§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Sugar (Prices) (Amendment No. 4) Order, 1952 (S.I., 1952, No. 1794), dated 8th October, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th October, 1952, in the last Session of Parliament, be annulled.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I ask hon. Members to pass from the Chamber quietly in order to allow the hon. Member who is addressing the House to be heard.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I cannot hear a word of what is being said.
§ Mr. Speaker
There is generally some disturbance when hon. Members are passing from the Chamber. I must say that I was equally unable to hear what the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) was saying. I think that, with the lapse of a little time, he will become more audible.
§ Mr. F. Willey
I share your confidence, Mr. Speaker, that eventually I shall be heard.
I suggest that with this Motion we might take the next five Motions, which seek to annul Orders relating to oils and fats, butter, cheese, bacon and sugar. All these Motions deal with cognate matters and it might be for the convenience of the House to have a general discussion on them, and then, if necessary, to divide against them separately.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the first six Motions be taken together, leaving the last two for separate discussion. I am agreeable to that course if it meets the wishes of the House.
§ Mr. Willey
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Orders against which we are praying all relate to price increases which became effective on 5th October. Six price increases came into effect then. Sugar was increased by 1d. a lb., margarine, cooking fat and cheese by 2d. a lb., bacon by 5d. a lb. and butter by 6d. a lb. During our proceedings earlier we had some reference 464 to gammon. Apart from the price increases which I have mentioned, the Bacon also increased the price of gammon on the ration by no less than 1s. 8d. a lb. and the price of gammon off the ration by between 2s. and 2s. 4d. a lb., very steep price increases. This step was taken only because the Ministry is well aware that the bacon ration is not now being fully taken up and that some channel has to be provided for the sale of bacon off the ration.
The effect of these price increases is that the cost of living has risen two points during the past month. This is a very remarkable thing to have occurred now. As the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation has shown in its published figures, this country is now exceptional in being the only country among the 19 countries with which O.E.E.C. is concerned which shows this sharp increase in the cost of living.
Under the Labour Government this country was remarkable because the cost of living increases were relatively less than those in the other O.E.E.C. countries. Now, under a Conservative Administration, and through the action of a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, the cost of living is still increasing sharply here while in those other countries it is increasing only moderately and even falling in some cases.
As the Ministry of Food explain in its Bulletin, these price increases represent the completion of the Budget operations. We ought, therefore, again to refer to the effect of the Budget operations. The effect so far has been that the increase in the price of bread has cost our housewives £48 million; the increase in the price of tea has cost them £13 million, or, to quote the Parliamentary Secretary, £18 million; the increase in the price of meat has cost them £48 million; and the increase in the price of milk has cost them £20 million.
Before the price increases of 5th October began to operate, our housewives were already, as a result of the Chancellor's action, paying by way of increased prices an extra £129 million this year on food. According to the Ministry of Food, the new increases mean an additional cost to the housewives of about £4 million for sugar, about £4 million for margarine, £1,500,000 for cooking fats, £1,750,000 for cheese, £17 million for bacon and £5 million for butter.
465 In other words, the effect of the price increases against which we are protesting today is that, over and above the £129 million which the housewives have had to pay as a result of the operation of the Budget policy this financial year, they will have to pay an extra £33,250,000 as a result of the recent increases. This means that the housewives will have to pay £162,250,000 more this year than they did for the corresponding rations last year.
The Chancellor, the Minister of Food and the Parliamentary Secretary have all said that against this we must offset the increased social benefits. The Ministry of Food Bulletin sets out the extent of those increased social benefits. They are that war pensioners this year will receive an extra £9 million; those receiving National Assistance will get an extra £13 million; those receiving sickness and unemployment benefit, together with those receiving injury and disablement benefit, together with those receiving death benefit, together with those receiving widows' benefit, together with those receiving old age pensions, will altogether receive £4 million, and families, by way of additional family allowances, will receive an extra £23 million.
Therefore, the extent of the additional social benefits which we shall enjoy this year is £49 million. Against the extra £163¼ million which we are being obliged to pay by increased food prices, we are receiving in return £49 million by way of extra social benefits, or, if we include the public service pensions, which amount to £4 million, £53 million.
But, of course, there are other factors besides those we are discussing this afternoon which would entitle all these beneficiaries to expect some increase from the Government. Some of those additional increases upon their cost of living have been directly brought about by the Government, because, apart from the slashing of the food subsidies, the Chancellor imposed an additional petrol duty amounting to £66 million, which affects all transport users, and higher postal charges amounting to £10 million, which affect all who make use of the postal services.
That is why I protest once again at the absence of the Treasury Ministers who ought to be here to reply. In any case, if they read the OFFICIAL REPORT they 466 ought to realise that it is very inadequate and ineffective to leave the matter to the Parliamentary Secretary. What we are talking about when we discuss these price increases today is a re-distribution of income as a result of Government action during the past 12 months.
I call the attention of the House once again to the report in the United Nations Economic Bulletin, which reported that, as a result of the Chancellor's action, half the people of this country are worse off and only one-sixth are better off, and not only better off, but substantially better off. In other words, this Budget operation to which we are referred is a taking from everybody equally and sharing out what is received differentially according to the wealth that people possess. The more people have already, the more they obtain from this new re-distribution of income.
The result is that the keynote of the present food situation is already simply this, "Can you afford to buy?" Those with small families are now, in the case of many rations, only buying the rations on two books. Those with very large families are, in fact, buying the rations on only half the ration books they possess.
It is quite obvious that, as far as the bacon ration is concerned, it is not even fully taken up by the grocer. The grocer is taking 10 per cent. less than he is entitled to take, but, of course, the fact that he takes up nine-tenths of the ration does not mean that even that quantity is distributed on the ration. Who can blame the grocer? There now has to be some rough sharing out because time after time the grocer finds that the poorer families are not taking the ration.
As far as tea is concerned—and I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) is with us—I read recently in the "Financial Times" that tea shares have slumped because of the fall in sales following the increased prices. The tea is not being bought, and the expectation of higher sales has not been realised. Even families with high incomes have to face up to this problem of increased costs. But the difference is, of course, that a family with an income of £2,000 a year is at any rate better off to the extent of 15s. or 25s. as a direct result of the Chancellor's policy. A family with 15s, or 25s, more than it had 467 before the Budget is, of course, better able to cope with the general problem of higher food costs.
I read recently a statement by someone for whom we all have the greatest respect, Lord Boyd-Orr, who during the summer was addressing the Central Council for Health Education, of which he has the honour to be president. I know that, however embarrassing this may be to the Parliamentary Secretary in his present position, he has a great respect for Lord Boyd-Orr. In addressing the Central Council for Health Education, Lord Boyd-Orr said:The rationing system was designed to ensure that everyone had their share, and part of the plan was to bring the foodstuffs within the reach of the poorest, to subsidise the food so that the poorest persons could buy their share. Also the Ministry had food advice centres to advise people on nutrition, informing them of the foods they should eat and the best ways of getting the most out of the foods available. Are we going to be able to keep this up? In the House of Lords recently we had a long debate on subsidies. It was suggested that the need for them had passed. These subsidies meant the poorest of Her Majesty's subjects had sufficient food for health. I think they should have priority. The health and physique of the present generation is the most valuable capital asset we have.I think the Parliamentary Secretary would agree that that is a very fair statement of the case. I know that he must feel embarrassed, but one of his economies has been to cut out the food advice centres. What is his attitude on this cardinal question? He knows from his long association with the British Medical Association what Lord Boyd-On means when he speaks of thehealth and physique of the present generationbeingthe most valuable capital asset we have.What is he and his Government going to do to preserve that valuable capital asset? If they impair it, as the facts already show they are beginning to do, we shall pay very heavily for it in the future. We paid very heavily for the neglect of that capital asset during the late '20s and the '30s. We were told that there would be no further reduction of food subsidies this year, but the Minister had the effrontery to come to the Box today and say that the subsidy on eggs would be cut this year.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Charles Hill)
May I intervene straight away? The hon. Member will appreciate, whatever may be his views on the change over, that this is to happen in the spring of next year, and so could not come into effect this year.
§ Mr. Willey
In the spring of next year? That might very well be before the end of the financial year. The significant thing is that the Minister has chosen to announce it now. This is doing the country incalculable harm, from which we may not recover. If health is impaired, we shall suffer for it. We are calling upon our people to make a maximum production effort, but they cannot do it if they are not fed decently. Their morale will be impaired when they know that the Government are not facing their responsibilities of ensuring that the people are fed decently.
It has been rather fortunate that the neglect of the Government's supporters to support their own Government on the major matter of legislation this Session has given us an opportunity to raise these matters at an early hour. These price increases are the most scandalous thing that the Government have so far done, and I hope that my colleagues will support me in resisting them.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Miss Elaine Burton (Coventry, South)
I beg to second the Motion.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) I am very pleasantly surprised that this matter has come on so early, and I am sure that a great many of my hon. Friends will wish to speak.
I want to tell the Parliamentary Secretary about a group of people whom I met in Coventry on Saturday and I hope that he will give some answer to their problems when he replies to the debate. They were a group of old age pensioners representing the area council for Warwickshire and they came to see me about a matter which many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House have raised in the past. They asked me how the Government thought the old age pensioners could possibly afford to take up their rations in view of the continued rise in the cost of living.
469 I could hardly believe it the other day, and I am sure that many of my hon. Friends who heard it could equally hardly believe it, when the Parliamentary Secretary—or it may have been the Minister, but that does not matter for the purposes of my argument—told the House, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) about the take-up of the bacon ration. The answer from the Government Front Bench was to the effect that my hon. Friend was quite wrong in saying the bacon ration was not being taken up and that the full amount of bacon was sent to the grocers.
Any hon. Member on this side of the House could have told Members opposite what that answer was worth. I find it very hard to believe that anyone with the reputation of the "Radio Doctor" in the past does not know what that answer was worth. It was worth nothing at all. We have frequently told the Minister of Food or the Parliamentary Secretary that people were not able to take up their butter or bacon rations because of the increased cost of living. Hon. Members opposite told us that we were wrong, and I must assume that they believed in all sincerity what they said.
The old age pensioners on Saturday gave me a figure, and I hope my hon. Friends on this side of the House will agree with my figure or will make it even higher. I was told that 50 per cent. of the old age pensioners in Coventry were unable to take up their butter ration, not because they did not want it but because they could not afford it. I do not doubt that if the Parliamentary Secretary makes inquiries he will find that the grocers in Coventry have received their full butter ration and that the full supplies have been purchased. I say that those supplies have not been bought ration by ration according to the ration books of individuals. If the Parliamentary Secretary wants further evidence on that point, I shall be very pleased, and so will some of my hon. Friends, to bring to him deputations from the old age pensioners to prove their point.
I now come to gammon—to bacon. The old age pensioners told me that the number of them in the Coventry area who were not able to take up their bacon ration because of the cost was even Greater than that of those who were not able to take up their butter ration. They did not give me any figure, but it was 470 greater than 50 per cent. I do not know how any Government of any party at all can have the nerve—I want to say the opposite of "decency" but I cannot find the word that fits, except the obvious one—or how the Parliamentary Secretary and his hon. Friends can have it, to stand up there and defend a price increase which takes away from groups of people like the old age pensioners—and we can include the lower wage earners—the possibility of buying the food that they need. That is what the Government have done by the price increases against which we are praying tonight.
I imagine that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us another fairy tale about old age pensioners having had some offset to this rise in the cost of living, but if he does so, and if he has any old age pensioners in his constituency, he will not be with us after the next Election. I note that the Parliamentary Secretary is just asking his advisers how much increase the old age pensioners have had. We do not have to ask; we know. The increase had been more than offset by the increase in the cost of living even before the recent increases. Any association of old age pensioners will tell the Parliamentary Secretary that. We have told the Government quite definitely that it is impossible for the old people to manage on what they have now. I must keep in order on this Prayer by saying that it is impossible for them to buy their supplies of butter and bacon at these increased prices. I imagine that I would be out of order if I went on to coal and tea.
My hon. Friend who moved the Prayer spoke about a rise of two points in the cost of living last month. Two points are a very real item to Members of the House of Commons, but to ordinary people outside who do not reckon in points the rise in the cost of living is much greater than the increase which the old age pensioners enjoy and which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry has had to go along and ask advice about. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary would tell us in his reply whether all these price increases are included in the 1s. 6d. which the Chancellor said would be the additional cost per person per week. I always thought that a Chancellor of the Exchequer must obviously be good at arithmetic, but the Chancellor ought to ask any family in this country, irrespective of party, whether they consider 471 that the price increase has only been 1s. 6d. per week.
Arising out of this point, I would tell the Parliamentary Secretary about one of my constituents, who is a member of my party and whose wife is a member, not of the party of the Parliamentary Secretary, but of the Conservative Party. This husband had always been hearing complaints from his wife of the rises in the cost of living under the Labour Government. Since the present Government came into power the complaints of the wife, like those of the Housewives' League, had quite disappeared. Not long ago he said to his wife, when she asked for an increase in housekeeping, "There are three of us in the family, so here is 4s. 6d. to meet Mr. Butler's rise in the cost of living." I should hate to tell the hon. Gentleman the reply of that wife, but I might say it was not Parliamentary and she did not agree that 4s. 6d. would meet the increased cost for three of them during the week.
I will leave the old age pensioners for a moment to speak of another group of people affected by these Prayers. I also saw in Coventry on Saturday a deputation of shop stewards from the Humber factory. They had come to me to protest about the rise in canteen prices due to the rise in the cost of food initiated by this Government. The shop stewards were not saying that their workers could not afford to pay an extra 3d. or so per meal, but they believed that the firm responsible for running the canteen, industrial caterers called Peter Merchants, were using the example set by this Government in raising the cost of living to raise the cost of meals in the canteen.
This factory employs 5,000 workers and between 800 and 1,000 main meals are served a day. The employees contend that the works canteen pays its way and that it is only the profligate example set by this Government in continually putting up prices which gives those caterers the excuse for raising prices without stating any reason. The shop stewards have asked the caterers for a statement of accounts in order to see whether or not the canteen pays its way. This the industrial caterers have refused to supply, saying that they could not separate the staff canteen from the works canteen which, in fact, is entirely separate.
472 I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will use his influence with industrial caterers to give the reasons when they raise canteen prices and I also hope that what I have said will show the hon. Gentleman that there is a need to look after not only the old age pensioners, who have not got the money, but other people also, who may have the money but who do not wish to pay more when they need not do so.
I remember two large posters in my constituency shown at the last General Election. I am quite sure that Members of the Government will remember them to their dying day. The first poster was a lovely, big one. It said at the top, "The Conservatives will bring down the cost of living." Well, even the Parliamentary Secretary must admit that it has gone up. The other poster which everybody must remember was the one with the purse at the top, the hole in it and the money coming out of the hole. This said, "Mend that hole—vote Conservative."
We on this side of the House have never had any doubt that the policy set out in these Orders would be the policy of this Government. I have always believed that people or political parties act according to their fundamental principles. They cannot get away from them. We on this side of the House differ profoundly from hon. Members opposite. I believe we have such a good case that there is no need to decry the Government—it is such a poor one.
I do not know whether the general public realise that over the food subsidies the party opposite ran true to form. The national cake consists of only so much money and we have to share it with everybody. Where we differ in this House is on how we share it. Quite a slice was taken out of the food subsidies and given practically intact to the relief of Income Tax. In other words, money was taken from those who had least in order to give to the people who have more. We believe that is wrong and, speaking as a mere back bencher, I do not think that if we had been returned we should have been able to cut Income Tax. We believe that before we help people with more money, we should help those with least—
§ Miss Burton
I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) agrees with me. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that if he catches your eye the hon. Gentleman will be able to answer this point, because I believe quite sincerely what I am saying. The subsidies which have been abolished by some of these Orders are paid by people who pay Income Tax. I know the hon. Member is an expert on finance and he will agree with me on that elementary point. Therefore, the people who do not pay Income Tax get the subsidies for nothing, as it were.
I want some hon. Members opposite to tell us how the people who receive so little income or pension that they do not pay Income Tax get the money to pay the increased cost of food. It is no use telling me that they have had additional pension because that has gone in the cost of living. It is no use talking about relief from Income Tax because they do not pay it, so the relief will not help them.
My main contention about the party opposite, in believing they are not a fit party to govern this country, is that they do not know how the people who experience hard times have to struggle. Even after the exhibition this afternoon of the party opposite cheering about eggs coming off the ration and the prices going up, I shall try to be generous. I should like to assume that there are some nice Conservatives in the world—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] I said I was being generous so I shall assume that there are some.
§ Miss Burton
It is very generous. However, I shall assume that those nice Conservatives, if we can find them—and my hon. Friends seem to be in some doubt—
§ Miss Burton
—would not wish to see the lower-paid members of the community go without scarce foods. If they really do not wish that, how can they justify taking a lump of money from the food subsidies and giving it to people who are much better off so that they pay less Income Tax?
474 I am pleased to have the opportunity of seconding this Motion, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will answer my questions when he replies.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
The hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) did me the honour of saying that I knew something about finance. I should like to tell her, before I start on my case, that I also know something of what she said that no Conservative knew. She said that no Conservative really knew how the poor lived or how the cost of living affected them.
I should like to tell the hon. Lady that I came from a working man's home. I do not think that my father ever earned more than 35s. a week. I went to an elementary school, and had to fight my way the whole of my life. I therefore understand that I am one of the exceptions—[Interruption.] If I may be allowed to say so, I know a good deal more of really hard poverty than most of those on the Socialist Front Bench.
If my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food will allow me to speak for him, the hon. Lady reminded me of the dialogue that is recorded in the book of Job. She said to my hon. Friend, when he was asking his Parliamentary Private Secretary to check a figure, "We do not have to ask—we know." Just that sort of thing was said to old Job, who said in reply, "No doubt, but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you." That is just as true of hon. Members opposite today as it was of the "clever" people in those days.
As regards the Prayer generally, I have a great deal of sympathy. The increase in the cost of living is bearing very heavily on the lower paid workers. On the old age pensioner it is a burden the weight of which only those who have gone through the mill can understand. I agree with the hon. Lady that as a matter of social justice, the people who are hit hardest should be the first to be relieved, and it should be the duty of every Government to try to do that.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), however, completely spoiled the hon. Lady's case before she rose to speak, by overstating it. If I have his words correctly, he attributed all 475 the price increases, which started on 5th October, affecting sugar, margarine, butter and cheese, to the Budget proposals of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The hon. Member knows full well that that is sheer nonsense.
§ Mr. Willey
Perhaps the hon. Member forgets that I said I was taking that information from the Ministry of Food Bulletin.
§ Mr. Osborne
I do not care where it came from. I am just saying that the hon. Member knows that these rises, against which he is praying, cannot all be blamed on to the Chancellor's Budget proposals. He knows that to be untrue, and as an honourable Member of the House he ought not to utter such nonsense. I will tell the House why.
Last year, when we were governed—
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside) rose—
§ Mr. Osborne
Please allow me to make my case.
In 1951, when we were governed for the major part by a Socialist Administration, this country overspent its income by £550 million. That is the figure which the right hon. Member for Leeds. South (Mr. Gaitskell) gave to the House. Our food imports cost a little over £1,000 million. We import half of what we eat. Therefore, in 1951, under a Socialist Government, this country had 25 per cent. more food than it paid for and earned. That is the background with which we have to deal.
§ Mr. Osborne
Of course, it is nothing new, but its significance has not yet reached the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, although it was made public 12 months ago. The House must realise that it is against the background of the international situation that we must look at the problem, while not closing our hearts to the problems of those who are poorest in the country. It is in this light that I want to put one or two facts.
This afternoon, the hon. Member for Sunderland, North was chivvying my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Food about butter. He asked why we 476 were not getting more from Denmark. The hon. Member knows full well—at least, he should know, because at one time he occupied the position of Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food—that we are not getting as much butter from Denmark because we are not prepared to pay the price that the Danes are asking for it. Therefore, a greater proportion of the butter that is produced in Denmark now goes to West Germany, who are prepared to pay the price that the Danes are asking.
I put this to the hon. Lady, whom I take to be a fair-minded, intelligent Member. We cannot distribute the butter that is going to Germany. The only way we could distribute it in this country is, first of all, to earn it. The problem that faces us—it faces the hon. Lady and all of us—is not the immediate problem of distribution, but of whether we can earn enough to keep our people going. Her hon. Friend put all the blame down to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He knows that that is rubbish and nonsense, but he has talked so much nonsense on this subject that he has come to believe that it is true.
Meat negotiations are at present going on in the Argentine. They have been going on since February, and there seems to be no hope of them being settled. The last Argentine meat price was negotiated at £128 a ton.
§ Mr. Osborne
The last meat agreement, negotiated by the Minister of Food of the hon. Lady's party, was for £128 a ton. Since then—
§ Mr. Willey
I think I should call to your attention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that there is no Statutory Instrument dealing with meat against which we are at present praying. I only mention this because had I anticipated that the hon. Member would go so wide, I should have anticipated him.
§ Mr. Osborne
Further to that point of order. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North, who moved the Prayer, referred to tea, and there is nothing in the Prayer about tea. The cost of living is affected by all our foodstuffs. Why is the hon. Member so nervous that I should be deploying the case of meat? Is it because he knows that he is on weak ground?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
The hon. Member himself is on weak ground, because there is not at the moment an Order connected with meat before the House. We are at present dealing with only six of the Orders.
§ Mr. Osborne
I claim that to be a fine point, and I will rub the hon. Member's nose into it at the first chance I get.
A few weeks ago, the Minister for External Affairs in the Australian Government made a protest that we were buying both cheese and butter from Australia at considerably lower prices than it cost the Australian farmer to produce them. He warned this country that unless we were prepared to pay the proper price—that is, the price that it costs to produce those foodstuffs—in the near future there would be no food sent to this country. It is not a question so much of distributing between here and there. The basic problem is whether we shall have sufficient currency or will earn enough to buy sufficient to give all of us something to eat.
§ Miss Burton
That shows completely the difference between us. On this side of the House, we regard the problem as being one of sharing out fairly what food is available. We regard that as the first priority.
§ Mr. Osborne
That will be my last point, and I will give full measure in answer to the hon. Lady.
If the hon. Lady is concerned only with how the amount of food is distributed, she must face the fact, as I put to her at the beginning, that under Socialism in 1951, we in this country earned only three out of every four bites of food that we ate. Is the hon. Lady going to ignore the fourth bite? I should prefer that we improved our economy and earned the other fourth bite that we all need.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
How is that brought about when production is falling, for exports and imports, and it necessarily means that there must be less for all? So the policy is altogether wrong.
§ Mr. Osborne
If I started to deal with general economic production I am sure you would rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I am prepared to debate that publicly with the right hon. Gentleman.
478 The problem which faces us is not so much that of distribution but the primary factor is, can we continue to get supplies? The hon. Lady, or her hon. Friend, referred to what Lord Boyd-Orr said the other day. He was saying that we should have rationing of food in this country in order that the poorest might get a fair share. The hon. Lady's leader, the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), stated in an Election address that we should not only have Socialism in this country, but international Socialism.
May I remind the hon. Lady that the income per capita in this country, calculated by the United Nations, in 1949 was 773 dollars whereas 64 per cent. of the people of the world had fewer than 100 dollars a year. If we had international Socialism the standard of life in this country would go down catastrophically. The hon. Lady dare not go to Coventry and tell her people, "You are going to share your rations with the people of the Far East."
§ Miss Burton
I hope I am in order, and that the Press will report, that I would be very glad to go to Coventry and say that, and Coventry would be very glad also.
§ Mr. Osborne
I do not think that is quite as accurate a statement as the hon. Lady usually makes. Half the food we eat we grow at home. Part of the increase in food prices is as a result of the increase in wages recently paid to agricultural workers. Does the hon. Lady want cheap food at the expense of the agricultural workers? If so, she had better come to my constituency and tell my people so.
§ Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)
Does the hon. Member realise that, as a result of what is now taking place, agricultural workers all over the country are demanding that those of us who represent them on the Central Agricultural Wages Board should put in an immediate application for a minimum wage of £7 10s. a week?
§ Mr. Osborne
I am much obliged for that support. If, therefore, the hon. Lady's hon. Friend supports the claim for a minimum wage of £7 10s. a week, then, obviously, what they produce will cost more and the cost of living will have to go up again. The hon. Lady has 479 jumped up often enough to give me answers; I am asking her: does she want cheap food for Coventry workers at the expense of agricultural workers?
§ Miss Burton
I am sorry to keep getting up, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but it is essential that I should reply to that. I think that the hon. Member has still quite misunderstood the difference between us. I am saying that what foods are scarce should be shared out equally by people of low income and people of high income. Therefore, we disagree that the subsidies should have been taken off. The hon. Member is not on the point.
§ Mr. Osborne
But, first, we can only share out the food we earn and we can only distribute on the basis of the price paid for it. Half our food is produced at home and the agricultural workers are asking for another 30s. a week.
§ Mr. Osborne
The hon. Lady must face the dilemma. Either she is going to demand cheap food at the expense of my agricultural workers, or she is prepared to agree that they should have a decent wage and be paid the proper price for what they produce.
§ Miss Burton
If the hon. Member would stop indulging in a backwards and forwards argument I could remain seated. We on this side of the House would have maintained the food subsidies.
§ Mr. Osborne
The hon. Lady is still running away from the facts.
I come to the point made by both hon. Members opposite. They believe that there ought not to be rationing by the purse, but that there ought to be a fair distribution, they say, between the rich and poor as regards food in short supply. That is the point made by the hon. Lady. The Socialist Party, while preaching this, fail to practise it themselves, even in this House.
We need not go further than the Members' Dining Room, to which most of us will go tonight. One hon. Member, representing a London constituency, stated in the Press not long ago that the cost of food was so high in this House that he had to go to the A.B.C. café 480 across the road to feed. There is no fair shares between all hon. Members opposite. They did not rush to his help and say, "We will give him some of our income"—of course they did not. I looked at today's menu for the House of Commons and saw that the cheapest dish is fish and chips, 1s. 10d. and that the dearest is roast duck, 8s. 1s the hon. Lady saying—
§ Mr. Willey
The hon. Member is now discoursing on roast duck, but again, so far as I am aware, these Orders do not relate to roast duck. I make the point because, whereas, in my submission, there could be an argument relating to subsidies as a result of the cutting of subsidy, it would be wrong to discuss broadly the cost of all assorted foods.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think that what the Orders are about is made quite clear and we must stick to them. There are six Orders being considered together, and the Order relating to meat is coming later in the day.
§ Mr. Osborne
May I submit to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that both hon. Members who moved and supported these Prayers said they did so because the Orders caused rationing by the purse which, they say, is anti-social and against their principles. I am trying to refute that and to show how absurd is the ground on which they are moving the Prayer. I am using experience in this House to do that.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am at some disadvantage because I only took over my duties when the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) was speaking and I did not hear what the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) nor the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) said, but I think it is fairly clear that the Orders are not very wide.
§ Mr. Osborne
With great respect—I will quickly sit down if you order me to do so—the hon. Lady and her hon. Friend did base their charges on the ground that there was rationing by the purse, and I am trying to reply to that.
§ Mr. Willey
I should like to enlighten you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, about the points I made in my speech. I referred to tea, for instance, but I referred to the subsidies on tea and said that, because according to the Ministry, they were the 481 result of an operation of Budget policy, they had to be taken in sequence. When I referred to consumption I dealt entirely with rationed foods. The sole point I was making was that the consumption of some rationed foods had fallen.
§ Mr. John Arbuthnot (Dover)
Further to that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, before you came to the Chair the debate had ranged very widely. It even ranged as far as petrol price increases and, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said, included tea. My hon. Friend is only replying to the general tenor in which the debate started.
§ Mr. Osborne
I shall try not to range too far and shall try to keep in order.
Members opposite supporting this Prayer, as, I think, they will agree, consider that because the subsidies have been taken off prices have risen, the poor cannot buy and, therefore, there is rationing by the purse. That is the whole of their charge and I am trying, with your permission, to reply to that.
I say that for party political reasons hon. Members opposite are always talking about rationing by the purse. It suits them well and gets them votes. But they do not practise it in their own lives. They are preaching one gospel and practising another. To give evidence to my belief I point out that on the menu for today in the Members' Dining Room there are two items which I picked out at lunch-time, ready for this speech. One is fish and chips, 1s. 10d. and one is roast duck, 8s. Some hon. Members opposite will have one because it suits their purse and some will have another because it suits their purse. Therefore, they have rationing by the purse among themselves.
If we had stayed late tonight, as hon. Members opposite and I anticipated, some of us would have walked home tonight, but other hon. Members would have gone home in motor cars. That, again, is rationing by the purse. Why do hon. Members opposite make such a great song about the wickedness and the anti-social effects of rationing by the purse when they themselves practise it?
I asked one hon. Member opposite, and, obviously, I cannot give his name why he did not go into the Dining Room for his meals, and he said, "I just cannot 482 afford it; I have to eat in the Tea Room." That is rationing by the purse. If hon. Members opposite were to practise, as a party and as individuals, what they are now preaching, and if they did not allow rationing by the purse to enter into their own lives or the life of their party, I would take more interest in this Prayer, but, as it is, I suggest that it is without foundation, that it has a pharisaical smack about it, and I hope the House will reject it.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I am not anxious to make political capital out of this matter, since we are praying against these Orders because we are concerned about how far and to what extent they will have an effect upon the poorer people of the country.
The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) referred to poverty, and he indicated that we on this side of the House—at least, this was the impression he gave me—did not understand what poverty meant. I would like to repeat to him what one of the characters in Shakespeare's "Hamlet" said:I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word Would harrow up thy soul; freeze thy young blood;Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres;Thy knotted and combined locks to part, And each particular hair to stand on end, Like quills upon the fretful porcupine.I know it would be very difficult to do that physically, but, literally speaking, I know what poverty is.
§ Mr. Osborne rose—
§ Mr. Brown
No, let me finish.
I want to support the annulment of these Orders on the ground that their effect will be to make conditions harder and more severe for a certain section of the community—a fact which is ignored from time to time.
As I tried to point out on 10th November, during the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, there are three sections of the community upon which these Orders will have a tremendous effect. The first is the chronic sick, the second the permanently unemployed, and the third the old-age pensioners. Who can deny that, within the last few months, the hardships experienced 483 by the old-age pensioners have been intensified? On 10th November, I threw out the challenge that, on both sides of the House, there is not one hon. or right hon. Member who could live upon the miserable pensions which are now being paid to the old-age pensioners.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North) rose—
§ Mr. Brown
I hope the hon. Gentleman will excuse me. I have sat through many debates, and it is very rare that I interject. I make the challenge, and no doubt the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to set about it next Monday and try to live on 32s. 6d. a week, and then come to me, next Friday or Saturday, and tell me how he managed it. That is the challenge, and it is one that should be taken up.
I do not like the idea of hon. Members opposite saying that they have increased old age pensions by 2s. 6d., while, at the same time, they slashed the food subsidies, which really cancelled out the half-crown increase which they gave. This is a remarkable fact. Since the food subsidies were slashed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in April, 1952, the number of people who have had to seek National Assistance supplementation has increased tremendously, and there is undeniable evidence that the 32s. 6d. pension is inadequate for those people to live upon. The chronic sick cannot get any increase, the unemployed cannot get any increase, while the old age pensioners are finding it extremely difficult to live.
What concerns me is this: how far and to what extent are these Orders likely to intensify the hardships suffered by an already overburdened and hard-pressed section of the people? I am not seeking to make political capital out of this. God forbid that any man in this House should try to make political capital out of the poverty of the people.
We are talking about Prayers, and the hon. Member for Louth is very fond of quoting from the Old Book. May I also quote from it? Every day when this House meets, Mr. Speaker's Chaplain stands at that Table and quotes from the Prayer Book:Give us this day our daily bread.484 Yet the party opposite make it more difficult for the people to buy it by Orders of this nature. To me it is sheer hypocrisy for hon. Members opposite to utter that prayer when they make it more difficult for the people to buy the bread. Therefore, these Prayers have been put down simply to help the Government realise the affect which these particular Orders will have upon the people.
I have taken a good deal of interest in the hon. Gentleman who is now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Food, even before he came to this House—in the days when he used to broadcast, when he put ideas into my head about diet, vitamins C and D and other things which I did not realise existed. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman can stand at that Box today and justify an increase in price in a commodity—sugar—which gives strength and vitality to those able to buy it. For the life of me, I cannot understand why he can stand at that Box and tell us that the increase in the price of sugar will help people to get strength and sustenance.
I am one of those—I know that my philosophy is not always accepted, even by my own colleagues—who believe that it is the duty of every citizen, male or female, to do his or her best for industry and for the State in which they live, and that, having done their best, it is the duty of industry and the State to protect them from poverty, want and starvation. That is a philosophy which has governed me for a great many years, and I cannot sit here without feeling convinced that the application of these Orders will make it harder and more difficult for the old-age pensioners, the chronic sick and the unemployed to exist.
What is the situation which housewives find when they go on a shopping expedition? Incidentally, I do not know whether hon. Members will recall that, about 20 days ago, there was a mass rally in London of 3,000 old-age pensioners, who were protesting against the rise in prices and the increase in the cost of living which has been brought about by the slashing of the food subsidies. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) said that she attended a meeting of old-age pensioners last Saturday. Throughout the country vast meetings are taking place. These meetings are not organised by the Housewives' League. 485 They are not arranged by people strongly opposed to the Government. They are organised by those who have now discovered the hardships inflicted upon the poorer sections of the community since the last Budget. They protest against the policy of the Government in raising food prices.
It is wrong, unchristian and anti-social to make it more difficult for people to live. The industrial worker has an organisation to protect him, but old-age pensioners, the chronic sick and the unemployed have no one to protect them. Therefore, somebody in this House must voice their cause and stress the hardships which these Orders will create upon the three sections I have mentioned.
It may surprise some hon. Members to know that the number of people in receipt of old-age pensions has grown tremendously during the last 25 to 50 years. That may be due to improved medical science, sanitation and social amenities. Whatever has brought about the improvement, it is a fact that in 1901 we had 1,750,000 people over the age of 65, whereas in May of this year we had 4,250,000. Those people will feel the effect of these Orders upon their purchasing power.
I speak strongly on this matter, because I know what hardship means. I live among these people. I know the experiences through which they are passing. Deep down in my heart there is a burning desire that we should not increase their hardships any further. For these reasons, I strongly support the Motion praying for annulment of the Orders, which have for their objective further food price increases.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. John Arbuthnot (Dover)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), who spoke very sincerely in support of this Prayer. He said that the three special categories who would suffer especially by the increases in price of these commodities were the chronic sick, the permanently unemployed and the old-age pensioner. These are three special categories who have been deliberately helped by the last Budget and by legislation since then.
It is true, as the hon. Gentleman said, that the number of people in receipt of National Assistance is larger, and I am glad of it because the reason is that the rates of National Assistance have increased. 486 We have, as a nation, decided to be more generous to people who are in difficulties. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to go back. He would not want to remove these increases in price if, at the same time, that meant, as it would be bound to mean, that we should have to remove the benefits that have accrued to the people who are in the most difficult circumstances and whom the Budget and subsequent legislation has been deliberately designed to help.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test) rose—
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
No I will not give way. We have not interrupted hon. Gentlemen opposite, and it is only fair that we should be given the same opportunity. However, I will give way if any Member, to whom I refer, wishes to ask a question.
I now come to the speech of the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton). The gravaman of the case she deployed was that it was monstrous that these increases should be taking place, because at the time of the General Election a Conservative Party poster had said that the Conservatives would bring down the cost of living. She said that there was no need for her to decry the present Government because they were such a poor Government and were putting up a poor show. The result of the Wycombe by-election does not exactly bear out what she said.
I would remind her that we said that it would take us a considerable time to reverse the evil effects of Socialism. The cost of living had been going up at a terrific rate under the Socialist Government. It was bound to take us a certain time to slow down the rate of increase and, eventually, to bring down the cost of living. We are getting on towards reversing the swing of the pendulum. Let us remember that during the last year when the Socialist Party were in power the cost of living was rising at three times the rate at which it has risen since then.
We succeeded in bringing down the cost of living during August and September by two points, which is precisely the amount by which these necessary increases which we are now discussing will raise the figure. Therefore, when these Orders came into full operation we 487 were back precisely to the position in which we were at the beginning of August. The amount by which the cost of living decreased in August and September makes up for that.
§ Mr. T. Brown
The reductions in August and September were temporary reductions brought about by the decrease in the price of fruit and potatoes.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I think that the hon. Gentleman was doing rather too much forecasting when he said that the reductions were only temporary. If, in six months' time, he can say that, then it will be legitimate for him to do so; but I would suggest that possibly he was a little over-hasty in saying that the reductions were temporary.
There is another point with which the hon. Member for Ince dealt, and to which I wish to refer: that the increase in the old-age pensions which he referred to as half a crown per head has been taken away by the reduction in the food subsidies. I think he knows that the increase in the old-age pension was not taken away completely and that the reduction in the food subsidies was forecast by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer as involving an increase of 1s. 6d. per head. In fact, it has resulted in a lesser increase—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
Among the various items which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) referred to was tea, where the full amount of the food subsidy was not passed on to the consumer.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I was discussing the swing of the pendulum and the rate at which the increase in the cost of living took place under Socialism; which was three times as fast as it has increased since the present Government has been in power. In August, for the first time, we began to see the cost of living coming down, which shows that the policies of the present Government are being successful in doing precisely what we said we would do—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"]—in our Election posters and 488 other Election literature. Furthermore, the forecast that we made that it was going to take some time has also proved accurate.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
In response to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I must bring myself back to the topic of the Prayers, but I would say that I was replying to the points made by hon. Members opposite, and I understood that the debate would be allowed to range fairly widely.
So far as the Prayer is concerned, the case put by hon. Members opposite is that the increases which have taken place as a result of these Orders are insupportable by the vast majority of the people. It seems to me difficult to maintain that argument when we bear in mind the amount which is being spent on drink and on tobacco and entertainment. I believe that there is considerable scope for a reduction in expenditure on those items and for the amount saved to go to paying the proper price, the cost price, of the food so essential for the maintenance of good health.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
There is an essential cruelty about the point of view put forward by the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) which I believe he himself does not understand. It is extremely easy for the members of any well-off household to shrug their shoulders about a 1s. on the bacon or 1d. on tea, and the rest of it, and to say, "What about it? We shall only have to pay 1s. or 2s. more for bacon, and we can buy a second-hand car for £200 or £300."
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not run away from the case being put by hon. Members on this side of the House by talking of the compensatory reduction in certain items balancing the rise in the cost of essential foodstuffs. If he does, I shall say to him what I must say to the hon. Member for Dover, that he is being not only cruel, but completely inaccurate in his understanding of this issue.
We on this side of the House are not putting forward the case that under a Labour Government we had established perfect economic justice as between household and household. That was 489 never our case. But our pride rested on the fact that under a Labour Government we were beginning to have more fair shares and, particularly, that we were easing the situation for those families who in the past had been most harshly treated.
I ask the hon. Member for Dover if he is aware that an old retired couple, with a retirement pension and National Assistance, and who have their rent paid for them, have to live on £2 19s. a week when they start budgeting. I have exact figures which have been taken in a particular case and the very best they can do is to reduce their spending on food to £2 2s. 7d. which, in the case I am quoting, includes 1s. charge for medicine. That, of course, is recovered. They are left with £2 19s.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
Will the hon. Lady tell us what is the amount of National Assistance in that particular budget?
§ Miss Lee
I think the National Assistance they are receiving in supplementation of their retirement pension is 17s. 6d. I am quoting a case from Wolverhampton, but it is similar to cases to be found anywhere else, and it is the total which is essential for us to consider. I agree that the couple have not to live on their retirement pension alone. But the point that concerns us—and I do not see why the hon. Member should want that run away from this—is that when we add the National Assistance to their retirement pension, this old couple—and the husband is a semi-invalid—have to live on £2 19s. a week.
I am quoting from a most remarkable document produced by the Women's Advisory Committee to Wolverhampton and District Trades Council. In this document a very able committee have taken a number of working-class budgets. Every figure they use has been checked, not only by the committee, but has been put back to the business interests in Wolverhampton in order to see that no false prices are quoted. Indeed, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), along with other hon. Members, has been given a copy of the document.
The point I am making is in reply to the statement of the hon. Member for Dover that people could spend less on drink and tobacco and could afford thereby to pay the proper price for food. This is a 490 standard case which can be found all over Great Britain—
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
In the absence of being told the National Assistance element in that case—[HON. MEMBERS: "You have been told."]—I cannot believe that the figures are accurate. That element is of vital importance, because I believe that the family could get considerably more.
§ Miss Lee
I appreciate what the hon. Member is trying to do. He is trying to run away from the statement he made a short time ago. I have already answered his question. I believe that in this instance the National Assistance supplementation is 17s. 6d., but I should have to check that, because the document I have states that £2 19s. is the retirement pension plus the National Assistance they are receiving—
§ Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
The amount of 59s. is based on the National Assistance scale for a couple. The contributory pension is only 54s. The 59s. quoted by my hon. Friend is the amount of the scale upon which the supplementation will be based
§ Miss Lee
The point is that this family have to spend £2 2s. 7d. on their food bill, which is practically three-quarters of their income. And they have only 16s. 5d. left with which to deal with clothes, shoes, furniture, heating, holidays and every other expense.
I turn to another case which hon. Members may be willing to consider. It does not deal with a retired couple, a sick man or any of those special hardship cases; it deals with a married man in full employment in Wolverhampton. He works on the railways and he is married and has one child of 12 years. He has had no benefit from Income Tax reduction because he does not pay Income Tax; his income is below that level. He does not get any children's allowance, for he has only one child, aged 12. Another of the papers presented to the committee deals with this husband, wife and child. They put down every item of expenditure and these items are included in this general figure. This family in October, 1951, was spending a total of £3 8s. 2d. on food. The average of £1 2s. 8d. per person covered the butcher, baker, and any items which come under the general heading of food.
491 This family dealt with the Wolverhampton Co-operative, and in March, 1952, instead of spending £3 8s. 2d., they were spending £3 15s. 11d., and in October, 1952, the expenditure of that little household on essential foodstuffs had gone up to £4 8s. 4d. I do not know whether any Member of the House wants to question that figure. We are not here involved in the question of supplementary allowances on compassionate grounds. This man was in full employment, and when he paid for the essential food supplies for himself, his wife and child at £4 8s. 4d. he had already spent more than half his income.
I can tell the House now, not from a document presented to me by a neighbouring constituency though it is a very able and accurate document, but from my contacts in my own constituency, of circumstances even worse than those of this railway shunter. The miner who is working on the surface takes home at the end of the week less than £6 as his full week's wages. I do not think anyone will question that.
The essential cruelty of the case put by hon. Members opposite lies in their failure to accept that the poorer families spend a higher percentage of their income on food, and when a family is spending two-thirds, three-quarters or more of their total income on food, it is not only a pathetic situation for the housewife; it is a frightening situation.
Every time a cup is broken and the housewife has to budget for replacing it, every time she has to go to the shoemaker's for essential repairs to shoes and boots, every time clothing and household necessities have to be provided, she faces the fact that these things must take second place to essential food expenditure. It is really contemptible for a rich man's party to bring in legislation such as that which reduced the food subsidies, which, of course, is class legislation of the most naked kind.
I know that it enables hon. Members opposite to make their rich followers and super-taxpayers a little richer. There are families which can produce statistics showing savings on furniture, cars and semi-luxury or luxury goods which makes these tax reductions worth while for them even though they have to pay more for their food. But I do not think that any 492 Member of this House can make a case which can stand investigation supporting these Orders against which we are praying this afternoon.
I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food replies, he will deal strictly with food expenditure and with the percentage of working-class budgets that has to be used for the purchase of food and explain to us why it is that, at one and the same time, we should be supporting so much inessential expenditure in this country and undermining that small measure of security which under a Labour Government we tried to build.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)
I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) will forgive me if I do not follow her in the detailed cases she mentioned, though we have listened with considerable interest to what she said. I should like, however, to deal with what was said by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) when he referred to pensioners. There is not an hon. Member in this House who is not approached very frequently about the situation of pensioners. They are the ones who are always the hardest hit in matters of the kind that we are debating this afternoon, and I think that many of us tend to forget that they are obviously the poorest ones, who would be directly affected.
In the OFFICIAL REPORT I came across this reference to this subject not so very long ago by my hon. Friend who has just been appointed Economic Secretary to the Treasury. If I may quote him, he said:The poorest of the poor are not the people with the lowest wages, with small families and in households where, perhaps, one, two or three incomes are coming in: the poorest of the poor are the old age pensioners, the war pensioners, people drawing industrial injuries benefits, the sick and the unemployed, the people with large families, the people drawing National Assistance. They are the poorest of the poor and they are precisely the people whom this Budget is benefiting."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 1986.]The whole of this argument seems to centre on who are doing their best to assist such people who are rightly called the poorest of the poor, and obviously each side of the House has a different view on this matter.
493 The food subsidies, in round figures, were, under Socialism, something like £400 million, and my right hon. Friend's Budget was originally designed to bring them down by some £150 million. As I see it, these Prayers are based on the fact that we do not want the prices for particular foodstuffs to rise, but, generally speaking, surely I am right in saying that where these subsidies applied every one, it did not matter who it was, was directly getting a benefit from them. It was being spread over the whole populace, and it did not matter what their conditions were. Whether they dined at the Savoy or whether they dined at home, it made no difference; they still reaped a benefit. [Interruption.] These are natural facts, and it is a question of finding the best answer to the problem.
§ Mr. P. Wells
Would the hon. Member agree that the man who was dining at the Savoy would make a larger contribution for his foodstuffs in the form of Income Tax?
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
I do not think there can be a general argument on the question of food subsidies on these Orders which are being prayed against.
§ Mr. Harris
Surely the whole basis of the Opposition's case is the question of the food subsidies and whether they should be continued as they were.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The general argument cannot be on the issue of the food subsidies, but it is in order in so far as it relates to the specific Prayers.
§ Mr. Harris
It is very difficult to find out how to split those two subjects, but I will endeavour to do so. My whole point is that it is a question of which is the better method. I maintain that our Government have assisted tremendously. Under the Socialists, I remember the Minister telling us on one occasion that the general rise in the prices of the goods which are involved in these six Orders was somewhere in the region of £250 million. I think that that was put as the average all-round increased figure for 1949, 1950 and 1951. Not so long ago we asked a similar question about the current year, when the figure was given to us as £210 million. So on the face of it the increased cost of food-stuffs 494 has been less in 1952 than it was on a general average in the three years previously. I do not think that these figures can be disputed.
At the same time, in 1951 the other benefits that the Government were giving to the pensioners and to all those people who are so hard hit, to whom the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) was referring, was something like £53 million in additional social benefits. We asked a similar question of our own Chancellor and we were told that in the current year the similar benefits are in the region of £135 million.
I am trying to emphasise that during this current year we have managed to keep the average increased cost of food down to £210 million against £250 million and at the same time we have assisted those who are hardest hit—the poorest in this case—to the extent of just over another £80 million. Therefore, if our policy and the policy of the House is to assist those who are hardest hit, then surely our Government, under the policy which they have been pursuing of late, have been assisting those who are so much in need of help.
If these Prayers were successful and we went on to restore the subsidies as they were before, my whole point, on sheer mathematics, comes down to the fact that if we keep Government expenditure on the same level, then in the long run we must take away the direct help that we give to these people. The whole answer to this is that each of us in the House should go on pressing whatever Government are in power to assist more and more those in receipt of pensions and those who find things difficult.
I have played my small part in that task and so have other hon. Members on both sides of the House; but if we try to tackle this problem on a general basis, it is no more than giving a pension to all the people whether they need it or not. That is why I think it is wrong to press for the restoration of subsidies whenever we think, as does every hon. Member, of those in most need.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
I gather that the intention of the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. F. Harris) is to prove in some way that the food subsidy cuts plus the social benefits provided by this Government do really 495 help the poor and that these Orders are part of a process which really helps the poor people and prevents the rich people from obtaining the benefits which the Labour Government were giving indiscriminately.
Very briefly, the answer to everything that he said is that, whereas this Government have now made it necessary for the rich person in this country to pay 1s. 6d. or 1s. 5d. more per week for his rationed food, they give him 25s. a week from his Income Tax with which to do it. This policy of the Government by no means protects the poor against the rich but helps the rich against the poor.
I should like to answer the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) who suggested that we were faced with the dilemma of either not giving increased social benefits to the old age pensioners and the poorest people with whom we are concerned or of retaining the food subsidies, and that had we retained the food subsidies we should not have been helping the poorest in this country. The simple fact is, as he knows, that the petrol duty which was imposed by the last Budget alone would have met the whole cost of the increased charges we made on the social services.
The hon. Member for Dover pointed out that the cost of living went down by two points recently. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) pointed out that that was only seasonal. In reply to that, the hon. Member for Dover said that we should wait for six months to see if that was true. The old folk of this country cannot wait for six months. Indeed, some of us are somewhat alarmed from what happened at Question time today as to what other increases decontrolling will make in the cost of the essential foods which the poorest people of this country need. Indeed, my general criticism even of our Labour Government was that there was a time-lag between increased social benefits for the poorest people and the hardship imposed upon them by the rise in the cost of living. Sooner or later some Government will have to tie up the social benefits which protect the poorest people with the cost of living, so that the benefits automatically rise as the cost of living rises.
The hon. Member for Dover boasted that the rate of the rise in the cost of 496 living had decreased, as though that was any comfort to the poor. They are not concerned whether the speed of the rise in the cost of living is declining or increasing. They are concerned with the simple fact that since this Government came into power, on the Government's own figures recently given at Question time, the £ has declined in value to 18s. 9d.
I want to say a word about cheese. When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition visited Southampton during the General Election, a Tory lady staged a demonstration. She stood alone in the midst of 10,000 Labour people, who treated her exceedingly courteously, demonstrating and holding in her hand the pitiful cheese ration that she was allowed to have under the Labour Government. From where we sat on the platform we could see the cheese ration in her hand. If there were a similar demonstration in Southampton today and my right hon. Friend or the present Prime Minister were put in the same position and the lady staged the same demonstration, he would not be able to see the cheese as she held it up.
One of the criticisms of these Orders, as indeed of the whole Government policy, is that the Government having promised to increase all kinds of food supplies, these Orders will not produce a single extra ounce of cheese. This debate gives us an opportunity of pinpointing not only the failure of the Government to implement their promises to increase the supply of basic foods, including cheese, but of pin-pointing the moral harm which they have done to 13½ million decent English people who thought that all one had to do to solve the economic and food problems of this country was to return a Tory Government.
The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), to whose contributions in debate I always listen with very serious interest, criticised us because we were objecting to what we call rationing by the purse. He pointed out, quite rightly, that rationing by the purse exists in this House and indeed in the whole country even after five or six years of Labour administration. We have always had rationing by the purse. All that we claimed of the first six years of Socialist Government was that we had moved away from it somewhat, not that we had built an equalitarian society.
497 As one of the hon. Members who visit the Dining Room to eat fish and chips, which is the cheapest item on the menu, I make no complaint about the fact that other people are able to purchase more expensive foods there. What has worried people like myself all their lives is not that it has been fish and chips for some and duck for others, but that our system of society has deprived people at the bottom of the social scale of fish and chips and often even of food at all.
Nobody would want physically equal shares of food for thin Members like myself and much fatter Members like some I could mention, but during those six years we sought to protect and guarantee for certain sections of this country—all our children, all our old folk and all the poorest folk—for the first time certain basic minimum food requirements. It is because of the Government's policy of interfering with the food subsidies and because the much more alarming policy of de-controlling certain foods has been set in motion that we are afraid.
In fact, we are already becoming aware that certain basic foods—even the rationed foods—are being lifted out of the reach of certain people in this country. In spite of what was said during two General Elections, it is the policy of this Government deliberately to reduce the purchasing power of millions in this country. There may be an economic case for that, but any good Government, whatever its policy, should go out of its way to protect the weakest and the poorest.
During the week, like many other hon. Members, I have met representatives of the old age pensioners in my town. Four of them came from their conference over the way to see me quite recently, and I say sincerely that I felt ashamed as I talked to them and they presented the very humble requests of the old age pensioners of this country. The things they wanted this winter were special coal and milk allowances; they wanted to be able to buy—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Not one of these Orders that are now under discussion deals with either coal or milk.
§ Dr. King
I am using them as an illustration of the needs of the people who are going to be affected by these Orders.
498 Turning from specific needs, since you have ruled them out of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I say that the simple case of the old age pensioner today is that he has no luxuries, except tobacco which we have been generous enough to provide him at a cheap rate, and his problem today is to get the sheer necessities of life.
I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) who protested against the cruelty of remarks from hon. Members opposite this afternoon when they urge that things cannot be so bad and that we should cut expenditure on drink, gambling, entertainment and other luxuries. I assure the hon. Member for Dover that very few old age pensioners in this country can afford to indulge even in football pools. They make their entertainment themselves. Indeed, one of the inspiring things that is happening in this country is that the old folk in their clubs are gathering together and creating, in fellowship, all kinds of entertainment for themselves because they cannot afford the entertainment that the rest of the country can have.
It is the impact of these Orders on people to whom every penny in the rise in price of any commodity means so much, that troubles me this evening. We are facing a cold winter. The old people need warmth and food. If what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food said was true in the days when he broadcast on the B.B.C. about the importance of good warmth-giving food, it is still true and it is particularly true for the older people in the country. It is because these Orders will take food out of the mouths of some of our people and because they will add to the burdens of the overburdened people in this country, that most of us are praying against them today.
If I may be personal, might I say that when we speak on behalf of the poorer people, the attitude of many hon. Members is different from that of hon. Members on the benches opposite—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Let me finish. Challenge me when I finish my statement, by all means. We speak of what we know. Many of us are in this House to protect old people and children from having to suffer the kind of conditions that we went through during the long time when these people opposite were in continuous power.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I would not have sought to have intervened in this debate had it not been for the gross and grotesque exaggeration of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King). It is a curious fact that a large number of hon. Members on this side of the House represent industrial towns, and there is every reason to suppose that quite a considerable number of men and women in the lowest income group voted for my hon. Friends and myself because they recognised that we would give a sympathetic hearing to their needs and their day-to-day requirements. [Interruption.]
The hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) sought to interrupt me. I apologise for having been compelled to leave the Chamber for a few moments to attend to the requirements of a constituent outside, so I was not privileged to hear her speech. I have since heard a second-hand account of what she said, and evidently it confirms the views expressed by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, in that they both believe that they have a monopoly, on the opposite side of the House, not only of the support from the lower income groups but of knowledge of conditions of the poorer members of the community, which today have been generally referred to as poverty.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am obliged to the hon. Lady for her intervention because it precedes immediately what I am about to say about the rise in food prices generally. It is fair to say that the increases in food prices which we are discussing this afternoon are part of a general budgetary policy which the overwhelming majority of men and women in the United Kingdom today recognise as a sane policy.
We are seeking particularly to direct help only to those sections of the community who need such help. It may be argued indefinitely whether the increases in old age pensions, disability pensions and the rates of the National Assistance Board allowances are in themselves, as a result of the Budget, adequate to offset the advances in food prices. What is undeniable is that it is a sound and sane policy to exclude from food subsidies those members of the community who can afford to pay the full and real price for food.
In his speech the hon. Gentleman referred—evidently through a lack of knowledge of the facts of life—to Income Tax payers who received a remission amounting to 25s. per week under the last Budget. He said that they could afford to pay these extra prices for food. Of course they can, but let us get this matter in its correct perspective. There are 22½ million workers in the United Kingdom today, but only 500,000 of them are in receipt of an income which, before deduction of tax, would enable them to claim a remission of tax equal to 25s. per week. In other words, only one in 45 falls into the category referred to by the hon. Gentleman.
Although it may bear hardly on some sections of the community to pay more for their food, I think it is not an overstatement to say that most of the increase in the price of that food has already been offset by additional social service benefits and allowances. I hope that, in the course of the next 12 months my right hon. Friends in the Government will pursue this policy to its logical conclusion and that all subsidies will eventually be eliminated.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I promise not to go too far, Mr. Hopkin Morris. The hon. Gentleman opposite interrupted me to say, "Tell the electors that."
§ Mr. Nabarro
There is no question of confirmation in this regard. I said earlier in this short intervention—for I was only provoked to intervene—that we are concerned with safeguarding the welfare and the interests of the needy and necessitous sections of the population. The remainder, who can afford to pay the proper price for the essentials of life, should pay that price and should not be subsidised through the general taxpayers. I congratulate my hon. Friend on having the courage to pursue a sane and a wise policy in regard to food prices and I hope that within 12 months we shall be paying the real price—that is, the cost price—for all food which is imported into this country or which is produced here.
Since I started my speech by referring to a note of exaggeration from the hon. Gentleman opposite, I would say, finally, that there have been many references in speeches made from the other side of the Chamber to the effect of the statement made by my right hon. and gallant Friend this afternoon with regard to shell eggs. What did he say? He only said that he was seeking to restore a market in eggs and, as I said in a supplementary question, this is symptomatic of the whole food market position. Restore that market and freedom will result in bigger supplies, better supplies and lower prices. That is always the case.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am so sorry. A few moments before you rose, Mr. Hopkin Morris, I said that it was symptomatic of the whole case that hon. Gentlemen opposite are seeking to make. I hope that we shall see a few more of these Orders, with real prices being paid for all our food and a commensurate reduction in taxation and help for the poorest sections of the community and those that are really needy and necessitous—and 502 that, incidentally, does not include the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren).
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
So far as these eight Orders are concerned, six of which we are discussing, I would say at the outset that it might not be so bad, and some of the observations of our opponents might be taken much more readily and easily, if these Orders against which we are praying were all that was involved in the increase in food prices. But these refer only to rationed goods. The fact is that, in spite of what has been said by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) and other hon. Gentlemen opposite, they apparently know little about what the average housewife has to face.
If they had any knowledge of working-class conditions—I know that generally they move in a different society, where everything they need is delivered, and probably ordered by telephone—they would know that what we are complaining about most bitterly is that the increased price of rationed goods is not the whole of the story. Rationed goods account for only a small part of the increases which have actually taken place. There has been a lot of talk about the increase in the price of these essential commodities, which are about all that the old age pensioners can afford—in spite of what the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) said about their having more money for essentials if they spent less on drinking and smoking.
If I may supplement what has been said about the amounts paid to the people whom these Orders will hit most heavily—the pensioners—the contributory pensioner gets for himself and his wife 54s. That is the new figure since October. The National Assistance scale which has already been quoted and which is expected to cover these as well as the 503 other increases, is 59s. for a married couple.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The old age pensioner and his wife get 54s. a week, which is 12s. more than they had before the increase, and that more than offsets the increased cost of food.
§ Mr. Keenan
The hon. Gentleman says it is 12s. more. If I may respectfully say so, it is not. Before the increase, the contributory pensioner and his wife received 30s. and 20s. respectively—a total of 50s. I suggest that when the hon. Gentleman argues these matters, he should be more correctly informed. He should know better or should shut up and not take part in the debate.
As one who has always taken an interest in old age pensioners—I am the president of a branch of an old age pensioners' organisation in Liverpool and I have been for several years—I have some contact with them and I know what is happening. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Dover I would point out that the old age pensioners get a voucher for one ounce of tobacco a week, which costs them 2s., so that they save something over 1s. on that item.
I am concerned about some of the stupid observations made by hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Louth spoke of his experience in earlier days and said that he knew about poverty. But the way he spoke in the debate, suggesting that the hardships which these increases impose do not, in fact, really exist, gives me the impression that he is more hopeless than hitherto I have found him.
A lot of nonsense has been talked on these Prayers. I differ from those who suggest that this is not a political question. Whether it be a Labour Government or a Tory Government, it is the politicians with whom we have to deal, and the approach they make to this question is obviously the approach of their political points of view. If not, why is there so much desire among hon. Members opposite to abolish all the subsidies and ease the burden of the Income Tax payer?
I have been able to observe, both in my own domestic circle and in my constituency, how wrong the Government were when they said that the withdrawal of 504 the subsidy would mean an increase of only 1s. 6d. per head in the cost of living. Before the Budget we knew there were to be reductions in subsidies, for there was talk about it even then; and the old age pensioners—about whom hon. Members opposite are shedding tears, which I do not think they mean—pointed out that the cost of living had already gone up by more than 1s. 6d. in the previous two months. The increase which this House eventually gave in allowances—about which the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) does not know very much—was purely an attempt to try to make up for the increase in food prices resulting from the withdrawal of subsidies.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us, in his reply, how long it will be before there are further increases. Does his Department know the answer? There are one or two things we ought to know about this, because it raises serious questions. I am sorry that we are not dealing with the Prayer about meat, but that will be dealt with later; at the moment we are dealing with only the first six Prayers. I want to tell the Parliamentary Secretary the facts about meat—
§ Mr. Keenan
I have no intention of doing so, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but the observations I want to make about bacon have some bearing on the question of meat, so that it might not be necessary for me to speak again later.
The Parliamentary Secretary has in the Order a list of the retail prices of all the different cuts of gammon and bacon. We have been told that a large percentage of the people cannot afford to buy bacon, but will he do something to protect those people who can afford to buy it, so that they may see in the shop what is the price per 1b. of the bacon they are buying? Nobody today knows the price of meat because nobody dares to ask the butcher about the price.
I have had a promise that this matter will be seriously investigated, and if it is any consolation to the Parliamentary Secretary, both on the question of bacon and on the question of meat, we were not successful in our request to his predecessors; and we will put the flag up if he meets our request on this occasion.
505 It has been suggested, particularly by the hon. Member for Kidderminster, that it would be better if we removed subsidies altogether, which would mean more of these Orders, because prices would go up; although I suppose the real intention is to have a free market with no control and with rationing by price.
One of the major principles of my hon. Friends and myself is to keep down the cost of living, and that is what the subsidies were doing. In this connection, I should like to raise a question about price control. I am sorry that I was unable to speak soon after the hon. Member for Louth; he said that under Socialism we did not do this and we did not do that. But we have never had Socialism in this country; we have had Socialists introducing Measures which were making for reform, but we have never had Socialism, and if we had—
§ Mr. Keenan
I was merely replying to observations which were made about how much people could purchase at different times. I agree that price rationing is the logical consequence of these increases and of the eventual removal of control. When the attempt to keep prices down is abandoned—as it is in these Orders—and when control disappears, there will be a disturbance in this country which will mean that some people who today get a lot for nothing will in future have to work for what they get.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Hon. Members opposite appear to arrogate to themselves all knowledge of people who are in need. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) rightly pointed out that for a long time he was an unemployed coal miner, and there are others on this side of the House, too, who have deep concern for the welfare not only of the country but also of those who are in the least fortunate position.
No hon. Member on this side of the House could like or enjoy introducing or supporting any measures likely to increase prices. Hon. Members opposite must realise that these Orders are essentially unpopular. These Orders are not likely to contribute to an easy popularity for the party on this side of the House, but it 506 seems to me that a Government which always seeks to avoid unpopularity sometimes avoids doing its duty. Hon. Members opposite often realised the problems but were afraid to apply what they sometimes knew to be the necessary remedies.
The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), whose interventions everybody on both sides of the House must always respect, said in an impassioned tone, "Give us this day our daily bread." But I wish hon. Members would admit what no one on that side has yet admitted—that at the time when this Government took office, unless there were some changes—not necessarily the kind of changes introduced by the Government through these Orders—then, as a nation, we should soon have ceased to possess the power to purchase our daily bread. It is no use saying impassionedly, "Give us this day our daily bread" and at the same time pursuing a policy which will lose the power to obtain a large proportion of that daily bread.
These Orders, as hon. Members on both sides have pointed out, are part of the budgetary policy. They are consequences of budgetary policy, and they are designed to bring about certain increases, and those increases are on certain classified types of food. It has been pointed out quite correctly that they cannot be viewed in isolation; that they have to be regarded, as many hon. Members have emphasised, side by side with those other things done by the Budget—alongside the Income Tax allowances and increases in pensions and in the rates of National Assistance.
If hon. Members, in moving the rejection of these Orders, pursue their Prayers to their logical conclusion, they must also face the consequences of so doing, because if we reject these Orders we must find the money which we thereby lose, in some other way; and that can be done only either by annulling those concessions made to pensioners and to those receiving the Income Tax allowances or by an increase of taxation—one thing or the other.
That increase in taxation which would result from the annulment of these Orders tonight, should it be a tax on industry, would be an additional handicap on our power to sell our goods abroad. It would be a tax on industry and ultimately on our exports. If it should mean an increase 507 crease on taxation of individuals; should it be an increase in direct taxation, in Income Tax, it would affect a large number—those 2 million who were relieved completely of the burden of Income Tax; or it would be an increase of tax on those paid a higher rate of tax. One could only surmise that large numbers of people—the 2 million relieved of Income Tax altogether, and the others whose position was partially improved—would be again faced with increased Income Tax, and that would bring about, just as much as a rise in food prices would bring about, applications for increased remuneration.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite do sometimes speak as though the taxpayers of this country, the wealthy taxpayers, as they sometimes like to call them, are a class of people who have had an easy time, a soft and pampered existence, but let us not forget that the taxpayers of this country are the most heavily taxed class of taxpayers in the whole world. Let us not forget either, when hon. Members opposite draw their sad picture of our position, that, while we conceive in all quarters of the House that the position of those on the lower incomes is not what we would desire their standard of life to be, but something we all aim to improve, that in no other country in the world do the lower tenth, if I may so call them, live with as good a standard of life except where there is a slave State or people are sustained by a slave economy.
The problem, shortly, is whether we negate these Orders and thereby negate the increase in pensions and tax allowances and so on, or whether we permit these Orders to go through to follow those other concessions which have been made and to achieve what many of us believe to be a more realistic balance in our economy? We feel, as we have constantly asserted, that the major objection to the alternative remedy, food subsidies, was that they were indiscriminate in their application. Some hon. Members opposite have said in opposition to that argument, "The Government agreed to family allowances, and they also are indiscriminate in their application." But while those family allowances are subject to tax they are not indiscriminate.
§ Mr. Speaker
I agree that the family allowances have some relevance to the 508 general financial background, but we are really discussing certain specific Orders.
§ Mr. Gower
I was following largely on what was said before, but, of course, I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. The present reductions are consequent upon the removal of those subsidies and we feel that this is the fairest way—the way likely to promote the wealth of our economy most efficiently. While, of course, we on this side would not introduce a measure which was likely to be unpopular particularly with those who consider if we could help it, not the public weal, but rather their own immediate personal positions, we feel that these Orders must be passed, to give the nation the chance of re-establishing its economy on a far sounder basis than applied during the last six years, when we have seen a continuous rise in the cost of living and at the same time a continuous deterioration in our over-all national financial position.
§ Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, may I ask whether he will not agree that the concessions given by way of relief in Income Tax to the higher order of people in this country far outweigh the loss in food subsidies as compared with the concessions given to the lower order of people in this country in the last Budget?
§ Mr. Gower
I would admit that if a tax concession is given it is likely to benefit people paying larger tax more than those paying less tax, but I remember that when the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) lessened the Income Tax by 6d. a few years ago, that was hailed by hon. Members opposite as a great and beneficent gesture.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I have been sitting here since 2.30 today and have heard every speech from the Government side and every speech from our side in this debate. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and Coventry, South (Miss Burton) on their honesty of intent and purpose but I believe that the case that they could and should have emphasised is the complete political dishonesty of the Government.
Every one of the hon. Members supporting the Government so far has said 509 that it is his desire to force up the price of food, and, therefore, hon. Members opposite are against the annulment of these Orders, which implement the Budgetary policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The tragedy for the people of this country is that hon. Gentlemen opposite did not have the political honesty to make those statements at the time of the General Election. It was they who said they would bring down the cost of living. It was they who said they would not cut the food subsidies. It was the Conservative Party which said, officially, that they would reduce the prices of food.
Even the Parliamentary Secretary, although he is not, I think, officially a member of the Conservative Party—I think he is his own party chief whip and leader combined as an Independent Liberal National Conservative Member—went to the electorate of Luton and told them that we should have more food at cheaper prices, and that, in fact, there would be no cuts in the subsidies.
I strongly support the annulment of these Orders, because this is the first opportunity we have of showing the electorate that this Government have not only broken their promises, but have acted in direct opposition to those promises.
§ Mr. Lewis
I was going on to say that only 2 million had been relieved of the burden, and that even the remainder did 510 not get any major remission because the majority of them were not paying much Income Tax. I say that it is wrong to give Income Tax relief to a group of people who are able to buy their food, while depriving those who are paying no Income Tax, or very little, of the opportunity of purchasing their basic rations. Because of the application of these Orders, in areas such as the one I represent, the poorer working-class areas, the industrial areas around London, there are vast numbers of working-class people who cannot afford to take up their basic rations.
I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary is here this evening, because he will recollect a meeting we had last week at which I showed him ½ 1b. of bacon I had purchased, which was freely advertised as off the ration and on sale to all.
§ Dr. Charles Hill indicated assent.
§ Mr. Lewis
The hon. Gentleman saw it, and many of my hon. Friends have seen it. That is happening throughout the length and breadth of the country. Those who have the money can go into the shops and buy more than their ration. Although retailers are taking 10 per cent. less than their normal bacon allocation they can supply bacon over the odds to those who can afford the extra, even at the present high prices.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Is it not a fact that in the last ration period 97 per cent. of all the bacon put out in the country was taken up by the ration book holders?
§ Mr. Lewis
That most definitely is not true. If the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro)—we call him the hon. Member for "Kiddingminster," or "Kiddingminister," I am not sure which—had watched the Parliamentary Secretary he would have seen that he nodded in agreement when I said that retailers were taking up 10 per cent. less of the bacon to which they were entitled.
§ Mr. Lewis
Perhaps he will also confirm that, in answer to a Question on the Floor of the House, either he or his Minister agreed that in the last period retailers took up in bacon 9.7 less than 511 their entitlement. For easy reckoning I call it 10 per cent. That statement was made and is on record. That shows that a large number of people are not able to purchase their rations.
The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) talked about old-age pensioners and others cutting down on their beer, tobacco and gambling and using the savings for food. He has no idea of what is happening in the country.
§ Mr. Lewis
The hon. Gentleman certainly did, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) took him up on it. He said that there was far too much spent on beer, tobacco and gambling; that savings could be made on those and used for buying food. My hon. Friend interrupted and pointed out, quite rightly that the old-age pensioners cannot do that because they have not enough to purchase their basic rations, let alone spending anything on beer and gambling.
The hon. Member has no idea, and neither have many hon. Members opposite, of what is happening in the country. Let them come down to my division, and to those of some of my hon. Friends in the dock area, where a quarter of the dockers are unemployed and are compelled to live on £4 8s. a week. They get no supplement; they get no additions. How can they be expected to pay these extra prices that are being introduced, in addition to meeting the effect of the increased cost of living?
I protest very, very strongly against these increased prices. They are politically dishonest, and I think the Government are politically dishonest in coming here and trying to put these prices on to the ordinary housewife. The hon. Member for Gower—
§ Mr. Lewis
The hon. Member for Barry talked about what happened under the Labour Government. What he did not explain was that under the Labour Government, whilst the prices of food and basic raw materials were rising rapidly, in the other 19 O.E.E.C. countries prices, particularly of food, rose to a far greater extent. Now, prices in this country have 512 gone up far more rapidly than in the other 19 countries quoted. That is not only due to budgetary policy. It is due to the complete ineptitude and lack of co-ordination of policy of the Government, because in other countries throughout Europe the cost of living and the cost of food are dropping rapidly.
In conclusion, I ask all my hon. Friends, not only to support us in the Division Lobby this evening, but to go out into the country and to tell the people the truth; to tell them that if they want to save this country they must get rid of this Government.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I think that the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) had an unfortunate lapse when he referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) as the hon. Member for "Gower." I am not making the mistake of supposing that he represents any other constituency than "Ham," which is one consolation for both of us.
§ Sir W. Darling
I am sure that to suggest that we should be joined as triplets would be a repugnant idea to him, however desirable surgically or otherwise.
Why are these Prayers with us at this unseemly and unusual hour? These Orders are to increase the prices of lard, butter, cheese, gammon and sugar. Hon. Members opposite are praying against the intention of the Government to increase the prices of these commodities. [Interruption.] I say that with perhaps one exception that is the invariable intention of these Prayers.
If we look at one of these Prayers I see that there is a reduction in price. I would be glad to think that that has not escaped the notice of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). [HON. MEMBERS: "Which Prayer?"] I think that there is a reduction in the price of dripping. [Interruption.] I am grateful for the assurance that well-fed representatives of the proletariat on the other side of the House do not think anything of dripping. I enjoyed dripping when I was a boy, and I enjoy it still. I should have thought that there would have been 513 peons of praise for the Parliamentary Secretary making a substantial reduction in the price of dripping, and I hope that subsequent speakers will commend the Government on what they are doing in this field by reducing the price of dripping.
§ Mr. Willey
Before the hon. Gentleman answers that perhaps he will deal with the point that the price is reduced on first-hand sales?
§ Sir W. Darling
I will deal with them in sequence. In reply to the hon. Member for West Ham, North, I would point out that I am not an hon. Baronet, and that I was making no such suggestion. Those who care for good roast beef dripping—and apparently there is still some in this country—will, I hope, continue to enjoy it, and all the more now that the price is to be reduced.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North drew attention to the fact that the reduction is only on first-hand sales, but I take it that the reduction will percolate to the consumer and I should like him to give honour, if only a little honour, where honour is due. This is a Prayer against increases in the prices of particular commodities. I think that notice should also be taken of the fact that the price of tea is being freed. Tea control is also going under these particular Orders. I notice that control has gone from cooked ham.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
The hon. Gentleman has men-toned dripping, but I understand that the Order relates to rationed goods only, and I think that all that is in the ration is cooking fat. I do not think that dripping is procurable, and neither is it included in the Order.
§ Sir W. Darling
If the hon. Lady will apply her mind to the Order, I think that she will see that in the Order under review, there is reference to dripping, bacon and tea. Further, she will see that these Orders increase only the maximum prices.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman continuously 514 to refer to these references about dripping when the Order distinctly says:but shall not include dripping.Dripping is completely excluded.
§ Sir W. Darling
The hon. Member is mistaken; it is not excluded. This is the fifth interruption. [HON. MEMBERS: "You asked for them."] It is incorrect to say that I ask for them.
Hon. Members opposite are always impatient with anyone who differs from them. In a world where intolerance seems to be growing, they are leaders in that faith, and I deeply deplore it. I remember when the Socialist Party was a tolerant party and sought to understand the problems that confronted us. [An HON. MEMBER: "You were in it."] It was a tolerant party at the time I was there; that tolerance has diminished since I left. There is no reason, when I say things which are contrary to the wishes of the Opposition, for them to suggest that I am saying anything that is not relevant to the subject before the House.
These Orders deal with maximum prices. I engage in retail distribution, and I tell the House that it is not the invariable practice of retailers in their businesses to exact always the maximum price. In recent months, there has been a definite tendency in the opposite direction.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
I wonder whether the hon. Member can give, for the information of his constituents in Edinburgh, the name of a shop at which they can purchase, at less than the maximum price, the goods we are talking about tonight?
§ Sir W. Darling
I willingly respond to these challenges. If I may adopt an official form of answer, I would say that as the answer contains a great many names and addresses, I shall publish it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The hon. Member may be assured that there are many businesses in the City of Edinburgh where goods are sold, not at the maximum price, but below it. One firm is St. Cuthbert's Co-operative Society.
§ Sir W. Darling
The hon. Lady is a first-class Member of Parliament, Mr. Speaker, as you know, and therefore she cannot have that intimate knowledge of shopping conditions which she would have if she were a housewife. I submit that she has the right to throw away the crown of being a successful housewife, because I think that she is more successful in the ranks of the Opposition. What she says is inaccurate. Many Co-operative societies not only give dividends but actually sell below the prices of similar goods sold in similar competing stores.
I have now dealt with some six interruptions, and I have done so, I think, with some satisfaction. I proceed to say that these Orders are before us because Her Majesty's Government are desirous of moving in a more realistic direction than has been the case during the past six years. The argument of the Opposition is that these increases are oppressive. What is the view of the Opposition? Is the market to remain ever rigid? Is that their conservative principle? Would they apply it in the field of wages and dividends and every other field? Do they live in an entirely static world? Are prices of goods and services not to rise and fall as they grow or diminish in quantity?
If that is their view, they are entitled to pray against these Orders, for they reflect the increases in wages, the increase in world prices and increases in many other circumstances. Are we to take it that the Opposition wish to hold the British society in a rigid immovable frame for ever and ever, amen? If that is not so, then do the Labour Party believe in a resilient society, which, it is true, may fall but which also has the ability to rise to any height the human mind can conceive. These Orders are a reflection of the resilient society.
The simple truth is that prices will never come down until they have first gone up, and the step which the Govern-is taking is a step towards lower prices—and at a not far distant date. Is it the view of the Opposition that food prices should remain unchanged for ever and ever, amen? I do not accept that. I believe we should move progressively and quickly to a free market. The hon. Member for West Ham, South—
§ Sir W. Darling
Is it West Ham, North? It is "hammy" anyway.
The hon. Member pointed out that in countries other than Great Britain the cost of living rose more rapidly during the previous six years than it did here but now it is not rising so rapidly in those countries as it is here. I put it to him that it may well be that the relatively free market of the last six years in countries other than Britain was more realistic than the controlled market in Britain and that we are now suffering from the fact that we did not free the market earlier. I put that forward for his consideration, modestly and with all deference because I know that it is not necessarily right, but it is worth his consideration. I believe that we should return as rapidly as possible to the freest trading possible.
§ Sir W. Darling
I do not know about the "good old days." At my age one does not find one day better than another, unless an all-night Sitting is involved.
We should try to return—it will be as the last country in the world to do so—to freer trading conditions. I know there will be pains on entering the market, but the Labour Party are doing the British people no service when they pretend that life can be made smoother and easier by the efforts of persons other than ourselves. That is a degenerating thought which is unworthy of the Labour Party. The idea that our people are to be for ever pauperised in a rigid economy should be repudiated by all men of common sense.
The Parliamentary Secretary is responsive to the movement of the times. He recognises that the markets of the world are bound to fluctuate and that we cannot keep them rigid. With better wages, better conditions and better incentives, prices will rise, and I hope wages and incentives will rise with them, as they always have done. The higher standard of living which the United States enjoys is based on that principle. I am not sure that we should not be doing a great deal better if we sought more and more to align ourselves with the economy of the United States than we are doing at present.
517 This is a relatively small step, and it is not worthy of so much knee-bending and praying, but it is a reflection of the realism in the minds of the Government, and I hope that this will, in turn, be reflected in the Opposition. I hope that the Opposition will instruct the people of the country that we are a brave, strong people and will not be pauperised and that such things are not in the temperament of the British people. If there will be pains in the free market, let us face them, because we cannot avoid pain, toil and trouble. I support the Government in this new piece of realism in our food policy.
§ 6.45 p.m.
Mr. Percy Daises (East Ham, North)
The people of this country will not be sorry that we are not debating an unnecessary Bill but are instead concentrating, although by accident, upon a problem which affects them far more, that of the cost of living.
The Prayers are consequent upon an increase in the cost of living for all our people as a direct result of Government action. I cannot understand how the Parliamentary Secretary reconciles the job which he has to do as a Member of the Government with the attitude which he used to take in—I am certain for him—the far happier days when he was a freelance, before he became admitted to the fold. We can expect him to have a few qualms of conscience when, in his more reflective moments, he thinks of the guidance which he used to offer to the public about nutrition. There is clear evidence that as result of the Government's action the nutrition standards of the people are beginning to fall.
We have heard statements from hon. Gentlemen opposite that there is something particularly healthy, economically sound and desirable in getting rid of food subsidies, and, to be in order I refer to the element of food subsidies in respect of the foods covered by the Orders. I have never held that opinion. In speeches which I made when the Labour Government were in office and since I argued that if we were to spend the enormous sum of money which we do spend in maintaining the National Health Service to cure disease, it was only sound sense, as well as being ethically desirable, to have a basic nutrition standard for all our people as a preventive factor against 518 disease. How does the Parliamentary Secretary reconcile that principle with his present job?
It has been said that 97 per cent. of the bacon ration is taken up. How is that figure arrived at? It is said that the total amount absorbed is checked against the total amount issued. That does not give the true picture. What happens in the shops is that persons who can afford to do so take more than their ration and a substantial number of other people take less than their ration. This means that the figures which have been given are completely misleading and do not disclose the facts.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) brought half a pound of streaky bacon into the Chamber. The implication of that, too, is rather misleading. In my constituency which is next door to his—to be fair, he did not buy the bacon in his constituency—the cheap foods are so much in demand that unless one gets to the shops early one cannot obtain them at all. That also applies to meat; one cannot get the cheap cuts.
I have discussed the cost of living with women comrades of mine in the Labour Party. I have asked them why they do not go early to the shops in order to get the streaky bacon. Their reply is, "Is it fair and comradely for us, whose husbands earn £8 or £9 a week, to go early to the shops in order to grab the cheap food before the other people get there?"
We can get a far better test of what is happening in the changing pattern of spending on food by looking at the figures of milk consumption. There is clear evidence that in many parts of the country the consumption of milk is showing a very marked fall. The Parliamentary Secretary no doubt can bring out over-all figures to try to refute that statement, but break them down and the evidence is perfectly clear.
I used to have a profound feeling of respect for the Parliamentary Secretary as a broadcaster and as a personality. He certainly could put it over and he did that job very well. I think if he could be free and if two years ago he could have seen where he would be today, he would have taken an entirely different course for himself. Some member of the Government—I do not know 519 whether it was the Minister of Food or the Parliamentary Secretary—recently said that one of the prime jobs of the present Government was to wind up the Ministry of Food. I have a feeling that the hon. Gentleman's benign countenance is more likely to go down in political history as belonging to a political undertaker than as that of the "Radio Doctor."
I do not believe the time is anywhere near when we can safely abolish the Ministry of Food, nor that the present economic position, which seems to give so much confidence to members of the Government, is on a secure basis at all. It was only as recently as 1950 that our balance of payments position was in balance, and then things began to go wrong again. Everybody, if he is honest, knows that we are living on a knife edge economically. One slight lurch of the American economy and we shall be back to the position where drastic rationing is again necessary. I deprecate the policy adopted in these Orders, because I hold strongly that the accidental device of the food subsidies which we used in the war is a major element today in maintaining the nutritional standards of our people.
The Parliamentary Secretary knows as well as I do that when there are increased prices for rationed commodities it is only a small part of the picture. Since the increases to which these Orders refer, there has been a substantial rise right through the whole range of items in the grocers' shops. The increased prices arising from these Orders do not justify most of these increases. I noticed that an hon. Member who is concerned with the business of making up prepared foods addressed the House earlier in the afternoon. I looked at some of the commodities from the firm for which he is responsible, and I find exactly the same feature about the prices.
There is something "phoney" about these increases of prices which coincide with Orders such as these. What the Government have done by the adoption of this policy of price increases for food—and here I charge the Chancellor of the Exchequer—is to create a psychology for increased food prices, so that the whole range of foodstuffs move with them.
§ Sir W. Darling
The hon. Member refers to increased food prices, but I think his own Co-operative society will bear it out that in Quaker Oats, porridge oats and the Co-operative product for making porridge there has been a decrease in price of 1½d.
§ Mr. Daines
If the hon. Gentleman will look at the list of food prices that I produced in a previous debate, he will find there are about two or three exceptions, but that generally speaking there have been increases the whole way through.
The final point I want to make is this. I believe the Opposition are right in conducting the fiercest possible opposition to the policy which is revealed by these Orders. We have seen demands from the Government back benchers for a further attack upon the food subsidies. I do not believe that hon. Members opposite are necessarily men and women who want to inflict misery on our people because they like doing so. I believe the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) when he calls attention to his working-class experiences and former poverty. No doubt he was perfectly sincere.
Nobody—and this goes for my own side of the House just as much as it does for the other side—can truly understand what poverty means unless in some period of his early life he actually lived it and knew precisely what it meant. Unemployment very often goes with poverty, and one does not know what it means unless one has actually experienced it. I will go further and say that a man who really suffers unemployment never again feels secure throughout the remainder of his life. I can understand the hon. Member for Louth making the statement he did, but I cannot understand how a person who experienced poverty before the war can support a party and a Government which will restore the conditions which today will again make that poverty possible. That is a paradox in our political life which I cannot fathom.
We are right to oppose these Orders not because we shall win in the Lobby tonight, because we cannot, but I believe we are right inasmuch as this will be a warning to hon. Members opposite that their campaign for so-called economy is bound to lead, and will lead, to further wholesale slashing of the food subsidies at the time of the next Budget, with a consequent 521 rise of food prices to our people. I congratulate my hon. Friends who are responsible for putting down this Prayer, and I warn the Government that in taking this step they are creating a further difficulty that will hamstring them in the difficult and dangerous economic circumstances of the future.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
It is relevant to expose what I consider to be the manner in which the Government, at the General Election, misled the people in an effort to get into power, and it is equally relevant to recall that when the Labour Party were in power there were Prayers on the subject of food prices night after night, when it was alleged that, through the then Government's incompetence and machinations, there were shortages of food and things were so dear.
It was the Conservative Party who distributed throughout the country the leaflet which I hold in my hand and which is called "Black Record." It is written on black paper with white lettering. The first story they had to tell the electorate was about the high costs of living. This is what they said:Year by year the cost of living has soared. Today, it is 37 points higher than when the Socialists took charge in 1945. The excuse that leaping prices are 'all due to Korea and rearmament' is rubbish.Since then, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has had to contradict even that.The cost of living had rocketed by nearly 30 points before the Korean war started.The whole basis of the approach of the Conservative Party to the housewives of Britain was that if they were in power basic commodities like butter and tea would be cheaper.
At the Conservative Conference, as reported in the Conservative Party's "Daily Notes," the "Radio Doctor," as he was then, referred to the matter. Speaking on 14th February, 1950, he said:There's that fairy story about food. We are getting as many calories and as many proteins today as we did before the war. I agree. There's enough fuel for the human engine. As for proteins, well, we can get those from milk, meat, fish, eggs, cheese and, if Mr. Strachey won't mind my saying so, from nuts as well. In total we are getting enough. But we are getting 30 per cent. less meat, 60 per cent. less bacon, 20 per cent. less eggs. Indeed, we are getting less meat and bacon and cheese than we were in 1945. But the total 522 is all right. Science is satisfied, so how dare you grumble!That approach to the housewife gave the impression that meat, milk, eggs and cheese would all be cheaper and more plentiful if the Conservative Party were in power. We accuse them of having jumped into the seat of power at this difficult, transitional period, by twisting the truth. As for accusing us of not telling the truth, may I remind the House that a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps, was called "Misery Cripps" and "Austerity Cripps" because he tried to point out realities of the modern world such as the shortage of fat in Australia, the shortage of butter even in America, and the fact that Australia and Argentina were not able to send us more meat. We were informed by Lord Woolton at that time that if the Government now in power came into office we would have "Ham, spam, and lovely legs of lamb."
Let us be quite honest about these matters, and admit that whichever side had been in power would not be very happy about the world food situation; but there is one thing that we would do differently. We would try to take the burden of the cost of basic foods from off the shoulders of the weakest section of the community. I can completely contradict the economic argument that was put forward from the Government benches a few moments ago, by referring to the White Paper on National Income and Expenditure in this country, produced by the Government themselves. In that White Paper, we were told that personal consumption in Britain had fallen 1 per cent., and that people were buying a little less food, fewer durable goods and less clothing. In spite of that statement, the cost had gone up by £619 million.
We were scoffed at and scorned because we asked questions about the value of the £, but today it was revealed to us that since the present Government have been in power that value has been descending. We are praying tonight because of the cost represented by these Orders. We say that, since 5th October, butter has gone up by 6d. per lb., cooking fat by 2d. and cheese by 10d. Sugar and bacon have also risen in price. Never in history has there been such a steep jump in the basic commodities. That is why it is the duty 523 of the Opposition to focus public attention on this terrific jump in costs.
Although we may not be discussing meat at the moment, perhaps I may say that no matter how the Government may struggle, there is no possibility of cheapening the price or increasing the quantity of meat until we have a forthright agricultural policy which will increase the amount of meat produced in these Islands. I grant that that may be a long-term policy, but I accuse the Government of neglecting it at the present moment.
I believe that the Opposition were right and were not frivolous in drawing public attention to the gravity of the tendency to increase in the cost of living, placing the burden ruthlessly on the shoulders of those who can bear it least. If any hon. Member on the Government side jumps up and says that it was part of Budget policy to do this and, at the same time, to increase old-age pensions and bring up the children allowances, I reply that although the Government have done that, yet scores of my constituents complain to me that the National Assistance allowance has been reduced by the same amount as the increase in their pensions, with the result that they are worse off than ever before.
This is being done at a time when a policy of deflation is being followed. In a publication called "The Director" there is an article by Paul Einzig on the policy of deflation. It says:It stands to reason that monetary deflation cannot be regarded as effective unless it reduces both wages and profits.But it is reducing wages at a steeper rate than it is reducing profits. That is why the Opposition have brought on this debate. Through the incompetence of the Government we are fortunate in getting it. We have a duty to the public and to the tens of thousands of housewives who voted at the General Election for the Government because they believed that the Conservatives were telling the truth, whereas all along the line the Government intended to do what they have done.
A candidate in my area published a General Election address in which he said: 524We have no intention of reducing the food subsidies. If we do, I assure the electorate that I will resign from Parliament on the day that it is done.There is no doubt that many candidates, especially the younger ones, did not know that the present Government are as deep as the Bay of Biscay and as artful as a basket of monkeys. They were misled into making silly promises and making themselves look ridiculous. I shall have pleasure tonight in going into the Lobby to vote against these Orders.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
The Parliamentary Secretary, who will wind up this debate for the Government, is in a pitiable condition. All his training has taught him that the foods mentioned in these Orders are of the utmost consequence to the growth of human life. Cheese, meat, bacon and butter are the protein foods, but under these Orders they will be much less available to the majority of our people—to old-age pensioners and to growing children.
Also, our defence will suffer because the first line of defence is an A.1 nation and any doctor knows that this cannot be built on carbohydrates. We shall probably get a C.3 line of defence if, as a result of constantly increasing prices, mothers are forced to buy inferior food. We now have rationing by the purse and hon. Members opposite have introduced that era. It is well under way and soon it will be complete.
I do all my own shopping and, as I stand in the shops at the week-end, I price everything. While I am standing there I notice old-age pensioners asking for their rations. We have not yet reached the stage when we can say, "I want half a pound of so-and-so at 2s. 6d." We just ask for our ration and, when the butcher hands it over, the old-age pensioners have to ask for a certain amount to be taken off because they cannot afford to take up all their meat ration.
I am considered to be in a good position financially but I cannot afford Ayrshire bacon at 5s. 9d. a 1b., much as I would like it. Therefore, I either go without it or buy a cheaper quality at 4s. Here, again, I find that the mothers around me are not taking up their bacon ration. This must give great satisfaction to those whose purses are unlimited and 525 who can take up all that is left by those who cannot afford to pay the price.
I remember the excuse given for increasing food prices. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House that it was most unfair that everybody should be subsidised in regard to the food they bought because there were people in the higher income groups who did not require cheaper sugar, who could well afford to pay the full price for bacon, cheese, meat and butter, and that he proposed to withdraw the subsidy and compensate the old-age pensioner and those in the lower income groups by giving them more National Assistance.
The Chancellor also said he would compensate them by increased family allowances. What did he do? Did he draw a dividing line between the upper and lower income groups and say to the £2,000 a year people, "You do not need family allowances"? No, he has given them all family allowances.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The hon. Lady must bear in mind that family allowances are assessable to Income Tax and Surtax and that those in the higher income groups pay back most of the family allowances. For instance, my wife draws family allowances for my children but I have to pay 3s. of the allowance back in tax.
§ Mrs. Mann
I do not see anything in that interruption which destroys my argument.
The Chancellor made the excuse that it was unfair to give rich and poor the food subsidies while still giving rich and poor the family allowances. Further, when he got his pound of flesh out of this section of the population, not only did he give family allowances to the higher income groups but they benefitted most from the withdrawal of food subsidies. In other words, the money saved from the poor in subsidies he gave to the rich in Income Tax allowances.
It is true that prices rose under a Labour Government, but only when the wholesale price index was against us. At the beginning of the war in Korea all prices went up. It follows naturally that when the wholesale prices rise, retail prices also rise, so the Labour Government were forced to raise retail prices. But what is the position under this Government? 526 The United Nations Bulletin for Europe shows that there has been a steady decrease in wholesale prices over the first seven months of this year but, just as steadily as wholesale prices have been falling, retail prices in this country have gone up.
Looking at the United Nations Bulletin, one discovers that 18 nations out of 20 have either reduced their prices or kept them stable. One nation has increased its price index by one point, namely, the United States. Great Britain has increased her prices by seven points over that period of falling wholesale prices.
We have been told that this is to save the country from bankruptcy. Who is to save the country from bankruptcy? The women and children. They have to do without proteins to save the country from bankruptcy. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) said that prices will never go down until they have first gone up. That is a warning to the women of Edinburgh to avoid certain sales that will take place in Princes Street in January. We can now decide whether those are real sale bargains or whether it is a case of prices coming down because they have first been put up.
The argument of hon. Gentlemen opposite is that they have now restored stability, that they have brought the country out of bankruptcy and, for the first time, the balance of payments is in our favour. That is not so. The Labour Government inherited a bankrupt estate—£870 million deficit on the balance of payments, with 9 million men and women who had to be put to work because they were either overseas in the Forces, in the Forces in this country, in Civil Defence or in war industry. They had to be rehabilitated. But in spite of all that, the Labour Government balanced their accounts. In the first three quarters of 1950, just before Korea, we had balanced our accounts and extended our social services.
In conclusion, the Orders against which we are praying indicate that the Government have broken all their Election pledges. All their talk of sympathy for the housewife was sheer hyocrisy. They have placed more burdens on the housewife than any Government, for there are 95 items which have been increased in price in addition to those in the Orders; 527 and I think that indicates that the Government are completely bankrupt and ought to resign.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)
I should like, first to pick up some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), because his speech indicated quite clearly what is the general attitude of members of the Tory Party to these problems. He went as far as to say that these Orders were bringing a sense of realism into the lives of the people of this country and that the rising prices of food with which these Orders are concerned were introducing a realism which people ought to face. If the hon. Member came to a meeting of women in my constituency, and made those remarks, he would have a very rough time; and he would have a very rough time not so much in the poorest quarters but in those quarters of the Clapham constituency which are better off.
What does the hon. Gentleman mean? Does he, and do other hon. Members opposite, think that the working women of England have no sense of realism? Every time they go to the shops they must adopt a very realistic approach to their buying of goods, and it is a fact, much as it may be denied by some hon. Members, that today not all rations are taken up. I myself know of families who take all their rations but then sell them to other families where the income is a little higher. They go without butter and bacon and, in some cases, margarine.
According to the Ministry's figures, in those case the ration has been taken up, but the fact is that those families who are too poor to buy the rations for their own use have had to pass them on to another family. That is happening in a large number of cases in London, where wage rates, on the whole, apart from the mines, are on a higher level than that in other parts of the country. It is a delusion for Conservatives to imagine that all the rations of essential food are being taken up. The truth is that because of the prices which now have to be paid, an increasing amount of essential rations is not being taken up or, if the rations are purchased, they are being passed on to people who are fortunate to be a little better off.
528 I want to take this question of realism a little further. I have seen this rise and fall of prices on more than one occasion, as have most hon. Members who have followed economic affairs in this country since 1900; and for 35 years I spent all my time, as a trade union official, trying to prevent wages from dropping faster than prices were dropping or trying to increase wages as fast as prices were rising. This may be some reflection on my negotiating ability, but it is a fact that, not only in my case, but in the case of all sections of the trade union movement we were never once able to raise wages as fast or as high as the cost of living rose. That is happening now. Prices are rising but wages are not rising as quickly. It is not sufficient for hon. Members to say, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South said, that they do not mind food prices rising because wages will follow them. They do, but they follow them a very long way behind and they never catch up.
As the Government develop their idea of a free market more and more, wages will lag further and further behind prices and, whether we like it or not, and much as some people may try to discourage it, we shall have industrial troubles all over the country, because people will not tolerate this state of affairs. I warn the Government that if they continue this policy, as apparently they will, judging from the announcement about eggs which was made today, they will find themselves faced with a very heavy bundle of industrial trouble all over the country.
There have been suggestions that these rises in prices create hardships for old age pensioners and people on sick benefits, but these are not the only people affected. All the millions of people now under-employed are affected. The House knows that the official figures reveal a great increase in the number of people working part-time and short-time. All of them are very seriously affected by any rise in food prices, and it is not sufficient to tell them that the cost-of-living index has risen only one or two points. The things which they need to buy every day in the week, and which they cannot avoid buying, have risen much more than that in price and show no sign of going down at all.
It is all very well to say that carpets, furniture and perhaps radiograms—
§ Mr. Gibson
Well, the average labourer does not use motor cars. I was trying to keep to the articles which are taken into account in building up the retail prices index.
It is no use saying that these articles are dropping in price or that the average increase in the cost-of-living index is only one or two points. The price of essential foods, all of which are affected by these Orders, has gone up very much more, and there is no sign that it will go down during the next few months. Indeed, the signs incline to point the other way.
There is another section of people on low wage rates. Perhaps I may give the House just one example. Only this morning I received a letter from a woman who wrote to tell me that her husband has recently died, that she has one son—a conscript soldier out in the Far East—and that she cannot live on her total income of £5 10s. a week. She gave me details of how that income was made up—partly by the allowances she receives through the Army from her son, a little from one of the daughters who is working and a little which she earns herself. She pays rent which for a London flat is on the low side. It is only 19s. 9d. a week and when she has met other payments she has not enough money to buy all the rations for herself and two daughters. My correspondent was complaining very bitterly and I am asking the War Office to see what they can do to supplement her pension.
There are many thousands of families of that kind in London, with an income below £6 a week. In fact, the average wage in London is not much more than that. Hundreds of thousands of families are hardly hit by the rises in food prices and we would not be doing our duty if we did not strongly oppose every time the Government brings in an Order which has the result of increasing prices.
Not only are we entitled to pray against these Orders but to point the moral that, just as this Government go on reducing food subsidies—if their Press is any indication we are threatened with further cuts in the next Budget—and just as they go on making the market easy for the profiteers, so prices will rise higher and higher and the difficulties of ordinary 530 working men and women, as well as old-age pensioners and others, will be made greater. The last state of the country will be worse than it is at the moment.
What the Government ought to do is to take these Orders back and think again. They should seriously consider whether the policy of the Labour Government, of holding food prices, ought not to be adopted, so that at least we can make sure that people are able to buy the elementary necessities of life.
If that means another £150 million on the food subsidies it will be worth it, because the country would probably be saved that amount in wage increases which otherwise would be demanded. From the point of view of the economy of the country as a whole this Government, who could not hold a quorum last night in order to put through one of its first-class Bills, should realise that this policy will result in economic distress all over the country. What is worse, it will result in the breakdown of the sense of trust and belief which was built up under the Labour Government and expressed itself in the steadily increasing total production.
That has now gone very largely because many workers do not trust the Government which is now ruling us. The best thing the Government could do would be to withdraw these Orders. That would strike the imagination of millions of people whose labour, in spite of what the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) said, produces all the wealth we enjoy. That wealth is not produced by people making profits out of the increase in the Bank rate but, as hon. Members know in their hearts, it is produced by the labour of men and women in this country.
If the Government want to retain their confidence they will do things which will help to retain it. One of the first of those things is to take active steps to reinstate the policy of the Labour Government of holding food prices so that men and women can get sufficient to live on at reasonable prices.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Charles Hill)
Since the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) opened the debate on the relatively narrow point of the £33 million of increased food costs involved in the Orders which are the subject of 531 the debate, the debate has wandered somewhat wide and even outside the general field of subsidies. I agree with him that, considering as we are today the last stage in this Budget policy, it is appropriate that we should look now, for the first time, at the policy as a whole.
Some hon. Members have criticised the policy of the Government with such intensity—the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) added intensity to her usual vigour and charm in addressing the House—as to suggest that the principle of reducing the level of subsidy with resultant increase in food prices was wrong. But this is not the first time that there have been substantial increases of price as a result of a lowered level of subsidy.
In the Budget of 1949 the then Chancellor made clear that prospective subsidies on his estimate were then running at £568 million a year and that in that Budget he proposed to reduce the level by £103 million, to £465 million. The following year the level became £410 million. In a period of two and a half years, under the last Administration, the cost of food as a result of subsidy changes was increased by £250 million a year. And that figure ignores the £20 million at which subsidy expenditure was running over the advertised ceiling at the time the new Government took office.
But, the significant thing I want to bring to the notice of the House is that over those two and half years, while food prices went up by £250 million, compensation in the form—
§ Mr. Keenan rose—
§ Dr. Hill
I have sat patiently throughout the debate and I want to be allowed to develop my argument.
The figure of £250 million represents the addition to food prices as a result of those changes in the subsidy ceiling. During that two and a half years of increased retail prices, compensation in the form of increased social benefits amounted to £61 million. There was £250 million added to food prices as a deliberate act of Government policy and but £61 million put on the other side of the account. I am not surprised, therefore, that some hon. Members opposite have today been seeking to discount the 532 compensations which flowed from the Chancellor's Budget Speech, compensations in the form of Income Tax concessions, social security, family allowances and the like.
I want to concentrate on what I believe to be the serious and sinister suggestion which has been made by many hon. Members that this increased level of prices means that some people are unable to obtain the essential foods covered by these Orders. I want to face it quite frankly.
The hon. Lady the Member for Coat-bridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) put it on a broad basis. She said, if I have her words aright, that these essential foods are less available to the majority of the people of this country. Other hon. Members narrowed the field and referred to old age pensioners. Some, like the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), called attention to the position of lower-paid workers as well as old age pensioners. I want to put to the House what information there is on this topic, but not because I suggest that that information will necessarily provide the complete answer.
I say straight away that these figures of uptake which have been the subject of Question and answer in the past year are, as the hon. Member for West Ham. North (Mr. Lewis) knows, figures of uptake by the retailers from the wholesalers. Let it be at once agreed that that does not necessarily reflect the position as it really is—the uptake by the purchaser from the shop. [Interruption.] Perhaps I could be spared interjections by those who have not even troubled to sit through the debate. May we look, then, at what the information is? There is some Government information in the National Food Survey, brought into operation in the days of the Coalition Government, continued and used by the previous Minister of Food and still in use today.
I wish to bring to the notice of the House what that information is, with the qualifications which must be attached to it. The first qualification is that the figures relate to the months of July and August this year. That period does not include the £33 million which is the subject of today's debate. But the hon. Member for Sunderland, North contended that this £33 million was being 533 added to a heavy burden of previous additions. Subject to that, what does the Survey reveal on take-up?
The statistical method is investigation of purchases actually made. I will not weary the House with the statistical detail, which is subject to all the advantages and disadvantages of that kind of method. The community is divided into four classes—social classes, they are called for this purpose. The main criterion by which they are classified is the one of what the head of the household earns, regardless of what other earnings are there. There are four social classes—A, B, C and D. The A group consists of those households whose head earns over £13 a week; the B group those whose head earns £8 to £13 a week, the C group those from £4 10s. to £8 a week and the D group those under £4 10s. a week.
I wish to tell the House what these figures reveal, and secondly, to state what I believe to be the limitations of these figures. In the case of sugar the uptake is 100 per cent. over the whole field. In the case of bacon the uptake for all households over this period as a whole—July and August—was 96 per cent.—that is, the uptake by the consumer from the shop. In group A which is—I do not wish to use unfortunate terms like highest or lowest—the one in which the head of the household receives the largest income, the take-up is 92 per cent. It is the smallest take-up of all.
§ Dr. Hill
I am, as I said, coming to the disadvantages of this method. Ninety-two is the percentage for bacon for class A. In class B the percentage is 96, in class C, 96, and in class D there is a full take-up. In the case of old-age pensioners, the take-up is 94 per cent. In short, the smallest take-up is in the highest income group and the biggest take-up is in the lowest income group. What does that mean? I do not wish the House to misunderstand me. I am not asserting that it means that the people in the lowest income group have plenty of money. It means that they find bacon one of the most useful of foods, being suitable for so many meals of the day.
§ Dr. Hill
May I finish with these figures? Wherever one looks in this scale of statistics, one finds that the uptake is not one that reflects income; there are many other influences of many kinds. The important point which I wish to bring before the House, having in mind what one hon. Member said about the danger to the physique of this country, and the assertion by the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) that the danger had materialised since 15th October, is that the take-up figures for all households are in the region of 100 per cent.
In the case of bacon, although the figure fell soon after 5th October—the time when boiled ham was introduced—to below 90 per cent., it is now back at the level of 94 per cent. for the first four weeks following the increase of prices. I do not want anyone to think I am suggesting that that is the answer to the argument. What I am saying is that the facts of the case show that the uptake, as estimated by a method for which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford, Central (Mr. Webb) is as responsible as anyone, is approximately 100 per cent. even when measured for the individual customer in the shop.
Let us recognise the limitations of that argument. These foods are essential. It would still be possible for the uptake of them to be high and at the same time for persons not to be obtaining sufficient food. I admit that, but do not let us continue with this argument that the uptake is so low—somebody said that only half the ration books were being used. Let us get away from that bogus kind of argument and get down to the realities of the position.
§ Dr. Hill
I shall in due course try to deal faithfully with the points raised.
There is one other general consideration which has important limitations but which at the same time is not irrelevant. My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) raised the point about expenditure in other directions—alcohol, tobacco and the like. He was subsequently accused, quite wrongly, of having suggested that old age pensioners spent their modest substance in that way. He 535 was referring to the overall figures. The overall figures as expressed in millions do not mean so much as the proportion of income which people are spending under these various headings today as compared with before the war.
On looking at this calculation, based on the Monthly Digest of Statistics, I find that the percentage of money expended on food in 1938 was a tiny fraction less than 30 per cent. The percentage spent in the third quarter of this year was a fraction more than 32 per cent. The change was from just less than 30 to just more than 32. Looking at other percentages, we find that expenditure on alcohol has risen. If I may give the calculation in terms of alcohol as a whole and not as broken up in the statistics into "beer" and "other," 10.4 per cent. of income was spent on alcohol and tobacco before the war and 15.6 of income is spent on them today.
I am making no comment at this stage. I am drawing attention to the figures. Some percentages have decreased. For instance, 11 per cent. of income was spent on rent and rates before the war; that has decreased to 7.3 per cent. Taking for the moment the overall picture and leaving for a moment the groups to which reference has been made, a country which can increase its expenditure on alcohol and tobacco, whatever we may think of them, by 5 per cent. since pre-war cannot as a whole raise its hands in horror if the percentage spent on food has risen by 2 per cent. in an approach to the economic price of food.
§ Dr. Hill
I now turn to the particular groups. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North referred to a speedy increase in the cost of living. The hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie has, by a series of questions and observations, been seeking to examine the cost of living problem on the basis of the increases which have taken place in itemised foods.
There are some thousands of foods that make up the national diet, and the hon. Lady knows perfectly well that the only sensible way of assessing the cost of living is to take into account, not only 536 the percentage increase in a particular food, but the amount of that food normally consumed. Those two items are brought into account in the budgetary examination related to the cost of living index.
It would be a pity if we began to assault figures which are non-party, the official figures for the cost of living, merely because we thought they were inconvenient for our purpose. Hon. Members opposite have been referring to the Conservative posters on this subject. Let me say that in my constituency the hoardings were dominated by posters seeking to pose the rhetorical question, "Whose finger is on the trigger?" That was the broad issue which hon. Members opposite sought to put across at the Election. But if we ask ourselves what has happened to the cost of living figures, we find, first of all, that from January to October of this year the increase was 4 per cent. and from January to October of last year it was 10 per cent., and we begin to see some progress towards a reduction.
But let me take the complete figures. As a separate part of the cost of living calculation, the increase in the food figures for last year—I know they are uncomfortable figures for right hon. and hon. Members opposite, but let them listen—was approximately 13 per cent. and the increase this year, despite the deliberate addition by the subsidy policy of £101 million to the cost of food figures, is not 13 per cent., but 8 per cent.
§ Dr. Hill
The question of world prices was raised by the hon. Lady. If we were paying economic prices for our food in this country, of course they would change with the changing level of world prices but one of the troubles is, and has been, that we are insulated from the movement of world prices by this artificial structure.
I pass now to a very serious point put by hon. Members opposite, who suggested that the levels of nutrition were in danger. What are the facts? Let us separate the emotion which surrounds the topic from the actual facts. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North quoted Lord Boyd-Orr as president of the Central Council for Health Education. I happen to be the vice-president and a former chairman of that body, and so I am acquainted with it. What is more, 537 despite all the boisterous exchanges which are the political currency of this House, I am sincerely interested in the maintenance of proper nutritional standards in this country, and I have looked into this question of where lies the greatest danger.
It may hurt the feelings of some, but the greatest danger for the last few years, and it still exists in a measure today, has not been in the field of the old age pensioner, but in the field of the large family. That is the situation. I am well aware, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made the quotation he did, that to be satisfied by a scientific minimum is not necessarily to be nutritionally delighted or digestively well. In the case of old age pensioners, in so far as this objective investigation has been undertaken as part of the National Food Survey, which is outside politics, their position is sufficient. I hope that the hon. Lady will not misunderstand me. I am not saying it is a delightful position. I am talking in the limited field of scientific necessity, and no more. The danger, in so far as it is a danger, lies with the large family, as has always been the case, and it will no doubt remain with us.
I am not going into the level of Unemployment Insurance or National Assistance standards, for that would be outside the scope of this debate. But in so far as there has been this year an increase in the average cost of rationed food at a level of slightly less than 1s. 6d. per ration book, these figures must be viewed side by side with the increased benefits which have gone precisely to those groups which have been the subject of representations here today. [An HON. MEMBER: "You should be among them."] I am not going to compete with hon. Members in the poverty of one's upbringing, but I should not be very far behind them in such a competition. It is not for hon. Members opposite to pretend that they are the providential depository of all the humanitarian feelings. That is utter nonsense.
The benefits which have found their way to the needy few have been the expression of a sound policy of allowing the people themselves to spend their money in their own way; and to make certain, not that everybody consumes all the food that he or she needs—for there is no way of securing that—but that no 538 one is prevented by lack of money from obtaining the food which, on grounds of strength, they need. It would be wicked—[HON. MEMBERS: "What are the facts?"] I have recited the facts, and if hon. Gentlemen had been present throughout the debate they would have heard a few more.
I have recited the facts upon which I base the statement that there is no evidence of people not being able to take up their rations. There is no evidence of any decline in nutritional standards. There is evidence of a determined desire on the part of Her Majesty's Opposition to focus their attention on increased food prices; to deny the existence, or minimise the effect, of the compensation involved, and above all, to seek on this and every other occasion to deny their own responsibility for the trouble in which this country was found to be a year ago.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Webb (Bradford, Central)
I hope I shall not be misunderstood by hon. Members on either side of the House if I express the personal view that it is a good thing that we have spent today not debating iron and steel, but the very important subject of food prices. After all, as I think hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree, we cannot get iron and steel without food. The people who make the iron and steel are themselves the people who want more food than anybody else in order to be able to produce it. One of the great, practical problems before any Government of this country is how we can manage to feed our people adequately so that they can do their job and help to pay our way and enable us to keep our books balanced.
I suggest that each of these Orders against which we are praying is an imposition on the least protected members of the community. That is why we are praying against them. Each of these Orders—we are discussing six at the moment—is a definite, open breach of the pledges on which the Government secured their present tenuous hold on power in this House. Had I fought the Election on the implied and explicit pledges made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite I should have been ashamed to have put my name to any one of these Orders.
539 But it is not surprising that they have done so. These Orders are a revelation of the real outlook of the party opposite. They are an expression of their theory. Their theory is a very simple one, and these Orders make it clear. They say, "Let the purse determine the price." The phrase has been used during this debate, and it has been used frequently outside the House by spokesmen of the party opposite, that it is time that we let prices resume their natural level. What does that phrase mean? How would it be applied?
Are the party opposite prepared to take this doctrine and, for example, let the price of produce to farmers assume its natural level? Are they prepared to take away any kind of subvention at all that has been used in the modern world to maintain our economy? If they are really in earnest about this, if they think that a free market is the thing that works, all right; that is logical and clear, let us accept it. But that means going back on all their friends and all the people who returned them to power in this House.
At this moment we are facing everywhere in our modern economy subventions and subsidies of all kinds. There is hardly a single element in our economic life where the question of subsidy is not an important factor in the determination of costs, of wages and prices and of the general organisation of our industry. Therefore, it is humbug and nonsense to come here and say, "We want prices to return to their natural level." Anybody in his senses knows that if that were to be allowed to happen without any safeguards at all the whole of our economy would fall into utter ruin within a space of a few months.
What are we to do? I believe that subsidies are an essential element in any kind of modern economic organisation, not only because of their immediate advantages to the people affected by them, whether they be farmers, old-age pensioners, workers or producers of any kind. I believe that in any community where there is bound to be a large degree of State intervention subsidies are an essential economic shock absorber. They are an indispensable element in any form of planning, whether it be a limited or a large amount of planning.
540 They enable the Chancellor of the day, whatever his politics, to insulate this island against all sorts of hazards and risks that arise in the outside world from factors which cannot be foreseen. I should want to maintain subsidies of some sort, on the most appropriate level for that purpose, as a shock absorber in our society to enable us to avoid those pressures which force up prices and lead to demands for wage increases, and so on. That is the policy that we tried to carry out, but this Government have gone back on that policy. They have decided to proceed with the demolition of our conception of organising our economic life in that way.
I wonder if they realise the grave consequences which might arise. The trouble is to detect what is the Government's claim. I am as anxious as the Parliamentary Secretary to arrive at the truth about this matter. The issues are so desperately serious that none of us can afford to be under any illusion. We really must arrive at the truth. I am in the dilemma that I cannot understand what is the Government's claim about their underlying economic policy.
Judging from the speeches which we have heard during this debate, and from speeches made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and many others, two claims are being made. Those claims conflict. The first claim is that this Government have stopped what is called the rake's progress under Labour; that they have stepped in and prevented the waste of our resources; that they have done their utmost to save us from bankruptcy and the precipice—the Gadarene swine and all that kind of language was used—by deliberately cutting down consumption, deliberately, by certain conscious acts, reducing the amount of consumption that went on in this country. That is one claim.
At the same time, they make the claim, which we have heard again today, that everybody is better off, that nobody at all has suffered from these cuts in consumption. These two claims do not make sense. One of them is right. Both cannot be right. Either they have cut consumption and somebody has suffered or they have not cut consumption and nobody has suffered. The Government cannot continue to argue on both 541 premises as they have done in this debate.
I tried to probe behind this mystery of propaganda to arrive at the truth. The truth, on whatever facts are available to those of us who care to examine them, is that many people are worse off and that, in fact, the first premise of the Government is correct. They have deliberately cut down consumption. They have, by deliberate action, stopped certain people from enjoying certain goods and services; but the people who have been denied those goods and services are the least protected and the most helpless people in the community.
That is our case against the Government. I do not want to follow the Parliamentary Secretary in his dazzling array of figures. I should like him to come to Bradford and tell the same story to the housewives there.
§ Mr. Webb
Good. I hope we shall meet. I shall take the hon. Gentleman to some households where I hope that he will repeat some of the remarks that he has made tonight. I know what, in blunt Yorkshire, they will say to him about those figures.
The plain truth is that the average family of anything from three to four, earning up to £700 or £800 a year, is worse off now, in some cases much more worse off, than anybody anticipated. It must be so if the Government's claim to have cut consumption and to have stopped the rake's progress is substantiated.
§ Mr. Webb
I follow the point, but I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that the flow or take-up of rationed goods does, in fact, give a fairly clear reflection of the general flow of goods and services throughout our economy. Therefore, I see no point in that.
What we have to face is the fact that there has been a very big cut in consumption. Buying has ceased in very many 542 quarters. I have had complaints from grocers, butchers and other people. The butchers were never on my side at all until I moved from that side of the House to this, and now they are writing me letters pleading for me to do my utmost to get back to the place I left.
What is the cause of that? They are complaining that they are now losing the trade which they had in the old days when we were in office. The point is that these cuts which have taken place and these restrictions which have been imposed have had their effect in the homes of those who have most need, in the homes of those who would require more of our protection in order to do more of the work that is needed in order that we should pay our way. That is our major complaint.
Now I come to some of the speeches which have been made on this issue. I think the most engaging speech we have had today was that from the hon. Baronet the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), who gave us—[An HON. MEMBER: "He is not an hon. Baronet."] I am sorry; it appears I am a prophet, merely anticipating events. I do not want to engage in a discussion with the hon. Gentleman about dripping. He gave us a graphic account of the value of dripping, with which I agree, but he did announce a most extraordinary doctrine.
I hope I have his words correctly, as I took them down at the time. The hon. Gentleman said "Prices will never come down until they go up." What does that mean? How much, and how long? When do they come down? To what point will they come down? Who organises the coming down? Who carries the burden while they are going up? Having left us that proposition, surely the hon. Gentleman must indicate how far he proposes the country should be taken on that particular doctrine.
§ Sir W. Darling
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I put forward the proposition that, if prices rose very sharply, the number of producers who would be attracted to the market would also rise, and that the more producers there are who go into the market, the more will prices, therefore, fall. If the right hon. Gentleman has no experience of the higgling of the market, I can tell him that I have and that most of us on this side have.
§ Mr. Webb
We all have a great affection for the hon. Gentleman, but, really, he does belong to a bygone age. After all this talk about the higgling of the market and all the rest, would he expect me to believe that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer believes in that doctrine, and that he is prepared to throw open all the resources of this country to the higgling of the market? Is that the Conservative Party doctrine? We must know where they are, but the hon. Gentleman must not expect us to take that kind of idea seriously.
May I now come to the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), who is a most extraordinary man? The hon. Gentleman says a number of things that are really very foolish, but, on the question of food, I am bound to say that he has spoken with much more sense than most people on his side of the House. At least, he has recognised, and I give him credit for recognising, the basic problem—the fundamental shortage of food in the world. The hon. Gentleman has taken great trouble to explain to his constituents, and to the country as a whole, how difficult it will be for this country to earn its living, in terms of food, because of the growing demands on food.
We on this side of the House appreciate what he has done in that direction, but I really cannot understand, if he takes that point of view and believes it, as I am sure he does, the kind of argument which he has put up in this debate today. If he takes that point of view, he should be on this side of the House, voting with us against these Orders, because, given this fundamental shortage, given this dilemma that he knows about, surely it is the duty of any responsible Government to make sure that there are fair shares and these Orders do, in fact, destroy the mechanism which we created for fair shares.
§ Mr. Osborne
I have always said, and I say tonight, that it is the duty of any Government to see that the least fortunate are properly looked after, and I think that has been agreed on both sides of the House, and that the social conscience of the nation has moved to that point. I agree with him on that.
On the second point, because there is a world shortage, because the world population is growing, because we are finding it difficult to get as great a share 544 of this smaller amount which is available in world markets, we have, therefore, to say to our people all the time that the problem of food will be the greatest problem facing us, no matter who governs us. We shall never get the people to realise the gravity of that problem and make the effort that is required while we cushion them too much. I say that, as realists, we should slowly relieve this protection and adopt a realistic policy on food prices.
§ Mr. Webb
I leave the hon. Gentleman to his own conscience to work all that out. Frankly, I do not follow him myself.
Now I come to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, who put the case for the Government. It is very difficult to know where to raise the essential points about his argument, because he was so very plausible about so many things, but the simple point that I would want to put to him is this.
Does he really believe that everything that he has stood for, in the way of an advanced, progressive nutritional policy, the adequate feeding of the people, the protection of the more helpless sections of the community, such as invalids and the children, and all that kind of thing, in which, I am sure, the hon. Gentleman sincerely believes, is really being advanced by such announcements as, for example, that about the de-rationing of eggs which took place today? Does he really believe that? If he does not, what is he doing in this Government?
I do not want to press the hon. Gentleman unduly, but these matters must make logic in the end. If he really does believe that that is the best way, given the limited circumstances and resources of this country, which he admits, because that is the situation, he really must agree that there ought to be some conscious direction of the way in which it should be done. He should be opposed to rationing by the purse and to depriving people of eggs because the price has gone up. He should be fighting that kind of thing, and, quite frankly, I do not understand where he is drifting. Or is he now taking a cynical view about it all, and has thrown in his hand and is hoping for the best? I do not know. For my part, I am not at all dismayed by the dazzling jugglery of figures which he presented to the House, because it does not convince anybody at all.
545 The fact is that very many millions of homes, by the deliberate act of the Government, are having less food today than they ought to have. That is the simple fact; and there is no escape from it. Whatever figures we produce—and we can go on arguing about it—that is the simple fact. I think that that is wrong, and these Orders are directed to secure that. Every step taken by the present Minister of Food has been a step calculated to dismantle the system of rationing and controls and fair shares in order to secure cuts in consumption by the power of the purse. That has happened over the last 12 months, and there is no escape from the simple logic of that argument.
The hon. Gentleman tried to make a great point about increases in prices. He did not tell the House he was talking about comparative increases in wholesale prices.
§ Mr. Webb
All right. I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, but the simple fact is that the prices he gave prove my point. When we were in office world prices for the buying of food advanced much more rapidly than they have done in the last 12 months; on the figures that he gave world prices of food, although they are still advancing—and they are bound to advance, because that is one of the inescapable facts of life—are not advancing at the same rate.
What he did not say was that, although we had to deal with a much heavier burden of prices of that sort, we were able to hold the price to the housewife much more successfully than has been the case with the present Government. In
§ fact, if the Minister had so willed, if he had been able to secure the co-operation of the Treasury, he might have reduced the price of food because he was able to buy food at lower prices than we were able to buy it at that time, and I see no logic, no sense, in the argument on the lines presented by the hon. Gentleman.
§ We could go on at great length discussing these matters. All I want to say, in conclusion, is that we on this side of the House do not believe in rations and controls for their own sake. We believe that in the modern world they are an indispensable element in any proper organisation of civilised society—certainly, for a country like our own, with such limited resources, having to bargain in a world where demand is constantly increasing, and supplies, if not decreasing, are not keeping pace with the increase in demand.
§ We believe that it is essential, if we are to maintain the stability of our economy, to retain those controls and those forms of rationing which ensure, broadly, fair shares for all our people. On that basis we stand, and it is because we believe that these Orders are a deliberate departure from that basis that we oppose them, and I would advise my hon. Friends to vote against these Orders.
§ We do not propose to go through the whole series. We have had a very general debate on six Orders, and we can take the first. But let that be, as I hope we shall regard it, an exhibition of our opposition—our intense and sincere opposition—to what we regard as a retrograde step by the Government.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 208; Noes, 234.549
|Division No. 19.]||AYES||[8.25 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Blyton, W. R.||Clunie, J.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Boardman, H.||Coldrick, W.|
|Anderson, Alexander (Motherwell)||Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Collick, P. H.|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Bowden, H. W.||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Bowles, F. G.||Crosland, C. A. R.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Daines, P.|
|Baird, J.||Brockway, A. F.||Gallon, Rt. Hon. H.|
|Balfour, A.||Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Davies, A. Edward (Stoke, N.)|
|Bence, C. R.||Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Davies, Harold (Leek)|
|Benn, Wedgwood||Brown, Thomas (Ince)||de Freitas, Geoffrey|
|Benson, G.||Burke, W. A.||Deer, G.|
|Beswick, F.||Burton, Miss F. E.||Delargy, H. J.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Callaghan, L. J.||Dodds, N. N.|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Champion, A. J.||Driberg, T. E. N.|
|Blackburn, F.||Chapman, W. D.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Chetwynd, G. R.||Edwards, John (Brighouse)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Kinley, J.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Ross, William|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Schofield, S. (Barnsley)|
|Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Ewart, R.||Lewis, Arthur||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Fernyhough, E.||Logan, D. G.||Short, E. W.|
|Field, W. J.||MacColl, J. E.||Shurmer, P. L. E.|
|Finch, H. J.||McGhee, H. G.||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)|
|Follick, M.||McInnes, J.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Foot, M. M.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||McLeavy, F.||Slater, J.|
|Gibson, C. W.||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)|
|Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Snow, J. W.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Wakefield)||Mainwaring, W. H.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Grey, C. F.||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Sparks, J. A.|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Manuel, A. C.||Steele, T.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Stross, Dr. Barnett|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Mellish, R. J.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Mitchison, G. R.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Hall, John (Gateshead, W.)||Moody, A. S.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Hannan, W.||Morley, R.||Thomas, David (Aberdare)|
|Hargreaves, A.||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Hayman, F. H.||Mort, D. L.||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Healey, Denis (Leeds, S. E.)||Moyle, A.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis)||Mulley, F. W.||Timmons, J.|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Murray, J. D.||Tomney, F.|
|Hobson, C. R.||Nally, W.||Viant, S. P.|
|Holman, P.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Wallace, H. W.|
|Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)||O'Brien, T.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Hubbard, T. F.||Oldfield, W. H.||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Oliver, G. H.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Orbach, M.||West, D. G.|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Oswald, T.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Padley, W. E.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearn Valley)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Wigg, George|
|Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Palmer, A. M. F.||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Pannell, Charles||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Parker, J.||Willey, F. T.|
|Jeger, George (Goole)||Pearson, A.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Jeger, Dr. Santo (St. Pancras, S.)||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)||Poole, C. C.||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Popplewell, E.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Porter, G.||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)|
|Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughten)||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Proctor, W. T.||Yates, V. F.|
|Keenan, W.||Reid, Thomas (Swindon)|
|Kenyon, C.||Rhodes, H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Richards, R.||Mr. Royle and Mr. James Johnson.|
|King, Dr. H. M.||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Aitken, W. T.||Boyle, Sir Edward||Cuthbert, W. N.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Braine, B. R.||Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Davidson, Viscountess|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N. W.)||Deedes, W. F.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Dodds-Parker, A. D.|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Bullard, D. G.||Donner, P. W.|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Doughty, C. J. A.|
|Baker, P. A. D.||Burden, F. F. A.||Douglas Hamilton, Lord Malcolm|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Butcher, H. W.||Drayson, G. B.|
|Banks, Col. C.||Campbell, Sir David||Drewe, G.|
|Barber, Anthony||Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir Thomas (Richmond)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Carson, Hon. E.||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.|
|Baxter, A. B.||Cary, Sir Robert||Duthie, W. S.|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||Channon, H.||Eccles, Rt. Hon. D. M.|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)||Fell, A.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. L.||Finlay, Graeme|
|Bennett, Sir Peter (Edgbaston)||Colegate, W. A.||Fisher, Nigel|
|Bennett, William (Woodside)||Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Cooper-Key, E. M.||Fletcher-Cooke, C.|
|Birch, Nigel||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lansdale)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Cranborne, Viscount||Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)|
|Black, C. W.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Godber, J. B.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Crouch, R. F.||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.|
|Gough, C. F. H.||McCallum, Major D.||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Gower, H. R.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Robson-Brown, W.|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Macdonald, Sir Peter (I. of Wight)||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Gridley, Sir Arnold||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Grimond, J.||McKibbin, A. J.||Russell, R. S.|
|Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.|
|Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Maclean, Fitzroy||Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. (Rochdale)|
|Harden, J. R. E.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Scott, R. Donald|
|Hare, Hon. J. H.||Macpherson, Maj. Niall (Dumfries)||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Shepherd, William|
|Harris, Reader (Heston)||Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E.||Smiles, Lt -Col. Sir Walter|
|Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Harpies, A. E.||Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)|
|Hay, John||Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Heath, Edward||Marshall, Sir Sidney (Sutton)||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Maude, Angus||Speir, R. M.|
|Higgs, J. M. C.||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)|
|Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||Medlicott, Brig. F.||Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)|
|Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Mellor, Sir John||Stanley, Capt Hon Richard|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||Molson, A. H. E.||Stevens, G. P.|
|Holland-Martin, C. J.||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Hollis, M. C.||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Holt, A. F.||Nicholls, Harmar||Storey, S.|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Horobin, I. M.||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)||Summers, G. S.|
|Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P.||Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Nugent, G. R. H.||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Oakshott, H. D.||Teeling, W.|
|Hudson, W. R. A (Hull, N.)||Odey, G. W.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Hulbert, Wing Cdr. N. J.||O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Thompson, Lt -Cdr. R. (Croydon, W)|
|Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.||Thornton-Kemsley, Col C. N.|
|Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Tilney, John|
|Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)||Orr-Ewing, Ian L. (Weston-super-Mare)||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.||Osborne, C.||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Partridge, E.||Turton, R. H.|
|Jennings, R.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Perkins, W. R. D.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Kaberry, D.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||Wade, D. W.|
|Lambert, Hon. G.||Peyton, J. W. W.||Ward, Hon George (Worcester)|
|Lambton, Viscount||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Powell, J. Enoch||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Langford-Holt, J. A.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.||White, Baker (Canterbury)|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E A. H.||Profumo, J. D.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
|Legh, P. R. (Petersfield)||Raikes, H. V.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Linstead, H. N.||Rayner, Brig. R.||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Redmayne, M.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Longden, Gilbert||Remnant, Hon. P.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Renton, D. L. M.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Robertson, Sir David||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Studholme and Mr. Wills.|
Question put, and agreed to.