of his pictures with rump steak as the central theme, and when I deal with that I hope he will not tell me that he did not mention the more expensive cuts.

The hon. Member did mention this more expensive cut and drew attention to the increase it had suffered. In examining these increases the hon. Member. perhaps alone in this House, understands the technical details of the butchery industry. He will appreciate that the 4d. average, when applied to meat without hone, automatically becomes a figure of approximately 5¼d. as one quarter of the carcase is bone and that remains at the modest price of 2d. a pound, no increase having been added.

He will also appreciate that in applying the increase to the various kinds of meat —beef, pork, home-killed lamb, and so on—the amount added to each of these is not necessarily 4d. but is, in fact, a different figure this year as it was when this was done last year. The point I stress is that mitigating the severity of the increase in the lower-priced cuts is inevitably followed by more substantial increases above the average in certain of the higher-priced cuts.

May I refer to the question of Scottish brisket. [An HON. MEMBER: "Whisky?"] Brisket was the word I used. The hon. Member has no doubt examined the Scottish Schedules as a whole and compared them with those of England and Wales and he will appreciate that they are different. Appetites for different joints in Scotland differ from the corresponding appetites in England, and the technique of cutting in Scotland differs from the technique in England. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I can assure the hon. Member that the average increase on the carcase is no higher in Scotland than in England. In both cases it amounts to 4d. per lb. If in a particular cut such as he has quoted the increase is substantially higher than 4d., in other parts of the Schedule there is a compensating advantage to Scotland.

Mr. Bence

But all the rest are the same, bar brisket.

Dr. Hill

What the hon. Member has not appreciated is that the descriptions of the various joints differ in Scotland. If it is any reassurance to the House, may I say that on this occasion, as on the last occasion, any attempt to apply this average increase to the wide variety of cuts in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland is bound to be to some extent provisional and to be looked at again in the light of experience and this will be done.

The point was made that the price increase, which amounts to some 3d. per ration, will make people unable to take up the ration. [HON. MEMBERS: "That has already happened."] The new increase in price has obtained for some three weeks. I am not going to prophesy that will not happen—

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North) rose

Dr. Hill

If the hon. Member will allow me to continue—there is no evidence that it has happened yet. Was there any evidence that in September last, when the ration was increased to 2s., it was not taken up?

Mr. Lewis

Did the hon. Gentleman not read the speech of his right hon. and gallant Friend over the week-end? The Minister of Food himself stated that rations are not now being taken up? How does he explain that?

Dr. Hill

I am referring to the meat ration and its take-up in relation to the increase in prices which came into operation three weeks ago, and I am saying that as yet there is no evidence that the ration is not being taken up.

Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

Does the Parliamentary Secretary not realise that, although the whole of the meat ration is being taken up at the shops, it is not going to each person registered in the shop? I am informed authoritatively by the Co-operatives societies in my constituency that they are having to get rid of more meat to people who can afford to buy it than let it rot in the shops.

Dr. Hill

Does the hon. Gentleman realise what he is saying? He is saying that at the Co-operative shops in his district the law is being broken, and that meat is not going to the persons for whom it is intended, but is being diverted to other persons. I am not denying that there is a possibility of a price level which will result in a lower take-up of meat among some sections of the community. What I am now saying is that we should not proceed by general statement. In the three weeks during which this increase has been in operation there has been no evidence that the meat ration is not being taken up.

If we take an example, and I admit it is an extreme example, of a cheap but good cut, scrag and breast of lamb—its name may not be attractive, but it is a pleasant enough cut—previously it was 1s. ld. a lb. and 17 oz. could be obtained on a Is. 2d. ration. Now it is 1s. 2d. a lb. and 22 oz. can be obtained on a 1s. 7d. ration. [HON. MEMBERS: "How much bone?"] The point to which attention has not been drawn in the discussion of applying the 4d. average is that the increase in some cheaper cuts is less than 4d. and the ration, based on the maximum expenditure on meat is increased for the purchasers of cheaper cuts at the expense of those buying the more expensive cuts.

Finally, I must refer to the questions asked by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland, North in relation to the subsidy adjustment. He knows as well as I do that there is a subsidy examination month by month. He knows that in general it represents the trading loss of the Ministry. He knows that each month new changes of one kind or another, both falls and increases in price, come into the calculation. To answer his queries as precisely as possible, the continuing unit subsidy on meat is 1½d. a lb. He will appreciate that its future level depends on the outcome of the Argentine negotiations and other factors, but I give that calculation as the best that can be made now. He asked what, in total terms, the continuing subsidy for meat would be. For 1952–53 it is approximately £20 million.

As the hon. Member for Salford, West said in moving this Prayer, this Order derives from the decision announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The operation and application of the increase has followed the lines laid down last year. The hon. Gentleman referred to the courage of the previous Government in increasing the price of meat immediately before a General Election. In fact, they increased it in July last; some months before the Election, but I merely make that point to correct the statement. This Order follows the line taken when the price was increased by 4d. in April, 1949, in applying the increase to the wholesale and then to the retail level.

I can understand hon. Members opposite quarrelling with the decision to lower the ceiling on food subsidies; but, within that decision, this Order represents a reasonable and equitable distribution of the higher charge between the various cuts which, in the total, constitute the retail meat supply.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

Can the Parliamentary Secretary say how the housewife can tell whether she is getting first-quality or second-quality meat, and whether it is home-killed or imported?

Dr. Hill

It always was a problem for the housewife to decide if her meat was

home-killed or imported, or of first or second quality. The more discriminating the housewife, the greater the success of her buying; but the situation is not aggravated by control except in one respect. That is, that whereas in pre-war days there were many price levels in, say. heifer and steer beef, it becomes necessary under control to group items formerly of distinctive description and price. To that extent, control affects the situation, but, for the rest, it is for the housewife to be discriminating, and the trader honest, if fair play is to be done.

Question put. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Meat (Prices) (Great Britain) Order, 1952 (S.I., 1952, No. 1122) dated 6th June, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th June, be annulled.

The House divided: Ayes, 110; Noes, 148.

Division No. 191.] AYES [11.38 p.m.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Hayman, F. H. Rhodes, H.
Awbery, S. S. Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.) Robens, Rt. Hon A
Bartley, P. Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
Bence, C. R Hobson, C. R. Ross, William
Bing, G. H. C. Hoy, J. H. Royle, C.
Blackburn, F. Hudson, James (Ealing, N.) Schofield, S. (Barnsley)
Blyton, W. R. Jeger, Dr. Santo (St. Pancras, S) Shackleton, E. A. A
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson, James (Rugby) Short, E. W.
Brockway, A. F. Jones, David (Hartlepool) Shurmer, P. L. E.
Brook, Dryden (Halifax) Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Silverman, Julius (Erdington)
Broughten, Dr. A. D. D. Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Keenan, W. Slater. J.
Burton, Miss F. E. King, Dr. H. M. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.) Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Champion, A. J. Lewis, Arthur Sparks, J. A
Collick, P. H. Logan, D G. Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) MacColl, J E. Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. McGhee, H. G. Thomas, David (Aberdare)
Davies, Harold (Leek) McKay, John (Wallsend) Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Main waring, W. H. Usborne, H. C
de Freitas, Geoffrey Manuel, A. C. Wallace, H. W
Deer, G. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Weitzman, D
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Mitchison, G. R West, D. G.
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W) Moody, A. S. While, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Fernyhough, E. Morley, R. Whiteley, Rt. Hon W
Field, W J Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Wigg, George
Foot, M. M Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P J Wilkins, W. A.
Forman, J C. Oswald, T. Willey, Frederick (Sunderland, N.)
Freeman, John (Watford) Pargiter, G. A Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)
Gibson, C. W. Parker, J. Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)
Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale) Pearson, A Williams, W T. (Hammersmith, S)
Grey, C. F. Peart, T. F Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)
Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Plummer, Sir Leslie Wyatt, W. L
Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Porter, G. Yates, V. F.
Hall, John (Gateshead, W.) Hannan, W. Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton)
Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hargreaves, A. Proctor, W. T. Mr. Popplewell and
Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.) Reid, Thomas (Swindon) Mr. Kenneth Robinson
Aitken, W. T. Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)
Allan, R. A (Paddington, S.) Baldwin, A. E. Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)
Alport, C. J. M. Banks, Col. C. Birch, Nigel
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Beach, Maj. Hicks Bishop, F. P.
Arbuthnot, John Beamish, Maj. Tufton Black, C. W.
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W) Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Boothby, R. J. G
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Pilkington, Capt. R A.
Boyle, Sir Edward Howard, Greville (St. Ives) Powell, J. Enoch
Billiard, D. G. Hutohinson, Sir Geoffrey (llford, N.) Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E Hylton-Foster, H. B. H. Ronton, D. L. M.
Butcher, H. W. Kaberry, D. Roper, Sir Harold
Carr, Robert (Mitcham) Keeling, Sir Edward Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Cary, Sir Robert Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge) Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. (Rochdale)
Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead) Lancaster, Col. C. G. Scott, R. Donald
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Langford-Holt, J. A. Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H Shepherd, William
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Legh, P. R. (Petersfield) Simon, J. E. S, (Middlesbrough, W)
Crouch, R. F. Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.) Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip— Northwood) Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C. Soames, Capt. C.
Cuthbert, W. N. Longden, Gilbert (Herts, S.W.) Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)
Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.) Lucas. Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Davidson, Viscountess Lucas, P. B. (Brentford) Storey, S.
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA Macdonald, Sir Peter (I of Wight) Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)
Dormer, P. W. McKibbin, A. J. Summers, G. S
Doughty, C. J. A. Maclay, Hon. John Sutcliffe, H.
Drayton, G. B. Maclean, Fitzroy Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)
Erroll, F. J. MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty) Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Fell, A. Maitland, Patrick (Lanark) Thomas, P. J. M (Conway)
Finlay, Graeme Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Fisher, Nigel Markham, Major S. F. Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W)
Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. Maude, Angus Tilney, John
Fletcher-Cooke, C Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S L. C Touche, Sir Gordon
Medlicott, Brig. F. Turner, H F. L
Fort, R. Mellor, Sir John Turton, R. H.
Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone) Molson, A. H. E. Vane, W. M. F.
Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale) Morrison, John (Salisbury) Vaughan-Morgan, J. K
Galbraith, T G. D. (Hillhead) Nabarro, G. D. N. Vosper, D. F.
Gower, H. R. Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham) Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Graham, Sir Fergus Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E) Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Nield, Basil (Chester) Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Harden, J. R. E. Nugent, G. R. H. Wellwood, W.
Harrison, Col. J. H (Eye) Oakshott, H. D, White, Baker (Canterbury)
Hay, John O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Antrim N) Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)
Heath, Edward Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)
Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton) Orr-Ewing, Ian L. (Weston-super-Mare) Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Osborne, C Wills, G.
Holland-Martin, C. J. Partridge, E. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Hollis, M. C. Perkins, W. R. D.
Hope, Lord John Peto, Brig. C. H. M TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. reyion, J. W. W. Mr. Drewe and Mr. Redmayne.
Horobin, I. M. Pickthorn, K. W. M.

Question put, and agreed to.

Motion made, and Question, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Meat (Prices) (Northern Ireland) Order, 1952 (S.I., 1952. No. 1123) dated 6th June, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th June. be annulled.—[Mr. Royle]

put, and negatived.