§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Webb (Bradford, Central)
There is no subject which the Committee can discuss that has a more urgent claim for attention than that which we propose to examine today. I think we all agree that food is not an abstract problem. It presents no academic issues that we can look at remotely. Of all the matters which engage our attention and involve us in direct responsibility as a Committee, food is the one which the ordinary housewife can test most acutely in terms of her day-to-day experience. Against that background I hope the Committee will examine today these problems of food.
I think that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would not seek to deny that upon food and the handling of food, there is more dissatisfaction, disquiet and pungent criticism at the moment than about almost anything else.
Now why is this? The party opposite are largely to blame for the harsh complaints which their handling of the food problem arouses, because quite recklessly and imprudently, and from their own point of view most stupidly, they aroused expectations of quick achievements in the food field.
I could quote many statements made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen oppo- 1638 site. There was, for example, one by the Home Secretary. I wonder where he is today. It might be very useful to have his observations. He made a speciality of speeches which roused Conservative audiences throughout the country to a state of almost uncontrolled excitement by assurances that all would be well, larders would be filled and food would be back in abundant supply if only the Conservative Party were brought back to power. I remember that in one of his most graphic speeches he attacked the warnings I had given to the House, and to the country, of inescapably harsh times and unavoidable shortages of food, by describing me as "Woe, woe, Webb," and stating that I was creating an atmosphere of alarm and anxiety in the country.
He was, by no means, the only one. There were others. I hope I am not treading on delicate ground if I mention that prophet of abundance, the noble Lord, who exercises some mystic function in the high levels of Cabinet authority. He set out to encourage the building up of his name as some sort of synonym of plenty, on the assumption that we are a nation of Billy Bunters and that the Conservative Party would provide some sort of lavishly stocked tuckshop when they got back to power. The most exciting prospects of full larders and lavish meals were subtly conjured up by the noble Lord as he went about his business of winning the last Election for the party opposite. There were others, too, in the top level, but I shall not quote them.
For the party as a whole must take responsibility for its repeated pressure in the last Parliament for increases in our food supplies. Constantly in the House they pressed myself, and the Government, to increase supplies. At that time there was no consideration at all of the balance of payments problem, which was just as real then as it is now, as it has been since we ended the war, as it has been over the last 50 years in this country, on the thesis of the Chancellor himself. At that time no attempt was made to take account of the inherent difficulties of balancing our books and maintaining solvency. Every opportunity was taken of exploiting shortages of food for partisan purposes and generally building up a climate of expectation by the most disreputable political methods.
1639 The party opposite are now paying for that kind of tactic. These expectations are not being realised. The view established, that some sort of magic ability rested in the Conservative Party to put this right, is now seen to have been one which had very little relevance to the situation. In the immediate stages after the Election, they repeatedly told us that for the moment they could not supply more food because the Government which had gone out had left the larder bare. That was the story two or three months after the Election. That story has not been heard recently, and it can no longer be heard because the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies exploded it himself when he said that we were getting through by living on stocks. That statement does not tie up with the allegations that the late Government left an empty larder.
As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman must know there is acute dissatisfaction with the Government on this food issue. I suppose the right hon. and gallant Gentleman can claim some immunity from criticism of this kind since he was not in the House at that time. He may say that it is unfortunate that he should be called upon to fulfill undertakings which never should have been made. We on these benches would have been ready to respond to such a claim for immunity from criticism had the present Minister of Food given us some sign that he realises that our food problems are much more acute and complex than his colleagues supposed.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman would have been conceded on this side of the Committee complete immunity from criticism if, coming fresh to this exacting post, he had departed from that adolescent approach to the food problem which he saw before him, and had tried to face the cause. To our disappointment, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has given no such sign. I have watched patiently in the hope that he would, as any Minister holding his office should, explain the seriousness and inescapable long-term complexity of the food problem of this country. He has not done so, and therefore I want at once to come to that part of our complaint against the Minister himself. I assure him that it is a complaint which we raise strongly and frankly because we are bound to do so.
1640 So far the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has given us no evidence that he recognises the real nature of our food problem. I hope that today we may extract something more satisfying from him, but we shall see as we go along. So far he has been content to by-pass the real issue by two simple and, as we think, wholly erroneous please. In his replies to our Questions in the House, in his replies to previous debates on this matter, in all his public statements, he has had no more to say than this: "It will all be put right when we balance our payments. It will be even more all right when we resume private enterprise fully in the food field."
I want to interpret the right hon. and gallant Gentleman correctly about this issue. It is far too serious for scoring partisan debating points. I am sure he would not deny the fact that all his public statements, in the House and outside, have been variations on these two simple items: the balance of payments and the resumption of competitive buying. That has been the story always put to us when we have raised detailed questions on our food supplies. Maybe the Minister will make that defence today of his case.
I say quite frankly to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that, if that is his considered view, it is a lamentable misjudgment of the nature of the problem for which he now bears prime responsibility. He is the doctrinaire, talking like that; we on this side of the Committee are the ones who have faced, and are facing, and will again face, reality and seek to fit our ideas into a practical programme of food production and development. Let me illustrate our complaint by reference to specific commodities which I will take one by one.
In the first place, there is tea. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said recently, to appease his critical supporters:
We have made a start by freeing tea.But he did not do that. I did that. That was done by the last Government. It was a decision taken by the late Cabinet because we are not doctrinaire. Because we believe in settling these things on the basis of reality and technical considerations, we came to the view that bulk buying was not an appropriate method, in these conditions, for securing the tea supplies 1641 of this country. We, not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, not the party opposite, freed the tea auctions and resumed the private buying of tea in this country.
§ Mr. Webb
There will be ample time for the hon. Gentleman to make his point as the debate goes on. We reopened the tea auctions in the confident belief that by now there could be an end of tea rationing. When does the Minister propose to complete that work which we started? When does he propose to complete it by giving us de-rationing of tea in this country? It should be possible, at the latest, by this autumn. Perhaps he has some announcement to make about it?
The previous Government always sought at every stage the proper time to abandon rationing. We abandoned points rationing when the time had arrived. Whenever we were satisfied that available supplies were adequate to permit the free market to operate, without detriment to the interests of any section of society, we readily abandoned rationing. We are not doctrinaire about this, but the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his colleagues are. We take the view that all these vital problems should be settled as we go along on purely technical and scientific grounds and analysed in terms of supply.
But clearly in the case of some foodstuffs, bulk buying has been, and will continue to be for any foreseeable time, of immense value to the people of this country. It is an instrument we cannot dispense with. an instrument that we must try to make more perfect, more flexible and more adequate for our needs. It remains our only effective way of securing continuing supplies of certain commodities at prices which most people in this country can afford.
Meat is the outstanding example of our approach to this problem. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is guilty of the most grave folly if he believes that the problem of getting our meat would be solved merely by returning the functions to the private trade. Look at the facts. On any rational, reasonable estimate of supplies, there is certainly no prospect of the end of rationing for the next five 1642 years, unless the Government are determined recklessly to create a situation in which there is to be rationing by the purse and masses of people without money are not going to have their meat. But I doubt whether they would be so rash as to do that. On any rational, informed estimate of possible available supplies of meat for this country, in the light of the world situation as it is now developing, nobody in his senses could assume the end of rationing within the next five years, and possibly even longer than that.
There is an increasing demand in all the countries from which we used to get their exportable surpluses. Right across the world the countries that sent their meat as their buying commodity, by which they sought to secure manufactured goods from us as imports, are building up their population, their standards of life are growing and all that kind of thing is happening, and they now have less and less of an exportable surplus.
The only way to solve that problem, to secure increased supplies to offset this diminishing flow of exportable surpluses, is, as I am sure every responsible person who has looked at the problem would agree, to give long-term guarantees to the primary producers, both at home and abroad. Only a Government can do that. Smithfield cannot do it. The private traders cannot do it. The whole mechanics and thesis of competitive buying—which I want to see, as I shall show later, in certain aspects of the food problem—simply cannot provide the means to give the kind of continuing long-term guarantees that primary producers want to have.
We have accepted that. We have done it at home. The whole of our agricultural policy, which is accepted by the Government, is based on the belief that we must give guaranteed prices to our own home farmers. Do the Government suggest that they are going to abandon that, and that once again we are going to throw the farmers open to all the ruthless working of the free market for the purchasing of their meat? of course not. The farmers want guaranteed prices; they want a certainty of demand. They want to be sure that if they are producing meat three or four years hence, it will secure for them the kind of reward to which they think they are entitled. The whole of our agricultural policy at home is based on that 1643 belief. That is not a free market, that is not private enterprise; that is planing, with Government guarantees to private producers.
It is not only true at home; it is true abroad. We have had to do the same thing for our Dominions. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is, I know, very much disturbed—he must be—by the situation in Australia, aggravated by the recent drought there, but he knows that there is no possibility of getting from Australia, or from New Zealand or anywhere else, a growing supply of meat unless we enter into this kind of longterm contractual engagement with their primary producers through their State-organised public boards.
During the Election I signed a 15-year agreement with Australia. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, coming back to the House, signed one with New Zealand—and a good thing, too. It is only on that basis of continuing certainty—which is not a free market, and which is not private enterprise—with the Treasury saying, "We will underpin your production. We will guarantee that you will at any given moment get an adequate, fair economic reward for your capital investment and your labour," that we can ever hope to expand production commensurate with our needs.
How on earth do the Government expect, how on earth can they expect, to resume the free marketing of meat, in the classical sense of that term, faced with these obligations? There is a case for resuming free marketing, but free marketing and competition must be really free marketing and competition. It must not be conditioned by any of these factors. In so far as it will work at all, in those spheres where it is relevant, it really must be free competition. Any attempt to get State-protected, State-financed private monopoly is doomed to disaster. It would become restrictive in its nature and would not meet our needs for food.
But, let us take meat away from the question of finance. There is a practical problem also. If we resume the private buying of meat, how are we to solve the problem of relating the flow of foreign meat to the flow of home-killed meat, which, as the Minister knows, arrives on the market 1644 for two or three months at a peak period in the autumn? Here is something that requires control. If the Minister were to allow Vestey's and Armour's, or anybody else, to resume the private buying of meat in the Argentine or anywhere else, if that could be done, how is he to make sure that they do not put that meat on the market at a time when it would damage the interests of our own home farmers—whose reward is being guaranteed by the taxpayer through the Treasury—without control, regulations and interference, without somehow relating these two things together?
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware of the deficiency payments which were made before the war?
§ Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)
Does the right hon. Gentleman include pork in his general observation that we could not de-ration meat over a period of five years?
§ Mr. Webb
I think it is possible that pork might be immune in due course from rationing. I am coming to the question of the deficiency payment. I am merely sketching the problem, which I think is a technical problem.
The farmers want those assurances, the butchers want their freedom, and what the Government or we as a nation ought to want is a system of management in the procurement of meat that relates these guarantees to the producer with freedom of choice for the consumer at the distributive end. There are all sorts of ways of doing that. There is the deficiency payment system. The farmers do not like that—or some farmers do, those who are themselves butchers. Butchers want certain things that the farmers do not want, and all sorts of technical problems are involved.
My point is that, whatever device is adopted, in the end we are face to face with the inevitable need for a high degree of Government interference and control. The rational job that we have to face is, surely, fixing the mechanics of that at a point where we get what we need; and what we need is abundant supplies of meat and, in so far as we can get it, freedom of choice and selection by the housewife at the shop round the corner. That is the target and purpose we ought to have in front of us.
1645 Surely the answer to that problem is to devise a flexible system which will relate the guaranteed prices to the producers with the flexibility of choice at the distributive end. In the last Government, we completed very exhaustive detailed inquiries into this admittedly complex problem, but we did not take any decisions. We had just completed the job of inquiry. We met the different sections of the trade—the farmers and everybody concerned—and sought their advice. The Election came along, and we were not able to take decisions.
But we now declare that when we resume office, as we shall do, our purpose will be to work out a scheme for the marketing of meat which will satisfy producers and consumers. To do that, it must have an adequate degree of Government control and Government management in it at the appropriate points.
Certainly we deplore the slipshod way in which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman goes on assuming that somehow he will solve the problem merely by passing it over to the trade. If he passes it over to the trade, I warn him that he will destroy the whole basis of our present system of home farming; he will destroy the confidence of Dominion producers, and he will only get in return meat at prices outside the pockets of the great bulk of ordinary households.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman and all of us must face the facts. There is nothing that private enterprise can do to increase supplies of meat. What it is likely to do is decrease the supply of meat. What it certainly would do, if left alone, is divert supplies into the wrong places. The only way out is the way we took and which, as I say, we shall resume in due course. There will be some appropriate form of management of meat marketing to meet the requirements I have mentioned. That is one approach to the problem which is not doctrinaire at all, as distinct from that of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and hon. Members opposite.
I come to another commodity, sugar. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman must know that he would fail to meet our needs if he went back on the guarantees we have given and he has endorsed, and which he has given himself to our producers in the Commonwealth. He would not only do damage 1646 to our sugar interests but irreparable damage to those intangible bonds of unity which are the basis on which the Commonwealth rests. If anything were done to impair those bonds and the determination of sugar producers to maintain markets here on fair terms, it would have most damaging consequences. Here again, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman can guarantee a continuing flow of sugar adequate to our needs by some form of public management and guarantee on the lines I have mentioned.
I have mentioned these matters to show the wide difference in the approach to these problems. In the case of meat, we wanted to retain the market, for the reason I have put forward. In the immediate future certainly, and equally certainly in the long run, we can solve our problem only by methods of this kind. When we solve our balance of payments problem, as we shall, that still will not provide the answer to the overall shortage of food, and the balance of payments problem is not going to be one which will disappear easily.
It looks as if we are now moving to a more solid position in regard to the current crisis but the current crisis is only one of a series of crises which we have had and there will be more in the unbalanced world in which we live. In fact, none of us can look forward to a stable world with abundant dollar resources, particularly in the next two or three decades. But if we could do so with all the abundance of dollars in the world, we should have to face the fact that there are more people wanting food than there is food for them. That is what we need to have in mind, and on that we must base our policy. On that expectation alone, can we devise any constructive long-term plans for feeding the people of this country?
In the last 12 years, in South-East Asia alone 10 million people have been born and they have to be fed. Wherever we look we find a growing demand for more and, while admittedly there is an increase in supply, the increase in supply is always lagging behind the increase in demand. That is the problem facing this country, living as we are on an island which cannot feed itself, with 50 million people wanting four meals a day. It is a problem of the utmost gravity and complexity.
1647 That is our general criticism of the Minister. We are not satisfied with the way in which, in answers to us, he has given the impression that he is content to take these narrow, restricted, short-term methods. We are deeply dissatisfied with that, and want him to consider the wider view which I have put before him.
I want now to come to one or two aspects of the immediate situation which I think should be considered against the general background I have given. So far as the immediate food situation is concerned, I would say that the position of oils and fats seems to be easier. From my information, I think it true to say that here is one commodity of vital importance where currency is the limiting factor on present available supplies. It looks as if oils and fats will be easier for the next two or three years at least, although these things have a tendency to go up or down for all sorts of unpredictable, unforeseeable reasons. Certainly, in the case of oils and fats, we can take an easier view.
The outlook for meat is grave and is inclined to be increasingly grave, in my judgment. The outlook for coarse grains, on which we rely for feeding cattle, seems unfavourable and certainly far from easy. We shall never solve that problem unless we take the kind of steps the Labour Government took to probe the Far Eastern market behind the Iron Curtain and get more coarse grains from Russia along the lines we sought to develop.
The outlook for cereals and pulses is unfavourable. The whole range of these commodities adds up to a picture which is not pleasant, a picture which is not easy, of available potential supplies, which ought to be regarded as a challenge to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his Department and to the Government to proceed with the right kind of steps to find a solution to the problem. Over all it is a prospect of physical shortage which can be eased only by longterm assurances and arrangements with the primary producers, none of them tied to any particular pattern, but each related to the particular type of situation with which we are dealing.
Against that background I raise these points. We on these benches profoundly object to the Government's decision to withdraw food subsidies. The Chan- 1648 cellor's decision to cut subsidies we regard as wholly deplorable and as a serious interference with our efforts, as far as we could, to get a fair sharing of the available, limited, food supplies of this country. I do not myself accept the figure which the Chancellor gave of 1s. 6d. a week. In terms of consequential increases in other foods outside his direct control, it is quite certain that next winter the actual impact of these increases will be much more savage than 1s. 6d. a week. We must remember that this follows other increases made immediately after the General Election.
The point we should like to press on the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is this: Cannot we have now, at once, the complete, comprehensive, details of the proposed increases in prices? I suppose it is too late to press the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to urge the Chancellor to abandon this lamentable decision. We wish he could do that, but, if he cannot. We think it reasonable to ask that we should now be given completely the whole series of these increases. We do object to them gradually dribbling out, one by one. This is a major departure from public policy and means the abandonment of a policy maintained for 10 years at least by successive parties and successive Governments.
We feel that we and the country must judge this matter against the precise details of its consequences. We can only know those consequences if we know precisely on what foods the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is proposing to put the increases. We ask that because we have different views, and probably will have different views, from those of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman about the kinds of food that ought to be subject to these increases. Certainly we feel it reasonable to press at least for a full statement of the whole impact of these proposed changes to enable us to judge them completely as one operation.
I want to raise another point of immediate importance. A few days ago in this House, in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for the Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the take-up of the bacon ration was 100 per cent. He must know that that was evading the real question. Of course, the take-up from wholesalers is 100 per 1649 cent. That is quite well known, but who is getting the bacon in the shops? There are many people—I would not attempt to estimate the number, but many hundreds of thousands of families—in this country who simply cannot buy their weekly bacon ration. It is true that bacon is passing from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's control to the control of the grocers. What are they doing with it? It is going to those who are not under that economic disability.
It is no use saying that there is a 100 per cent. take-up of the bacon ration. I think that the Minister could find out, because the machinery is available if he cares to use it. It may be objected by some purists that that is a form of snooping. I do not know; we use words carelessly in this matter, but I would say that it is an essential responsibility of the Minister to find out exactly who is getting this 100 per cent. take-up of bacon at this time and inform the House. We are assured, on the evidence we have, that large numbers of people are getting more than their shares and that many people are not getting their share.
I turn to one other general proposition. Could the Minister give the House rather more information about his plans for the storing over the full year of home killed meat. On both sides of the Committee the view is held that we must now do much more to spread our home supplies of meat over the year. It is embarrassing to the Minister and to butchers, and it is not easy for farmers, to plan on the present basis. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman could proceed with adequate means of freezing down and storing home-killed meat in the flush season for use in the winter, when we really need it, that would be a welcome constructive development which would have the full support and approval of those of us who sit on this side of the Committee.
There are a number of other points which I had proposed to raise, but I have sketched the general picture as we see it. That picture will be filled in by other hon. Members on this side of the Committee so that the Minister and the party opposite will be aware of our approach to this problem. Others will add to our indictment. The indictment I have set out is simply that we see no signs of a vigorous, imaginative, constructive food policy.
1650 We are getting tired of hearing these repeated variations on the enigma theme of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. It is food we want; it is an honest explanation of the difficulties; above all, we want constructive, resolute action. We are not prepared to follow the party opposite in exploiting our inevitable food shortages for partisan reasons. We will never do that because we believe that to be the way to disaster for any succeeding Government. We want to say frankly to the country that the food situation is not easy, but that the Minister of Food, of whatever party he may be, is bound to be the target for attack, since food is the one thing by which the ordinary citizen can test the good faith and efficiency of the Government.
We urge the Minister and the party opposite really seriously to drop their doctrinaire shibboleths and to face reality, to accept the fact, as they must, because if they do not circumstances will compel them to do so, that the State and the trade have functions and responsibilities in this matter. It should be the job of the Minister to relate those functions in some sort of coherent policy that will meet our needs. It is because we see no signs of such a policy that this Government, in our view, stands condemned and will be defeated in due course by the electorate.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
The right hon. Gentleman has said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer expected a rise of Is. 6d. In the cost of living, and that he did not accept that. Did he accept the statement made by Sir Stafford Cripps that after devaluation there would be a rise of only a halfpenny in the price of a loaf and that apart from that there would be little change in the cost of living?
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ The Minister of Food (Major Lloyd George)
The right hon. Member for Bradford, Central (Mr. Webb) has quite rightly indicated that this debate is one of the most important that 1651 this Committee could possible have. He referred to the fact that there was more disquiet and more criticism at present and went on to say that any Minister of Food was bound to be the target.
I think he will agree with me that a Minister of Food is the target for a good many things for which he would not have been a target in ordinary times. Whatever goes wrong, even the weather, the Minister of Food is criticised in some way or other. Many things which in the ordinary course of events are taken as normal are, because of the very nature of the organisation, put down to the Ministry itself.
The right hon. Gentleman raised many points with which I hope I shall be able to deal in due course. If I miss anything, I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to deal with it afterwards. My first purpose today, as I think the Committee would wish, is to give a survey of the position as I see it.
Since the last debate on the subject in the House, there has been a growing appreciation throughout the country of the nature and gravity of the economic crisis with which we are faced. The Economic Survey for 1952 has been published and makes clear the alarming fall in our financial reserves which has taken place since the middle of last year. Under the direction of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, remedial measures have now been formulated and announced.
Substantial cuts in our imports had to be made last November, almost as soon as this Government took office. This step had, unfortunately, to be reinforced by a further cut in January. On both occasions the blow fell inevitably on food because of the large proportion of our imports which food represents. Subsequently, in his Budget, the Chancellor has consolidated these import restrictions and introduced further financial and economic measures. These are designed to bring back a greater sense of reality into the economic life of the country, and to achieve national security and solvency.
There is no doubt that if the Government had not taken speedy action in November, and later in January, imports, including food imports, would have cut themselves and there would have been widespread want and unemployment.
1652 Although these first steps have been taken, it is idle to pretend that we are out of the wood. As the Prime Minister has said,"It will take all our national strength to avoid the downhill slide.But the effect of these drastic remedies is just beginning to be felt.
My task today is to give the Committee an estimate of what our situation will be in the coming months as far as food is concerned. The right hon. Member for Bradford, Central, asked for a vigorous food policy. I very much hope that we shall at least be more vigorous than our predecessors have been in the matter of food, because when they left office after six years the level of the food ration was roughly the same as when they came in. If that is vigour, I shall hope to try something else.
§ Major Lloyd George
If we are as long in office as were the party opposite, we shall try to show a better result than was achieved in those six years. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman was speaking with a greater sense of freedom from responsibility in his present position today, but I am proposing to give the Committee the position as I found it.
First, I shall say a word about the future level of food supplies and rations. This can be done only in very general terms, because I propose to revert to the wise policy of not attempting to prophesy what exactly the future level of the ration will be. There is the question of how to obtain those supplies and how we may hope to increase them, and finally there is the very important question, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, of the level of food prices and subsidies.
I come to the broad picture of the future level of supplies and I will take the main commodities one by one. First, there is tea. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Labour Government were entirely responsible for initiating the movement to free the tea market. I am very glad they did and it will, I hope, be our pleasure to carry that to its logical conclusion. I am glad to know that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are taking full responsibility for every- 1653 thing that happened at the Ministry before we came. They must take the rough with the smooth—
§ Major Lloyd George
I personally have got nothing but rough and when I get to a bit of smooth, I am only too glad to get hold of it.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the late Government always chose the right time to de-ration. My mind went back to the sweets fiasco not so long ago, and I am anxious to avoid that sort of thing when dealing with tea. I do not propose to hold back any good news which I may have to announce and to deal with the difficult things first. I would say a word about tea because, for a variety of reasons, it is perhaps the most promising thing at present.
As I have already announced, we intend to remove the subsidy on tea from 15th June. I have also announced an increase in the ration from the present level of 2 oz. to 2½ oz. a week from August. Since I gave that news on 9th April, there have been developments which have led to a change for the better in those plans in one important respect. I recently met the tea trade again. There has been a further improvement in deliveries, and consequently in the stock position. This now enables me to increase the ration to 2½ oz. on 13th July, a month earlier than the date previously planned.
§ Major Lloyd George
The hon. Gentleman says that it could have been done in April. It is that sort of observation which makes one realise why it is we are in the mess in which we are today. The increase in the ration and the removal of the subsidy are only the first steps towards the much more important end of complete de-control and de-rationing of tea, and I am hoping, in the absence of any unforeseen event, that we shall be able to do that by the end of the year.
§ Major Lloyd George
I have mentioned before that the price position is perfectly clear. There will be tea available at a very cheap price.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
What does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman call "cheap"?
§ Major Lloyd George
The hon. Lady knows more about tea than I do. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Of course she does. At the present time there is tea available at all prices and there will be ample tea available at a reasonable price.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)
The variation in the price of tea is because there are varying kinds of tea in existence—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—and I want to know what, as a result of taking away the food subsidy on tea, will be the average increase in the price?
§ Major Lloyd George
The price of tea is a weighted average. It has been announced that there will be an increase of 10d. upon the controlled price. It will enable the trade to buy more expensive teas and it will be those more expensive teas which will in fact be subsidising the cheaper teas.
§ Major Lloyd George
No, it is exactly the opposite. The hon. Gentleman is not getting away with that one.
§ Major Lloyd George
The higher-priced teas are very popular in certain quarters and they will be subsidising the cheaper teas.
I now come to meat. Whatever may be the virtues of an extra cup of tea to the British people, there can be no doubt at all that the level of the meat ration is well below what we would like. We need some 500,000 tons more of meat per annum to get back to our pre-war consumption. What are the long-term prospects? Production at home has expanded, particularly with regard to pig meat. In addition, there is one very bright spot overseas—the immensely valuable production in New Zealand.
When Mr. Holland was over here, he assured me that he had every hope of a bumper year of meat shipments this year_ We look forward to about 360,000 tons,. and perhaps even more, if we are lucky. We are very conscious of the great efforts being made by New Zealand producers to make sure that the greatest possible 1655 amount of this meat is sent to this country.
On the other hand, increasing domestic consumption and droughts both in Argentina and Australia have reduced meat supplies from those countries. It is a great disappointment to us, because we still need not only Australian meat, but also as much as we can get from Argentina. It may be that we shall do better this year from South America. Certainly Argentina is taking steps to build up supplies for export, and I think it is realised over there that this country is still their main market.
I would say a word of appreciation of the special efforts which the Argentine Government have made, including restriction of their own home consumption, to send us the 200,000 tons to be shipped under last year's protocol. We all know the great potentialities for meat production in both Argentina and Uruguay, and I hope that we shall soon see both these countries once again in full development.
The Chancellor announced in his Budget speech that there would be an increase of an average of 4d. a lb. in the price of meat. This increase will come into effect on 15th June next. It is, of course, an average. Some cuts of meat and some types of meat will be increased by more than that; in others there will be a smaller increase and in some cases no increase at all.
The present ration of Is. 2d. a week will cost 1s. 5d. from 15th June. But I am also glad to be able to inform the Committee that on the same date, thanks to an improvement in supplies, we shall also increase the quantity of the ration. I shall put it up by about 2d. at present prices, and so instead of a is. 5d. ration it will become Is. 7d.
§ Major Lloyd George
Yes; of course it does. It means more meat, not just an increase in the price. I said that the actual quantity would go up as well. As far as I can see, there is no reason why we should not keep up the ration to at least that level until in two or three months' time the normal increase in the home killings of meat will come along, and we shall be able to increase the ration 1656 and to distribute it almost entirely in the form of fresh home-killed meat.
§ Major Lloyd George
Only for a few weeks.
We intend this year to make a start in the matter of freezing and storing a certain quantity of these home-killed supplies. It will not be much and, for technical reasons, it will be mainly pork. That is a good thing, because pork is more popular in cold weather. These experiments are valuable because every little will help to even out the ration over the year. We are not equipped for large-scale freezing—indeed, it is doubtful whether it is an economical proposition—but we shall do what we can to avoid the violent fluctuations in the level of the ration which we saw last year. A stable and assured supply is what we should aim at, and this was one of the primary aims in the recent price settlement with the farmers.
Although somewhat smaller imports are likely in the present year as compared with last year, the overall supply of bacon will be somewhat greater. This is due to the expansion in home production. Whereas the average domestic ration throughout 1951 was about 4 oz., for 1952 the prospects are for an average ration of about 4½ oz. This is not as much as we would like, but at least it is an improvement, and no mean addition to the total supply of most foods. [HON. MEMBERS: "At what price? "] I will come to prices later. I do not want to avoid that question.
Last year was a very disappointing year for consumers of eggs. Unfortunately, the effects of the bad weather and the killing off of poultry are still being felt this year. [HON. MEMBERS: "0h."] They killed the poultry because there was no meat. I am referring to last year, not this year. We are now at the season of the highest home production. The period of flush production has not been sufficiently marked to allow me to take eggs off the ration for a time. We can be fairly sure, however, that the allocation over the whole of the year will be better than it was last year.
The next item is butter. Even at its present level of 3 oz. a week, the butter ration is certainly not large but I have to tell the Committee that a reduction in 1657 the ration later this year for a period of some months appears unavoidable. This is entirely due to a decline in exports from some of our principal supplying countries.
§ Major Lloyd George
If an excuse is a fact, the hon. Gentleman must face it. The truth is that hon. Gentlemen opposite do not face facts, and we have to.
This is almost entirely due to a decline in exports from some of our principal supplying countries, especially Australia and Denmark. Surely, even hon. Gentle—men opposite know of the troubles in Australia. Here again, New Zealand production has been kept up, but there is no doubt that the high cost of production has made the export of butter not a very attractive proposition to other producers. We must face the fact that butter is rapidly becoming something like a luxury food.
On the subject of cheese, again we have a rather similar story. Supplies from the Southern Dominions will be less this year than we had originally hoped. We shall be hard put to it to maintain the present ration of 1 oz. a week towards the end of the year. The reduction we have had to make in the cheese ration is due primarily to the decision to cut out all purchases of Canadian and United States cheese in order to save dollars.
§ Major Lloyd George
This is the out standing example—I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not miss this one—of the close relationship between our balance of payments and our food supplies. More exports could mean greater dollar earnings, and more dollars could mean more cheese. On the question of margarine and cooking fat—
§ Major Lloyd George
I intend to hold the ration for the rest rest of the year at 4 oz. a week of margarine and 2 oz. a week of cooking fat or lard. This is the same as in 1951. Here again, if we had the currency, we 1658 could undoubtedly buy additional sup, plies to offset the possible fall in the butter ration. We have already had to cut the allocations of fats to manufacturers by 90,000 tons a year compared with last year, and we have done this in order to maintain the domestic ration which must have priority.
On sugar, here again, there is no lack of sugar in the world; but we, short of dollars, cannot buy all that we should like. It has been our policy to safeguard the domestic ration and to keep it at 10 oz. at the cost of supplies to manufacturers and caterers, and also at the cost of some of the extra bonus issues of sugar which have usually been made. I am still sure that it is right to try to keep a stable domestic ration, and we have every hope of keeping it at the 10 oz. level.
I can summarise this broad forward review of our main foods by saying that, compared with 1951, the outlook for 1952 as a whole is much the same. Some ration levels will be better, and some will be not so good. Taking the year as a whole, we shall be getting more meat, more bacon and more eggs. Margarine and cooking fats will be the same. For sugar, butter, cheese, the average ration will be rather lower than last year. But we intend to move, through an increased ration, to the de-rationing of tea.
The Committee will have very much in mind our dependence on our own farmers. They are already producing about 44 per cent. more food than they produced before the war. We look forward—and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has laid the foundations for the necessary degree of confidence and expansion—to their increasing their output to at least 60 per cent. above pre-war.
But this invaluable extra contribution obviously cannot be forthcoming immediately. To maintain our present standards of feeding, and still more to improve them quickly, we must have our food imports, which at present still represent more than half our total food supplies. It is only by our own efforts that we can increase the size of the cake to share among us, and if we want more and better food, we must see to it that we sell the right exports in still larger quantities to our overseas customers.
The right hon. Gentleman opposite twitted me a good deal about my being 1659 a doctrinaire which, coming from him, I thought was rather rich. He said that I really was sticking purely to doctrinaire ideas, that I had only two ideas in my mind on food, and they were to get rid of bulk purchase and to see that the balance of payments position was put right. I should have thought that if we achieved either of those, or both, we should be very well on the way to getting more food.
§ Major Lloyd George
At the prices we always had, which were the lowest possible in the world, and for the best quality. I am prepared to deal with that point as I go on. I am not in the least repentant after what the right hon. Gentleman said about my attitude towards the procurement of food, and I will try to explain my position.
We must always remember that we in this country are in a very vulnerable position in obtaining supplies of food and feedingstuffs from abroad. The United Kingdom takes some 40 per cent. of the total world trade in food, including animal feedingstuffs. Only a few other countries, and they are comparatively small ones, such as Norway, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland, import anything like the proportion of their total food supplies that we do. We are, therefore, heavily dependent on the marginal supplies which the great food-producing areas of the world have available for export. Obviously, therefore, we should do all we can to increase these exportable surpluses or marginal supplies, and the question of how, possibly, we can do this brings me to consideration of the method by which we purchase our food.
I do not think there is any simple formula which can be applied to each and every commodity, and that is my answer to the right hon. Gentleman. He said that I was being doctrinaire and that I had only one formula for all this. I am saying that I am prepared to accept every case on its merits. I am firmly convinced that the best general principle to follow is that which has served this country so well in the past and which has developed large food producing areas all over the world, namely, the skill and enterprise of the private trader.
1660 The favourite hobby-horse of the right hon. Gentleman opposite is world shortages, but he did not ride it quite so hard today. He takes the view that the world population is increasing, and that therefore there are going to be such shortages that we cannot hope to get these supplies. What he means is that the more we progress, the worse off we are all going to be.
§ Mr. Webb
I really must protest against that complete distortion of what I said. It is a fact that the higher the standard of living of the millions of people in the world becomes, the greater their demand of available supplies. It is also a fact that the improvement in world supplies of food has not kept pace with the increase in world demands.
§ Major Lloyd George
The world population has been increasing for many years at a rapid rate, and as far as this island is concerned it has to import most of its food. But its standard of living has been improving for the last 100 years. I do not wish to misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman, but if his doctrine is accepted it means that we have to throw up our hands and decide in future that all of us must have less.
The fact of the matter is that not only are there vast tracts in the world today which through political causes are not producing as much as they used to produce, but that there are others which are not producing anything like they are capable of producing. Therefore, it is a matter of developing them as we developed in the past, and I come back to the point that this was due to the enterprise and skill of the private traders. They are the ones who developed these areas in the past and they are undoubtedly the people to do it in the future.
When it comes to this island, how many of the food supplies we receive are affected by the right hon. Gentleman's point? How much of the sugar which we could get is denied to us because it is now being consumed by other people? Again, how much of the bacon and cheese which we are denied is being consumed by other people? The fact of the matter is that this is a balance of payments problem. It is not due to certain populations in the world increasing their standard 1661 of living and encroaching on what we used to have, because the food of which we are short affects hardly any of these populations.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
I should like to intervene in this interesting exchange of views between the present Minister and the former Minister of Food. is it not a fact that the former main food producing areas in the world, Argentina, America, and other countries, who were basically agricultural in their economies, have, in recent years, increased their industrial capacity, that as a consequence the present percentage allocated to agricultural production is substantially less than before the war, that as a result of this decline in the food producing areas prices have increased, and that therefore we have to pay much more for the food we import?
§ Mr. Webb
As a matter of fact there is something in what the hon. Gentleman says with regard to certain foodproducing areas becoming rather highly industrialised, but there is also a highly encouraging side to that, which is that those countries, and particularly Argentina, are realising that it is not in their best interests.
§ Major Lloyd George
Yes, and that is only the beginning of it. There are many other things they are doing, too.
In any case, it is still my idea and that of the Government that the best way to procure more of the foodstuffs we need is to return that procurement as soon as possible to private enterprise.
But there is one factor which at the moment presents an almost insuperable difficulty, and that is the restriction on the amount of currency which, in our straitened circumstances, we can afford to spend abroad for our main foods. If we could give the private buyer a free hand in terms of currency, I am convinced that in the long run—and it would not be so very long—we should find greatly increased supplies of many commodities coming into the world market. Whatever one may argue about the currency position, which is really the main stumbling block to the procurement of supplies, there is nobody among the party 1662 opposite who could say that we on this side have any responsibility for it whatsoever. The currency position, I repeat, is the main handicap today to the procurement of sufficient food supplies for the people of this country.
The fact of the matter is that at the moment, as far as procurement is concerned, we are in a vicious circle. Put quite simply, supplies of some foods are insufficient to get rid of rationing, and so long as rationing remains and we have to limit the amount we can spend abroad on food we cannot give buyers a free hand to promote and expand sources of food supplies abroad. We can only break this circle gradually and as our economic circumstances improve.
There are special considerations which apply particularly, of course, to the Commonwealth. One of my first duties on becoming Minister of Food was to bring the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement to a successful conclusion. From personal conversations I have since had with representatives of the Commonwealth producers, I know that this agreement has done much to instil that confidence which is so essential if the producers are to give of their best. The Commonwealth Sugar Agreement was entirely arranged after we came into office.
§ Major Lloyd George
In that agreement, as in all the others we have made since, there are Clauses which state,if and when purchasing returns to private enterprise, or if and when the Government ceases to be the purchaser.
§ Mr. Webb
In order to give a true picture the right hon. and gallant Gentleman must complete the rest of that Clause. While it is true that in each of these contracts there g that Clause, it is equally true that it goes on to say that in the event of a return to private buying of these commodities the British Government, through the Treasury, will give guaranteed prices to the primary producers. That is the whole relevance of this arrangement.
§ Major Lloyd George
As the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, in the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement the preference is the main point. I am not 1663 talking about the Australian Agreement at the moment, but about the two agreements for which I was responsible, and the thing uppermost in our minds when we reached those agreements was an unrestricted entry into Great Britain. That was the most important thing of all.
I do not have to stress the difficulties which arise from Government trading. Whatever merits and advantages that may have had in time of war, experience has shown that the system brings in considerations of national prestige and diplomacy which are incompatible with commercial practice. And I am convinced that it is in the best interests of this country to revert to purely commercial methods in dealing with other countries.
As to food prices of which the right hon. Member for Bradford, Central spoke, I have referred to the complications which arise from the relationship between rationing and price control and the food subsidies. The Committee will expect me to say a word on the results of the gradual reduction in the food subsidies and the level of food prices.
In opening his Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out that a high level of expenditure of food subsidies is a clumsy and expensive way of giving help to the needy, since food subsidies benefit rich and poor alike. Social benefits, on the other hand, and the differential rates of taxation, are fitted to individual circumstances and can be designed to supplement the incomes of those people who would be most affected by increases in the cost of living.
My right hon. Friend's proposals, in so far as they reduce the level of food subsidies, were designed to put that money to a more rational use. But they have as well as this main purpose other advantages. For several years now the real facts of the economic and financial situation have been obscured by artificial factors, and the system of food subsidies has certainly concealed from people as a whole what their food has really been costing.
Indeed, this was recognised by Sir Stafford Cripps in 1949. In his Budget speech of that year he said that we must call a halt to the growing size of the food subsidies, 1664or else we shall find ourselves in the ridiculous position of having to refuse to import much needed food, because we cannot afford to pay the subsidy out of our budget."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1949; Vol. 463. c. 2085.]The reduction in the food subsidies is from the level of £410 million, which was fixed by the Socialist Government last year, to an annual rate of £250 million. This involved price increases which would cost about £210 million in a full year, since something of the order of £50 million was in any case required to cover increased costs over the £410 million level, including the increases which we anticipated would be necessary in the cost of home produced food.
But I want to make one point plain. on which I think there has been misapprehension. My right hon. Friend has not imposed a fixed subsidy ceiling for the current financial year, and the actual subsidy this year will depend on the timing and the extent of the price increases which we shall have to bring into operation to come down to the annual rate of £250 million a year.
1 have already mentioned the arrangements for the elimination of the tea subsidy, and I have today announced the date on which the price of meat, and the size of the meat ration, will be increased. To achieve the reduced annual rate we shall have to make increases in the prices of other basic foods in due course.
But, although I cannot make any precise announcement about the date of the remaining increases, I repeat that it is our general intention as far as practicable to bring them into effect as and when the compensating benefits of increased National Assistance, pensions, family allowances and so on, become effective. The Committee will be aware that for administrative reasons it is desirable to make price increases of rationed foods at the beginning of a rationing period.
Perhaps I may remind the Committee what similar price increases were made under the last Government. The need to impose a ceiling on the food subsidies led the last Government during a period of only a little over two years to make increases in the prices of basic foods. The amounts are not without interest. There are 11 items of rationed foods. Increases in prices range from 1½d. on 1665 bread, 4d. a lb. on cheese, 7d. a lb. on carcase meat, 1 s. 2d. a lb. on butter. These are just a few of the items that were increased during the last two years by the late Government.
§ Major Lloyd George
The period from 1st April, 1949, to 3ist July, 1951. These increases were sizeable enough looked at one by one. But, in all, they put food prices up by about £250 million a year on current consumption levels. That was the effect of the price increases the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford, Central, and his Government imposed during the two years before they left Office.
§ Major Lloyd George
We are putting them up by less in fact, if it comes to that. I know hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like this, but I am afraid that they must have it. This does not go down so well when compared with what used to be said before. This is something different which hon. Gentlemen might like to consider before they go to their constituencies next week-end. But never mind the figures, let us contrast the way the increases are made by us with the way right hon. Gentlemen opposite made them. Our increases are part of an ordered plan which gives compensation by social benefit to those most in need. There was no such plan behind the increases put on by the previous Government.
The great merit of these proposals is that at last the country is beginning to face economic reality. To bring the people back to earth when they have been encouraged for so long to live in the clouds is neither easy nor pleasant, but 1666 if we are to overcome our difficulties it is something we have to do; for on whether we succeed or fail in that may well depend the future prosperity and well—being of the British people.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I feel glad to be able to follow quickly the statements the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Minister of Food has made. I am sorry the Prime Minister is leaving the Chamber, because I want to quote him at the very beginning. This is what he said:Abundant food: I am sorry indeed that Lord Woolton is not looking after our food as he did in the war. We should have a better diet now if he were"—that is what the electorate were promised—
at about half the administrative costs.So I take it that the party opposite did not tell the electorate that they would maintain the previous Government's prices. The party opposite said there would be cheap and abundant food. The present Prime Minister said that was the foundation of our strength and would be the foundation of a Conservative Government's policy. Today we have been told that the miserable ounce of cheese at which the mice have been turning up their noses is actually to be reduced. One thinks of the posters that were put up, "Britain strong and free"—on an ounce of cheese a week and an extra pennyworth on the meat ration. That is what your announcements mean. You are increasing the price of meat from is. 2d. to is. 5d. and you are increasing the ration by 2d. on the increased price—in other words, "Thank you for an extra pennyworth of meat."
§ The Chairman
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Lady, but I hope that she is not suggesting that I personally have anything to do with it.
§ Mrs. Mann
It is not two pennyworth. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has made many statements today for 1667 which Parliamentary language does not provide adjectives. Perhaps I may class them in an omnibus adjective and say that they are incorrect. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that when the Labour Government left office the ration was the same as when they came into office. That is incorrect. The Minister had no regard whatever for the fact that when we came into office the rations had been arriving by Lend-Lease, with no regard for the balance of payments position, or for what we could afford. Lend-Lease was responsible for the stocks which were in existence when we came in.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has failed to point out that when we came into office we could not get half a pound of biscuits without giving up points. We also had to submit points for jam, marmalade, currants, raisins, rice, sago and tinned fruit. It was common for a mother to be faced with this problem: if she wanted a tin of fruit for the family—a luxury—she had to give up almost two months points and do without cereals, biscuits, jam and the like. When we left office all that was abolished.
So far from getting abundant food, we have been told that there is likely to be a reduction in butter and that butter is likely to become a luxury food. Shall we hear the dulcet tones of the Parliamentary Secretary coming over the wireless telling us about our proteins and saying how necessary cheese, milk and butter are? I noticed that when he was giving a lecture recently the Parliamentary Secretary was deprecating too much sugar and sweets being given to the children. May we take that as an advance announcement that there is to be a reduction in the sweet ration? We have been told about increases in the price of tea and meat—
§ Mr. F. Harris
Before the hon. Lady leaves the question of butter, I should like to ask her this question. She made an accusation against my right hon. and gallant Friend and said that his statement that the price of butter had gone up by is. 2d. a lb. over a period of two years was utterly untrue. I want to know whether she still supports that allegation.
§ Mrs. Mann
With regard to the is. 6d. increase in the price of food, we have been waiting to know what are these items which will make up the ls. 6d. While we have been waiting for those items, other increases have been taking place every day amounting to more than is. 6d. Let me refer to some of them which have occurred since the party opposite came into office—to use the Prime Minister's words since Lord Wool—ton has been looking after our food.
Here are the increases that have been taking place, apart altogether from the subsidy increases. Cheese went up by 10d. a lb; so did bacon. Semolina has gone up in price, as have flour, haricot beans, sago, tapioca, tinned peas and milk. Even a bottle of sauce has been increased in price. Other articles are creamola pudding, salt, baking powder, soap and soap flakes, vegetables, sweets, cocoa, eggs, bread and potatoes. And the is. 6d. increases are still to come.
This is absolutely incomprehensible coming from a party who came into power telling the housewives that there was no reason at all for the increased cost of living, but that it was due to Socialist bungling and mismanagement, and that it was time for a change. The housewives did not for a moment assume that it was time for a change to still further increases in the cost of living. They innocently thought that the party opposite meant that they were going to reduce the cost of living when they said it was time for a change.
Every time I go into the grocers I find one item after another increased in price, of which there is no mention inside this House. Mention has only been made of these five or six rationed items, and other increases are still to come. I find there are no prunes and no rice in the country. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary must have recited to his children the interesting little couplet:Prunes and riceAre very nice",but we can get them no longer. We find that the prunes that we used to get under Webb's management at 10d. a lb. are now in tins and are costing ls. 10d. a lb. We find not only that Webb's cheese which 1669 used to cost us is. 2d. is reduced to an ounce but that we are driven to buying the blue mould cheese. It is 4s. 6d. a lb. or, if we want it without the blue mould and we buy the Swiss or French Gruyere, it is 7s. 6d. a lb. So that, apart from the ounce of Webb's cheese, which was is. 2d. a lb., we are now driven to buying Gruyere at 7s. 6d. a lb.
One can just imagine the housewife wondering what has struck her. If her husband comes in and says: "Look here, these Budget increases are going to mean is. 6d. a head and there are three of us, so I will increase your housekeeping allowance by 4s. 6d." how far off he would be. How far he would be from understanding the real position which exists in every home.
I can remember an hon. Lady from the other side of the Committee speaking over the wireless, when she said:Dad's got more in his pay packet, it's true —nearly double what he got pre—war; but somehow people don't seem to be any better off.Are they any better off today? Will they be any better off next year? I do not think so. I think they will be worse off next year. The hon. Lady referred to the meat muddle, about which I shall speak for a few minutes. She said:Six months after the Socialists had refused to pay £120 a ton they agreed to pay the Argentine £128 a ton. A Conservative Govt. would leave the buying of meat to men who knew their job and who could do it at their own risk.Apparently the right hon. and gallant Gentleman does intend to pursue that policy. Did anyone ever hear of private enterprise incurring losses at their own risk and failing to pass those losses on to the consumer? The consumer always pays for the losses of private enterprise.
§ Mrs. Mann
Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman really think that he can buy at a better price from the Argentine? Can he give us some idea how much he thinks the Argentine will now demand, and is he really going to send 1670 the trade buyers over to the Argentine in a ship to bid against each other when they arrive? The Argentinians will be delighted to meet a hundred British buyers, all bidding against each other for Argentina's meat.
Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman know anything at all about the facts of life, or about what occurred before, when the private enterprise buyers arrived in the Argentine? Does he know that they eliminated each other in the ship going over, so that there would be only one bidder when they arrived in the Argentine? There was a process of elimination, so that no British trader would enter into competition with another and so bring back the butcher meat at a higher price.
What is the position in the Argentine just now? I think there never was a better time for one buyer to buy on behalf of Britain, because I read that the exportable reserves of the Argentine in wheat, maize and linseed have practically disappeared, and she has had to dispose of her current supplies of hide in a buyers' market. Surely, therefore, we are in a strong bargaining position for what is now her only exportable asset. It will be bad enough to enter into competition with other countries for that exportable asset without, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested, sending over hundreds of meat traders to force up the price by bidding against themselves.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if we are going to have a change? Is the price of meat coming down? It is all very well for him to say that the Labour Government increased the price. We do not want the record to be played over: "Anything you can do I can do better" If we raise the price of meat by 1 d. is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman going to raise it by 2d.?
I have not yet referred to vegetables. Cauliflowers, spring cabbages, onions and tomatoes are going up in price every day though we are expecting tomatoes to come down. But that is not all. I had occasion to put down some Questions in regard to vegetables, not with regard to their price but to their condition. One takes home a cauliflower and finds maggots at the heart. Onions feel all right when they are being put into the bag, but when one goes to cook them 1671 one finds that they are soft and rotten. I know that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has told me that I should be more careful when I am buying.
I notice that hon. Members opposite nod their heads in assent, yet I am quite certain that any smart girl at the back of a counter in any shop in Great Britain—[An HON. MEMBER: "Could take them for a ride."]—could catch them if they went in to buy 1 lb. of tomatoes to take home. She could quite easily put four soft ones at the bottom of the bag and some nice firm ones at the top. If they were kind and generous enough to take home some strawberries for their wives, they would find, over and over again that there would be soft and rotten fruit at the bottom of the basket and nice ones on top. It is occurring all the time.
I was glad to have the assurance that a greengrocer, like any other food trader, can be prosecuted if, for example, he contravenes Section 3 of the Food and Drugs Act, which makes it an offence for a person to sell any article of food which is not of the nature or quality or of the substance demanded, or if he contravenes Section 9 by selling any food which is not fit for human consumption.
I think that right hon. Members opposite ought to give more publicity to this fact, because housewives have been accepting without protest the one or two bad ones they got amongst onions and tomatoes, and almost every kind of food. I always think that the bad fruit or vegetables add one—third to the price, or even double the price, according to the number. When I complain I feel the utmost sympathy for my greengrocer, because he is usually able to show me that the crates have arrived with one-half of their contents bad.
That brings me to the question of distribution. When does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman intend to do something about the distribution and marketing of vegetables? Even the Tory "Daily Mail" commented, on 3rd September, 1951:The grower has been getting too little. The public has been paying too much.The Lucas Committee observed,The channels of disposal were, to a large extent, antiquated, circuitous and excessively costly.1672 "The Economist" said:Perhaps in no other country are vegetables allowed to deteriorate so heartbreakingly between garden and shop counter."The Economist" is by no means a Socialist newspaper. I do not think a reform along these lines would upset the balance of payments. I think the Minister is lazy and inert if he continues to allow this to go on without doing something to meet it and to help the housewife. I notice he is laughing at that.
§ Major Lloyd George
I was not laughing. I have simply been following the example set by hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Mrs. Mann
The days of red letter elections, red meat elections, are over. The people of this country are demanding solid achievements. This is not merely propaganda. I think everyone will agree that during the elections which have just been completed they could all see that the meetings were very poorly attended. I heard of five M.Ps. from this side of the Committee who went to a meeting where there were five people in the audience. I heard of a Cabinet Minister whose largest audience was 27.
What is the lesson to be learned from this? The lesson is that the public are becoming fed up with political promises and with politicians and that they will not listen to any more of this kind of promise. They are looking for achievement. They will judge Parliament by what it achieves, and so, I say, the red letter and the red meat election days are gone. The younger generation, perhaps a cynical generation but one living in a jet—propelled age, in an age of radar, in an age of great scientific achievement, will expect results and will judge political parties by the results. If that is so, the feast of Belshazzar is over and the writing is on the wall.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John Arbuthnot (Dover)
I am glad to have the opportunity of following my compatriot, the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann), in particular because it gives me the opportunity of taking up a point which shocked me considerably —the attack which she made upon shopkeepers and upon girls behind the counters in our shops. I was profoundly disturbed not only by the idea which 1673 seemed to prevail in her mind but also by the fact that, according to the assenting noises on that side of the Committee, she received considerable support. It is regrettable that she should suggest that the girls who serve behind the counters in shops try to get away with a practice of putting bad tomatoes at the bottom of the basket and good tomatoes at the top.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
In defence of the good name of people who serve behind the counters, we should protest against what she said. After all, the best hope of expanding trade is to make sure that customers get value for money. In this country we are known as a nation—
§ Mr. F. Harris
On a point of order. I believe that the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) called across the Floor—I do not know whether to me or to my hon. Friend—and used the word "is that in order, Mr. Hopkin Morris, according to your Ruling, and should he he asked to withdraw it?
The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
I did not hear any remark by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones).
§ Mr. Jones
Will the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) allow me to intervene? My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) went on to say that, having asked for explanations, it was proved to her satisfaction that the trouble was caused through the condition of the crates. HANSARD will prove that.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
The point I am making is that the shopkeepers of this country are a fine body of people, as are the girls who serve behind the counters. We have a reputation as a nation of shopkeepers because we give value for money and we see that the customer is satisfied.
I want to refer to what the right hon. Member for Bradford, Central (Mr. Webb) had to say about the tea industry. As I think the Committee know, this is an industry in which I am closely engaged. He told us that the Labour Party had freed the tea industry and then, talking about meat in this connection, he went on to say that free marketing and competition must be free marketing and competition. Where the Labour Party did not carry through the programme completely was that they did not give the tea industry that free marketing and competition which the industry must have in order to give the best service to the public.
It has been left to my right hon. and gallant Friend to complete the process of freeing the tea industry, and I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating him upon the announcement which he made just now that the date for the increase in the tea ration to 2½ oz. is to be advanced to 13th July.
I have one point to make about that. In my view, the freeing of the tea industry could have taken place over two years ago. It is perfectly true that the party opposite lifted certain restrictions and re-opening the London Tea Auctions. but they kept the industry hamstrung. If they had tackled the task by re—opening the London Tea Auctions and removing the subsidy some considerable time before they did, the housewives of this country would not only he getting more tea today, but the tea which they are getting would have been of better quality as well.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I cannot give way. I want immediately to deal with the question of price. The industry has given a guarantee to the Minister that the 3s. 8d. packet will remain in plentiful supply, even though the subsidy has been removed, and in this way the industry itself is bearing one-half of the cost of the removal of the subsidy on these packets
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
From what has happened at the recent auctions, I think we may find that the price may well come down and we may be able to do even better. In connection with the freeing of the tea industry, I would refer to a comment made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 22nd December, 1951. Speaking of the party opposite, he referred to them as:…those who during six years of peace have tried to buy the food for this island under wartime controls and through Government planners. They aimed at restriction. They got scarcity.1 believe that the tea industry is an example of where this has taken place.
It would have been very much easier to have freed the tea industry had that action been taken two years ago, instead of having been left until today, because during the last two years, during which the tea trade has been kept in fetters, wages, prices of equipment and costs of production have gone up in the producing countries. The result is that, now that the tea trade is being freed, and the price in the tea markets is collapsing, we have reached a stage where in many instances producers must sell their tea below costs of production.
Let it be noted that those costs of production have increased markedly in the last two years because of the way in which the restrictions on the industry hamstrung it, artificially raising prices and with them wages. If those restrictions had been removed earlier, the readjustment could have taken place before the costs of production reached their present high figure, and the transition to a free tea trade, through which the housewives would be able to obtain as much as they wanted and of better quality, could have been more easily effected.
My right hon. and gallant Friend has made an announcement that the increase in the ration to 2½ oz. is to be introduced earlier than he had expected would have been possible. I had hoped that I might have been able to say a word about it to him before he made the announcement and that what I intended to say might have influenced him to increase the ration earlier still. I believe it would have been possible to have increased the ration possibly in June, when it would have coincided with the removal of the subsidy—
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
—and in that connection I should like to say something about the stock position. Let me make it clear in doing so that I am taking the figures from the Board of Trade Returns. I understand that there may be some other figures that my right hon. and gallant Friend has, but I think that the two sets of figures are roughly parallel. We all of us know that tea is produced in Ceylon and South India, where production goes on throughout the year, whereas in North India—Assam and Darjeeling—production is seasonal. In the cold weather we get no production at all from those countires, with the result that the amount of tea coming to this country fluctuates.
Stocks at 3ist December, 1951, were some 70 million lb. and the amount that came in January, February, March and April was 65 million lb., 53 million lb., 53 million lb., and 48 million lb. respectively. The quantity required to provide a 2-oz. ration is approximately 35 million lb. a month, so that the stock position at the end of April this year was 144 million lb. excluding Ministry of Food stocks.
We are just coming to the period in which the amount of tea we can receive from the producing countries will enter upon its seasonal decline, and, taking the figures on a conservative basis, we may expect to receive some 35 million lb. in May, and for the months of June, July, August and September the amounts will probably go down to about 30 million lb. each month, so that by the end of September, which is the crucial period when our stocks will reach their lowest ebb, we shall be comparatively all right, provided that we can make sure that by the end of September stocks are not at a dangerously low figure
. My right hon. and gallant Friend has just told us that from 13th July he is going to raise the ration to 2½ oz. This will require some 43 million lb. of tea a month, so that by the end of September our stocks, if I calculate the position aright, should be in the region of 100 million lb. at the lowest point in the seasonal cycle. After September our stocks begin to increase again, and the amounts which will be coming forward from producer countries will be larger 1677 than the amount required for that 21½-oz. ration and will continue to increase until we reach the highest monthly import figure in December, which is probably 70 million lb.
I was, therefore, hoping that, on the basis of the stock position, we might have been able to give the 2½-oz. ration a little earlier. However, my right hon. and gallant Friend has taken the view—and I am perfectly certain he is right about this—that the lesser objective to raise the ration to 2½-oz. must not be allowed to jeopardise the ultimate aim of freeing the tea trade altogether from its restrictions before Christmas.
But I would remind him that there are two sources from which that danger of jeopardising the ultimate aim may come. There are twin rocks, so to speak, between which he must guide the ship. First, there is the danger that stocks may become too low. That one is obvious. But there is an equal though less obvious peril that through allowing markets to become disorganised, as they would appear to have been in the last three weeks, producers are put in such a position that they make heavy losses, as many of them have been doing, and, of course, they cannot continue to do that for very long.
This danger is that, unless we take off some of the stocks that are at the present moment overshadowing the market, there is a possibility that some producers may find it necessary to curtail their production rather than continue to suffer the loss that some of them have recently experienced. In that connection I would remind the Committee that some 50 per cent. of the tea brought forward to the London market in recent weeks has been withdrawn, not because the price offered was too low, but because bids were not offered at all. It is necessary to bear in mind those twin rocks in our endeavour to make sure that nothing jeopardises our aim to free the tea market completely by Christmas.
There is just one last point I should like to make, and it is this. I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will pay particular attention to the needs of the re-export market and the entrepôt trade. Before the war we used to sell abroad some 80 million lb. of tea, a quarter of which used to be dollar earning, going to the United States, to Canada 1678 and to the other dollar countries. It is essential that the re-export and entrepôt trade, from which we earned foreign exchange, shall be opened up again as quickly as possible, and I hope that it will soon be practicable for my right hon. and gallant Friend to make a further announcement in this connection, in addition to his satisfactory statement today that the 2½-oz. ration is to be brought forward to 13th July.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom
(Sheffield, Brightside): I want to deal with one or two points that have been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot). First, I want to join with him in agreeing that it is time that we re-opened our export market in regard to tea. Judging by what he said, I think he must have a considerable interest in the tea industry, although I do not know what that interest is. He will agree with me, however, that in the main our export trade at that time in tea was due to our special skill in blending, and today the Americans have found out many of those secrets.
I join with him in paying tribute to the good name of our shopkeepers. The people behind the shop counters performed a marvellous service to the country in very difficult days. They not only have to act as grocers or drapers, as the case may be, but they have to be accountants, Philadelphia lawyers, psychologists, and a whole host of other things. That is in times of peace. In time of war they become the main supplier to the Forces of the Kingdom. It is well-known that at Dunkirk the boys in the slit-trenches were saying "Next please" in the tone of someone who could only have worked at Selfridge's, Maple's, or one of those establishments.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
It is an Americanism for a lawyer who knows everything about what is happening to ordinary people who live close to him and gives advice accordingly.
Listening to the Minister's speech, I did not know quite how to classify it. 1679 I find it difficult even now. It seemed to be a cross between a man going into battle with his White Ensign half-way up the mast and his engines full astern, and a man trying to ride a carthorse with his back to the horse's head thinking he was going to win the Derby. Certainly it could not have been made by anyone who knew much about our food situation. Nevertheless, I am glad that he entered the debate because it gives us plenty of ammunition to fire at him.
I am glad, too, that we are having the debate, because of its importance to our people, although I regret that the Opposition have had to give up a Supply Day. The problem of food and the price level is of sufficient importance for the Government to take such an interest as to give it priority in our business. It cannot be emphasised too strongly that the problem of rising prices is a very pressing one for people of both low and modest incomes.
I do not intend to recriminate about what the Minister of Food or any other Member of the Government said during the Election. I know that the statements they made then have been freely and justifiably used by my hon. and right hon. Friends. But I am very concerned about some of the statements they have made since the Election, and promises made since the Election which they have broken. First, I take the Chancellor's statement that the effect of the Budget proposals would be to raise the cost of living by 1 s. 6d. a head per week for consumers.
This morning, quite by chance, I happened to be taking a party round the House, one of whom was a woman with a family of four who said, quite voluntarily, "The increase in the cost of flour alone has meant ls. 7½d. a week in my household. Also Plasmon Oats have gone up 6d. a packet." The rise in those two commodities alone means a cost to that household of 8d. a week per head, leaving out of account major items such as butter, bacon, cheese and unrationed foods. These are main foods, and this is something the Government will have to consider in determining their food policy. I am not attributing all this to the present Government. Please do not think that for one moment. I am thinking of this 1680 as a problem to be looked at objectively, because if I could see an end to the rising cost of living I should feel that one of the major social problems of our day had been solved.
I have here some official prices, which have been checked by chartered accountants, for sugar, fats, bacon, cooking fat, tea, meat and peas. The average increase in 1952 over 1951 is 28 per cent. The largest increase is for bacon. Neither the Parliamentary Secretary nor his right hon. and gallant Friend can accuse the late Government for the heavy increase in the cost of bacon. This year it is 54 per cent. over last year on these official figures. The problem of the cost of living is a major social problem. Apart from anything Members of the Government said during or since the Election, it is a problem which ought to receive priority attention, but we do not see any evidence of their taking the slightest interest in it, except when it is raised by the Opposition.
I hope that the Chancellor, too, realises that the increases, or some of the price increases, are over and above the ls. 6d. he envisaged as a result of the food subsidies cut. The Parliamentary Secretary and I were prevented, by reason of the House being counted out, from having an altercation on the problem of the rising prices of canned and preserved meats, not one penny of which could be attributed to the Budget cuts. The Budget cuts have yet to come, and they will be a further addition to the already heavy increase in the cost of living.
I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer realises these facts, especially today. In view of his attempt to persuade the T.U.C. to accept the principle of wage restraint, and in view of the rising cost of living, how can the Government logically, intelligently or even wisely try to persuade the T.U.C. to accept a policy of wage restraint, when they have given a 100 per cent. increase on the Bank rate? These are facts which cannot be disputed. These are the facts on which the people of this country are judging the present Government and which are behind the results of all the local elections which have taken place during the last few months.
It is against this background of wages that we have to contemplate what these price increases mean, not particularly to the hon. Gentleman opposite who can afford to buy butter, but to those people 1681 who already have not the means, by reason of the rise in prices, to pay for the rationed commodities to which they are entitled. One can go into almost any grocer's shop in the country and buy butter, bacon or cheese. The shopkeepers will sell these commodities at the offical price because they have quantities over and above the ration by reason of the fact that many people cannot afford to buy these commodities.
I suggested in my Budget speech—[Laughterl.]—I mean in the speech I made during the Budget debate; if I had made the Budget speech it would have been far better than the one the Chancellor made—that a cut in food subsidies was a prelude to the abolition of rationing altogether. I said that it was a start to rationing by the purse, and events have proved me right by reason of the fact that grocers can sell commodities over and above the ration at the official price because people cannot afford to buy them.
I want to deal with the question of meat. The Minister of Food today has envisaged that during this year there will be a greater supply of meat. I question whether he will be right; I think it all depends on the results of our negotiations with the Argentine. He has talked about refrigeration. I am glad of that because I have pressed all Governments during the last 20 years to establish adequate refrigeration in this country, and especially in the ships bringing meat to this country. When he envisages a better response in the import of meat from New Zealand, I want to tell him that he is not going far with that because of the difficulty in finding sufficient ships with refrigeration to carry that meat.
I want to put one or two points to the Parliamentary Secretary on this meat problem. Unfortunately, the House was counted out when I was prepared to join issue with him on the last occasion. He is here now, and I ask him: How are the negotiations going on with the meat importers in this country in regard to the Argentine situation? I know that the Government have invited the meat traders and meat importers to form a deputation to go to the Argentine to purchase meat for the Government in terms of bulk buying. I also ask this question: Is it true that the meat importers have refused to accept that commission because, in the first place, they, having argued 1682 against the principle of bulk buying and long-term agreement, would find they would have to accept the principle of bulk buying on long-term agreement when they got to the Argentine, at a far higher price than that fixed by the late Labour Government?
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Charles Hill)
Would it relieve the anxieties of the hon. Gentleman if I said that his supposition about the character of the agreements with the meat importers is, in the first place, without foundation, and that the second part of his statement is equally ill-founded?
§ Mr. Winterbottom
We got what we wanted on the last occasion when debating this problem, so I can forget any announcement by the meat traders and their official associations, and the similar announcement which was made some weeks ago in respect of this problem. We hope that the Government will continue the policy of the late Government of bulk buying, because I am firmly convinced—and this follows on the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie—that if we send the private traders across to the Argentine, we shall find that, because of the disagreements among themselves on this particularly difficult problem, we have to pay even more than we do at the present time.
It has been announced in the Press that at the present moment Australia is finding it difficult to supply butter at the prices we are at present paying, because they are losing 7½d. on every lb. they sell to us, and this has got to stop. Therefore, we can anticipate a fairly heavy increase in price in the next agreement on butter which should be negotiated very shortly. That agreement will probably be at 8d., 9d. or 10d. per lb. That will go on the bill and the consumers of this country will have to pay the new prices that Australia will demand.
I want to find out precisely how the Government intend to approach this problem. Are they going to deal with Australia in the near future in order to allay the feelings of the people of this country, who feel that butter in this country will soon become a luxury? If it becomes a luxury, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will not know that it is a luxury because they will be able to pay for it, and it will be only the people of my 1683 class who will be driven back again to margarine and the spurious fats which we had in the old days.
Unless the Government review the problem of subsidies for some of the main foods of this country, then, quite frankly, I say that the food position and the price levels will go from bad to worse, and the only consulation we shall have is that it will be the reason for the people of this country finally turning out this Government, lock, stock and barrel; and they are anxiously awaiting that opportunity at the present moment.
I know the difficulty about the fruit and vegetables problem. It is impossible for any Government at present to say clearly what can be done about fruit and vegetables. What with the farmers, the wholesale market, the intermediaries and the price for the retail trader, there are all kinds of complications.
A cabbage which represents to the grower 2½d. at the peak period of the year costs the housewife Is. or 1s. 2d. This is a problem not of the Government's making, but it is one which will have to be solved eventually by this or by another Government. I want to know whether the Government are merely lying back and taking things as they come, or whether they have a plan to deal with the problem. In the past they were responsible for many inquiries into the huge discrepancies in the prices of fruit and vegetables between the grower and the consumer, but they have never acted on the findings.
The Minister twitted my right hon. Friend when my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie said something about fruit and vegetables. I would point out that the late Government were evolving a plan to deal with the problem and we hope that that plan will shortly be prepared and will become part and parcel of the Labour Party's policy.
I should like to know what the policy of the Government is on this vexed question. Will the Government still permit a system under which prices in isolated instances 1,000, 1,200 and even 1,500 per cent. above the cost of production are charged to the housewives? Surely the time has come, not for another inquiry, but for some action to relieve the anxieties of the housewife in this respect. I am not alone in asking these questions; 1684 they are asked by almost everyone who goes into our shop and buys commodities at these very high prices. They are questions which will have to be answered by the Government; if they are not, the Government will be rightly condemned for their indifference and apathy towards this most important problem.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Hurd (Newbury)
Whether we like it or not, we are all being forced to be realists about food today. From the Opposition Front Bench, as well as from the hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom), we have already had some good sense mixed up with some party politics. From my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Food we had, for the first time since I have been a Member of the House of Commons, a completely straightforward statement of the position and the prospects. He did not try to wrap it up in any political white sheet or in any political excuses. That was good. The world is in a grim way for food, and we are in a particularly difficult position, being an industrial island packed with 50 million people and able to grow enough food for only 30 million, and we have also run short of foreign exchange.
Under the Socialist administration—I believe I carry some hon. Members opposite with me on this—we have perpetuated administrative controls but have done very little to encourage enterprise in getting more food for our people. Business enterprise and acumen have been suppressed, and that is costing us dear today. We find that we are just not able to command supplies abroad and we have lost a good deal of our skill in winning those supplies by normal business methods.
The controllers and enforcement officers of the Ministry of Food have built a magnificent "empire" for themselves, and, like all good empire builders, they are very reluctant to see any encroachment on their domains. According to the last return, the Ministry's staff on 1st January totalled 26,135. That is about 1,000 fewer than it was last October, but it is still a very big administrative staff and a heavy drain on the skilled manpower, as well as the finances, of the country.
1685 We on this side of the Committee will give my right hon. and gallant Friend full support as he takes courageous measures to make enterprise, rather than control, the keynote of our food policy. Enterprise is what has been mainly lacking in the last six years. My right hon. and gallant Friend will have to take risks, sometimes against the advice of civil servants who for 12 years have been able to shelter behind State buying and price-fixing policies.
Our traders, who have been kept in leading strings, have not been able to serve the country as they know best. Unless they soon get that opportunity, I am afraid that they will lose a great deal of their skill. In the past it was on the skill, the enterprise and the ability to take risks of the individual and the private enterprise firm—despite what the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) told us—that we depended for getting not only ample but also cheap supplies of good-quality food for our country.
When I was in New Zealand and Australia 18 months ago, I met many producers of food. They cannot understand why we persist in buying on Government account. This is the kind of thing that happens. I went into a meat works at Rockhampton in Queensland where bullocks about six or seven years old and weighing roughly a ton each were being killed. It was coarse heavy stuff. As the carcases went along the line, markers were put on them to show their destinations.
I asked where certain carcases were going and was told that they were going to the United Kingdom. I said, "That is not the kind of stuff we want. We have a small enough meat ration anyway. Why send us this heavy coarse stuff? It is heavy-boned and overloaded with fat. We do not want it." The reply was, "We cannot sell it in Sydney. Your Government buyers put the same price on everything, and so it goes to you."
That is what I mean when I say we are losing not only in quantity but also in quality and value by denying ourselves the skill and enterprise of traders who know the markets abroad. Australia hopes to be able to send us meat in greater quantity, although not immedi- 1686 ately. Unhappily, after the disastrous droughts this year, particularly in the Northern Territory and Queensland, she will send us precious little this year. It is vitally important to encourage enterprise in Australia to expand meat production for us as well as for her own needs in Sydney, Melbourne and her other towns. We can do that best by regaining their confidence in the sanity and economy of our trading position.
As we all know, there have been serious losses through drought in Queensland, and I am sure the whole Committee will be with me when I say how much we sympathise with the pastoralists of Queensland and the Northern Territory in their losses. I have had a letter from one station in the Northern Territory. There were 12,000 head of cattle, a very useful reservoir to supply some of the beef we hope to get from Australia. They have already lost 4,000 mature cattle and 3,000 calves. That is an indication of the setback in meat production in this part of Australia.
I was very glad to hear the tribute paid by the Minister of Food to New Zealand. No one has been more loyal in trying to meet our needs in difficult times than the New Zealanders. They, too, do not like Government trading any more than we do. I have discussed this with members of their Meat Producers Board. They are anxious to be allowed to market themselves their high-quality lamb in this country. They think—and I am sure they are right—that in this way they can best establish full confidence between producers in New Zealand and consumers here. This will result in increased production.
I was glad, too, that the Minister made it quite clear that the agreement signed with New Zealand, in the same way as that signed with Australia for meat and in the same way as the Commonwealth sugar agreement, does not rule out a return to private enterprise trading. I am sure that we shall find greater keenness and get better value for our money as well as give greater satisfaction to the producers in the Commonwealth when we return to the system we all understand and the system which suits us.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford, Central (Mr. Webb), suggested that even if we had Government buying of meat—and he seemed to cling to that theory as a permanent feature in 1687 our food policy—it would be five years before we could do away with rationing. He said that if we did not have Government buying then the delay would be indefinitely prolonged. I take the opposite view, a view which is shared by the meat producers in Australia and New Zealand. I would encourage my right hon. and gallant Friend to go forward with his ideas for using the skill and experience of our traders as soon as he possibly can.
We look also to the Minister of Food to work out better methods of dealing with our home-killed meat. It is often forgotten that home-killed meat amounts to more than half of our total supplies of meat. The autumn killings are heavier than the killings in any other time of the year. The autumn killings are twice as heavy as in the spring, and for that reason I am pressing my right hon. and gallant Friend to start reserving in cold store some of the heavy output of beef cattle and lambs in the autumn, releasing it from Christmas onwards.
I was very glad to hear this afternoon that definite plans are going forward for this, although the Minister spoke as if it would be mainly confined to pork this year. It is good to have a start. I hope we shall be able to gain some experience with freezing home-killed Iamb and beef so that if it proves economical we can expand this, knowing what the snags are.
The Minister of Food would be well advised to take his courage in both hands and free the market for pork next winter. That will be a shocking suggestion to some of the controllers in the Ministry of Food, but I base my case on the number of pigs, particularly the number of breeding sows. We have 580,000 breeding sows now as against 542,000 before the war in 1939. Happily, too, we are growing more barley to feed the progeny of these breeding sows, thanks to the initiative of the Minister of Agriculture this spring, and we are getting good supplies of coarse grains from abroad. Incidentally, it should be possible quite soon to clear away the feedingstuff ration system altogether.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain to the Committee how he would be able to quote those figure about breeding sows if the farmers had not to fill in forms?
§ Mr. Hurd
A sow does not live on Government forms but on barley grown in this country or imported from Russia and other countries. We have a rapidly increasing breeding stock, and that is one of the most encouraging features of meat production at the present time.
Our bacon production is well above pre-war. The weekly average before the war was 3.000 tons; it is now up to 5,000 tons. This is very satisfactory indeed. Some people view the freeing of the pork market with apprehension, because they think there will be such a rush into the market that the bacon market would be denuded. I do not believe that need happen. All that is required, surely, is to encourage farmers to make contracts with the bacon factories. That would be a return to well-tried pre-war practice. I myself had a contract with the Pig Marketing Board to supply 30 pigs a month to the bacon factory. if I kept up a regular supply, I got the full price, but if I fell down on my numbers I was docked part of the price.
I am pretty certain that with the increasing number of pigs in the country we could quickly restore these contract arrangements through the Pig Marketing Board direct with the factory. That would enable the Ministry of Food to dispense with their pig allocation officers, and to give the bacon factories a much better quality of pig than they are getting. Now they have to take all kinds of pigs, some of which are not suitable for bacon production and ought to be going for pork.
To give the housewife what she wants, pork pigs will have to be taken at lighter weights than the Ministry of Food pay the full price for now. I should like the Minister to say that from November onwards he will guarantee the same price for the lighter pigs as he now pays for the heavier pigs that are going through the bacon factories. He will get a remarkable response which will be most satisfactory to the housewives of this country. I realise that the Minister's 1689 advisers will be horrified at any suggestion of freeing the pig market, but the sow is such a wonderfully prolific animal that I would take the risk and I press my suggestion.
I would also say that the Minister will very soon be justified in freeing the egg market. What has been happening? In recent weeks farmers have been sorely tempted by motorists to accept 6s. per dozen or so for their eggs at the back door, instead of sending the eggs to one of the official packing stations where they got 3s. 7d. a dozen. The official price has now risen to 4s. London friends tell me that there has been a very substantial black market on the side, and there probably is today. It is not a good thing if some lucky people are able to get eggs at 6s. a dozen and others, like the stay-at-home housewife, without a roving husband, has to take the allocation of two eggs a week at the dairy or the grocer's shop. It is true that she pays only 5s. a dozen instead of 6s. They are not all rich people who are getting eggs on the side, and the practice is going on more widely than perhaps the Minister realises.
If egg production continues to increase satisfactorily, the Minister should take the risk of removing eggs from the ration next spring and keeping them off the ration. Hon. Members opposite say that if there is a black market we must have more enforcement officers. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said that at Question time yesterday. I am sure that that is not the right answer. We want the production of eggs to continue increasing and the price to be decided by supply and demand. We know pretty well what the price would be, because we know the black market price. It is nothing terrible.
§ Mr. Hurd
The right hon. Member should not be so impatient. I was just coming on to that point. It is always as well to listen to an argument until it is completed. The egg producer is entitled to a basic guaranteed price for eggs 1690 just as the milk producer is for his milk and the wheat grower for his wheat. That can be arranged perfectly well through the packing stations without the highly artificial structure erected and maintained in recent years. It is quite an easy thing to do. You let supplies go through the packing stations, and at the time of flush production, which is from March until May, the Government say: "We will underpin the price at 4s."—or 4s. 6d., or whatever the appropriate price is. We do not need a complicated and costly administrative machine running the whole year in order to do that.
§ Mr. Hurd
I have suggested a support price which would eliminate the black market, which is bad for the morals of our people. We are a good-natured and law-abiding people. The black market grew up under Socialism. Moreover, my proposal would save considerable administrative costs, and I should like the Minister to examine it sympathetically.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Is my hon. Friend aware that the eggs division of the Ministry of Food is costing no less than £1½ million this year for administration alone?
§ Mr. Hurd
That is valuable supporting evidence. The Minister is no doubt well aware of the cost of the different sections of his Department and I hope he will look with all the more sympathy on the suggestions I have made.
At Easter I was in Brussels, and I went round the markets in the poorer streets on the Monday morning before I returned home to see how the housewives were doing their shopping and what they were buying. It is all a free market there. There are mountains of butter, lots of eggs, steaks, and all that kind of thing. There is no shortage of food. Prices are higher than they are here. I inquired from an official source what proportion of income a working-class family in Brussels expends today on food. The figure I was given was 60 per cent. I imagine that is considerably higher than the comparable figure here. I should think our figure is 30–40 per cent. 1691 In Belgium there is plenty for all. The Belgians prefer a good table to spending their money on pools or on television sets. Who will say they are wrong in their values? They are getting what they like, which is good food, and by heaven, they give you a very good meal in their homes. That is how they like to spend their money when they have worked hard—on having a good dinner. That is not the value we put on food. We put greater values on gambling, smoking and alcohol, and on such entertainments and amenities as television sets. The Belgians do differently. It is well to realise how other people quite close to us geographically rate their values in everyday life.
That is why I said it was good that we are facing realities this afternoon. One of the realities we have to face is that our people need more good food, which goes with harder work. One of the reasons our people have not all been able to put in the long hours and give all the extra output that our economic plight demands is that they have not had enough good sustaining food. Good food and plenty of it is implicit in Conservative policy. This cannot be achieved in a few months. When the new Minister took office, he found a bare cupboard, the housekeeping money overspent and a tangle of controls. To some extent he has been able to remove those controls. His predecessor had started in the matter of tea. All praise to him.
I hope that the present Minister will be able to continue that process. Our present Minister gives the impression sometimes of being rather baffled by the legacy which he has inherited. He does not always show himself very adept in public relations. Perhaps that is because he follows two Ministers of Food who were exceptionally smooth in the matter of public relations. Even so, as he develops his policy and gradually get our food affairs straight, the people of this country will recognise the good job he is doing. We from this side of the Committee wish him well.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
I always listen with great interest to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) when he speaks in agricultural debates. He is a distinguished agriculturist and he 1692 expresses expert views, but I cannot say that about his intervention in our food debate today. He made the shocking and fantastic statement that the Belgian worker has a different sense of values, that he thinks in terms of a good dinner, and that our people have other values and think in terms of football pools and television. That is a fantastic interpretation of the desires of the people of this country.
My constituents work hard, play hard and like a good dinner, just as the hon. Member for Newbury does. Moreover, when thinking of prices of food on the Continent, it should be remembered that in many of those countries where they have a free market there is parallel with it a measure of unemployment. There was a serious problem in Belgium in relation to unemployment and the lack of purchasing power of the people who were unemployed.
I have heard the usual sneers from hon. Members opposite about civil servants and controls. I was surprised that the hon. Member for Newbury raised that again, although I know that on previous occasions he has inveighed against farming from Whitehall. However, I do not think he would accept the view of the older right-wing section of the Conservative Party, that we should remove guaranteed prices and assured markets from our main agricultural structure.
The hon. Gentleman went on to deplore State interference in that direction. If we are to solve our food problems it is important that we should give guarantees to our producers of food, and only the State can give those guarantees. I hope that when the hon. Member considers his criticisms of food policies he will relate them to what he said on previous occasions regarding an agricultural policy.
The Minister also made an amazing statement today. of which I took a careful note. He talked about our increase of food since the war as being 44 per cent. Then he said that his party—I am not certain which party he meant—laid the foundations of this.
§ Major Lloyd George
The hon. Gentleman did not quite understand what I said. I said that the increase to date was 44 per cent., but that steps taken now would help to increase in to 60 per cent.
§ Major Lloyd George
I said that the increase hitherto was 44 per cent., and that we hoped the foundations laid by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture would increase it to 60 per cent.
§ Major Lloyd George
I am not trying to take anything away from the Labour Government, but I am entitled to point out that a tremendous part of that increase was the result of measures taken during the war when there was a Coalition Government.
§ Mr. Peart
But the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree that since the war there has been virtually a revolution in. our countryside. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Gentlemen opposite say "No," but it is on record. An ex-Conservative Minister of Agriculture said that since 1945, under a Labour Administration, we had increased our food production considerably. That record is there. It has been praised. In United Nations statistics we have the best record for agricultural recovery in Europe.
§ Mr. Peart
I cannot give way now. I will follow the example of the hon. Member for Newbury, if the hon. Gentleman will wait until I have finished my argument. We laid the foundations of that progress in the Act of 1947, in the Hill Farming Act of 1946, in the Livestock Rearing Improvement Act. I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will bear in mind that that was done through State interference, through guarantees, which must continue even under a Conservative Administration.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman also made a plea for more exports to get more food. That is not new. I can 1694 remember the late Sir Stafford Cripps stumping the country on that, and I can remember also how he was violently attacked in this House by Conservative Members for his export policy and for his attempt to place economic realities before the country and before the Conservative Party, who were trying to make the electorate believe that there was not an economic problem to face. They said, "Remove the wicked Socialists, remove bulk buying, remove planning and control and we will go into a Tory Utopia."
I am glad the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is now facing realities, although I think he is caught in his own propaganda.
§ Mr. F. Harris
Will the hon. Gentleman recall the statement made by one of his own right hon. Friends, that only a lunatic would talk of the need for exports?
§ Mr. Peart
When Sir Stafford Cripps was responsible for policy, as President of the Board of Trade and before he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he always stressed the need to export more. And we did. British people made tremendous efforts in that direction despite the gloomy analysis of the hon. Member for Newbury. Those efforts were reflected in increased exports to world markets. Despite all that, and despite what has been said about the future of our rations, I say that there can really be no dramatic improvement—
§ Mr. Peart
I shall try to explain. The Minister of Food chided my right hon. Friend for his conception of world shortages. Every person, whether he be Tory or Socialist, must face the economic realities which have been mentioned today, and must face our food position in the context of world supplies. In view of world shortages we should continue the policy which a Labour Government laid down: that despite shortages, we must have fair shares, that we must have improved social services, that we see that the purchasing power of our people is kept at a high level.
§ Mr. Peart
The hon. Member must let me develop my argument. I have given way on four occasions. It is vital, 1695 if there is a shift in emphasis in the international field, for this country always to be prepared to cushion its people against the effect of world shortages. I have mentioned the social services which a Labour Government developed, the policy of full employment, food subsidies—
§ Mr. Peart
I want to develop my theme, if the hon. Member will let me. I like interruptions and will always give way if they are courteous.
There is a world problem. After all, more people die of famine than of war. I want to quote from the Director-General of F.A.O. After all, the Government make their contribution to F.A.O. In his recent message on the anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration, Norris Dodd, the Director-General of F.A.O., said that half of the world's population's right to enough food was still distant. Out of 2⅓ billion peoples of the world, one in three lives where on an average there is enough food for good living. One in six lives where there is enough food, not so good or plentiful as in the first category, but one in two lives in an area where there is not enough food. That was mentioned by my right hon. Friend, and it was reported again in a United Nations Bulletin on 1st October, 1951, which said:World production of food is not keeping pace with the growth of world population.It went on to say:As compared with the pre-war situation the food production has increased about 9 per cent. while population has increased by about 12 per cent.That is a reality which we must face.
What is serious is that the gap between the well fed and the ill fed is increasing. In other words, the well fed are becoming better fed, and the ill fed are becoming worse fed. That is what I glean from information from United Nations. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] An hon. Member does not agree. What is more. however, the official United Nations Bulletin stated that improvement in supplies will be primarily in regions 1696 where consumption per head is at high levels, and that there will be little noticeable improvement in most low consumption countries. That is important. As members of F.A.O., we have a responsibility.
A representative at a recent F.A.O. conference declared that 90 per cent. of the food produced is consumed in the country of its origin and that that percentage was likely to increase. The great danger which we face is that the amount of food available to meet emergencies—like famine, which we have seen in India —will be diminished. What is more important, the exportable surpluses of countries which produce food—the Argentine, for example—will diminish and that will affect not only this country. but the colonial territories, where we have a measure of responsibility.
It is those world realities which we must face. We stressed this during the time of the Labour Government. Men like Lord Boyd Orr have tried to face them in another field. We have the example also of that wonderful book by De Castro, "The Geography of Hunger." which shows that not only is there hunger in the narrow sense, but that many peoples of the world have inadequate diet and, therefore, suffer severely from certain nutritional diseases.
If we accept that standard of hunger, two-thirds of the population of the world are hungry. An American Committee actually put the figure at 85 per cent. Therefore, when we consider our own increase of food supplies, we must always bear in mind that world picture. It would be very wrong for us to neglect it.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am very glad that the hon. Member is making that point. Sixty-four per cent. of the world's production live at one-eighth of our standard. Is the hon. Member prepared —he is a good Socialist, who believes in fair shares—to apply that principle internationally and to go back to his constituents and say, "You have got to share your surplus rations with the blacks, the browns and the yellows, who are having a great deal less"?
§ Mr. Peart
The hon. Member has made a fair debating point. I am quite prepared to go back to my constituency and say that, in view of the food shortage in 1697 many parts of the world, we must be prepared to devote a part of our capital investment—our national income—to the giving of technical assistance for improving production in those countries. It means that we are prepared to say to our constituents that some of our national wealth should be devoted to the improvement of conditions in the Colonies and in those other countries—
§ Mr. Peart
The hon. Member implied that. I should have thought that in this direction there was at least some measure of agreement, that in relation to the problems of food we should give every assistance to international action to deal with it in relation to F.A.O.
F.A.O. has declared that production is not keeping pace with population increases and that, therefore, those Governments who are members, including, of course, ourselves, must in the next five years plan against this serious problem. At their conference in Rome on 19th November, the F.A.O. called for a world goal and said that there must bea well balanced increase of at least 1–2 per cent. per annum in world production of basic food…in excess of the rate of population growth.F.A.O. then recommended that all the countries should co-operateby preparing and carrying out forward agricultural development plans suited to their own circumstances and conditions covering the next five years.I understand that those plans are to be reviewed regionally over different periods and that the first report is to be made in the spring of 1953.
We have a special responsibility. I argue the case that I have argued in reply to the intervention of the hon. Member for Louth. There must be a dramatic 1698 increase of agricultural production in our own country. I hope that the target which has been mentioned by the Minister of Agriculture and by the Minister of Food today will be achieved. I hope also that we do not disband any plans to develop resources in the Colonies, about which I will not speak at length as other hon. Members wish to deal with that aspect. We must, however, have international action; there must be an attempt to co-operate with other countries.
One of the weaknesses affecting the problem has been the lack of knowledge, the failure to pool technical knowledge, and the failure to exchange information about the improvement of livestock production and crop raising. There is, too. incomplete knowledge of world resources. I tried in the last Parliament to raise issues like soil erosion in the colonial territories. The problem is a tremendous one, and was described by the late General Smuts as being bigger than politics. It is vitally necessary that we should have co-ordination with other countries on these problems.
There is also still a lack of opportunity for primary producers in many of the colonial territories where we have a direct responsibility. That has always been the background of many of these agrarian communities—the lack of credit, of equipment and of "know how." We can help in that direction. Another important point is the instability in the world system of exchange—for example, the instability in prices for wheat. We all have heard that well-known Canadian rhyme:Here lies the body of Farmer Pete, Who died from growing too much wheat." That clinches the argument in relation to the problem which faces the primary producer throughout the world.
What can we do? Some people say that F.A.O. is idealistic and Utopian. There is much that can be done. I saw today a rather interesting editorial in the "News Chronicle" describing in great detail the international action which is now taking place in the Middle East to conquer the plague of locusts. Once I happened to see a locust storm in North Africa. It was an awe-inspiring sight, but it was really tragic to see the little Arab farmers trying to drive away great clouds of these insects. Here, this very week, we are getting international action on this 1699 pest which impedes food production. I am glad to see that while F.A.O. are doing so much the Russians have also come in and are sending aircraft and insecticide to the areas concerned and, in this field of international affairs, we have their co-operation.
Then there is the European Plant Protection Organisation to deal with the colorado beetle, potato root eelworm and other pests which considerably affect our food even in our own country. I understand that the British Government signed a convention in 1951. That is the type of work which is important, because disease, insects and animals do considerable harm to our food supply.
There is also the F.A.O. action which we have seen in Korea, the Mission they have sent to Bolivia and Uruguay, and the technical assistance agreed with the Portuguese Government to examine nutrition policy in Portugal. There was also the hybrid maize experiment conducted recently in Italy to improve production and quality, and the sending of experts to Libya by F.A.O. to develop the economic resources of that area. All this is important, all this is happening, and all this must be considered. I do hope that this Government, as a previous Labour administration did, will give every support to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. I believe it to be the most important agency of the United Nations.
It is so vital when we think of our own domestic food position. We need a world crusade against this world problem. It has been dramatically described by countless numbers of publicists, not only in this but in other countries throughout the world. It is one way, I believe, to break down prejudice and hates. If we can get combined action as described by the F.A.O., we can make a tremendous advance.
I believe profoundly in the words of the late Ernest Bevin, that we can never have peace out of hunger. If we approach our food position here at home and relate it to the world problem we, with our great influence in F.A.O. and our great responsibility in the colonial territories of the Commonwealth, can make a great contribution to a world problem which has got to be conquered.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Remnant (Wokingham)
I hope that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) will forgive me if I do not follow him beyond saying that I appreciate and agree with a great many of the sentiments he has expressed, and my only criticism will be that I would have wished he had answered directly the direct question of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne).
I wish to speak for a few minutes on the subject of tea, which has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot). It is a subject with which I am connected on the growing and manufacturing side. I wish to take up the right hon. Member for Bradford, Central (Mr. Webb) who, if I understood him, put forward the suggestion that by opening London auctions he had freed tea. He is entitled to the credit for opening London auctions; it is certainly correct that the opening of London auctions was a necessary step on the way to de-rationing, but certainly opening London auctions in the way he did—and I am not criticising that at all—was not freeing tea.
There was a ban on re-exports—again I am not arguing. Buyers had a ceiling because they could dispose only of the quantity to which they were entitled under the ration and, therefore, could buy only a certain amount of tea. I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to look for a moment at the position which is resulting from that, although I quite agree that he has given buyers, blenders or wholesalers, whatever we choose to call them, permission to buy more than their quantities.
There is a large quantity of tea coming on to the London market today for which there is not even a bid. In one week quite recently 53 per cent. of the tea offered for sale received no bid whatever. Admittedly, it is the end-of-the-season tea and not of the highest quality, but it is perfectly good, sound tea which could be used in a blend. I suggest that if I am somewhere near correct in thinking that the amount of tea put into sale for which no bid has been received is now in the region of 8 million lb. weight, my right hon. and gallant Friend is creating a problem which may falsify the figures on which he relies, because buyers—once new season's teas come on the market— 1701 cease to be interested in old season's teas. Whilst my right hon. and gallant Friend may have the figures and a sufficient stock to justify him taking action, it will contain a certain quantity of tea which buyers will not want and which by that time may have depreciated into tea which will not be in the best condition to put into blends.
In that connection, I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend seriously to consider starting to recreate the entrepôt trade of London by permitting that tea, or some large part of it, to be exported, as I believe that Western Europe and America would take it and take it quite quickly. I also agree that the stocks would permit of parting with that tea now without endangering my right hon. and gallant Friend's plans for the future.
I sympathise with the cautious attitude the Minister is adopting towards this matter. I think he has reason to be cautious, although I do not believe his caution is wholly justified at the moment. He had before him the example of the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), who gave an increase in the ration, I think at the end of 1949, which was quite unjustified, certainly against the advice of the trade and, I should think, against the advice of some of those in his own Ministry. It had to be withdrawn soon afterwards; in the matter of a few months.
There is also the need to allow sufficient time between an announcement for the stocks to get through from London warehouses after auction from the blenders into the grocers' shops, because there must be no question whatever that the ration shall be honoured by the shop when the customer asks for it. Quite rightly, my right hon. and gallant Friend has to keep a watch on the end-of-the-year position or at any rate the point at which the stocks go to their lowest point, as they must with the very large contribution made by Northern India to the teas consumed in this market, since Northern India plucks for only part of the year.
I base my opinions differently from those of my hon. Friend the Member for Dover, and I have taken, not the figures of consumption per head before the war and the consumption per head today at the 2 oz. ration, because I believe consumption per head now is more than it was pre-war. As a safety margin I have 1702 taken the figure at slightly under 3 oz. per head per week.
On the other side, let us see how the trade is faring in making up for the loss of crop resulting from the abandonment during the war of China, Formosa and the Dutch East Indies as sources of supply; certainly the Dutch East Indies have come back as a source of supply to the extent of about 50 per cent. of the prewar contribution, but I think a word of caution is needed there, because, with all the difficulties in Indonesia, I do not think it would be safe to rely on much further increase from Indonesia.
The fact remains that India—and when I say India I am including Pakistan and thinking of it as it was in pre-war days—and Ceylon have increased their production on practically the same acreage, with an increase of only about 13,000 acres on a total of 1,400,000 acres, from 690 million lb. to 964 million lb.; each successive year showing an increase resulting from improved cultivation, improved methods and an increase of improved fertilisers. I see no reason why that increase in growth from India and Ceylon, given reasonable market conditions, should not continue.
I agree that the figure for the Board of Trade stocks is 140 million. I believe the end-December stocks on the new ration allowed by my right hon. and gallant Friend will be, to put it moderately, in excess of 100 million, and if we take a ½ oz. ration as taking up 80 million lb., we begin to see one of the reasons why I think my right hon. and gallant Friend would be justified in taking tea off the ration as soon as he has given notice so that the trade can make their preparations.
I have also had another estimate from a responsible body in London concerned with the tea trade which suggests that, without rationing at all there would be a surplus on the 1952 crop of 22 million lb. That may or may not be correct, but I do not think it is far out. It is as good an estimate as anybody can make.
Another point about which I am a little anxious is this very considerable drop in the price given in the market for those teas which are sold. I would mention one grade, Assam Common Broken Pekoes, which have dropped their price of 3s. on 13th March to a nominal price of 2s. per lb. on 1st May. We have practically all the Darjeeling gardens and 1703 part of Cachar and Sylhet, who are selling tea at a loss of pence per lb. There will be no fear about getting the tea from them in this plucking season, because the expenditure of preparing for it has been incurred and this is the time to get the yield of the manufactured tea. But if that tea cannot be restored to at least the cost of production, at the end of this season they will not continue at all. Although it is true that Darjeeling is the producer of only about 15 million lb., they will go out of production, and so will a certain number of others.
Perhaps it would be more fair to my right hon. and gallant Friend to say that there are certain ways in which the Indian Government should help industries in their own country. I entirely agree with the comment that if the Darjeeling growers, who employ a great many people in that part of the world, are in such a parlous condition that they cannot go on, the Indian Government should certainly take some steps to help them to continue. I was referring only to certain steps which I thought my right hon. and gallant Friend also could take in order to help.
I do not want to go into this in any further detail, but I believe that my right hon. and gallant Friend can take tea off the ration. I will not mention the point about the effect on the Treasury of those companies working at a loss, because that is not a matter for debate today, but I wish to put one suggestion to my right hon. and gallant Friend. Since so many people have never experienced having articles off the ration in this country, and since our experience over one or two items which were taken off would suggest that there might possibly be a rush for tea were it taken off the ration which might upset calculations, I suggest that, if that is what is holding back my right hon. and gallant Friend from taking tea off the ration, he might consider making an announcement at an early date to increase the ration to 3 oz. That would certainly stop over-stocking, but would, I believe, be about the saturation point.
§ Mr. F. Willey
The speech of the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant) has very much interested the Committee, and we have had the benefit of his experience. But would not he agree that one of the problems we are facing is the slow take-up of the tea available and— 1704 I think I am right but I will put this to him—that the position today would be improved considerably if the ration were increased at once?
§ Mr. Remnant
The hon. Member refers to the slow take-up. Does he mean teas purchased in the auction? So far as paying for them is concerned, they are now taken up not quite so quickly as before. As to teas being taken out of the warehouse, they can obviously only be taken in by the blenders at a pace regulated by the ration. The blender does not want to keep tea in packet longer than he can help before he sends it out to the retailer.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
This is the second speech we have had from the Government side of the Committee dealing almost wholly with the question of tea. It is not surprising to us that hon. Members opposite should spend a long time talking about tea, because it does seem to be the one food which will be in plentiful supply—the one food which may possibly be off the ration soon—and it must be comforting for hon. Members opposite to be able to talk about something which is in plentiful supply while the present Government are in office.
I wish to deal with the economics of the question of food. The Minister said that the increase of prices due to cutting the food subsidies to £250 million would not be brought into being until the increases had taken place in the National Assistance Board scales and until there were increased pensions, and so on. He went on to say that by cutting the food subsidies to £250 million he was really bringing home an economic reality to people who had been living in the clouds.
It is then claimed by the Government that this cut in food subsidies is, in the first place, due to our economic situation, and to the fact that our people, according to them, have been living in a fool's paradise. But not a word of that was said to the electors in October. No suggestion of that kind was made to the electors either in the broadcast of the Chairman of the Tory Party or in the speech made by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer in North Berwick, Scotland.
1705 Both of these men, not mere back benchers of the Government party but responsible members of the Government today, said that food subsidies would not be cut. Nothing could have been more specific than that. I did one of these party political broadcasts myself. But a few days later, on Wednesday, 10th October, there appeared in the "Scottish Daily Mail" an article by the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food headed,"Hey! Look who's talking about prices!In that broadcast I dealt a great deal with the cost of living. We realised that the cost of living would play a big part in the Election. Those who are now the Government realised that also. I had spoken about food subsidies. I had suggested that if the Tories were returned then food subsidies would be cut. I had suggested that food subsidies were paid in the main by the people who could afford to pay them, and that the people who really benefited were the poorest people. But the Parliamentary Secretary said,We all pay for food subsidies because we all pay for them in taxes such as Purchase Tax, tobacco tax and entertainment tax.What has happened with this Government? They have broken their specific promise and they have cut food subsidies to £250 million. Far from taking away Purchase Tax, they have put that tax on the kind of goods that the poorest in the country buy, so that the Government have made it more difficult and have asked the poorest to pay taxes which they were never asked to pay when the Labour Party conducted the Government of the country.
§ Captain Richard Pilkington (Poole)
The hon. Lady said that in the Tory Party's Election declaration of policy we gave no warning of what we should do about food subsidies. I should like to draw her attention to page 20 of one of our pamphlets, where we say that food subsidies have been allowed to rise to alarming proportions, and later where we say that we proposed to recast our social and fiscal policy upon simpler lines. I suggest that that is giving a warning, and that it is unfair to choose isolated sentences—as has been done by hon. Members opposite too often—to show what we did say.
§ Miss Herbison
I do not accept in any way that what I have said gives a wrong picture of the specific promise made by the Tories before and during the Election. What the hon. and gallant Member quoted is very vague indeed. The language of the Chairman of the Tory Part in that broadcast which was heard by millions was clear. That broadcast was heard by millions, but I doubt whether millions read the pamphlet from which the hon. and gallant Gentleman quoted. The Chairman of the Tory Party said:There is a story that the Tories would cut food subsidies. That is not true.Nothing could have been more specific than that. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer said at North Berwick that, while we were struggling and striving to deal with the cost of living, food subsidies and our social services would not be interfered with. I think I have shown quite clearly that what I said earlier was the complete truth.
The Parliamentary Secretary also said in this article:The Conservative and National Liberal Party have no intention.…That is specific—no intention of abolishing the utility scheme.…We know what has happened to that—any more than they have of cutting down the social services.Again, nothing could have been more specific than that which was written during the Election a few days after the broadcast which I made.
I would say to the Minister that it is easy to use words like, "economic reality" and "living in the clouds." Who are the people to whom he is referring? Who are the people who will be hit by this cut in food subsidies. That is what we must examine before we accept the Minister's statement that the cut was meant to bring home to people our economic situation, and to bring them down out of the clouds.
Let us consider the four million people who were paying no Income Tax before the last Budget. It is true that those who were married and had children will have increased family allowances. But let us consider those who are married, taking into account only the cut in food subsidies and not the extra money that their wives will have to spend because of the 1707 D scheme, or that which they are already spending because of the great increases in food prices. We will consider only the £160 million cut and put side by side with it the only advantage they get from the Budget which is that of a 3s. increase in family allowances.
A married man in that category will have to have more than four children before he will benefit at all from the increase in family allowances. When we take away what his wife will have to pay even under the D scheme, we see that he benefits in no way.
Let us consider the two million people who were paying Income Tax before the Budget and who will no longer pay it because of the extra rebates. Taking into account the items I have mentioned, there would have to be more than three children in a family before it would benefit in any way. What about the old-age pensioners? The increase which it has been said that they will get will not cover the increase that has already taken place in the cost of the food plus the extra money they will have to pay because of the cut in food subsidies.
Were these the people whom the Chancellor and the Minister of Food wanted to bring down from the clouds? Are these the people whom they wanted to bring to economic reality? What the Government have done to the old people and to the children of the lowest wage earners is the most shameful action that has been done in this country since we had the Tories in the lean and hungry thirties.
What we shall find is what I knew when I was a teacher teaching children of the poorest people in a school in Glasgow. Those children had hardly ever known what it was to be properly fed as hon. Gentlemen opposite would always expect their children to be fed. Those are the children who have been harmed, with the old people, by this talk of "economic reality" and "pulling down from the clouds" of the Government of the party opposite. The Chancellor has also asked for a wage freeze. What a hope he has at this time of getting that when every day prices, not only of food but of many of the 'commodities needed in the home are going up.
I am glad the Parliamentary Secretary is in his place, because I want to quote 1708 another part of that article of his. As I said before, I had been speaking on the cost of living. The Parliamentary Secretary said:It began to rise in 1946, and it has gone up steadily with the value of £ falling like a leaky balloon.We know that if it were falling like a leaky balloon when we were in power, the balloon has completely burst since the present Government have been in office.
This article tried to debunk the points I had made in my broadcast and tried to tell the people of Britain that if the Tories were returned to power the £ would become of greater value to them. That has been proved wrong. Since they came to power, the £ in this country has been buying less and less each week. In the final part of his article, the Parliamentary Secretary said:Yes, the cost of living will be the biggest election question in the home field.Despite the fact that it was the biggest election question in the home field, the Labour Party, after 6½ years in power, obtained almost 14 million votes, the biggest vote it has ever had. The local elections in England, Wales and Scotland have shown very clearly that the rising cost of living is still the main question in elections today. It has also shown very clearly that the people of this country, reasonable and intelligent people, will have nothing to do with people who make promises so glibly and who break them so easily.
There is one question I want to ask the Minister. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) spoke about the people of Belgium and their different values. He suggested that they were far more interested in having good food for their children than were the ordinary people of this country, who all own television sets and who all spend money on the pools. But how stupid that is.
I said earlier this week that I lived in a working class district. We have a new television station only one and a half miles from where I live, but there are very few television sets in that big village. The propagandists of the party opposite have always said the same. They said that the unemployed could find work if they were not lazy, and that the low-wage earners could feed their children if they did not spend their money in foolish ways. 1709 But the fact is that ordinary, decent working-class folk spend as much as they possibly can in getting proper nutrition for their children.
I ask the Minister to reconsider his decision about the allocation of sugar for jam making this year. The ordinary working-class mothers where I live have always made their own jam. If they did not grow their own fruit, they have always gone to the Clydeside and bought it as cheaply as they could and made good wholesome jam for their families. Under the Labour Government, who were supposed through stupidity to prevent the people from getting all they could have got, we received a fairly good bonus of sugar for jam making. But under this Government, despite all their promises, we find that the bonus of sugar for jam making this year is going to be very much less than it was last year. I earnestly ask the Minister to reconsider it, because the mothers in these working-class homes want this sugar in order to provide good food for their children.
I know perfectly well that there are great difficulties in finding the food to give good nutrition and health to our people. We always told our people what the difficulties were. It is only since this Government have come to power that their Ministers and back benchers have realised—perhaps I am wrong in saying "realised"—have said there is a shortage of food in the world. I want to make sure that when there is a shortage of food what is available will be fairly distributed inside this country.
There are two ways of derationing. One way is to allow the cost of living to rise so that the old-age pensioners and the lowest wage earners will not be able to buy sufficient food for proper nutrition and good health. The other way is by having sufficient food to go round at a price which everybody can afford to pay. I am afraid that if this Government remain much longer in power we shall have the first method of derationing.
I realise only too well that there is a shortage of food in the world, and I do not ask that the people whom I represent should have more than their fair share of that scarce food. I could not believe in Socialism, nor, indeed, in Christianity, if I allowed my people to think that they could have a bigger share at the expense of people in other parts of the world. 1710 When elections take place in this country, the people vote not only for representatives to look after their interests in the British House of Commons; they elect Members whose responsibilities are very great indeed. They are responsible not only for the well-being of the people in Britain, but for the well-being of thousands of coloured people in our Colonies.
I say again to the Minister and to the Government that we want steps to be taken to increase food production inside our own country and in our Colonies. We want the Government to take all available steps to increase food supplies, not only for our own people but for those who are still worse fed than are the people in Britain today, and for whom we are responsible. The food production of the world is not going to be increased to any great extent by private enterprise.
Our groundnut scheme was sneered and jeered at, but the sooner this country and the greatly developed countries of the world realise that we shall have to have many schemes for the production of food which for many years will be uneconomic, and that only Governments can undertake those schemes, the better. It is only if the Governments of the world get together and undertake uneconomic schemes that there will be any hope in the world of our people and of the people of underdeveloped areas being fed as all really Christian people would like to see them fed.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Commander J. F. W. Maitland (Horncastle)
When the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) was speaking I was reminded of what I think she said in her last speech, that sometimes she was a "shorty" and sometimes a "little lady."
§ Commander Maitland
I apologise to the hon. Lady. I thought it was her perhaps because those words were running through my mind when she was speaking and I was wondering at the conclusion of her speech which she was—the shorty or the little lady. I know that every-think she said was said absolutely sincerely. There is no hotter party political point than this question of food, but we must remember, however, that we are 1711 speaking today in the shadow of a really grim crisis and that if we do not pull this country out of its difficulties and do not balance our payments, nothing she has referred to will equal the devastation and misery which will occurr in this country.
That is the background against which she ought to speak. If she wishes to look at the matter from a different point of view, let her read the letter of Lord Kirkwood in "The Times," when he pointed out the great difficulties facing democracy in making people realise the gravity of the crisis. Speeches like hers do not help very much.
§ Miss Herbison
Never at any time, in my constituency or anywhere else where I have been speaking, have I failed to deal with the seriousness of our economic situation. The economic situation was serious in October of last year, and what I was trying to prove today was the falsity of the pledges that were made. No one can ever accuse me at any time of not bringing home to my own people the seriousness of our situation, and that we must have from every one of them the best we can produce. But I will always fight, in and outside the House of Commons, against making the lowest paid wage earners and old people go hungry in order to bring about a better economic situation.
§ Commander Maitland
Nobody doubts the hon. Lady's sincerity, and I know she is speaking from her heart, but she was denigrating the Government's actions, and it is not much fun to have to do the things this Government have had to do. The Government believe, and I believe, that these things are necessary to save us from disaster, difficulties which otherwise would be far worse than anything the hon. Lady could suggest.
I will leave the point there and perhaps come to a matter which will engender less heat. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), and indeed the hon. Lady herself, touched upon what I regard as the really important problem raised in this debate. It is that we all feel we are speaking in a world where the food situation is getting worse and not only is an economic crisis threatening us but the general food resources of the world, for one reason or another, are becoming less.
§ Commander Maitland
Never mind. I am speaking on my own responsibility, and I have the right to be considered to be speaking as sincerely as the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North. I suggest that in a world of contracting food supplies there is one very important source, which has not been discussed at all today, from which we can obtain a greater amount of food than ever before. I refer to the sea.
At the Lake Success conference at which these great food questions were discussed it was admitted that there could be a greatly increased food production from the sea. I want to press upon the Government that they make the greatest effort to investigate new methods to obtain more food from the sea. It may well be our last resort. We in this country should be in a magnificent position to obtain more food in this way. Our country is an island and we have a fleet of ships, and for hundreds of years we have had the reputation of being great fishermen.
But, as I speak, the Icelandic Government have passed a decree which will reduce the amount of white fish landed in this country by nearly a quarter. That is not romancing; it is a fact. As from today a quarter less fish will be available for catching by our trawlers. It is perhaps one of the most serious crises that the fishing industry has had to face.
§ Mr. Follick
I am sure the hon. and gallant Member does not want to deceive the Committee. He should have said a quarter of the production from Iceland.
§ Commander Maitland
A quarter of the white fish or rather 22 per cent., actually comes from Iceland, and by the Icelandic restrictions that quantity is almost entirely removed from this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the hon. and gallant Member going to do about it?"] The hon. Member should have better things to do than to ask a 1713 question like that. The whole country must try and see what we can do about it. It is a matter of the greatest importance.
Nearly a quarter of the fish landed at Grimsby will be cut off by the closing to British trawlers of Icelandic waters. About 33 per cent. will be cut off for Fleetwood and 22 per cent, for Hull. There may be worse to follow, because Iceland have taken advantage of a recent decree by the Hague International Court which allows Norway to extend the territorial line and also to cut out the indentations of her coastline when determining the limits of territorial waters. If the example set by Norway and Iceland is followed in the Faroes, Bear Island and the White Sea, it will cut off practically all the best and highest quality white fishing grounds from British trawlers.
It means that British trawlers are faced with disaster. It means unemployment at Grimsby, Hull and Fleetwood. The Foreign Secretary has addressed a note to the Icelandic Government, and we have not yet heard what is the reply. I want to press upon the Government to the utmost of my power that they should realise the seriousness of the situation. Not only does it mean the loss of a certain amount of very valuable food, but it means that all our trawlers will be completely put out of action. They cannot be sent out to new fishing grounds because they have been specially designed for the grounds they fish. It would mean that we should have to design an entirely new type of trawler.
I have heard recently in this Chamber suggestions about and criticisms of some "overlords" of agriculture and food and transport, and so on. I suggest to the Government and to the "overlord" who looks after these food matters that here is a problem about which he ought to do something; that here is a case where co-ordination really is needed. I implore the Government to look at this matter in all its seriousness. I am amazed that there has not been greater anxiety in the country regarding a matter which affects our well-being as much as this does, and that greater publicity has not been given to it.
Now I turn to another matter closely akin to what I have been saying. In this country one can have a bit too much 1714 of fish. There is no question about it—it is not fish that the Englishman wants to eat. He would like to eat meat. [HON. MEMBERS: "Red meat."] I want to remind the Government and impress on them the fact that out of fish can come meat. At the present moment we are making in this country 70,000 tons per year of animal feedingstuffs through fish meal. That is a high protein food which our young animals need. At the same time we import 70,000 tons of fish meal. That does not seem to me right at this time of economic crisis. We ought to push on with providing more factories capable of making fish meal. I want to see the Government, and the White Fish Authority in particular, do all they can to see whether we cannot produce more of these protein feedingstuffs from fish from our own resources.
I would particularly draw the attention of my right hon. and gallant Friend to what has been happening in the whaling industry. Up to recently, when a whale was boiled down into oil 70 per cent. of the protein value of the whale was blown overboard. Recently, at considerable expense, British firms have installed special machinery which is able to deal with what are called the "solubles," when the whale has been boiled down, and turn them into high protein feedingstuffs. Let me give an example of how valuable this can be. From the production of 55.000 barrels an additional 5,000 tons of this protein food can be made available—in addition, and over and above the 55,000 tons of oil which was all that was the whale harvest before.
I am told on the best authority I can get that this food can be brought into this country at prices equivalent to equivalent foods sold here today. I have been told, too, that in the past—I hope it is different in the future—these firms have had the greatest difficulty in getting the feedingstuffs department of the Ministry of Food interested in these whale solubles. I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to give us an assurance that he will look into this matter—and I should like a reply to this—to see that those very valuable sources of feedingstuffs are not lost to the country.
That is all I have to say except to remind the Committee once again that one of our most important national industries is the trawler industry. I should 1715 explain that I have absolutely no financial interest in the trawler business. I knew the trawlermen during the war. They are the finest people ever man could meet, and that is one of the reasons why I am speaking here tonight on this matter. It is, I believe, the duty of the country to stand by this great industry, and I do implore the Government to see that they carry out their proper duty to defend this industry in every possible way.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) has been all at sea in his speech. I do not propose to follow him. There has been complaint during this debate from this side of the Committee, quite legitimately, that promise from the other side has been different from performance; and that is our main criticism in this debate.
It is true, of course, that we in Britain are faced with the tremendously serious problem of how to feed ourselves. It has become increasingly difficult in the last decade largely because we are an importer of food and because the fact is that there are very few net exporting countries in the world: I think New Zealand and Canada are the only two net exporters of food in the world today. It is also true that, despite that, Britain has, in the main, been adequately fed since 1939. Maybe the diet has been dull, and maybe my figure rather seems to contradict that statement; but the figure of the Parliamentary Secretary leans heavily on the other side.
For six years since 1945 that Tory Party has been engaged in what I think has been the most shameless and most dishonest campaign of misrepresentation and distortion this country has ever known.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Every difficulty on the food front was attributed to the Labour Government. Let me give one or two examples. The present Leader of the House, a responsible Front Bench spokesman, said:The indications are that there is plenty of meat in the world today and that we are 1716 quite within sight of the possibility of ending rationing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 8th February, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 1960.]Will the Parliamentary Secretary indicate that there is any possibility of ending meat rationing within the next five years? The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the same debate said:The name of the Ministry of Food stinks in the noses of the ordinary citizen and especially of the British housewife."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 2053.]That was strong language from the mildest looking one on the Government Front Bench—one all the more dangerous because he is one of the most mild looking. In the same debate the Parliamentary Secretary, the wonderful "Radio Doctor," said:They "—that is, the peopleߞwill want to know why, in fact, the Minister of Food is not securing the food that the people need.…They still want to know. He also said:It is instinctive for the human body unconsciously to relate its output to intake."— [OFFICIAL, REPORT, 8th February, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 2015–6.]If things go on like this, there will very soon be no output. Now we come to one of the lesser lights in the Tory Party, a woman, who said:Within six months of the Conservatives' return to power we shall be able to have eggs and bacon, hams, and pork sausages, whenever we like. There is no world shortage of food. Our situation today is the result of bad management.The six months have gone. We are still waiting. That lady was the wife of a Tory Member of Parliament. She will be suing him for divorce, I expect—for wilful cruelty.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Yes, and for breach of promise as well. Now we come to the pièce de résistance—Lord Woolton himself. In 1951, in the Election, we had Lord Woolton and his famous red meat promise—and no cut in the food subsidies.
§ Mr. Hamilton
This is the real problem. Lord Woolton will stalk like a ghoul on every Tory platform at the next election.
1717 Let me try to trace the history of the Tory Government's approach to the food problem? What was the first step they took? They knew it would be a rough passage for whoever got into the Ministry of Food so they put in two National Liberal "stooges." Let me here say to Mr. Speaker, through the Chair, that when we get back into power the National Liberal Party will not be allowed the advantages that an independent political party normally get. What was their second step? They appointed a noble co-ordinator. He says he has got no staff. He says his job is not important; that he is not responsible to Parliament. All he says is:I have merely to say that I am glad to inform your Lordships that these two Departments of State are working in complete harmony in the public interest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 30th April, 1952; Vol. 176, c. 55.]Lord Woolton's volubility is equalled only by his duplicity and his complete lack of political scruple. What has he done in six months? How can we as Members of the House of Commons get at him? We would lead him a dog's life if he were here.
What other action have the Government taken? They have cut the purchases of food abroad. On the admission of the Colonial Secretary, we are now living on stocks. I remember the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance making great play, when in opposition, about the Labour Government living on and reducing stocks. Well, they are doing it now. Tea, we have been told, is to be de-rationed. I should like to know who built up the stocks to enable de-rationing to take place. We were told that the cupboard was bare, but evidently there were ample stocks of tea.
Food subsidies, which have already been mentioned, are to be slashed to £250 million. The hon. and gallant Member for Poole (Captain Pilkington) interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), to say that they gave ample warning in their Election manifesto, and he quoted from page 20. For the purposes of greater accuracy, I have brought a copy along with me, and this is from the same page:In present circumstances, when we are facing severe financial and economic difficulties"—1718 so they knew the difficulties were there; it is no good saying it was a complete surprise to them—and while we are engaged in a full-scale attack on the cost of living, it would clearly not only be unwise but impossible to make any radical change.That is in the Election manifesto.
§ Mr. Hamilton
That was a specific promise that because we were in a difficult economic situation no change in the scale of food subsidies was either possible or desirable.
§ Mr. Hamilton
For heaven's sake sit down.
Let us now look at where the heaviest cuts have been made. The heaviest cuts have been made in, for instance, bread. As everybody knows, the demand for bread is inelastic, and those who are hardest hit by the increase in the price of bread are the manual workers and the poorer sections. In December of last year, bacon and cheese went up by 10d. a lb. in each case. That meant a 33⅓ per cent. increase on the price of bacon and a 70 per cent. increase on the price of cheese. Those two alone meant an increase in the personal weekly expenditure of between 4d. and 5d.
Before the increases on those two commodities, the retail price of bacon was 2s. 7d. and the subsidy was 1s. 3½d., just half. The retail price of cheese before the increase was 1s. 2d., and of that the subsidy was 1s. 1½d. The high subsidies on those commodities were put on deliberately by the Labour Government because they were very popular foods with manual workers. Because they have been attacked, the biggest sacrifices will have to be made by those same manual workers, yet the Chancellor now goes along to the T.U.C. and asks them to exercise wage restraint. He is asking for the moon.
In deciding where the axe of food subsidy slashes should fall, was careful 1719 calculation made, first, to cause the minimum rise in the Retail Price Index, and secondly, to cause the minimum rise in the weekly cost to the household? I realise that any amount of combinations could be made, and all I ask is: Was a scientific calculation made to ensure that the sacrifices were as small as possible, and as evenly distributed as possible? On 30th April of this year the Minister of Food said:the average increase over the whole weekly ration since last October was 2¼d."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th April. 1952; Vol. 499, c. 14581How did he arrive at that figure? Is there one housewife in the country who believes that the price increases of rationed foods since last October have been only 2¼d. per book? I have done a series of sums and I cannot get the figure of 2¼d. The nearest I can get is something between 6d. and 7d., and I should like to know how that figure has been arrived at.
Even assuming it is true, expenditure on rationed goods constitutes roughly half the total expenditure on food. Let me take one example of something not on the ration which is not taken into account in that 2¼d., namely, bread. For my wife, myself and two young children the increase has meant Is. 6d. weekly to my family, which is an increase of 4½d. a person. With the increases since in the prices of bacon and cheese, which are another 4½d., the total comes to 9d. on those commodities alone.
The Home Secretary—they are all involved in this; it is a great conspiracy—was very fond of addressing the Housewives' League. It will take all his legal guile to try to convince the Housewives' League that the increase is only 2½d.
§ Mr. Hamilton
The blunt truth is that the sky is black with the brickbats that are being hurled at the Tory Party by the housewives.
As a nation we must face the stark realities of the world food shortage, and our problem is how to educate our people to that fact. The Tory Party must bear a great measure of the responsibility for the lack of understanding among our 1720 people. It has been said—and I believe hon. Members opposite try to take credit for it—that for a long time we had cheap, plentiful and easily obtainable supplies of food when the party opposite were in power before the war. All I can say is that we shamelessly enjoyed it at the expense of the primary producers whom we exploited to get it.
How are we to solve the problem? Mention has been made of world shortages, the world population, soil erosion, and so on, and I think that instead of nattering on about halfpennies on this and ounces off that, we must get down to the problem on an international basis through the United Nations organisation. I believe that we have to have international action and thrash out an international policy with regard to population.
This debate has now been going on for approximately four hours, and in that time the population of the world has increased by 12,000. That is the measure—[Laughter.] This is not a laughing matter. I am trying to treat this matter as seriously as I can. The population of the world is increasing at the rate of about 50 every minute. In India alone, the population increase in the last 10 years has been higher than the total population of the United Kingdom. In Japan, the population doubled in the 60 years to 1945. Why is that? I believe that the main reason is that modern medicine has devoted far too much time to lowering the death rate and not enough time to lowering the birth rate. It seems to me that one of the best things that could happen in the world today would be the extension of birth control throughout the world.
I realise that that statement offends many people who argue from a religious or moral standpoint. I think that it is infinitely more immoral to bring children into the world when there are not the food resources available to keep them. I know that we are up against a difficulty. Here is a Government that does not believe in any kind of control; but I rather believe that many of them believe in the control I have suggested. I believe that one of the greatest steps towards the solution of the world food problem has recently been taken in India by Mr. Nehru in trying to educate the masses of the people of India to the advantages of birth control
1721 I believe that the second great problem to which the Government ought to address itself is how we are to make more adequate use of our land. It is a disturbing reflection that one of the factors of production—in fact, the only factor of production which is limited and cannot be expanded—land, is the very one of which man's use has been the most wasteful.
There have been millions of acres throughout the world wasted through soil erosion arid neglect. There are houses that have to be built for the teaming millions that are coming into the world every year, and the housing sites are taking up agricultural land. There are the increased demands of the armed forces throughout the world for agricultural land. There is opencast mining which in many cases sterilises good agricultural land, and there are, as well, inefficient farmers. I believe that in this country the Government could do a tremendous amount towards solving our food problem by pursuing a policy of ruthlessly rooting out inefficient farmers, and I believe that we have, moreover, to rid the country of private landowners.
I think that the Labour Party should go all out for nationalisation of the land, and that along those lines we could tackle the food problem. But let no party in the future pretend to the people that if only they were put back into power there would be plenty of food. I believe that it will he 10 years or more before we get anything like an adequate diet again.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Captain Richard Pilkington (Poole)
We have had some extremely constructive speeches in this debate, and some controversial ones. The last two speeches from the other side have been extremely controversial. The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton), made, if I may say so, a very good debating speech, but I was sorry that he apparently felt so uncertain of his ground that he refused to give way at any time to anyone on this side of the Committee. This is the second time in this Committee that I have heard an hon. Member opposite refuse to read the sentence immediately following that which he was pleased to quote from our pamphlet. "Britain Strong and Free."
§ Captain Pilkington
I will give way in a moment. I should like first to read the sentence which followed, and it is this:As we make some progress in our fight to reduce the cost of living, and as economic circumstances permit, we hope gradually to recast our social and fiscal policy upon simpler lines.The only thing that hon. Members opposite can say about that is that we have acted quicker than our word.
§ Mr. Wilfred Fienburgh (Islington, North)
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us whether the conditions which follow on that last sentence he has read have been fulfilled? Has the cost of living come down?
§ Captain Pilkington
No, but we are tackling that, and that is one of the points I was coming to, but since the hon. Member has asked the question now, I will deal with it now. A lot of the speeches we have heard from the other side have been about the rise in prices since this Government took office, and it is perfectly true to say that while this Government has been in office the trend of the last six years of increasing prices has continued. I should have thought that it was quite obvious that no Government could arrest the momentum of a six-year trend in a six-month period. Hon. Members opposite will find that as the measures which we are taking make themselves felt, we shall fulfil this promise as we shall fulfil all the others.
I want to refer to one thing which the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), said. She made an extremely controversial speech, and I should like to take one quotation from it. She referred to what she calls, "The lean and hungry '30s." I hope that everyone in this Committee knows that what she called the lean and hungry '30s arose from the disastrous three years in which the Socialists were in power. [Interruption.] I know that lion. Members opposite do not like it, but during the '30s themselves unemployment was falling and the prosperity of this country was rising.
§ Captain Pilkington
1929 to 1931. Now. we have only been in office seven months. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] Hon. Members opposite say "Too long," 1723 but it is a matter of mathematical certainty that had the previous Government remained in power and had things continued to go in the way they did, we should at this time have been on the verge of bankruptcy.
We have been blamed in this debate for not having fulfilled the pledges we made at the General Election. It is not only in this debate that we have been blamed. Hon. Members opposite and their propaganda organs, the "Daily Herald" and other papers, a bare month from the General Election accused us of not having fulfilled our pledges. I remember large "Daily Herald" headlines "Broken promises" on 17th November. I was encouraged in the view which we on this side take of that sort of thing from an article by the Socialist hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) in "Forward" on 15th March, in which he said:We are getting used to the suppression and distortion of political news by the Daily Herald'.In that case I thoroughly agreed with the hon. Member.
With regard to the question of fulfilling pledges, it is only right that we should see it against the proper background. Just after the General Election of 1945, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), said:We have left the old scarcity economics of the capitalistic world behind us.We should bear in mind what actually happened during the next six years.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes), said in his Election address:Housewives ought to vote against a further lowering of the standard of living through reducing rations.What happened? In 1946 the fat ration was reduced, the cheese ration was reduced, bread was rationed for the first time in the history of this country, and prices went up in spite of continued help from America. In 1947 the sorry story went on. Meat was reduced, bacon was reduced, sugar was reduced, tea was reduced; the only thing that was not reduced was prices, which continued to go up.
§ Mr. Manuel
Does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman appreciate the point 1724 made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), when he said that we have reached the end of the capitalist policy of scarcity economics? He meant that the fact that these things were happening was making certain that in any period of shortage everybody would get a fair share, instead of leaving it to the free-play of private enterprise and to the people who were able to buy although there might not be equal shares for the others.
§ Captain Pilkington
I am pointing out the wide divergencies between the promises made in 1945 and what actually happened in the next six years. I am comparing the six years when the Socialists were in power with the six months we have had in which to fulfil our pledges. The next two years, 1948 and 1949, can be summed up by a sentence taken from the Labour Government's own Economic Survey:Little progress from the dreary and tightly rationed standards of 1948 was made in 1949.I have dealt with four years out of the six, and I could go on in similar vein.
So when we are talking about pledges and their fulfilment, let us keep things in their right proportions. It ought also to be remembered that we have taken over at a time when the cupboard has been left bare. I do not mean by that that there was no food at all in the country; there was some, of course. What I mean is that our financial reserves had been reduced to almost nothing and that the handful which still remained was dropping through the holes left in the cupboard by the inefficiency of the Labour Government. As I have said, had things gone on as they were during the last few months when the Labour Party were in Office, we should by this time have been on the verge of bankruptcy.
§ Mr. G. Jeger
I have here a quotation from a newspaper of what was said by the Colonial Secretary at Farnborough a few weeks ago. It was corroborated and confirmed by no less a person than the Prime Minister himself in answer to a Question put by me last week. The Colonial Secretary said that Britain was not yet feeling the effects of the cuts in food imports as much as it would later because the country was still living on stocks. If six months later we are still 1725 living on stocks, how can the hon. and gallant Gentleman say that the cupboard was bare?
§ Captain Pilkington
I gave way to the hon. Gentleman because I thought he wanted to make a point of substance. If he had listened to my qualification he would have appreciated that what I meant when I said that the cupboard was bare was that the national housekeeping money was steadily running out. [Interruption.] I have mentioned a lot of things that hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like, but they ought to have the background against which to judge the present situation.
The Conservative Government are tackling the problem as it confronts them in a number of ways—by maintaining the value of our money, by facing the inherent economic unsoundness of the present burden of food subsidies upon the whole of our economy, by helping agriculture, by protecting the fishing industry, by developing Empire resources, and by using free enterprise as well as bulk buying—after all, it was Lord Woolton himself who began the system of bulk buying —to comb the world for greater supplies. Of these six lines of action I want to say something about two.
The question of food subsidies has loomed large in the debate. Hon. Members will recollect the apprehension felt by successive Socialist Chancellors of the Exchequer as the bill for the food subsidies became greater and greater. In 1946 and 1947 the Chancellor of the time said that food subsidies would have to be very carefully considered and the Government might be forced to consider putting a stop to their continued rise. We know how in 1949 the figure was rising to some £568 million and it was then reduced by the action then taken. If I were to use the phraseology of hon. Members opposite, I would call it a savage slash, but it is the Tories alone who cut things hon. Members opposite only carry out adjustments. All this time, while the bill for food subsidies was rising, so the value of our money was falling, and prices of food, in spite of the subsidies, were still going up.
We did not just consider the position. We acted in the way I have shown, and it may well be said by hon. Members that 1726 we did what we said we would do much more quickly than they expected. To offset the immediate, ensuing rise in the cost of living, we have got the tax remissions which are being given to the vast majority of our population.
There is one other of the six principal lines of action about which I wish to speak. I want to say something on the important matter of the maintenance of the value of our money. Since this Government came into power the value of the £, with which we have to buy our food, has been steadily rising. I have got quotations here to prove what I am saying if I am challenged. There was a fall at one moment in the value of the £, and that fall coincided with the results of the county council elections. [Laughter.] I have the quotation here, and I will read it for the benefit of the hon. Member who laughs. This is what appeared in "The Times" of 5th April, 1951:The helpful effect of the publication of the gold figures was overshadowed in foreign eyes by the contrary effect of the result of the County Council elections and the value of sterling in the foreign exchange market fell sharply.We have heard a great deal in this debate and other debates about the local government elections. Hon. Members opposite have taunted us with the fact that we did not do as well as we would have liked. Let us remember that the £, with which we buy our food, fell in value because for a moment foreign observers believed that the country was not behind the measures which this Government have had to take and are taking.
§ Captain Pilkington
No. I have given my authority and I hope it will be accepted.
This continual talk about the local elections does not help anyone. Our duty is to do all we can to help the country and to maintain the value of our money, and I would suggest to hon. Members opposite that the best way to serve the interests of the nation at the present time is to show to the world that we are all united behind this Government in the steps which have to be taken, however unpopular they be, to set our affairs in order. I give an open invitation to hon. Members opposite to join us in the Division Lobby tonight.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Fienburgh (Islington, North)
I have nothing to say about the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Poole (Captain Pilkington), except that I will give him one piece of advice. and it is that if he cares to use this particular speech at Tory garden fetes during the summer months he will achieve great success—but I advise him not to use it where people have any political perspicacity. I invite him to deliver it in North Islington any time he cares to come along.
I am going to establish a precedent in this debate; I am not going to quote from Lord Woolton. He is a political cliché and not a political figure. He has glided into the mausoleum of political antiquities along with Stanley Baldwin's pipe and Neville Chamberlain's umbrella, and we will leave him there, taking him out now and again for a little laugh.
I have no grumble with the Conservatives for not as yet managing to fulfil the many pledges they made. No one expected them to do so, and they have only been a very few months in office, but I should have thought that by this time they would have given us some indication of their realisation of the world food position and of what their policy is to deal with it. Therefore, I listened with great interest to the speech of the Minister of Food as he blundered through his brief like a bat battling against the strong sunshine perceptive of nothing beyond the whiskers at the end of its nose. He had no clear conception of the world food situation, and he contented himself by saying, "Well, admitedly we have not sent the private enterprise dealers round the world to garner the spare harvests and we shall not be able to do it for some months. It will be some time before there is liberty of markets and before we revert to private trading."
It is a pity that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not fortify himself by reading the words of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the House on 24th April, 1950. He said:This present time, when there is a glut of food in the markets of the world, affords the opportunity of regaining the economies, flexibility and conveniences of a free market such as has successfully been re-established in so many European countries.1728 That is good enough, but the best plum is over the page, in the OFFICIAL REPORT for that day, when the right hon. Gentleman said, referring to the freeing of the fish markets:I believe that in this and in similar matters the higgling of the market will, under healthy and improving world conditions, after a month or two"—I would remind the Committee of those words—give the people a far better diet than all the planning of all the planners."—OFFIAL REPORT, 24th April, 1950; Vol. 474, col. 619.]It is now seven months that the right hon. Gentleman has been in power. His precise promise was that after a month or two not only would people enter the markets and higgle—that is an excellent Churchillian word and I like it very much —but the process would bring into existence everything that he was promising. The right hon. Gentleman knew that he was talking tommy-rot when he said that, and he is now beginning to realise some of the realities of the position, although from the speeches made from the other side of the Committee so far we gather that their knowledge of food is more gastronomic than economic.
There have been references to the difficulties of buying food because of our balance of payments problems, but that is a ludicrous misunderstanding and misapprehension of cause and effect. One of the greatest reasons for our balance of payments difficulties is the grossly increased price of primary products in the world. Food prices have gone up in world markets because of a change in the terms of trade as between the manufacturers of goods and the primary producers, and that is why we are suffering from our balance of payments problem now. Therefore, if we are to accept the excuse given by the Minister of Food, it becomes clear that the only way he sees of getting out of his difficulties is to sit and wait for a miraculous flow of currency into our coffers, or, alternatively, to hope that world food prices will fall very severely.
I am going to be startingly unorthodox and say that I sincerely hope that world food prices and the prices paid to the primary producers of the world do not fall catastrophically. Such an event would be politically and economically 1729 disastrous in the long run. We have evidence in "The Times" today to support this because rubber prices have fallen. The result is, in the words of "The Times":The Malayan Government's ability to fight Communist terrorism may soon be dangerously reduced, and Indonesia is already plagued by unemployment and dissatisfied smallholders.A similar catastrophic decline in food prices paid to primary producers and peasant producers of the world will mean very severe economic disaster and political unrest that will provide an excellent breeding ground for Communist ideology. It is because many Governments realise this that they are underpinning farm prices. This is being done in the United States of America. Canada, New Zealand and Australia. There is no hope of a sudden fall in the world food prices which will rescue us from our difficulties. In areas where prices are not economically underpinned by Governments, that fall in prices will bring political disaster to the communities concerned.
Another thing that we must bear in mind is the continual drift away from the land in many areas of food production in this world. It is very serious in this country, but in the primary producing areas of the world the drift is even more serious. In the United States of America in the past 10 years the rural labour force has gone down by 16 per cent. and in the last year by 6 per cent. In Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden, the rural labour force has gone down by 20 per cent. in the last 10 years. In France it has gone down 23½ per cent. in the last 40 years.
Part of this decline in manpower is compensated for by greater productivity per man, though not all of it. Although grain production is now a few per cent. above pre-war, production in fats, oils and meat is still below the pre-war figures. In big part this is due to the drift away from the land. If there were to be a reduction in the prices paid for the primary products on world markets, that drift would be accelerated.
We have to remember that a primary producer of the world stands at the neck of the grain sack and doles out ultimately what is to be put on world markets. We can try all sorts of devices. In this country we have succeeded better than 1730 others by our planning by consent of the agricultural community. The Russians and the new republics of Eastern Europe have failed in their attempts to collectivise farming. France has failed in her attempts to allow a completely free market in agricultural products.
We have to recognise, whether or not we like the political motive which inspires primary producers. that they will produce to the extent that they find economic incentive in producing. If they were so imbued with the spirit of cooperation, if they regarded the management of their land throughout all the broad acres of the world as a charge placed upon them by humanity for the sake of humanity, perhaps their reactions would not be the same.
But we have to treat them as we find them, and, as we find the primary producer, he will plant only if he is satisfied that he will get a reasonable economic return; he will put his goods on the market only if he is satisfied that that return will be forthcoming. No amount of coercion, no amount of investigation, will do anything to prevent him from so doing. Therefore, if we allow prices to break on world markets. that will be followed by a decline in world production in the long run. So although we might have a temporary palliation of our food difficulties here for a year or so, within a short time the shortage of world production would put us back in the position we are in now.
Further, another serious difficulty is the great difference between the amenities available in urban areas and those available in rural areas. It has caused people to drift from the land of this country. It is driving them into the towns of Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America. A fall in the price of primary products would not reverse that trend. It would accelerate it, because then there would be even less for bringing amenities to the rural areas of the world in the form of electricity, gas, roads. buses, schools, and even cinemas and television sets if they want them, because I see no reason why they should not enjoy them if they want them.
§ Mr. Fienburgh
And not tied cottages I am not arguing that there should be a wild upswing in world prices, because 1731 that would have a diminishing effect on world production. If a man can produce enough to supply his normal desires out of working on two acres instead of three, he will work on two and we shall lose the product of the extra acre. I am arguing that there should be a continuance of the policy of long-term bulk contracts with the primary producing areas of the world, so as to give a reasonable and economic return to the producer and a reasonable purchasing price to the consumer.
I am delighted that the party opposite has at last realised the economic consequence and validity of that argument. Despite all their bombast, despite all their elevation of the bulk purchase issue into a major political principle, which is what they did with it during the Election, they have turned a complete somersault. Although they have tried to argue that they have not accepted our point of view, when they look at this in the still watches of the night—when all men, even Conservative Front Benchers, are honest to themselves—they will admit that they have now accepted our arguments.
I have continually pressed that this country should, despite our depressing economic circumstances at the moment, take the lead in the world in facing the problem of the development of the underdeveloped areas. We have the moral right to take the lead in this, even though we have not the financial backing which would help us in carrying out this task. What is needed in the world is a programme of investment. Perhaps I may give two quotations from the Food and Agriculture Organisation's Report of last year. The Report says:The combined circumstances of world war damage or deterioration, gradually swelling populations, droughts, floods, continued civil disturbances, the diversion of energy to armed forces, and the unpreparedness of many nations for rapid or energetic development, have limited actual progress to much less than had been hoped.It says further:In great regions with more than half the world's people, agriculture is largely conducted with inadequate equipment, few small tools, and scanty use of fertilisers or pesticides. Illiteracy is high, agricultural and other resources are poorly developed, and farmers are often held down by heavy taxes, rents, and interest charges.To that, of course, can be added antiquated and wicked systems of land 1732 tenure, which makes the problem more political than economic in many areas of the world.
These are enormous problems. One of them is the slowness of return of this kind of investment. Another is to persuade people in this country—and here I reply to the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne)—that we must relinquish some of our standards of living if this task of world economic development is to be undertaken. Compared with these other nations, we have fat upon our bone. We should be diverting more and more of our annually increasing production to these areas of the world, knowing full well that it is not our generation ultimately—not even my generation—which will reap the reward, but, probably the generations afterwards, in terms of a higher balanced world economy and a higher world food production.
Other political changes are needed, as I have indicated, in systems of land tenure throughout the world. We could make a good start on this by using some of our influence in Korea, in Malaya and in some other parts of the world where we have some degree of political authority. There is the problem of corruption amongst the communities we are trying to help, as the evidence of the United States assistance to the Philippines bears out. The aid which was poured into the Philippines just went down the sink in a tidal wave of corruption.
There is the problem of helping countries overcome with nationalism—a lesson that we learnt at Abadan—but there is the problem also of the failure—and let us face it—of many of the techniques which we hoped would be successful. Some of the techniques operated by the Colonial Development Corporation have not turned out to be as successful as we would have liked. But against that there is the beginning and growing success, of the Colombo Plan; there is the success being achieved by India in raising the standards of, so far, only a few thousand out of her many millions.
Now is the time for us to make an economic effort parallel to our defence effort. Now is the time for us to divert increased resources to this end. I plead with the Government Front Bench that if it is impossible to persuade the United States of America to go further in this way through an extension of their Point 1733 Four Programme, let us at least take the initiative within the Commonwealth.
Let us convene an economic development conference of Commonwealth nations to see what a pooling of resources can do in this way. If the Conservative Government are afraid to do it, I make an appeal to the Labour Party and to their National Executive, because we have amongst the Labour Parties of Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain not only alternative Governments, but the next Governments of these three countries. Therefore, I suggest that the time is ripe now to bring together, from this side if the Government dare not do it on their side, representatives of these nations so that we can start now to plan Commonwealth economic development as a beginning to world economic development.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I am sure that the whole Committee will wish me to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) on the clarity with which he has put his case. I can only hope to emulate him. I do not wish to speak for hon. Members opposite who have spoken—I leave that to the Parliamentary Secretary—but as far as my hon. Friends are concerned, they have made articulate what a vast number of people are thinking and feeling.
The strong reaction against the Government—virtually a notice to quit—expressed by the people during the local government elections largely depends upon four factors.
Firstly, the Government have broken promises like pie crusts. Promises so recently and so boastfully made are now cynically disregarded. Secondly, the Government are finding it extremely hard to persuade many people, many of their own supporters, of these difficulties, the very existence of which they so persistently and for so long denied and derided. Thirdly, I think that a large number of people are shocked and alarmed—particularly in view of the lessons we thought we had all learned from the past decade—to find that the present Government already, so early in its life, are reverting to the Toryism of the 1930s. Finally, in some fields of administration the Government have displayed intolerable incompetence.
1734 All these four qualities are combined in the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Minister of Food to such an excess as to be almost wanton. He started off behind a smoke-screen. When, for the first time, we were refused Christmas bonuses, he said:I could only distribute what was there."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1951; Vol. 493, c. 976.]and the cupboard was bare. When we held the debate on the bonuses that smoke-screen vanished, like the morning mist, and left only the Minister bare and naked and, I hope, ashamed. When we held the debate on the Supplementary Estimates and I pointed out that, apart from increasing our strategic stockpiles, we had doubled our trading stocks, what did the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say? He said that these vast stocks were mostly acquired up to November last year. The low stocks had become vast stocks, and vast stocks mostly acquired by the Labour Government.
What did the Chancellor of the Exchequer say of the strategic stockpile? The Chancellor said:We shall in some cases have to use stocks acquired for the stockpile in order to reduce the current level of imports."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1952; Vol. 495, c. 47.]It seems to me that one invaluable asset the Labour Government left for the present Government was this strong stock position. In fact, if we consider any of the cuts—sugar, butter, meat, cheese, the import cuts on unrationed foodstuffs—it is quite obvious that these have nothing at all to do with stocks but are a consequence of supply difficulties.
Finally, we got the curious intervention, not of an overlord, but of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, when he spoke at Farnborough and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. G. Jeger) said, declared thatthe effect of the £350 million a year cut in foodstuff imports was not being felt in full because we are still living on stocks.A Government which six months after coming into office can still live on stocks cannot cast stones at its predecessors.
One of the unfortunate consequences of all this is that it makes it even more difficult to accept anything that the present Government say about our food position. because this follows the breach of the undertaking which has been discussed today, that the Conservatives gave during 1735 the General Election about the food subsidies. I will follow my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton), and come back to the unabridged, authorised edition of Conservative and Unionist policy, "Britain Strong and Free." The relevant part of that policy about food subsidies was, as my hon. Friend pointed out that the Conservative Party said thatIn present circumstances, when we are facing severe financial and economic difficulties"—Does any hon. or right hon. Member opposite deny that that is obtaining now—and while we are engaged on a full-scale attack on the cost of living"—Is not that what hon. Members opposite say they are engaged on now? —it would clearly not only be unwise but impossible to make any radical change.That was the relevant part of "Britain Strong and Free," and it was upon that passage that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer based what he said at North Berwick—in fact what he said on his tour throughout the two countries, that "under present circumstances, while we fight and strive to reduce the cost of living, we shall maintain the food subsidies."
It has not proved impossible, but it certainly has proved unwise. The cut of £160 million surely is a radical change—and the Prime Minister should know what "radical "means. Surely this is a fundamental change? But as the Parliamentary Secretary has said and now the Minister has said today, in fact this is not a cut of £160 million; it is a cut of £210 million. It is no use the Minister saying, "Oh, but we are making this cut as and when compensating benefits become effective." This cut is being made now.
We are facing substantial increases in the price of our basic elementary foodstuffs; not as a result—and this is what is novel—of an increase in world prices, but as a result of the fiscal policy of the present Government. I differ from the Minister. I do not believe we have reached the peak of world food prices. I think it would be wrong to assume that. But it is interesting that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman assumes that, because the estimated cut would be a greater cut than £210 million if any allowance was being made for an increase in world prices.
1736 The Trades Union Congress said, with a good deal of justification, that the food subsidies "should be increased in the interests of general stability and of protecting people with small incomes." That follows what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) in this House in July of last year. He said that if we could purchase stability at a moderate cost by way of food subsidies, then he would reconsider the matter.
On the case put from the opposite benches, that appears to be the position obtaining now. It is at the very time, when he has a chance of holding economic stability so far as food prices are concerned, that the Minister chooses to slash the food subsidies. Why does he do that now? Because if prices could be held steadily throughout the next 12 months he would then find it absolutely impossible to cut the food subsidies without the people knowing what he was doing. He hoped he could cut them against a background of rising world prices so that people would not appreciate what was happening was not the effect of the increase in world prices, but the effect of the fiscal policy of the present Government.
This, as the Trades Union Congress has pointed out, is putting an intolerable strain on trade unions, particularly those unions whose duty it is to protect people with small incomes. It is absolutely incomprehensible to the supporters of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. How can they understand that the party which went into office saying that the Socialist Government were responsible during their last term of office for an increase of 4d. a lb. in the price of bacon, can, at one stroke—the first stroke too, because there is to he a further increase—increase the price of bacon by 10d. a lb.?
People with long memories are disturbed about this; they have not forgotten the policy of high food prices pursued by the Tory Government during the 1930's. The problem of food was the primary problem of purchasing power—
§ Mr. Willey
No, absolutely, and not merely relative to wages, as I will show 1737 in a moment. They remember that the right food in the right quantity was beyond the capacity of a good number of people in this country. They remember it was the result of the policy of a Tory Government that bread prices were affected. They remember it was consequent on the policy of a Tory Government that the amount of frozen meat was reduced by quota to 65 per cent. of the meat coming in in 1931 to 1932. They remember that bacon was pegged back to the average bacon imports of 1925-30. They remember that these things reflected themselves in the price of food, and that the Imperial Economic Committee in its Report made it clear that between 1932 and 1936 there had been a substantial fall in the consumption in this country of meat, butter and cheese.
I take another example from the "Economist" We have had a lot of talk about tea this afternoon. In 1936 the "Economist" said:The unexpected increase of 2d. per pound in the import duty appears to be the main explanation of the fall of about 5 per cent. in the United Kingdom absorption of tea, during April—November. 1936, as compared with the corresponding period in 1935.It is against this background that we consider what the Government are doing today. Consider the first price increases. The Chancellor of the Exchequer lost no time. He announced them in his Budget speech. The first price increases consequent on the new economic policy of the Tory Government were on flour and bread. The price increase on bread was a steeper one than ever before. By this means, as the Parliamentary Secretary explained in answer to a Question I put, the Chancellor is recouping £48 million.
In short, the household budgets of this country have to provide £48 million for this current year to buy their daily bread. The Minister talks about compensating increases. What is the Chancellor giving this year by way of family allowances? In total, he is giving £23 million. This price increase alone is taking from the pockets of the people more than twice what the Chancellor is giving by way of increased family allowances.
Let us take the parallel with the '30s. The Food Council in 1936 reported that the poorer families of this country were spending 20 per cent. of their total expenditure on food on bread and flour, and 1738 a household budget inquiry then held revealed that in some cases even as much as 50 per cent. of the household expenditure went on flour, bread and potatoes alone. We have the vicious circle. Because the price of bread is put up, poor people have in turn to spend more on the bread whose price is put up.
Then we come to meat. I am very glad that the Leader of the House is here. He said a lot about meat in the last Parliament. In June the price of meat is to be increased by 4d. I let the meat trade speak for themselves. This is what the President of the National Federation of Meat Traders said at their annual conference recently at Scarborough:Another aspect of the reduction in the subsidy on meat is that the end of rationing is brought closer, not by supply meeting demand hut by the cost exceeding the consumer's purse.Following bread and meat, we come to the increase of 10d. in the price of tea, which is another working-class essential. On 7th April I questioned the Minister about tea. I told him what the stock position was. He denied it. What did he give to the House as the reason why he could not increase the tea ration? He said that he could not increase the tea ration because:…world production is increasing very slowly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th April, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 2267.]Two days later he announced the increase in the tea ration. I should like to know what happened to increase our stocks so drastically during those two days. I should like to know what transformed world production during those two days.
I know that this was the fact: that the tea trade indicated that they would make things so hot for the Minister if he did not say something, because they were embarrassed by the stocks they were holding, that he made a statement two days later to the contrary effect to the one he had made before. He could increase the ration now, but he will not do it because he will not let people have tea at the cheap price. He is building up buffer stocks, and he intends to wait and see what effect the increased price has on the households buying tea. That is what he is waiting for. And if the old age pensioners who were refused the tea bonus last Christmas cannot afford to buy, then he will deration, not by supplies being adequate, because they are not yet up to 1739 pre-war levels, but by people not being able to buy.
As I say, this is only the beginning of the old Toryism; a return to the '30s, but a return with a difference, and what a difference, from the picture painted by the party opposite during the Election. Then everything was going to be plentiful if we could only have a Tory Government. They spoke about the housewives bravely trying to feed their families on 2 ounces of this and 10d. of that. But the 2 ounces have become 1 ounce, and the Minister does not know whether he can maintain even the 1 ounce for the rest of the year.
In this way and a thousand others the Tory Party created the impression that merely by abolishing controls and doing away with or limiting bulk purchase everything we wanted would be obtained. Even the "Economist" is falling out with them and losing patience with them. This is what it said last week:The notion that physical shortages might he overcome by making a bonfire of controls, an idea nourished by some foolish boasting from Lord Woolton, has already evaporated.I agree with the "Economist" in this particular. We had all this talk about bulk purchase, but the Government had been in office for six months and they have not dared to do anything about it. Why? Because the Minister knows quite well when he is in office that bulk purchase is our lifeline as far as our food supplies are concerned.
I asked him last week to give me particulars of the bulk purchase food agreements. He did not publish them in the OFFICIAL REPORT; he was too bashful. He published them in an admirable. but more obscure publication, the Ministry of Food Bulletin." Why was he so bashful? He intervened in the local government elections in the North-East. He published an article entitled "This Week's Battle for the Councils," and he hardly mentioned food. He talked about housing. Is this part of the new co-ordination? If we want a statement about housing is it to be given by the Minister of Food, or, if we want a statement about food, is it to be given by the Secretary of State for the Colonies?
As I say, however, the Minister made some mention of food. He said he had 1740 signed the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement and the 15-year agreement with New Zealand. In other words, he told the people, "Vote Tory because you have a Minister who is signing bulk purchase agreements." The people, however, paid no regard to that. They said that those were the agreements which the Minister and his friends were deriding as recently as six months ago.
When we look at that "Ministry of Food Bulletin," we find that out of 50 bulk purchase agreements, 38 are with Commonwealth countries, two with the Irish Republic, and three with Denmark, and then there are the Argentine and Uruguayan contracts. Is it not nonsense, and mischievous nonsense, to talk about tearing up bulk purchase agreements? The Minister should go to the Dominions and the Commonwealth and talk about this. These are the mainstay of Commonwealth commercial relations and the mainstay of future stability of food supplies for this country.
I will concede, however, that the Minister is at least improving a little. When I asked him yesterday about butter, he did not suggest sending out private enterprise business executives to discover the butter. He said it was not there. And when he addressed the meat traders recently he was not very optimistic about the prospect of meat. He spoke with such lucidity that, if the Committee will allow me, I will quote the report of what he said. It is as follows:Whilst there was not enough meat he (the Minister) must continue rationing and price control. While there was rationing and price control it was difficult to allow private purchase of meat but until they had private purchase of meat there was little hope of having enough meat to end rationing. If anybody had the answer to that situation he would like to know it.Obviously, the Minister does not know. What he is doing is what the meat traders are apprehensive about. He is lessening demand by putting some meat beyond the purse of the purchaser. He is reducing demand, but reducing demand does not improve supply. In the long run it has the opposite effect. The fundamental problem facing this country is not the reduction of demand but the improvement of supplies.
We have reserved home production for another debate, but I will follow the Minister through the position of imported supplies. A lot has been said on the 1741 other side of the Committee today about tea. The position is improved. I should have mentioned, of course, that when I challenged the Minister on the second occasion about turning a somersault on the question of tea, he was quite rude to me. He said we ought to have improved the ration two years ago. He did not even know that that was exactly what we did. We increased it to 2½ ounces.
§ Mr. Willey
We improved the ration as soon as the stock position allowed.
I think we can say that the oils and fats position is not less satisfactory than it was last year, and it is interesting to see that we have had a very substantial import of lard which will be helping us out. But I presume that that is coming from dollar sources, though the impression has been created that it is quite impossible to obtain food from dollar sources when we want cheese.
I am very intrigued with the sugar position. In the first three months of this year we have imported considerably more sugar than we did last year, and last year we imported considerably more than in 1950. In fact, in the last three months we have imported twice as much dollar sugar as in the preceding year. Exports of refined sugar, however, have fallen very heavily indeed. The exports for March are only half of what they were 12 months ago. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give us an explanation, because if we have sugar here, for whatever purpose, I do not think we can afford to allow our fruit to go to waste.
To turn to livestock products, the Minister himself apparently realises now that we are facing very great difficulties. He has not suggested sending out any private buyers and he realises that that would not alter the position. Imports of meat this year are far less than they were in 1950. It is very doubtful whether the Australians will be able to help us this year. I disagree with the Minister about the Argentine. I agree with the Food and Agricultural Organisation's report which says there is every reason to believe that the present downward trend of meat exports from the Argentine will continue.
As the Minister said, the prospect for bacon is that we shall have less imports this year; and in butter and cheese we 1742 face a grim prospect indeed. Perhaps it would be worth while, for the record, if the Committee knew that we only had once before a one ounce ration of cheese, which the Minister is now doubtful whether he can maintain. We had a one ounce ration when Lord Woolton was the Minister and the present Minister was his Parliamentary Secretary. They are the only two who have ever shown the organising genius to distribute a one ounce ration of cheese. All this, as we are bound commonly to appreciate now, is the result of currency difficulties and the result of absolute world food shortages.
§ Mr. Willey
But, in this situation, what could be more mischievous than all this talk that all that was necessary was to send private buyers abroad—businessmen to comb the world? The Government have been in office six months and have not yet sent abroad a single businessman to start combing. I appeal to the Government publicly to renounce these past mischiefs because, unless they do, they will not get the public to appreciate their present difficulties.
I appeal to the Government to think again of what they are doing, because the tremendous effort of the people of this country, to which the Parliamentary Secretary has often referred, depended very largely—not only since 1945, but during the war—on the recognition by the people of this country of the validity of the principle of fair shares.
I call upon the Chancellor and the Minister to reflect again upon their present policy of slashing the food subsidies. Nothing has more profoundly disturbed the trade union movement. I think the Chancellor could make an appeal to all of us to play our part in trying to get economic stability if he would do his part by announcing immediately a standstill in the cuts in the food subsidies. He has got an opportunity. He said in the Budget debate that he was going to make cuts on a host of other things—not only the cuts I have mentioned. If he will say he will not continue pursuing his present fiscal policy, I think he will get better results from the people of this country.
Finally, let me make a more general appeal. I join with my hon. Friend the 1743 Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) and ask everyone to pay regard to the position in the world. This moment, as my hon. Friend said, 15 nations are threatened by the greatest invasion of locusts known within living memory, but aeroplanes have gone out from Britain, from the United States and from Soviet Russia to fight them. In a troubled and divided world this may seem something of very little significance and very little importance, but, as the Food and Agriculture Organisation has said in their appeal, three-quarters of the world cannot live in safety while a quarter is starving to death. I hope that our legitimate concern with our own welfare will not blind us to this stark reality.
This great problem will not be solved by sending out businessmen to comb the world. It demands constructive statesmanship, and I believe that the tragedy of all this is that it is in the very process of seeking a solution to our domestic problems, about which we. unfortunately, differ—it is in the process of seeking a solution to our domestic problems that we may find world peace, because fair shares is not only something that means a lot to the people of this country, but is something which means a lot to the peoples of the world, and if we were consciously and deliberately to try to evoke the principle of fair shares not only at home but abroad, we might seize the slender opportunity—but an opportunity none the less—of world peace.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Charles Hill)
Whatever one may think about the earlier remarks of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey), we can at least begin on a note of agreement. This country's participation in the agencies of the United Nations, F.A.O. included, is an expression—and, in the view of many people, a vigorous expression—of our recognition of the world food situation in relation to the world demand for food. We have shown willingness to place at the disposal of that organisation the 'expert 'nutritional and other resources which this country can make available.
The former Minister, the right hon. Member for Bradford, Central (Mr. Webb), took, if he will not think me 1744 presumptuous for saying so, a serious and reasoned line, and based his argument substantially on the world shortage of food, the steps which that demanded, and the steps in the procurement of food which it inhibited. Latterly, and particularly in the speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, we passed to the food subsidies. I think the Committee would wish me, in replying to this debate, started on so serious a line, to seek to get to grips with those two main problems—the problem of the procurement of food in a world suffering such shortage as the right hon. Gentleman described, and secondly, the question of the subsidy policy and its effect on this country.
But before I turn to those two main issues upon which I should like to concentrate my remarks, let me refer to some of the more detailed points which were raised in the debate. The hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) was in an unusually challenging mood. She challenged the arithmetic of my right hon. Friend when he said, as he confessed, on the basis of calculations done for him, that regardless of the rise in the price of meat to which he referred there will be an increase in the meat ration of approximately 2d. The mathematics of this is that at existing prices the increase is 1.88d., but at the new prices it is slightly over 2d. She also made reference to the increased prices of cheese and bacon, as did other hon. Members, as something happening outside the Budget exercise.
I would refer the hon. Lady to the fact that those two increases, with the increase in the price of milk, were not part of the Budget exercise which the Chancellor described, but were necessary for the reason that when this Government entered office it found the level of subsidies running, not at £410 million, but at £430 million; and they had been running at about £430 million for approximately five months. If the Government were to sustain the £410 million subsidy level, they had no alternative but to find £20 million, from such increases as seemed appropriate, in the last three months of the financial year.
§ Dr. Hill
It was doing it pretty quickly, but as the preceding Government had allowed that increase of £20 million over the subsidy level of £410 million to stand for five months before 1st November last —[Interruption.] I shall be happy to develop my argument, given the necessary silence for the purpose. As to the hon. Lady's retort about butter and the increase which my right hon. Friend said had taken place in just over two years, I shall be dealing with that a little later, and I shall demonstrate that the statement of my right hon. Friend was an accurate one.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom) challenged the validity of the calculation made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the increase involved by the subsidy exercise in all its parts would be 1s. 6d. per week per ration book holder. Let me say that that remains the estimate of the Government, and nothing has happened to vary it.>lb/> My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) raised the question of releasing pork from control. I would say to him that that possibility is under consideration. [Interruption.] Surely my right hon. Friend should consider all the implications of this matter. But there are substantial difficulties, as everyone knows; and not only those referred to in the debate. There is, of course, the difficulty of the supply—for great though the increase in the pig population has been, there is still a shortfall.
There is the difficulty, as has been properly emphasised by the right hon. Member for Bradford, Central, and others, in the whole of this field, of meeting the commitment into which we have entered and about which there is no difference between the two sides of the Committee —the commitment to give guaranteed prices to the farmers. I concede the point made by the right hon. Gentleman straight away: a good deal of hard thinking will need to be done about other ways of securing this same end before a substantial change can be made in the character of trade.
Reference was made to eggs and to sugar, but I think I should, owing to shortness 1746 of time, make reference rather to a very important issue which was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland)—the problem of the Icelandic fisheries. The reply to the representations of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has only just been received—in fact, I think it was received today—and it is being studied. This is an exceedingly difficult situation. The action of the Icelandic Government arises, as they believe, out of the decision of The Hague Court on the problem of Norway. In that difficult situation I would ask my hon. Friend not to press the matter further now, but to accept my statement that very careful consideration is being given to the reply, the study of which should precede, I suggest, any further discussion.
I now come to the main issue raised by the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] I suggest that I should be allowed seriously to consider this matter, which was seriously put. The argument which he put to the Committee could be summarised in this way: the world is short of food: private enterprise can do nothing about it.
§ Dr. Hill
The right hon. Gentleman said that for private enterprise to compete for that insufficient supply of food would of itself raise prices without securing an increase in world supplies. He said that in his approach to the problem he was not doctrinaire. In fact, he accused my right hon. and gallant Friend of the doctrinaire attitude.
About the general issue of Government bulk buying which is the issue to which I wish to come; clearly there are arguments in favour of bulk buying—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—in certain circumstances, such as the circumstances of war. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I suggest that hon. Members, who have heard the other side with courtesy and silence, should listen to the argument which I wish seriously to put to them.
It is clear that a case can be put forward for bulk agreements where they implement undertakings entered into, say, between allies, and that a case can be put forward for such agreements where the basis is that of Commonwealth relations or trading with the Colonies. But the 1747 argument used by the right hon. Gentleman was that in circumstances of insufficiency of food in the world in general the method of bulk purchase is appropriate and indeed, the only way.
§ Dr. Hill
No, I cannot give way. I hope the Committee will give me the consideration of hearing the arguments put forward. The one factor which the right hon. Gentleman lost sight of or did not include in the argument he put to the Committee was that all too often in bulk purchase agreements there is a price effect which acts as a positive disincentive to future production.
Let me elaborate the point. A good deal has been said about the possibility of bulk purchase leading to international friction. Much has been said about the loss in skills that it involves.
§ Dr. Hill
I cannot give way. Much has been said, rightly, about the loss of quality that it involves. But I suggest that if there is an argument of even greater importance it is that where the price in such contracts or long-term arrangements is out of touch with reality in the form of the world price, and where such money is not going to the producer but is siphoned off for other non-food purposes in the process of payment, the bulk purchase arrangement in the end has a discouraging and disincentive effect on the food producers of the world and is harmful to the people of this country.
Even so, where contracts are entered into, it is all too common for subsequent agreement to be reached on increased prices. Consider what happened under the bulk purchase arrangements with the Argentine in the last five years: 378,000 tons of meat were received by us in 1947; 280,000 tons were received in 1948; there was a slight increase to 294,000 tons in 1949: we received 236,000 tons in 1950; and we received 87,000 tons in 1951. [HON. MEMBERS: "So what?"] Bulk purchase as we have seen it, while justified on certain grounds and in certain circumstances, has been accompanied, in the case of this principal exporting country over the last five years by a steady decrease in the amount of meat.[Interruption.]
The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
I hope the Committee will give the Parliamentary Secretary a hearing.
The hon. Gentleman well knows that if the Parliamentary Secretary does not give way, he is not entitled to speak.
§ Dr. Hill
The hon. Member has been here for a very small part of the day and I do not propose to give way to him.
New Zealand—I say it without political implication—has set out to serve the needs of this country and has succeeded in so doing; which is something for which the whole country should be grateful.
§ Dr. Hill
In the case of the agreements which have been entered into with New Zealand and Australia on meat and with the Commonwealth on sugar, there is in each case a clear clause contemplating the possibility of a return to private trading, that return not being inconsistent with those agreements.
May I pass to the question on which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, laid great stress, the problem of the subsidy—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about cheese?"] Since it is desired that I should say something about cheese, let the position be simply put. Last year this country imported from dollar sources 47,000 tons of cheese, an amount sufficient to maintain a 1-oz. ration for two-thirds of the year. This country is unable to afford the dollars for North American cheese this year. That is the reason for the cut in the cheese ration.
Let me come to the Budget exercise. I have referred to the fact that when the new Government entered upon office they found the subsidy outgoings running at some £20 million above the level of £410 million. Subsequently, as the Committee well know, the Chancellor estimated that when further cost increases were taken into account subsidies would be running at the order of £50 million a year over the ceiling of £410 million. In his Budget statement my right hon. Friend contemplated, first, a reduction from £410 million 1749 to £250 million, and secondly, an expansion of the exercise to bring in a sum of the order of £50 million by which the subsidies were running over the £410 million level.
There are, I suppose it can be said, two philosophies behind the food subsidy position. On the one hand, there is the attitude that the subsidy should be so arranged as to ensure that the neediest member of the community can buy the food he needs at fixed prices and, having decided that level, to subsidise everyone equally, whatever his means. The previous Government did not adopt that extreme principle for, as my right hon. Friend demonstrated today, in the rather more than two years from 1st April, 1949, to 31st July, 1951, the price level in this country went up by £250 million a year. Let the Committee remind themselves that the figure includes not only the changes in subsidy level but the increased prices throughout that period.
The only compensating advantages for that rise in the cost of food were the changes in National Assistance rates, amounting in total to £28 million and the increase in retirement pensions last year, amounting to £33 million. In other, words the background against which to examine what Her Majesty's Government have done and the test by which to judge the sincerity of what hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite say, is the history of the last two years.
The other approach to this problem is to make sure by a policy of social benefits that no one is prevented from buying his needs in food and, subject to this, to leave people to spend their own money wisely or foolishly as they may decide. That means that, subject to a fair and successful system of social benefit payments, people should pay what food costs and know what it costs, and spend their money on necessities or luxuries as they may desire.
If we examine the Budget picture as a whole, we find that whereas, by the Chancellor's action, the level of food subsidies has been lowered by £160 million in a full year the gains to the people, including social benefits and Income Tax reliefs—[Interruption.] I know that hon.
Gentlemen do not like this, but the gains to the people of this country amount to £308 million a year.
Order. I hope the tone of this debate will be kept up to the end and that the hon. Gentleman will be heard to the end.
§ Dr. Hill
Despite the jeers of hon. Members opposite, and admitting that there may be much discussion as to the distribution of the reliefs which make up the total of £308 million, the plain fact remains, unwelcome though it is to hon. Members opposite, that on balance £160 million was added to the cost of food and £308 million returned to the people of this country.
§ Dr. Hill
Finally, much has been said in the course of the debate to suggest that our balance of payments difficulties have little or nothing to do with our food position today. May I give some examples of the additional foods which would be available if we had the currency? Sugar, oils and fats—[Interruption.] The attempts of hon. Members to secure that my remarks will not be heard are fruitless. Sugar, oils and fats, cheese, meat, bacon, dried fruit, canned salmon; all are available in the world if we had the currency to buy them.
The Opposition are seeking to exploit the inevitable consequences of the measures to deal with the inheritance they left. The very existence of the crisis is denied for their purposes. In other words, the Opposition are seeking to separate cause and effect, and so to turn the inevitable hurts of our struggle for solvency into the festering sores of party strife.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 204; Noes, 268.1755
|Division No. 135.)||AYES||[10.0 p.m|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Paget, R. T.|
|Albu, A. H||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Pannell, Charles|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Hall, Rt. Hon, Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Parker, J.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hall, John (Gateshead, W.)||Peart, T. F.|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Hamilton, W. W.||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Awbery, S. S.||Hannan, W.||Porter, G.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Hardy, E A.||Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Hargreaves, A.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W)|
|Baird, J.||Hastings, S.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Balfour, A.||Hayman, E H.||Pryde, D. J.|
|Bartley, P.||Healey, Dennis (Leeds, S.E.)||Rhodes, H.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon F J||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis)||Richards, R.|
|Bence, C. R.||Herbison, Miss M.||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Benn, Wedgwood||Hobson, C. R||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Benson, G.||Holman, P.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Beswick, F.||Houghton, Douglas||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Bevan, Rtfl Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Hoy, J. H.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Ross, William|
|Blackburn, F.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Royle, C.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Schofield, S. (Barnsley)|
|Blyton, W. R.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Boardman, H.||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green>||Shinwell, Rt. Hon E.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G A.||Short, E. W.|
|Bowden, H. W.||Janner, B.||Shurmar, P. L. E|
|Bowles, F. G.||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Jeger, George (Goole)||Simmons, C.J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Slater, J.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S)|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Snow, J. W.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Jones, T. W (Merioneth)||Sorensen, R W.|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Keenan, W.||Soskice, Rt. Hon Sir Frank|
|Castle, Mrs B. A||Kenyon, C.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Champion, A. J.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Chapman, W. D.||King, Dr. H. M.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Clunie, J.||Kinley, J.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Stross, Dr. Barnett|
|Coldrick, W.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Sylvester, G O.|
|Collick, P H.||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Lewis, Arthur||Thomas, David (Aberdare)|
|Crosland, C. A R.||Lipton, Lt.- Col. M.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Danies, P.||MacColl, J. E.||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||McGhee, H. G.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||McLeavy, F.||Tomney, F.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.||Turner-Samuels, M|
|Deer, G.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Viant, S. P.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Wallace, H W.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E)||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Weitzman, D.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Manuel, A. C.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Edelman, M.||Mayhew, C. P.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Edwards, John (Brighouse)||Mellish, R. J.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Messer, F.||Wigg, George|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Mikardo, Ian||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Mitchison, G. R.||Willey, Frederick (Sunderland, N.)|
|Ewart, R.||Monslow, W.||Willey, Octavius (Cleveland)|
|Fienburgh, W.||Moddy, A. S.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)|
|Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)||Morley, R.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Follick, M||Moyle, A.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Foot, M. M||Mulley, F. W.||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)|
|Freeman, John (Watford)||Murray, J. D.||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Nally, W.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Glanville, James||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J.||Wyatt, W. L.|
|Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||Oldfield, W. H.||Yates, V. F.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Wakefield)||Oliver, G. H||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Grey, C. F.||Orbach, M.|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Oswald, T.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Padley, W. E||Mr. Pearson and Mr. Holmes.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Gammans, L. D.||Marples, A. E.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Garner-Evans, E. H.||Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)|
|Alport, C. J M.||George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G Lloyd||Marshall, Sidney (Sutton)|
|Amory, Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Godber, J B.||Maude, Angus|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Gough, C F. H.||Maudling, R.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Gower, H. R.||Maydon, Lt.-;Cmdr, S. L. C|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Graham, Sir Fergus||Medlicott, Brig. F.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon R. (Blackburn, W.)||Gridley, Sir Arnold||Mellor, Sir John|
|Astor, Hon. J. J. (Plymouth, Sutton)||Grimond, J.||Molson, A. H. E|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Bucks, Wycombe)||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Baker, P. A. D.||Harden, J. R. E.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr J M||Hare, Hon J. H.||Nabarro, G D. N|
|Baldwin, A. E||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Nicholls, Harmar|
|Banks, Col. C.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Barber, A. P. L.||Harrison, Col. Harwood (Eye)||Nicholson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Harvey, Air cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||Nield, Basil (Chester)|
|Baxter, A. B.||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Noble, Cmdr A. H P|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Nugent, G R H|
|Beamish, Maj. Tuften||Heald, Sir Lionel||Nutting, Anthony|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Heath, Edward||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Higgs, J. M C.||Odey, G. W|
|Bennett, F M. (Reading, N.)||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||O'Neil, Rt. Hon. Sir H (Antrim, N)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W D.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Hirst, Geoffrey||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Birch, Nigel||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Orr-Ewing Charles Ian (Hendon, N)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Holmes, Sir Stanley (Harwich)||Osborne, C.|
|Black, C. W.||Hope, Lord John||Partridge, E.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hopkinson, Henry||Peake, Rt. Hon. O|
|Bowen, E. R.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Horobin, I. M||Peyton, J. W. W.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Brain, B. R.||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Pilkington, Capt R. A|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Howard, Greville (St. Ives)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N.W)||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W H||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Hulbert, Wing Cmdr N. J||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G T||Hurd, A. R||Profumo, J. D|
|Bullard, D G.||Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (IIford, N.)||Raikes, H. V|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Rayner, Brig R|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)||Redmayne, E.|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H||Renton, D. L. M|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Jenkins, R. C. D (Dulwich)||Robertson, Sir David|
|Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Jennings, R.||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Carson, Hon. E.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Channon, H.||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Kaberry, D.||Russell, R. S.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W)||Keeling, Sir Edward||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.|
|Cole, Norman||Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge)||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Colegate, W A.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Conant, Maj R. J. E||Lambton, Viscount||Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas|
|Cooper, Sqn Ldr. Albert||Lancaster, Col, C. G.||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. (Rochdale)|
|Cooper-Key. E M||Longford-Holt, J. A|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Scott, R. Donald|
|Crookshank, Capt, Rt. Hon. H. F. C||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H||Scott-Miller, Comdr. R.|
|Crouch, R.F.||Legh, P. R. (Petersfield)||Shepherd, William|
|Crowder, John E. (Finchley)||Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W)|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Lindsay, Martin||Smiles, Lt-Col. Sir Walter|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Linstead, H. N.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S)||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)||Smyth, Brig, J. G. (Norwood)|
|Davidson, Viscountees||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Spearman, A. C. M|
|Deedes, W. F.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Speir, R. M|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D||Longden, Gilbert (Herts, S W)||Stanley, Capt Hon. Richard|
|Donner, P. W||Low, A. R. W.||Stevens, G. P.|
|Doughty, C. J A||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S)||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W)|
|Drayson, G B.||Lucas, P B. (Brentford)||Steward, Henderson (Fite, E)|
|Dugdale, Maj Rt. Hn. Sir T (Richmond)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A L||McAdden, S. J.||Storey, S.|
|Duthie, W. S.||McCorquodale, Rt Hon. M. S.||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Erroll, F. J.||Macdonald, Sir Peter (I of Wight).||Studholme. H. G.|
|Fell, A.||McKibbin, A.J.||Summers, G. S|
|Finlay, Graeme||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Fisher, Nigel||Maclean, Fitzroy||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||MacLeod, Rt. Hon Iain (Enfield, W.)||Teeling, W.|
|Fletcher, Walter (Bury)||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarly)||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W)|
|Fort, R.||Macpherson, Maj. Niall (Dumfries)||Thornecroft, R. Hn. Peter (Monmouth)|
|Foster, John||Maitland, Comdr J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.|
|Fraser, Hon Hugh (Stone)||Manningham-Buller, Sir Reginald||Tilney, John|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecombe & Lonsdale)||Markham, Major S. F.||Turner, H. F. L|
|Gage, C. H.||Marlowe. A A H||Turton. R. H.|
|Vane, W. M. F.||Waterhouse, Capt, Rt. Hon. C||Wills, G.|
|Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.||Watkinson, H.A.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Trure)|
|Vosper, D. F.||Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Wakefield, Edward, (Derbyshire, W.)||Wellwood, W.||York, C.|
|Wakefield, Sir Wavell (Marylebone)||White, Baker (Canterbury)|
|Walker-Smith, D. C.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)||Brigadier Mackeson and Mr. Drewe|
|Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Ten o'Clock, and objection being taken to further proceeding, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.