§ 10.3 p.m.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Meat Products (No. 2) Order, 1952 (S.I., 1952, No. 1124), dated 6th June, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th June, be annulled.I feel sure that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food and the House will be very relieved to know that I do not propose to detain the House very long in moving this Prayer, but I hope that hon. Members will not confuse brevity with insincerity.
I want to make one point only on the Order now before the House. If I make that one point effectively it will not minimise the seriousness of the effect of this Order, especially on the poorest in the community. If I were in one of the corridors of this Palace of Westminster discussing this Order with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, I think I could say in one sentence what my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself think about it. I believe that most of the consuming public think as we do. But unfortunately I am not in one of the corridors, and this matter is of such a serious nature that it should not be used as a test of the personal vocabulary of the Parliamentary Secretary and myself.
I want to forget many things in relation to many Orders which affect meat products in this country. I do not intend to go into the past, and I do not want to deal in recrimination. I want to deal with the simple issue of this Order and to do it above all party controversy. I may indulge in an occasional quip against the Parliamentary Secretary, but that is something which is well within the rules of order, and, if I do it, it will be something which he will deserve.
The intention of this Prayer is to call the attention of the Government to the fact that they are neglecting the sufferings of people with low incomes, as is demonstrated by the increases in prices provided by the Order. I know that the Order will hit everybody and that everybody will have to pay the increased prices; but more particularly will it be 1648 hard upon those who cannot afford the increases at all.
Surely the time has come when on this great question of rising prices someone should say directly and almost bluntly that by agreeing to these increases the Government are disloyal to the vast majority of the consuming public. I am not blaming anybody particularly for the way in which prices have been rising over many years. But we have arrived at a stage when further increases in prices are like the last straw which breaks the camel's back. And it is against this increase in price, over and above many increases in prices, that we strongly pray in urging that this Order be annulled.
There is very little in the text of the Order against which we can complain. So far as mere words are concerned it is very similar to the last previous Order; and in words and in purport it is not dissimilar to Orders which were issued under a Labour Government. It is very similar to an Order which was issued and which we debated in this House in April last, except for the figures contained in it. We take strong exception to the action of the Government in imposing the increases in prices contained in this Order. I think the Parliamentary Secretary must agree that the Order provides for very heavy increases in the price of nearly all the meat products with which it is concerned.
It is true that there are one or two isolated cases where the prices are the same as they were in April, but in the main almost every item listed in this Order is subject to certain increases. Here are one or two—and I am not dealing with the increase in prices on the Order that we debated in April; I am dealing with the Order that we are now debating: 5½d. a lb. on pork sausage, 8d. a lb. on corned beef, 2s. a pound on uncooked tongues and 1s. a lb. on cooked pressed tongues.
The vast majority of people in this country on whom the economy of the country depends are entitled to have these commodities as part of their daily diet. It is the heaviest increase in the maximum prices of meat products since the war. My calculations may be wrong, but I have done my best to ascertain what I consider, from practical experience, to be an average overall amount of increase, and I should say that these new prices represent for the commodities that they cover an average overall increase of about 1649 20 per cent. on the last increase in April of this year.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)
I am sure the hon. Member would not wish to mislead the House by ignoring the fact that there is a considerable increase in the quality and the standard of the sausage produced under this Order, which partly justifies the increased price to which the hon. Member is referring?
§ Mr. Winterbottom
The answer to that is quite clear. If the hon. Member will refer to the debate when the last Order was discussed he will see that the Parliamentary Secretary at that time claimed that the new quality of sausage was catered for in the increases that took place at that time. There has been no improvement in the sausage as between this Order and the last Order, and therefore I think I am quite entitled to say that it is a straight increase of 5½d. lb. I am not saying that the increases on the last Order are part and parcel of my case. I am dealing with the increases as they are now.
§ Mr. Harris
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, and I am obliged to him for giving way. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with that matter very fully when he replies, but I am not wrong in saying that there is a distinct improvement in quality between the times of the two Orders.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
I believe I am right in saying that it is the same as it was on the last occasion, and I remember congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary on that occasion on the improvement in the sausage. I shall return to the subject of the sausage in a few moments because I shall have something to say about that great mystery.
We are entitled to register a very strong objection to the increased price. I want to make it clear that I am speaking of this Order alone, and I do not wish to be sidetracked by any argument relating to the sausage, and in particular the Webb sausage. I do not want to be led up the garden by the fond hopes of the Parliamentary Secretary that some day he himself will be able to introduce a sausage of the nature, substance and quality that is almost perfection.
1650 Whilst I am on that point, I do not want the Parliamentary Secretary to posture at the Dispatch Box—I am saying this in quite a friendly spirit—like mighty Joe Young in a Parliamentary film version of Invictus singing "This is the Heritage of the Labour Government." This time the increase is wholly, entirely and completely the product of the fertile imagination of those who designed the Budget this year. The whole of the increases under this Order can be attributed to that source. It is solely the act of this Government and must be solely their responsibility.
By reason of the fact that this is a price increase over a price increase, I think we have the right almost to demand that the Parliamentary Secretary should reply to the central issue raised by this Order. That issue is this: how can he expect a family of two, with a wage of £6 10s. per week or thereabouts—and there are thousands of families like that—to be able to buy even sausages at the increased prices, when one remembers that the 5½d. increase, as a result of this Order, means a 1s. 1½d. increase during this year? I am not attributing all the increase in price to the present Government; that is a matter of controversy; but I say that an increase of 1s. 1½d. in the price of sausages within the last 12 months is beyond the ability of poor people to pay.
How will this affect those in food distribution? It is very unfortunate that this Order should become applicable at a time when the proposals of so many wages councils for increased wages have been submitted to the Ministry of Labour. It is very unfortunate that increases in prices such as these should come at a time when the Chancellor of the Exchequer is pleading with the T.U.C. for restraint in wage demands. I know of seven wages councils with which I have at some time been intimately connected, and each of them has submitted agreed wage proposals, and two of them are intimately concerned with the sale of goods included in this Order.
Here we have an increase of about 20 per cent. on the price of important foods and, at the same time, the Minister of Labour is withholding ratification of wage increases submitted to him by wages councils. The papers have been in his office for nearly two months. Is 1651 there some slip-up in the Government? Are the co-ordinating overlords forgetting to co-ordinate? Or is it the policy of this Government to resist properly negotiated advances in wages at the same time as they are deliberately increasing the prices of commodities? I think we ought to have an answer on that point.
Perhaps it is not appropriate for the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with a point which is relative to the Ministry of Labour. I should not like him to transgress in a field that is not his responsibility; but I think he can explain why this Government are deliberately pricing up foods which are necessary to the diet of the poorest members of the community; for that is what they are doing. I say that categorically, definitely and frankly to the Parliamentary Secretary.
I come to my final point on this problem of meat products and their relationship to the price level is this. I know that we have already had two increases during this year in regard to most of the food items listed in the Order. The simple question is—when is the third increase coming? We are very concerned, not only about this increase of price but the probable increase of prices that we believe must come before the year is out.
What will happen when the present supply of home-killed meat is exhausted? Have we then to depend, as we must depend, upon imports from New Zealand and from the Argentine? If so, will the Parliamentary Secretary satisfy our minds about the trading relationship which exists between this country and the Argentine? I hope he will answer that question, because there are many hon. Members on this side of the House who are deeply concerned at the knowledge which is widespread that no negotiations are proceeding at present with the Argentine; and I hope he will not avoid the question by his usual, but unnatural shyness.
I would remind him that it was his party, when on this side of the House, who chanted, during one famous debate on meat supplies and meat products, "We want meat." If we are to get meat from the Argentine and from New Zealand, am I right in my contention that such an agreement cannot be reached unless we pay higher prices than we paid under the 1652 old agreements? And if we have to pay higher prices than under the old agreements, will that not be reflected in the price of meat in the butchers' shops in the country and also in the price of meat products listed in this Order? The probability is that we shall have a third increase during the year in the price of important items in the diet of the poorest of the community.
That is a very important consideration, and I want to put to the Parliamentary Secretary my considerations about it. I think it was a sorry day for this Government when, in their ignorance of the facts—facts which were put to them, but which they would not recognise in the bliss of occupying the Front Bench opposite—they yielded to the clamour of those who wanted reductions in the food subsidies and who, in some cases, wanted the complete elimination of the food subsidies. I remind the Parliamentary Secretary that this was one of the greatest mistakes of this Government.
This Order, and many of the high prices to which we are subjected today, are the result of that decision, and the Government find themselves not merely in a vicious circle but in a vicious spin, dizzy because they know that the price increases have not yet finished and that there are more increases to come, especially for meat products. I consider that this is above narrow party advantage and that it would be in the interests of the economy of the country and to the interest of production generally if we could call a halt to this continuous rise in prices; and even at this late hour, and even at the cost of their prestige—if they have any left—I beg of the Government to reexamine their policy on food prices, and, in particular, on food subsidies.
We have a saying in the North; I do not know whether hon. Members have it in the South or not, for as yet I have not learned the language in the South; and it is this: "It is the cock that croweth but it is the hen that delivereth the goods." It is not the man at the bench or the man behind the counter or the man at the foundry or the man in the mine who feels the first impact of these prices. It is the housewives of our country who have to meet all the difficulties which arise from these increased food prices.
Many of these housewives, especially amongst those with the lowest incomes in 1653 the community, have sometimes to make a meal out of almost nothing at all. They object to price increases like this, and I am sure their anger will be inflamed when they know, as they must know, that these increases in price are the deliberate policy of the present Government. I believe the housewives want a variety, and I believe it is right to press that that possible variety should be within the range of their purses. I believe it is wrong to introduce an Order which is totally unnecessary and which is going to raise the prices at one fell swoop of all the meat products referred to in it.
I do not think there is much hope in debate or Division in this House of obtaining any rectification of this position, but I warn the Parliamentary Secretary, as I warned the Government in my maiden speech when I first came into this House in 1950, that the problem of rising prices is the rock upon which any Government will founder. I warn the hon. Gentleman that with this continuous advance in prices as a result of Government policy this Government will surely fall.
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ Dr. A. D. D. Broughton (Batley and Morley)
I beg to second the Motion.
The reason for my intervention is that I am not satisfied that the working population of this country, and especially the heavy manual worker, is able to obtain enough animal protein to meet bodily requirements. As I understand this Order, it appears to me that it makes worse a serious food situation. Meat products occupy a position of considerable importance in the diet of today. The sausage has usurped the place of honour on the Englishman's table formerly held by sirloin—and the only consolation is that the creature is easier to carve.
The Parliamentary Secretary may remember having said a short time ago these words:The first function of the Minister of Food is to provide all the necessary food to sustain the health of the people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 2012.]So the first question I should like to put to the Parliamentary Secretary is, is this Order made by the Minister of Food for the purpose of helping to provide all the animal protein necessary to sustain the health of the people? In other words, is 1654 the Minister of Food fulfilling what the Parliamentary Secretary described as his first function?
I do not intend to make a long speech tonight, but I am afraid I must ask quite a large number of questions of the Parliamentary Secretary. He really cannot escape inquiry, when the Minister of Food issues an Order of this sort. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of a statement which was made in a report on nutrition published by the Ministry of Health. I suggest he will remember it because he quoted it in an article of his in the Press when he sat on the Opposite benches in the last Parliament; and he used it in support of his contention that the people of this country were being weakened by the food policy of the Labour Government. The statement reads:A grown man at work requires not less than 37 grammes as a minimum, and to be safe 50 grammes, of animal protein daily.I think it is a fair question to ask, when this Order is fully in operation will every grown man at work be obtaining the desirable amount—that is, 50 grammes daily—of first-class protein? I think that that will not be the case, but I should like the Minister's views on that aspect of the matter.
While the hon. Gentleman is considering his reply, perhaps it will not be irrelevant if I remind him that the meat ration is very small and that other protein foods are very expensive and none too plentiful. Therefore, most people must turn to meat products in their search for proteins. Meat products hold so important a place in our diet that it is our duty to examine closely an Order of this kind which alters the protein content of some foods and, by increasing their price, makes them more difficult to obtain. The hon. Gentleman has shown great interest in this subject in the past, and we remember his derogatory remarks about sausages. Sausages are mentioned in this Order.
The hon. Gentleman, on an occasion when he spoke from the Opposition benches, said:By the criteria generally accepted today"—this was early last year—the amount of animal protein which is being provided in the form of meat is utterly inadequate for the tastes and preferences of the people of this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 2016.]1655 Since the hon. Gentleman became a Minister he has not yet kept his Election pledge by providing an abundance of red meat and now, to make matters worse, the Government are making it more difficult to obtain meat products.
Can the Minister claim that the purpose of this Order is to compensate for the small amount of protein in the meat ration? I think that its effect will be the very reverse. At the time of the last General Election it appeared that the hon. Gentleman and his noble Friend tried to outbid each other in rash promises, and we still wait for an increase in first-class proteins from what he described only a year ago as a "miserable, beggarly level."
The most important question I have to put to the hon. Gentleman is, does this Order in any way increase the total amount of animal protein available for the nation? Is the Minister satisfied that as a result of this Order the protein needs will be met for the working man who is being called upon to make still greater effort in production for exports and re-armament?
Passing from those questions of a general nature—
§ Mr. Speaker
I must point out that this Order deals more with prices than with quantities. The hon. Gentleman must not devote too much of his argument to the amount of meat. This Order only deals with prices and the composition of sausages.
§ Dr. Broughton
I believe it does alter the composition of some of these meat products and I am very concerned to know whether, in altering their composition, it is improving them. Of course, I am very concerned about the increase in price.
§ Mr. F. Harris
In as much as the alteration in quality in each case is an improvement of the meat content, does that not automatically defeat the argument the hon. Member is putting before the House?
§ Dr. Broughton
I am afraid that I cannot accept the categorical statement of the hon. Member that this Order improves the quality of these meat products. I have studied the Order with a considerable amount of care and have compared it with the Order issued by the Minister a few weeks ago. I put my questions 1656 so that the issue can be made quite clear to the House.
It appears from the Order that meat products are placed in two categories. There are those in the First Schedule described as "Excepted Products," because they are exempted from Regulations; and there are those listed in the Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Schedules, which are affected by the Order.
Let me deal first with excepted products. Am I to understand that the large number of meat products excepted is free from all Regulations as regards protein content and price? The long list includes savoury ducks, black puddings, brawn and meat pies. Take black puddings as an example. The Parliamentary Secretary will agree that they are a nutritious food. The contents are groats, fats and blood; but how much fat and blood? And can rusks be substituted for groats? What of the water content? Does this Order allow a very small amount of protein to be included and a high price to be demanded? Furthermore, is it not possible under the Order for brawn to be composed of 10 per cent. meat—pork or beef—and 90 per cent. rusks, gelatine, and water? And can any price be asked? Is this part of the Order to provide the public with more or less protein? The only point I am certain about is that prices are going to be higher.
The so-called "Open Meat Products," which are listed in the Second and Fourth Schedules, include sausages, meat roll, luncheon meat, and veal and ham loaf. The prices will be increased, and I understand that a minimum meat content has been fixed for them. But is the protein content altered? If it is, is more meat being made available to the manufacturer? If there is to be more meat in these products and no more meat is to be made available for the manufacturer, then the products would be a little richer in protein, but fewer and more expensive. What additional meat has been made available for use in meat products?
Finally, can the Parliamentary Secretary deny that under this Order, owing to prices rising beyond the purchasing power of the people, there will be less animal protein in the form of meat products to nourish and sustain the workers of Britain?
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)
I shall not come between the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, both of whom are members of the medical profession, on this technical point of how much meat content there should be to give the protein the public requires. But is it rather strange that the hon. Member should raise that point, because he will recall that he was a member of the former Government who put so much milk powder in sausages that my right hon. Friend who is now the Lord Privy Seal, when we were in Opposition, asked the former Minister of Food how far we had to go before instead of having a sausage we had a cream bun.
The hon. Gentleman will see from this Order that a very good step forward is now being taken whereby much of this skimmed milk will come out and the meat content will be increased. Therefore, from the quality point of view and from that of the hon. Gentleman's argument about the need for more proteins, this Order must be regarded as a step in the right direction.
As a mere layman, I take the view that the public can certainly do with more meat, but I wish to deal particularly with the pork sausage. This Order now brings the meat content of the pork sausage up to not less than 80 per cent. I feel that with the ever increasing numbers of pigs in the country we should at a fairly early stage be reaching the position whereby pork could be de-rationed. In that case, could we not get to the stage where the pork sausage could be 100 per cent. pork?
§ Mr. Harris
It very nearly was. It was about 97 per cent. pork, and I do not think anybody need argue about whether it was 2 or 3 per cent. short of 100. I shall be very glad if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us whether there is any hope in the near future of the pork sausage really becoming a pork sausage.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
I intend to take a rather different line from the arguments already put forward. The 1658 effect of this Order is to give people with a static income, that is, a wage level, the opportunity to buy meat products at a higher price. But how in the name of all that is decent they are expected to be able to buy more of a commodity made available to them out of a purse which is already insufficient to buy the good foods necessary to them, I do not know.
This Order is going to hit hardest those people whom the Government are asking to solve our economic problems. I cannot for the life of me see why the Government themselves are not quarrelling about this Order. On the one hand, we have the Parliamentary Secretary coming to the Box defending Orders of this kind which put up prices knowing full well that it will cause a certain amount of consternation among the lower wage earners of the country. At the same time the Chancellor is telling the country at large, and the Conservative Party in particular, that they hope to restrain people from claiming higher wages.
As the House knows, I have been associated throughout my working life with possibly the heaviest industry of this country, and I do not except the mining industry. I say that steel making is one of the heaviest, if not the heaviest, industry in the country. The steel workers at the moment are very concerned with Orders of this type, and the reasons for their concern are very obvious and simple.
The steel furnaces are working night and day throughout the week. The workers in the industry work on a system which debars them from going to the canteen at any set time during their shift work. That means that they have to take food to work with them. During my 37 years in the industry I never left home without taking what we call a "snack" in a snack tin. It usually comprised tea and sugar, and possibly some tinned milk because fresh milk tended to go sour.
This Order is going to hit hardest those people who are engaged to the greatest extent in helping our economic recovery. In the past, men have been able to take to work, not only sausages; in this specialised field of activity, men look forward to taking something which is appetising. When one has done four or five hours in front of a temperature of 1,600 degrees Centigrade, and when the sweat from the human frame dries into 1659 crystals on the shirt, one wants something to eat. The men used to be able to take cheese; which was one of the cheapest things taken to work, and one of the most popular; but now we have to forget about cheese. We have to offset that loss by a ham sandwich, or a tongue sandwich, or lettuce, or something as appetising—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or something in a bottle"] Yes, some take something in a bottle, but others are concerned with other things.
We are told that this Order makes allowance for a higher quality, but I am unable to find it; milk can still be put into sausages. Of course, there are all sorts of sausages and, speaking as an ex-regimental quartermaster sergeant, I can tell hon. Members that I have seen some very queer sausages in my time. Let us be honest about all this. The Order is designed to offset the cut in the food subsidies, announced by the Chancellor. Let us be truthful, and let us tell the country that the people are expected to be satisfied. They must do more work to fill the gap in production, while there is to be less food because food is going to cost more,
That is putting it in the simple terms, which is the way the ordinary working man and his wife sees it. This is another additional burden which is going to affect the morale of the workers; and if hon. Members ask what morale has got to do with the matter, let me explain that when men see and hear their wives complaining that three, four, or five sandwiches are reduced to two or three because there is only the same amount of money for her while they take less food to work, what is the psychological retort? It is: "If I am to have less food, I cannot do more work."
I have never been ashamed since I came into this House to tell my friends at home that we have all to do a bit more work and tighten our belts if we are to get out of our difficulties. But this Order worsens the situation so far as the minds of men in my industry are concerned, and it is those men who are expected to bring this country out of its difficulties. I warned the Government when we talked on the Order about cheese, and I warn them again. This ever increasing amount of work, and the ever decreasing nutrition, is something which 1660 just will not add up. It will not work, and instead of helping to solve our economic problems, this Government will find the problems increase because of lack of understanding of the working of the minds of the masses of this country.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Mr. C. N. Thornton-Kemsley (Angus, North and Mearns)
There is one thing of which one can be perfectly certain in this House. It is that if an hon. Member prefaces what he is going to say with the statement that there will be no recrimination and that it is not a matter upon which one wants to make a party speech, he will then go bang into making one of the biggest party speeches one has heard for a long time. I do not blame the hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom) for making a party speech. He told us that he was not going to do so, but that is the opening gambit. I am going to make a party speech too.
I think I am entitled to do so and to state where the hon. Member and his hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) are wrong and how they have drawn only one half of the picture. The hon. Member for Brightside and his hon. Friends, in the comparative obscurity of a Prayer late at night, are trying to resuscitate a debate in which they enjoyed very scant success on 30th June in Committee of Supply, when they spoke about rising food prices and tried to make a party issue of it. From their point of view that debate was a complete flop, as it might well be, because they had no leg to stand on.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom
I should like to have the hon. Gentleman's opinion as to how that was reflected in the municipal elections this year. Were they a flop from our point of view?
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
I would certainly agree, Mr. Speaker, and I come back to the speech of the hon. Member for Brightside. He was perfectly right of course when he said that the real cause of the laying of this Order, and of the rise in the price of meat products which it brings about, was the fertile imagination of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he 1661 introduced his Budget. I think that is a compliment. Of all the Budgets introduced in recent years that was the most fertile in imagination and inspiration on the part of the Chancellor.
§ Mr. Speaker
The Budget is a long way away from this Order. I do ask the House to concentrate upon what is before it, which is a Prayer to annul a certain definite Order. It certainly does not bring in the whole of our finances and economic policy.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
With great respect, I do not dispute what you say, Mr. Speaker, but I am trying to make a quotation from the speech of the hon. Member for Brightside and to say that when he said this Order was the result of the fertile imagination of the Chancellor he was perfectly right. So was the hon. Member for Rotherham, because there is to be a rise in prices as a result of a reduction by £250 million in the total of food subsidies. Both hon. Members are quite right; that is the real reason for this rise in food prices. The Chancellor was right to reduce these heavy and indiscriminate food subsidies. It is right that this Order should have been laid, because it is part of the essential financial policy of the Government.
The hon. Member for Brightside did not remind the House—and he should have done so—that the Chancellor in reducing the food subsidies gave very great compensating advantages to a great many people in this country—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—in the increased family allowances, increased social benefits and an all round reduction in Income Tax.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member is quite entitled to refer to the general background of this Order in the way of reduction of subsidies and so on, but really if we go into the social insurance schemes and everything else on an Order which is mainly occupied with sausages, I do not see how the relevancy of the debate can be maintained.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
We have been blamed for increasing prices. Let me remind hon. Members opposite that when they were in office food prices increased by 58 per cent. without any compensating advantages.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
I want to make one point, and I will try to make it as briefly as I can. The hon. Mem-Member for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom), who moved the Prayer against this Order, said that the higher prices would fall most heavily on the poorer section of the population. That is perfectly true. He also said that it is the housewife who would have to carry the burden. That also is true. We all sympathise with the housewife of the weekly wage earner who has to bear the burden which this Order imposes—
§ Mr. Osborne
Therefore, I am in entire agreement with his plea. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) said that in the bad old Tory days he and his friends took good meat and cheese sandwiches to work, which they were not able to enjoy recently, and I accept that as a compliment to this Government. But this is the point. Half of our meat that is controlled by this Order against which the Prayer is directed must come from our home producers and the other half from overseas. Prices are not only going up now; the House ought to recognise that prices will go up further. The agricultural workers have just been granted another small increase in wages. They have got to help to produce that half of the meat that is controlled by this Order. If the agricultural workers of this country are to be paid a decent living wage—and I represent some of those men—the things which they produce, including meat, must be paid for at a fair and reasonable price.
The hon. Member who pleads so earnestly and sincerely for the rights of the weekly wage earner should not forget the rights of the agricultural worker who produces the meat for which they have to pay a little bit more for.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
The hon. Gentleman wishes to be fair, I know, and he has been fair up to now, but surely he will agree that I also made the point that further increases would be necessary and that we wanted some information on those increases. I think he also ought to deal with the point that the policy of continuing price increases will not get us 1663 far, and that something will have to be done about it, such as even the reversal of the food subsidy policy pursued by the present Government.
§ Mr. Osborne
I will give this to the previous Parliamentary Secretary. Even if the food subsidies had not been cut, prices would have had to go up because the agricultural workers of this country are rightly demanding a better wage, and if a better wage is paid to them for what they produce we must pay higher prices.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
The hon. Gentleman has deployed a sound argument as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. The agricultural labourer gets an extra 5s., and because of that the pence per lb. or farthings per 1b. go on to the price of the bullock which he helps to produce. He could still have had the 5s. and helped to produce the extra meat which is so vitally necessary, and the sacrifice necessary to keep these prices down in the form of taxation to provide the subsidy should have been made not by the labourer or the bottom dog but by the person who is at the tap of the tree earning the most. The farmer was not called upon to make the sacrifice. He was presented with a gift by the Government to maintain his existing position. He should have been the first to make a sacrifice.
§ Mr. Osborne
I listen to the hon. Member for Rotherham with great patience when he talks about steel, but he should stick to steel and leave farming alone, for, with great respect, he does not know a great deal about it.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) does not give way, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) cannot intervene.
§ Mr. Osborne
Hon. Members must remember that unless they want to keep the agricultural workers right down at the bottom of the wage ladder, then they have to be prepared to pay higher prices for what the agricultural worker produces, amongst which is the meat about which we are arguing tonight.
The other side of the argument is that half of the meat we consume comes from abroad. The people abroad are determined that we should pay higher prices for the meat they send us. Why?—because the steel produced by the constituents of the hon. Member for Rotherham is costing a great deal more each year.
§ Mr. Osborne
That is not the point. It is costing a great deal more each year and the people in the Argentine, who send us beef, say, "If Rotherham steel producers demand more for their steel we are going to demand more for our meat." That is why we have to pay more. I beg hon. Members to face that simple problem. If we are to avoid still higher prices—and I think we are going to face much higher food prices—and mitigate the rise in the cost of living, we can do so not by political actions but only by producing the things which are required in exchange for food—whether it be coal or steel—cheaper and of better quality and in greater quantity. That is the way in which this problem should be tackled and not by Prayers at this time of night.
§ 11.2 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Charles Hill)
I think that the hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom), who opened this debate, will agree that the substance of his speech was the simple statement that these increases in the price of meat products, like the increase in the price of carcase meat, derive directly from the budgetary policy of Her Majesty's Government as deployed in the Chancellor's speech. Let there be no doubt 1665 about it; his statement is an accurate one and no one can dispute it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Angus, North and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) was beginning to remind the hon. Gentleman that there were other consequences of this year's Budget—an increase in social benefits and a diminution of Income Tax.
§ Dr. Hill
As the hon. Gentleman reminds me, he was ruled out of order. My hon. Friend then passed to the sausage. Let me say at once that one of the incidental consequences of this Order—and I put it no higher—is to strengthen, so far as the meat content is concerned, what has so often been referred to as a mysterious article of diet.
The hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton), in reminding me of what I said when I was on the other side of the House, might have recalled that my attack was not directed against the use of milk powder or vegetable oil but against the provision that for the purpose of the Order those substances—which were not meat—could be deemed to be meat. That little piece of legal impropriety, if I may so describe it, has been eliminated. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey), who has changed his batting position, was a member of the Government which made possible this dilution of the sausage. Under the old Order the beef sausage could contain but 27½ per cent. of carcase meat. It now must contain 50 per cent. of carcase meat. That at least represents a strengthening of the sausage in so far as meat content is concerned. In the case of the pork sausage, under the old Order it could have been as low as 55 per cent. meat content: it now must be as high as 65 per cent. meat content.
The hon. Member for Batley and Morley very properly raised the question that we raised on a former occasion—is additional meat to be provided for this nutritious strengthening purpose? The answer is "yes." The allocation of manufacturing meat is now being substantially increased—by one-third. That will make possible this strengthening of the sausage, and it will also make possible the manufacture of a more adequate supply of meat products.
1666 I do not think that the hon. Member for Brightside expected me to pass into the field that belongs to the Minister of Labour. I do not think he really expected me to forecast the future level of meat prices. I know that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North might ask it—but he would not expect any such prophecy. Indeed, I do not think that it helps for anybody to anticipate rising prices at a time when we are in negotiation or about to begin negotiations for further meat supplies.
I pass to the question put by the hon. Member for Batley and Morley. He quoted the British Medical Association Report of, I think, 1933, which laid down the animal protein requirements of a heavy worker. He quoted accurately, as I did, from that Report; but I think more recent Reports, notably one in 1950, are beginning to cast doubt upon the proportion of protein that need be animal. Subject only to that more recent development, the position is as the hon. Gentleman said.
If he asks whether I think that the animal protein now in our diet is adequate, I would say that it is slightly more adequate than it was in February of last year, the date of the debate from which he quoted. I am now referring to the contribution of animal protein made by rationed foods. In February, 1951, it was 12.5 grammes daily. As from Sunday week, when the meat ration goes up, it will be 13.1 grammes.
We are confronted with the problem of sustaining a sufficient level first of calories, then of proteins generally, and then of animal proteins, and I do not dissent from the hon. Member's views on the responsibility of the Minister in that field. This responsibility is particularly difficult to discharge at a time when this country is unable to afford to import all the food that is available, but costly at any time. To what the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) said, I would add that should it come about that there is an insufficiency of calories in this country, the first thing that will happen will be an unconscious limitation of output, in order that the individual may achieve equality between what he is taking in and putting out.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether this Order increased the amount of animal protein. This Order—let us be frank 1667 about it—translates the increase of 4d. a 1b. in the carcase form into the various meat products listed here. I must make one point, because the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland, North has been indicating certain views in his supplementary questions about the distinction between the 4d. increase in the price of meat and the 5½d. which is the increase in the price of pork sausages; he even went so far as to draw a contrast between the increase in the price of sausage meat and the increase in the price of sausages.
Let me remind the hon. Member of this; the 4d. is the carcase increase, but it is distributed unevenly over the four kinds of meat. Indeed, the price increase on pork in the carcase is 4½d., but that becomes an increase in the price of carcase meat without bone of 5¾d.; and if we allow for the wastage, for what has to be cut away before the meat is used, it comes to 6¾d. per 1b. But there is beef as well as pork in the pork sausage, so a similar calculation has to be done for that 13 per cent. of the meat content of the pork sausage which is, in fact, beef.
When we have allowed for this, the additional cost of the meal content per lb. of sausage becomes rather more than 4d.-4.15d. But—and this is the point I want to come to—there were additional manufacturing and distribution costs allowed for in this Order, and they amounted to 1.35d. per 1b. of sausage, and so brought the total increase in the case of the pork sausage to 5½d. But if we increase the sausage—the sausage within the skin—by 5½d., why is it that pork sausage meat is increased by 6d.? The simple truth is that the price of sausage skins has gone down. It has gone down by the equivalent of ½d. per 1b. of sausages. So it becomes possible for the difference of ½d. to obtain between the two increases.
In speaking of the "Excepted Products," those free of price control, the hon. Gentleman was taking me into country into which I was not happy to enter because I wandered into it at the time of the last Prayer on the previous Order. What control, he said to me, is there over the black pudding, over brawn? There never was any control over the black pudding. Even the last Government, with all their insistence on control, all their determination to undertake it in every 1668 detail, never went so far as to lay down a chemical or biological formula to which black pudding should conform.
I have answered his question about fixing the meat content. Let me say this. In so far as the last Order—and this one slightly modifies and improves certain parts of it—laid down standards for the meat content of meat products, they represented an improvement in the situation. They can be met from the increase to which I have referred of approximately a third in manufacturing meat. For the rest this Order deals only with the question of price.
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. F. Harris) was trying to lead me into the field of pork de-rationing. He will understand if I say that this does not seem to be the moment to discuss that subject.
Put simply, this Order translates the 4d. which derives from Her Majesty's Government's budgetary policy into the Meat Products Order. To those who say that this Order will affect the nutritional levels in this country, I would say that as a result of the meat price increase and the meat products price increases an extra 3.63d. per head per week has been added to the public's expenditure. In the light of other and more substantial benefits conferred in that same Budget they must prove the case, which has not yet been proved, that this increase in price will of itself result in decreased consumption of the meat products covered by this Order.
§ 11.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I do not rise to prolong these proceedings, but I hope to bring them to an early conclusion. The hon. Gentleman has commented on the batting order and I can give him an explanation for the change in the batting order. He has almost invariably and inaccurately said that whatever he has been doing would have been done by the Labour Government. On the last occasion, when we prayed against the Order which is revoked and replaced by this Order he even went so far as to describe it as my child. I thought that if he should persist tonight in that sort of terminology it might drive me to use language which I am afraid might be out of order.
1669 Another matter which is remarkable about this Order is that on this occasion we have support from the other side of the House. The hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) put his name down to this Prayer. I am sorry to see that he is not in his place now, although he was almost until the time at which the Parliamentary Secretary got up to speak.
§ Dr. Hill
I think that if my hon. Friend were here he would intervene to say that because of these repeated postponements of Prayers—one was put down and taken off five times and another was kept on until 5 o'clock in the morning and then taken off—he put his name down to this one for the simple purpose of ensuring that this Prayer should be taken tonight.
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his explanation on behalf of his hon. Friend, but the Parliamentary Secretary cannot get away with his explanation of why the Prayers were taken off. On many occasions they were taken off in agreement with the Government Front Bench.
On the Order itself, I will say a word or two about sausages. It is necessary to do so because tonight we have had a third explanation by the Ministry of Food about the price increases of sausages and the changes made by the present Order. When I asked the Minister about the sausage he said what the Parliamentary Secretary is always saying—that he was doing what we did. In answer to my supplementary question the Minister said that I should carry out some research and see what was done last year. I knew very well he was not doing what we had done, so I put down a further Question and this is what the Parliamentary Secretary said in reply to the point of comparison between the figures in 1951 and the figures now:These figures cannot directly be compared because the latter increases, unlike those of 1951, take account of higher manufacturing and distribution costs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July 1952; Vol. 503, c. 32.]Now he has given a third explanation. Tonight he said that of course the composition of the sausage is changed. On which explanation do the Ministry of Food rely? Are they going what we were doing as the Minister said to the House, or something different from what we were doing and taking into account higher 1670 manufacturing and distribution costs as the Parliamentary Secretary said to the House? Or are they making allowance for the fact that the sausage contains more meat by the difference in its definition?
I think that the Parliamentary Secretary tonight is quite correct: some allowance must be made for the fact that the sausage includes more meat now. I would not argue this with any hard feeling at all. But it is questionable whether that is a right decision at the present moment. Should we be putting a third more manufacturing meat into the production of sausages? Can we afford to do that?
The Parliamentary Secretary, if I followed his arithmetic, will probably agree that there will be fewer sausages than otherwise there would have been. That is arguable, of course, because we cannot be sure to what extent the meat was used under the previous arrangements.
§ Mr. Willey
I hope the hon. Gentleman is right. But if so there is likely to be less meat available for other purposes, because more meat will be diverted into sausage. This seems to be taking a rather optimistic view of the meat supply position. It would have been better to maintain the sausage as it was, and may I add that the very well-known firms of sausage manufacturers that used milk powder before the war will go on using it?
But why have these constant changes? In March there was an Order saying that manufacturers could put soya in the sausage. They began to do that, and now the Ministry says there will be no allowance for soya. Manufacturers presumably made their orders and purchases and this is not the way to treat them. The best way is to be consistent. On reflection, the Parliamentary Secretary may agree that it would have been far better to have made up his mind about meat products at one go. The result is that either way he must be wrong. He is wrong now or he was wrong in March.
§ Mr. Willey
That decision could have been taken just as easily in March. The meat supply position is seasonal.
On the question of casings, I think there is some confusion between us. As I understand it, the maximum price may now be increased, if the sausage is in a sheep casing, by 1½d. Before this Order it could be increased by 1d. I am reinforced by the Ministry Bulletin, which made the point that, apart from the price increases that are obvious from the Order itself, there is also the price increase in the Schedule about sheep casings.
I am relying on the information the Ministry of Food makes available for traders and people like myself.
On the price increases generally, I would say at once that it is an extremely difficult matter to debate in the House. It is very difficult to translate the price increases of meat, against which we already have prayed, into terms of the price increases in this Order. But I call attention to the fact that there are very substantial price increases in this Order. I will confine myself to the price increases to which I called attention when we prayed against the earlier Order. If we take the case of pressed and cooked beef, mutton, or lamb, I was saying only in April that the price had gone up as a result of the earlier Order by 8d. In this present Order it now goes up a further 9½d. The price of pressed and cooked ox or calf tongues, which in March went up by 11d. now has gone up by another 1s. to 1s. 6½d. Pressed and cooked pork, which under the earlier Order now revoked went up by 1s. 6d., has now gone up by a further 11½d.
These are very substantial increases which are going to cause real hardship among the people. They are bound to increase the impression that one of the things which the present Government are 1672 doing is to make the purse the determinant as far as the distribution of these essential foodstuffs are concerned when the housewife goes to supplement her meat ration by buying meat products which as a result of Government action—we are not discussing whether it is right or wrong—are now in reduced supply.
The Government are tackling the problem by saying that the best thing to do in order to avoid any question of points rationing is to have a steep increase in price so that the reduced supply meets a reduced demand. That seems to be the reasoning behind this Order, and I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary that on the last occasion he said that he was not—I think I am giving a fair paraphrase of what he said—vecy enthusiastic about this Order, but that at an early date he thought it would be possible to sweep away control from this field.
I would quarrel with him in his objective, but I think that the control which is remaining is becoming a farcical control because it will not ensure fair and equitable distribution. While I would resist decontrol of these foodstuffs, I would at the same time say that the present control cannot be a successful one. In spite of that I cannot advise my hon. Friends to divide against this Order for this reason. I think we are entitled to take this opportunity to protest against it, but we cannot divide against it because, after all—
§ Mr. Willey
—this Order is allowing the manufacturers the increased prices so that they in turn may recoup themselves for the increased price they have to pay for the meat. In those circumstances, as we cannot amend the Order, I am afraid, though reluctantly, I must advise my hon. Friends to accept it.
§ Question put, and negatived.