§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I beg to moveThat an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Fats and Cheese (Rationing) Order, 1952 (S.I., 1952. No. 1778), dated 2nd October, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 3rd October, 1952, in the last Session of Parliament, be annulled.I think that it might be for the convenience of the House if we took together this Prayer and the following Prayer, which seeks to annul the Meat (Rationing) (Amendment No. 6) Order, and had a general debate upon the two matters.
I wish to raise, on the first Prayer, the question of our butter supplies. This Order provided for a reduction in the ration from 3 oz. to 2 oz.—a reduction which became effective on 10th August, and which at the time was described by the Ministry as a temporary reduction of the butter ration. When, on 22nd October, 1952, I called attention to the persistence of the reduced ration, and asked when was the last occasion on which a 2 oz. butter ration was continued as long as the present 2 oz. ration had so far continued, the Minister replied:Throughout the period from 30th June, 1941, to 11th November, 1945, but it was 2 oz. for two substantial periods in 1946–1948."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1952; Vol. 505, c. 113.]That is grossly misleading. In fact, we had a reduced butter ration of 2 oz. for the first three days of January only, in 1948. I think that it is unfortunate that such a reply should have been given, because it is obviously misleading us as to the true position.
When the butter ration is increased, as it shortly will be, we shall then have been on a 2 oz. ration for 16 weeks. That will compare, if we refer to the last occasion on which our attention was called to this by the Minister, with the two periods—30th October to 8th December, 1946, and 9th November, 1947, to 4th January, 1948. It is clear from this that the last occasion on which we had a 2 oz. butter ration in this country was no less than five years ago. On the last two occasions the 2 oz. ration did not persist even then for 16 weeks; it persisted for only eight weeks. I think the 552 Parliamentary Secretary will agree that an explanation is due from him to the House because, at the time when the last Government went out of office, we had established a supply position in which the normal ration was accepted as being 4 oz. and, in fact, on occasion, ran up to 5 oz.
Since the present Government have been in office we have had a 3 oz., then a 2 oz. and now, again, a 3 oz. ration. I gather that the explanation from the Ministry is that this is due to supply difficulties at the principal sources of supply, aggravated in the case of Australia by drought, and in the case of Denmark, not by the reasons given by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), but by reasons which, according to the Minister, are connected with the domestic economy of Denmark and foot-and-mouth disease ravages in Denmark.
Practically all our butter comes from New Zealand, Australia, Denmark and Holland. The supply position revealed by the latest figures—the House should accept it as a serious one—is that, whereas, in the first 10 months of 1951, we imported 5,472,000 cwt., in the corresponding period this year we imported only 4,171,000 cwt., a very serious decline. The biggest and most drastic fall was in the amount imported from Holland and Australia. Whereas, in 1951, we imported 269,000 cwt. from Holland, this year we imported only 150,000 cwt., and whereas we imported from Australia, in the first 10 months of last year, 657,000 cwt., in the corresponding period this year we imported only 127,000 cwt.
The interesting thing—it is to this that the Parliamentary Secretary should direct his reply—is that in the case of New Zealand and Denmark we are obliged by present bulk purchase contracts to take, in one case, 90 per cent. and, in the other case, 75 per cent. of their exportable surplus, but in the case of Australia and Holland the quantity is arrived at each year. I want to know whether this circumstance has affected the supplies from those countries; in other words, whether we are prejudiced by not having with Australia and Holland long-term bulk purchase contracts similar to those which we have with New Zealand and Denmark?
553 Another point that I wish to put to the Parliamentary Secretary—I know the difficulties, but he should tell us what the position is—is that before the war we imported from Baltic countries and Eastern Europe, and I want to know whether there is any prospect of our again getting butter imports from those sources.
As this is a general Order, the Parliamentary Secretary ought to tell us why the margarine ration has not been increased to a greater extent. There has been an increase in the world of the production of oils and fats over the last 12 months and the prices of vegetable oils have fallen considerably. As a good housekeeper for the nation, the Ministry ought to have increased the purchases of oils and fats to make up the deficiency on the butter by increasing the margarine ration.
Finally, on butter—this point was often put to me when I occupied the Parliamentary Secretary's position; I do not suggest that it is very relevant to the ration itself, but it is something about which he should give us an account—I want the hon. Gentleman to explain why, while we have been on the exceptionally reduced butter ration, we have doubled our exports of butter. That seems a very silly thing to do. It is true that this is a marginal amount of 14,000 cwt., but the increase in the export of butter while we have had the exceptionally low ration is more than double all the butter we have had from the Irish Republic during that time. We are entitled to an explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary.
The second Order reduced the meat ration from 2s. 2d. to 2s. I agree that this is a historical matter, for there has now been a further reduction to 1s. 8d. It is the bounden duty of the Parliamentary Secretary to give the House an explanation about the supply position. It appears that this quarter we shall have consumed less meat than we did in the same period last year and it is certain that we shall have consumed considerably less meat than we did in the corresponding period in 1950.
The intriguing thing is that if we look backwards it appears, under this Order, that the ration has been a trifle above the ration last year while the consumption has been a little below it. This was referred to in the House in a reply which the Minister gave recently. I do not 554 want to continue the discussion we were having on the previous Prayers, but the Parliamentary Secretary should address himself to the question of what is he doing now that the consumption of meat is beginning to fall below the ration entitlement. This is a price ration, and I think it is relevant to ask the hon. Gentleman what consideration the Ministry are giving to this?
But the main point I want to raise is the question of supplies. Home production is much better but the Parliamentary Secretary is too modest to claim any credit for that. The increase in meat production has been due to the action taken by the previous Government. I wanted to say a few words about our imported supplies. Recently, the question was raised of the Ministry losing supplies because those supplies were slipping into manufactured meat. In other words, this meat was taken off the ration.
A serious allegation was made that this slipping of ration meat into manufactured meat was seriously affecting supplies from our main supply country, New Zealand, and in reply to the allegation a statement was issued. I think I ought to put it to the Parliamentary Secretary. It was reported in the Press and this is the statement issued by the Ministry spokesman:We discovered that the sausage meat coming from New Zealand was almost 100 per cent. meat. Vast quantities were being shipped to private traders in England, seriously affecting the amount of New Zealand meat available to the Ministry. The meat was going to the manufacturers of pies and sausages, and could also have been supplied to housewives.We were in serious difficulties. We had to call a halt to the scheme before it caused serious trouble to the home ration. If the traders continue to offer it as sausage meat it can be freely sold off the ration. But if they try to sell it as minced meat they will be committing an offence—for minced meat is part of the ration.The whole thing is a muddle. Sausage meat is not easy to define. What is sausage meat to a New Zealand exporter might be high-quality meat to butchers at home. What it boils down to is that for a time we were fooled—but fooled in a legitimate way. But as soon as the Minister realised what was happening he clamped down on them at once.I should like to know what action was taken at the Ministry of Food about that.
§ Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)
Would the hon. Gentleman give us the source of the quotation?
§ Mr. Willey
I have read from the "Sunday Pictorial." [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is not so much a quotation from the paper. It is a statement given in quotation marks by a Ministry spokesman and it has not been denied by the Ministry. I am only putting to the Parliamentary Secretary what his own Ministry's official spokesman said.
§ Mr. Willey
It was a week last Sunday. The Parliamentary Secretary will not deny that the Ministry have now changed their policy and that a substantial amount of meat has come into this country off the ration.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is not the sort of man who will let down an official of the Ministry who says that the thing was a muddle, and that what it all boiled down to was that they were fooled, although he said that they were fooled in a legitimate way. I am sure he would not try to shield his right hon. and gallant Friend, although when the Minister knew what was happening in his Ministry he endeavoured to put it right.
This is a very serious matter. We are considering a reduced meat ration, and we shall soon be considering a further reduction. It is preposterous if a contributory factor to the reduction has been the import of this meat off the ration. It means that all this meat has gone to hotels, restaurants and the like, to people who can afford to buy it. This is just as offensive as the matters which we have recently discussed.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
Can my hon. Friend give information of the relative price of this freely available non-rationed meat, compared with the price of the meat officially supplied?
§ Mr. Shepherd
Could the hon. Gentleman help his hon. Friend by saying whether the excessive price we paid as the result of the importation of this meat was less than or greater than the excess price we paid when the hon. Gentleman allowed an importation of thousands of tons of sweetened fat?
§ Mr. Willey
I should be out of order if I replied to that question. I hope we 556 shall have a more satisfactory and suitable occasion to pursue it than the debate on this Order, the subject of which is meat.
Where does the Parliamentary Secretary stand about a matter in which he has shown himself interested, animal protein? Our butter and cheese rations are the lowest we have ever had, and milk consumption is falling. Here we have a reduction in the meat ration and an aggravation of that reduction by the foolhardiness of the Ministry. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will address himself more directly to the matters I have raised and will not try to get away with it as he did on the last occasion.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)
I beg to second the Motion.
I shall not take up many minutes of the time of the House, but I want to talk about the second of the two Prayers. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) has covered the question of butter very fully, and I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will have difficulty in answering the points that my hon. Friend has made. I can speak with a little authority on the question of the reduction in the meat ration.
I am very concerned about this fall in the meat ration. Promises were made glibly by hon. Members opposite—I hate to use these references all the time, but they are very important—and by noble Lords who are now "overlords," about what could be accomplished in his regard if the Conservatives were returned to power. During the Election campaign of 1951, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen and noble Lords almost promised housewives that if the Tories were returned to power more meat would be available. I know how long it takes to produce cattle for the meat ration. I also know that pork and mutton can be produced very much more quickly. The present Government have been in power for 13 months and cannot claim that the amount of the ration is any better as a result. I cannot go so far as to say that it is worse except in regard to price.
The Parliamentary Secretary quoted at length statistics of a social survey set up by my right hon. Friend when he was in office. I have not been at the Ministry of Food and I do not take any notice of 557 statistics, because they bear no relation to experience. There is hardly a butcher's shop in this country which needs to ration meat today. As a result of the action taken by the Government, we find that butchers are pressing meat on those who can afford it. Representing, as I do, a constituency which is almost 100 per cent. working class, I know that my constituents cannot afford to take up their ration of meat because of the prices that have been imposed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North mentioned manufacturing meat from New Zealand. The reduction in the meat ration is affecting people all the more because the manufacturing meat available to the retail meat trade is at its lowest ebb. It is 3½ per cent. of the permit value. This is very important, because the policy of the Ministry hitherto has been that, as far as possible, more manufacturing meat is made available not only to the large group 1 manufacturers but also to the retail butchers' shops to help that trade. I want to know whether the Ministry are in a position to increase the manufacturing meat allocated to retail butchers' shops.
When all is said and done rationing, and reductions or increases in the amount of meat available to the public, is today almost a farce in view of the prices now imposed. I am told that an Order has been laid on the Table today to effect a further reduction in the meat ration. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North and other hon. Members on this side of the House as well as myself will therefore have an early opportunity of praying against a further heavy reduction in the meat ration.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Baker White (Canterbury)
I shall not detain the House for more than a very few minutes, but I feel that a misconception might arise from what was said by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey). As for the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle), I feel that he was in danger of defeating his own argument. He was complaining about the reduction of the meat ration, but he also told us that people could not afford to take up the ration; and if that is followed to its logical conclusion, the hon. Gentleman is in danger of defeating his own argument.
558 The hon. Member for Sunderland, North gave certain import figures. He always puts his case very fairly and very moderately, and I am sure he has no desire to mislead the House. In my view, we ought to look at these figures, not over a period of two years, but over three years. If we do so, we find that it is true that our imports of butter in the 10 months ended 31st October, 1952, were 4,170,000 cwt. as compared with 5,472,000 cwt. in 1951; but if we compare 1951 with 1950, we find that in the latter year the figure was 6 million cwt.
In other words, this is a progressive fall which started under the Labour Government. It is not something new which has suddenly happened. It is a progressive fall which is governed by drought, by losses through foot and mouth disease and by a factor which has not been mentioned at all tonight—the rise in world population and the rising consumption in other countries. We are continually faced with the problem of trying to get more food for the rising population of this country out of a world whose own population is increasing very quickly.
Perhaps I may turn to the question of meat. There again, I think we ought to take the figures for three years. In 1950 the imports of meat for the first 10 months of the year were 22,374,000 cwt. Under the Socialist Government, in the same period of 1951 they fell to 17,559,000 cwt. Under the Conservative Government, in the same period of 1952 they have gone up to over 18 million cwt.
§ Mr. Baker White
The only point I am making is that these figures should be considered over three years and not simply over two years.
§ Mr. Willey
As the hon. Gentleman wants the figures over three years, will he give the 1950 figure for meat?
§ Mr. Baker White
Yes. The 1950 figure was 22 million cwt., but under his own Government that fell to 17,500,000 cwt. Under this Government it has started to go up again, in spite of the world 559 factors which I have mentioned. In other words, our procurement of meat is better than it was.
§ Mr. Willey
I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to put the facts fairly. Will he not agree that if he takes the monthly figures, then the figures now are less than they were 12 months ago, because we are not getting meat from the Argentine.
§ Mr. Baker White
I have the monthly figures here but I have not studied them. The hon. Gentleman gave details for 10 months and that is what I am working on. There is a compensating factor about which I am sure the hon. Member for Salford will agree—that meat today is of better quality. I think every hon. Member will agree that during the past year he has had fewer complaints about quality than in the previous two years.
§ Mr. J. D. Murray (Durham, North-West)
Will the hon. Gentleman agree that this week the chairman of the meat association in the Brandon and Byshottles area had to refuse carcases of meat because of their shocking condition? He would not allow it to go through the pool.
§ Mr. Baker White
That is only one district. These things happen from time to time for local reasons. I am speaking generally, and I think the general quality of meat is appreciably better now than it was a year ago.
There is another compensating factor which, again, has not been mentioned, and it is that 2,000 tons of unrationed gammon meat come on to the market every week. That is taking place in spite of the fact that we have drastically reduced our imports of ham. We are producing this unrationed gammon largely from our own home resources, and that is a compensating factor which should be taken into account.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Charles Hill)
So many questions have been put to me by the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Prayer that I think it would be convenient if I gave the answers now.
560 On the question of red meat, my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White), in response to the challenging observation of the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle), has given some figures. May I sum them up? There has been consumed in this country this year nearly 15 per cent. more red meat than in the corresponding period of last year. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) put it in the more scientific form of proteins, so seeking to cover meat, cheese and other building foods—rationed foods, of course, for we could have no knowledge of others. I have the figures for two corresponding weeks of this year and last year, the week ending 26th November. The figure for that week last year was, in grammes per head per week, 91.9 grammes of animal protein and for this year it was 99.6 grammes of animal protein.
After spending so long in rather vigorous debate, I do not seek to arouse hon. Members any more than is necessary, but, since they have asked the question, let them have the answer that in the case of red meat there is an increase of nearly 15 per cent. this year over last year and, in the case of bacon, rather more than a 15 per cent. increase. That, however unsatisfactory to the hon. Member, is the straight answer to a simple question.
§ Dr. Hill
No, I am not. I am giving the straight answer to a straight question. There is nearly a 15 per cent. increase in meat. I am giving a straight answer to a scientific question when I give the figure of 10 per cent. increase in animal protein consumed this year over this time last year.
The hon. Member raised the question of New Zealand. He quoted from a leader in the "Sunday Pictorial" in which it appeared—I think I am summarising it fairly—that the Ministry itself had used the words, "It is a muddle." May I tell the hon. Member what happened? A representative of the Press, about which I make no complaint, rang up saying there was a restriction on minced meat and there was confusion in his mind between minced meat 561 and mincemeat. After this representative of the Press had based his question on the problem of minced meat, I am afraid—and I humbly apologise for it—that a member of the Ministry staff released the observation, "You have got it rather in a muddle." He dared to say that to a representative of the Press and it found its way into that leader in that form.
The hon. Member raised the New Zealand question generally.
§ Mr. Willey rose—
§ Mr. Willey
After all, the hon. Gentleman is casting a reflection on the Press. I gave him his opportunity to make it clear whether he was challenging this report. Is the same explanation to be made of the Ministry being fooled and the Minister not being aware of it?
§ Dr. Hill
I am referring to that part of the story which I know and I am defending a member of the staff of the Ministry of Food. I am describing the facts, but it does not fill me with horror that I should have to observe that in fact a representative of the Press had come to a confusion about minced meat and mincemeat.
To come to the New Zealand story proper; in March, 1950, sausage meat was placed on open general licence. It was thought that there would not be a substantial import of sausage meat from New Zealand to this country, but somebody—
§ Dr. Hill
I am addressing myself, through the Chair, to the hon. Gentleman. As, in fact, the step which led to the confusion was taken by the Government of which he was a Member, I fail to see the relevance of his remark. I repeat that sausage meat was put on open general licence in March, 1950. It was not thought that the import would be substantial, but somebody in New Zealand discovered that by reducing the admixture of cereal with minced meat the meat kept perfectly well, and he started to increase the trade of importing sausage meat into this country.
We were asked by New Zealand to control that importation because in their 562 view it was beginning to eat into the meat which would otherwise come to this country in carcase form. I am not criticising the hon. Gentleman's colleagues for having put sausage meat on open general licence. I am merely stating in fact that it was so operated as to endanger—
§ Dr. Hill
The hon. Gentleman can give that complacent smile of his, but it is only really concealing his utter ignorance of the facts.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North put a number of questions to me about butter. I will give the answers speedily. Production at home and abroad has decreased, and, as hon. Members know, this derives in some part from the increased consumption of liquid milk. We are proud that liquid milk consumption in this country per head of the population is 60 per cent. up compared with pre-war. That has meant less milk being available for manufacturing purposes, butter included. I have said before, and I repeat it, that when we reflect that it takes 20 pints of milk to make a pound of butter it can be seen what the real cost is.
At home our production, which was 46,000 tons pre-war, has now fallen to 15,000 tons, in part for the reason I have given. Overseas we have met problems. Holland is sending more butter elsewhere. If we paid more, if we could afford to pay more, we should, I have no doubt, get a moderate increase in the quantities from there.
Australia has a bigger liquid milk consumption and a poorer butter production. Last year was the worst year on record, with the result that butter exports to this country were down to 4,000 tons as compared with nearly 100,000 tons received from Australia before the war. In the case of other countries there has been the problem of foot and mouth disease, but in general our difficulties are considerable because there is a tendency in the world to discontinue butter production, and the milk drinking policy has resulted in a substantial increase in the cost of butter making.
The hon. Member raised the question, rather critically indeed, of the exports of butter. Such exports are almost entirely 563 to Gibraltar, St. Helena, the Falkland Islands and Malta. I doubt whether that is either a serious or an improper drain upon the country's limited supply of butter.
In general, I would add this word about butter. The prospects of increased butter production do not seem to be particularly good. Butter has become an expensive product. The milk drinking campaign has played a big part in bringing about that position, and I should mislead the House were I to suggest that there is an easy or an early way out of the difficulty. Although the discussion on butter has taken place on an Order reducing the ration from three ounces to two ounces, there has today been laid an Order that puts the butter ration back to three ounces on 30th November.
As for the Prayer to annul the Order reducing the meat ration from 2s. 2d. to 2s., it will be known to hon. Members that a further reduction has been announced and in fact an Order has been laid today which revokes the Order which is now before the House. As the hon. Member said, there will be ample opportunity for him and for his hon. Friends to raise this matter again, and perhaps on that occasion we shall discuss it on some day other than the 40th day of the permitted period.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I wish to make a point which arises on the meat Order. I should like to know whether the Minister can tell us how much meat a customer is likely to receive for his 1s. 8d. or 2s., whether it be mutton or beef or anything else. There may be a difficulty, particularly in view of what has been admitted by the Minister, because a large number of people are not taking up the whole of their meat ration, although I do not accept the figure of 15 per cent. which he stated. I think that is rather more than has actually been available to rationed customers. I do not know whether that meat has found its way into places where it can be obtained at high prices, although I have no doubt such places have done very well out of this situation.
I am concerned that a housewife does not know what weight of meat she gets when she goes into a butcher's shop to spend her 1s. 8d. or 2s. The butcher 564 may charge 7s. 6d. for the meat supplied to a customer who produces, perhaps, four ration books. But the customer does not know the weight of the meat sold to her. Sometimes at the back of the butcher's shop, or perhaps it may be near the till, which may be some distance away from the customer, there is a typewritten list which shows the price of the various cuts. What is the position when the butcher says, "It is a bit over-7s. 6d."?
§ Dr. Hill rose—
§ Mr. Keenan
I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman could have replied to this point if he had allowed me to speak earlier. I showed that I wanted to speak before he got up to reply to the debate.
§ Dr. Hill
I was rising to apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not dealing with this matter earlier. He mentioned it during the previous discussion.
I am fully alive to the problem of enabling the housewife who so wishes to check up on the scheduled price and the price of the meat. We have met difficulties. One is that to enforce by law the price ticketing process is prohibited by a piece of legislation of some 25 years ago. We are examining the possibility of a statement in the form of a bill for joints sold across the counter. We are examining ways and means of doing what the hon. Gentleman wants us to do. We feel that, unless the trade are willing more vigorously to adopt voluntarily some form of ticketing or billing, we shall have to consider what can be done.
§ Mr. Keenan
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply. I am satisfied that what other Members and myself have been saying for some time has been receiving attention. However, I would point out that it is not 25 years since almost all meat in the shops in Liverpool and Bootle, and other places that I know, was ticketed. What the Minister says may be correct, If the difficulty exists and the Government are prepared to deal with it, that is helpful.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington)
Do not the figures which the Minister has quoted of the great reduction in the supplies of butter and other commodities prove what I have tried to put across over and over again—the fact that control is 565 the cause of shortages and that if we restrict consumption we restrict production? Therefore, with fewer controls we shall have increased production. The reason for the bad quality of the meat is bulk purchase from abroad and restriction at home. In the old days if one was not satisfied with one's butcher one could go to another. That caused healthy competition and there was a better quality of meat.
§ Mr. Willey
Though I am not completely satisfied with what the Parliamentary Secretary has said, as he has not revealed any hitherto unknown stocks which would justify the revocation of this Order and the restoration of the higher ration, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.