HC Deb 18 February 1953 vol 511 cc1391-409

11.5 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Bacon (Rationing) (Amendment) Order, 1953 (S.I., 1953, No. 74), dated 19th January, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20th January, be annulled. I think it would meet the convenience of the House if we discussed all the Prayers together.

Mr. Speaker

If the House agrees, I think that would be a convenient course.

Mr. Willey

Although these Prayers relate to different foodstuffs, they have a common quality. In his New Year message to the members of the Department, the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Food said: Our job at the Ministry affects perhaps more directly and more intimately than that of any other Department the day to day welfare of everyone in this country. The common characteristic of these Orders is that they all mark stages in the dissoluton of that Ministry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is all very well hon. Members saying "Hear, hear," but, in short, the day to day welfare of everyone in the country, to quote the words of the official spokesman at the Ministry, is to be sacrificed to Tory prejudice and selfishness.

The first Order relates to bacon and the bacon ration. I do not wish to make any point at all about the reduction in the ration. The ration should be related to supplies, and it must be expected that the bacon ration must go up and down according to the available supplies. I agree that the amount of bacon consumed in 1952 was greater than in the preceding year, but that bacon was obtained under price incentives given by the Labour Government in the February Price Review and by contracts signed by the Labour Government. Bacon is a commodity which cannot be stored. This Government had no alternative but to provide a better bacon ration. But we should realise that, notwithstanding the improvement, the bacon imports remain at substantially less than pre-war. We have lost sources of supply.

The disturbing thing is what is happening now under the present Government. The present Government are engaged in deterring countries which export bacon to us from increasing production. The Dutch, for instance, are very worried about this. The Dutch Minister of Agriculture was unable to get an undertaking from our Ministry of Food that they would take all the bacon that the Dutch can produce.

It may well be, as I have said before, that this year, through the deliberate disincentive of the present Government, we shall enjoy rather less bacon than we did last year. But in any case, whilst we can take some satisfaction that the consumption of bacon has increased, it remains at about 90 per cent. of what it was pre-war. Therefore, we cannot be entirely satisfied. I should have thought that we must be disturbed if it be the fact that we cannot give any encouragement to the Dutch to produce all the bacon possible.

The other discouraging fact about bacon consumption is that, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) has repeatedly said, the uptake of bacon is substantially less than the ration entitlement. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will correct me if I am wrong, but as I gather from the information given to the House this afternoon, the present position is that 90 per cent. of the ration entitlement is being taken up by the wholesalers at the present, but of that 90 per cent. one quarter is being disposed of by the retailers off the ration because 1 oz. of the present 4 oz. ration in amount is being disposed of as off-the-ration gammon. This is really very startling. That means, apparently, that the legitimate on-the-ration purchases today amount only to about 70 per cent. or less of the ration entitlement, which is certainly very worrying.

What is the reason for this? The reason is as clear as can be, and it is related to this present Order. This is where this Order is particularly offensive. It carries a stage further the step taken in October. In October cooked gammon could be sold off the ration. By virtue of this Order, ration quality bacon uncooked can be sold off the ration. This cooked or uncooked gammon that is being sold off the ration is being sold at a price which is prohibitive to a large number of people.

When this present Government took office cooked and boneless gammon was price-controlled at 4s. 2d. per 1b. That is now selling at 8s. per 1b., and as for the uncooked and boneless gammon which now comes off the ration, when this Government took office that was being sold at 3s. and 3s. 1d. per lb. and it is now being sold at 5s. 8d. and 5s. 9d. per 1b.

The other thing which adds to the offensive character of the present Order is that this change was made at a time of a reduction in the ration. The Parliamentary Secretary has said in reply to a Question that I asked him some time ago that these changes have nothing to do with the reduction of the ration. Of course they have. They are in the same Order.

I particularly object to the timing of this Order. In effect, the Parliamentary Secretary was saying, "You are going to suffer a ration reduction, but if you belong to the higher income groups you need not suffer at all." This made some- thing essentially offensive more offensive. It is true that the Parliamentary Secresaid that this has been endured only for a month, but it was particularly offensive to say, "The people will think they are suffering a ration reduction, but of course if you have plenty of money you can buy plenty of bacon and it will only be the poorer people who will suffer."

The second Prayer deals with the meat products Order, and I concede at once that some of these products were selling at less than the maximum prices. To give an illustration, stewed steak I am told has been selling at 2s. 6d. whereas the controlled price was 3s. 11½d. I will argue from that point in a moment, meanwhile I am consistent in objecting to the Order being revoked, as it is largely by this Order, because there are still grounds for a proper system of price control. However, I have no brief whatever for that Order. I criticised it at the time, and what I said has been amply proved. I indicated that of course these meat products would not be sold at the prices then determined.

I agree too that in this case the trade were in some difficulty with the substandard meat products which they could not sell. It may surprise hon. Gentlemen opposite to know that, in spite of the shortage of meat products, the fact remains that the traders have been saying, quite rightly, that they could not sell some of them; that the time limit would pass and they would have them on their hands. In the debate in July, I said: The Government are tackling the problem by saying that the best thing to do in order to avoid any question of points rationing is to have a steep increase in price so that the reduced supply meets a reduced demand …I think that the control which is remaining is becoming a farcical control because it will not ensure fair and equitable distribution. While I would resist de-control of these foodstuffs, I would at the same time say that the present control cannot be a successful one."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th July, 1952; Vol. 503, c. 1672.] and that is what has happened. It is Government action which has depressed the purchasing power of the people generally in the country. That is why the sub-standard meat products have not been able to be sold by the shops. That is something the Government have caused by their deliberate action.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

On a point of order. I understand that the Order we are now debating has been wiped out by an Order made by the Minister on the 16th of this month. In those circumstances, can we continue a debate on an Order which is dead?

Mr. Speaker

I understand that the Order has not been laid.

Mr. Willey

I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary would have shown his usual courtesy in informing us if that had been the case.

The Government, by their deliberate action by the recent cuts reduced the supplies of meat products at present available in the country. They have created a situation in which they cannot talk about fair competition, because the circumstances of fair competition do not operate. As was repeatedly insisted upon by the National Government during the war, it is therefore the Government's responsibility to ensure fair and equitable distribution by price control.

Thirdly, we object because this is a stage in the dissolution of the Ministry and the previous Order was farcical because the Minister did not care very much about price control of meat products and was feeling that the sooner he was in process of abandoning price control the better. The other day the Parliamentary Secretary said that "we could not leap into de-control in the absence of sufficient supplies"; but that is what he is doing in this instance. The result is that, in these conditions of shortage, the housewife will be compelled to pay higher prices than she ought to be called upon to pay.

The third Order increases the price of rice by 2d. per 1b. The Parliamentary Secretary will say that this is due—we have previously prayed against a price increase in respect of rice—to the continued increase in the world price of rice. I concede that at once. The complaint I have is that this is not the sort of thing that the Parliamentary Secretary and his political friends said they would do during the last General Election. Rice is available and could be purchased far more cheaply; that would not be a proper thing to do, but it would be a Tory thing to do. The Parliamentary Secretary should explain for the benefit of his colleagues why he is behaving in this good Socialist fashion about the purchase of rice and why he is renouncing all that was said during the General Election about sending out businessmen to scour the world for supplies.

We were in office 6½ years, and we repeatedly faced a famine position in rice, but during that 6½ years we increased the price of rice by only 3d. Last year at one step the Parliamentary Secretary increased the price by 3d., and now he is increasing it by a further 2d. The House is surely entitled to an explanation from him.

Finally, there is the Order affecting the requirements in respect of softwood boxes. The Order will not create any more softwood boxes. It also frees bananas from price control. When the Minister began to interfere with the importation of bananas we knew what he was up to and that what he wanted to do was to de-control bananas and set them free.

Have we amicably settled this with Jamaica? It was clear that Jamaica was very hostile to this development and wanted the Ministry to stand by the previous long-term bulk purchase contracts. There has been some difficulty. I know it was hoped that Elders and Fyffes Ltd. and the Jamaican Banana Producers Association would come to an agreement running until 1964, and I hope that that has been done, for it provides the growers with some security. Nevertheless, it is an open secret that the Jamaicans were strongly opposed to the development. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can say that the Jamaicans are not too dissatisfied with the alternative provisions which have been made.

The Ministry of Food say, "We can de-control bananas because supplies have improved." That is their case. I want the Parliamentary Secretary to explain why there has been a 50 per cent. increase in price. If the supplies improved, why did the price go up by 50 per cent.? The average price increase since de-control has been 50 per cent. and bananas are selling at 1s. 6d. and more.

Sir H. Williams

One shilling and sixpence a banana?

Mr. Willey

No, Sir; per 1b.—I cannot explain everything to the hon. Member. The Ministry of Food are now presumably selling bananas on the free market as they are still the importer from the British West Indies. I should like to know what profit they are making, because they are now making a profit to offset the subsidies. What is the extent of that profit? It would provide some light on the profit other people are making—The result, as far as the housewife is concerned, is that she finds it more difficult to afford bananas and someone is making 50 per cent. more profit out of the business of selling bananas. It was to avoid that that bananas were price-controlled. I think we must all be disillusioned in the belief that the Ministry are any longer safeguarding the housewives of the country.

11.26 p.m.

Miss Elaine Burton (Coventry, South)

I beg to second the Motion.

I wish first to come to the question of bananas. I noticed the cheering on the benches opposite when there was a reference to setting the people free as far as bananas are concerned. I do not know whether Members opposite would rather have bananas freed at 1s. 6d. per 1b. or controlled at 1s. per 1b. If they would rather have them freed at 1s. 6d. per 1b., I am sure the housewife would be interested. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary will say that he has been more fortunate than I have been? I have not seen any bananas in the shops or on the barrows at less than 1s. 6d. since the price was de-controlled, except some on barrows, which were obviously bad, and they were selling at 1s. 3d.

I wonder if the hon. Gentleman could also tell me whether this is true. The other day I went into a small shop near where I live and asked for some bananas. I said that I did not want to pay 1s. 6d. and asked why they were that price. The shopkeeper said it was because the wholesalers had broken their agreement. Could the Parliamentary Secretary say something about the wholesalers and their agreement and tell us why bananas are selling at 1s. 6d. everywhere today?

It seems to us on this side of the House, and I think it is an obvious fact, that where things have been de-controlled the prices have gone up. We are forced to the inevitable conclusion that the party opposite are going to get more supplies into the shops simply because as many people as before are not able to buy them. If we go round the shops in London, and I think it is the same in other large cities, there is no shortage of food, but the question is whether people have money with which to buy it. Since bananas have been de-controlled I have seen on the barrows and in the shops everywhere far more bananas. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I should have thought hon. Members would have waited for it. I would ask whether there are a great many more bananas coming into the country or whether there are more on show because people cannot afford to buy them as they are too expensive.

I now wish to deal with something which we on this side of the House feel the Government are destroying, apparently with the approval and approbation of hon. Members behind them. That is the levelling up process in expenditure which took place under the Labour Government in the purchase of food. I should like to stress something which the Parliamentary Secretary knows well, and these are remarks in the report of the National Food Survey Committee for 1950, published in December, 1952. That report has some cogent remarks about rationed foods and expenditure. For example, we are told that in 1936–37, the average food expenditure in this country was 8s. 11½d. per person per week. In 1950, it was 14s. 6d.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Lady to go into a lot of details covering many years in discussing this Order?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I have been listening most carefully, and the hon. Lady is perfectly in order.

Miss Burton

I am sorry that the hon. Member opposite does not like these facts, but I am merely pointing out that this report discusses rationed foods and expenditure and, therefore, I assume the hon. Gentleman did not understand that I was in order because we are concerned at the moment with rationed foodstuffs. I was saying—and I am sorry to have to repeat it—that food expenditure in this country was 8s. 11½d. in 1936–37, and in 1950 was 14s. 6½d. That is per person, and I have no doubt that that expenditure included money spent on bananas. [Interruption.] If hon. Members opposite cannot understand what I am saying, they should try to keep quiet. [Interruption.] Obviously my argument must be a good one.

If there are no more interruptions, I should like to say that in these ranges of price the difference between the expenditure of the different income groups in 1936–37 was 10s. 10d. and in 1950 was 4s. 1d. There had been a considerable levelling up, and we on this side of the House believe that that levelling up is being damaged by the action which the Government has taken in the Order we are discussing tonight.

I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he realises that the report to which I have referred states that the levelling of expenditure was most marked in the rationed foods. Does he not agree that, in view of this Bacon Order, this levelling up of expenditure is certainly not going to continue? Does he not realise that there is going to be a very great difference of expenditure between those people able to afford expensive gammon at 5s. 8d. a 1b. and those who cannot afford it?

It was the Minister of Food who said last November that the bacon ration was doing very well at the moment, but then, in January last, he performed a marvellous feat. That was when he announced that the bacon ration would be cut, while at the same time saying that off-ration gammon would be available. We on this side thought that to be a typical example of Tory policy. Hon. Members opposite apparently disagree, but we should like to know how that was made possible. I believe that since October, when bacon went up about 5d. a 1b., the general bacon ration has not been taken up; and obviously the Minister did not expect that the whole of even the reduced ration would be taken up; what was left could be sold at 5s. 8d. a 1b. off the ration.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) has referred to a Question which I asked this afternoon, when I inquired of the Minister of Food what stocks of gammon bacon per person, per week, he expected to be available for sale off the ration. The reply was "1 oz.", and when the Parliamentary Secretary comes to reply tonight perhaps he will say if that means that his Ministry expects that one-quarter of the gammon bacon in this country will be sold off the ration.

Mr. Joseph T. Price (Westhoughton)

On Monday of this week the Minister gave me a written reply in which he admitted that 18 per cent. of the total tonnage of bacon and ham available in the stocks in this country was now being sold off the ration. That has to be added to the 10 per cent. that has not been taken up, making a total of 28 per cent.

Miss Burton

I am thankful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will add that to the other figure when he comes to reply.

There is one other point which I wish to raise. It was only 10 days before Christmas that the Minister was hotly denying that bacon was too dear for some families. He also said that it was not too dear for old age pensioners. When he was challenged on that he said he would accept the challenge. The Ministry have received a letter from the executive of the old age pensioners' organisation explaining that old age pensioners are not able to take up their rations. I understand that a reply has now been sent to that letter. I gather that the original letter was mislaid for about eight weeks, and I am glad it has turned up. I hope the House will be informed of the answer.

Finally, I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary has seen the leader in "The Times" headed "Liberating the Sausage." [Interruption.] I will shortly liberate the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) and then he can go home. It would not be fair to let the House imagine that I think "The Times" leader was against the liberation of the sausage, which comes under this Order that we are discussing tonight. I should like to make one point on it. I wonder if the Parliamentary Secretary noticed that, in speaking of the contents of the sausage, the leader said: …at any rate for a fortunate few, those with full purses and good digestions… better sausages would be available again. I am not interested in the good digestions, but I am interested in the fact that "The Times" leader writer thinks that it is only those with full purses who will be able to take advantage of this sort of thing.

Therefore, in seconding this Motion I should like to stress that we on this side of the House, and the country, are quite convinced that there are more goods available in the shops because people with lower incomes cannot buy them, and we believe that it is the policy of the Government, backed up by the cheers of their back benchers, to continue that state of affairs.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

Is it not a fact that the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends started a policy of a cheap sausage for the masses based, not on the inclusion of meat, but the inclusion of milk powder, curds and whey?

Mr. Willey


Miss Burton

My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North says, "Rubbish," and I think we can leave it there.

11.39 p.m.

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

I am particularly glad that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) has thrown off his temporary infection and is back in good, if somewhat inaccurate, form tonight. I notice that, lest I should draw attention to the increased availability of bacon and similar products in 1952 over 1951, he made that point for me, and contented himself with a gloomy prophecy as to what the position would be in 1953.

Let me remind the hon. Member that from March, 1952, to January of this year we sustained a 5 oz. bacon ration—a considerable improvement on the year before, as he knows—and though I can give him no undertaking, we hope to sustain that ration for the bulk, if not for the whole, of this year.

The background to the bacon-gammon controversy needs to be explored, in view of the emphasis laid upon it by the hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion and the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) who seconded it. Let us look at the position in the last three months of 1952. There was a bacon ration of 5 ozs. The average consumption of cooked ham was 1.16 ozs. per head per week at 8s. per 1b. In the last quarter of 1951, there was a bacon ration—an average for the period—of 3? ozs., with a canned ham average distribution of.7 oz. at between 11s. and 12s. per lb. These are the people who are talking about rationing by the purse!

If the argument is raised—and I suspect that the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) will raise it again, and I do not begrudge his vigorous onslaughts on us, good-humoured as they are—that the take-up today is 90 per cent.—it happens to be rather higher, but let us take that figure and we add to that the availability of boiled gammon and ham at rather more than 1 oz., the position today is that there is an average consumption of 6 ozs. as compared with the 3⅓ ozs. of the year before, plus the.7 figure—a consumption of 4 ozs.

It was decided to make cooked ham off the ration available on 5th October last. For one thing, we wanted to reduce the unduly high price—which the party opposite suffered without complaint—of canned ham available in the shops. So it was decided to make cooked ham available off the ration at an unsubsidised price of 8s. per 1b. I appreciate the criticism made here. But it was necessary, at the same time, to have within the ration, as it then was, uncooked gammon at an unsubsidised price, for the obvious administrative reason that we could not, and our predecessors would not, permit some dishonest retailer to buy uncooked gammon at the subsidised price, and, if he so desired, cook it and sell it at the unsubsidised price. So it was necessary to raise the price of uncooked gammon within the ration.

But it soon became obvious, in the light of experience, that it was possible to enable the uncooked gammon to be sold off the ration and still, apart from the short changes of the kind indicated, to maintain the ration at 5 ozs., and that is what we did. If the other side complain that we reduced the ration from 5 to 4 ozs. in order to make available to the rich this uncooked gammon at 5s. 9d. per 1b., will the hon. Gentleman explain how he reconciles that with the fact that, from Sunday, we return to the 5 ozs. ration? The whole business is nonsense. He has been referring to the 1 oz. of gammon referred to in an answer that was given today, and he spoke as if that had been taken away from the ration of the poor and given to the rich. What nonsense. That includes the 1,500 tons odd of cooked ham which has been available weekly off the ration since 5th October last.

Mr. Willey

The hon. Gentleman spoke a short while ago of a 6 oz. ration. Is it not the fact that gammon came out of the ration, and that he is talking absolute nonsense because, with the ration as it is, that is the effective ration?

Dr. Hill

I am afraid I have not made myself clear to the hon. Member. If we take the position as it was for the last three months of last year, the ration was 5 ozs.

Mr. Willey

Not taken up.

Dr. Hill

Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to finish this argument. He can then raise again the matter of take-up. Over and above the 5 oz. ration there is available cooked and uncooked gammon to an amount of rather more than 1 oz. per head a week. The bacon position is much more satisfactory than it was under the previous administration. The ham position is much more satisfactory, and the ham is much cheaper.

Mr. Joseph T. Price (Westhoughton)

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, I would suggest that he has missed the point of the criticism we are making. Our criticism and indictment of the Government is that, due to the artificial inflation of prices arising from the Government's policy, old-age pensioners and the poorest sections of the community are not able to get a fair share.

Dr. Hill

I have had this point before. The National Food Survey figures are not available until some months after the event. They are available for the third quarter of last year, before the events I have described, which began on 5th October, took place. I can only give the figures of the previous quarter from the National Food Survey. It would immediately be said that they are irrelevant and they are not current figures. I have no doubt that if the figures suited hon. Members opposite they would become statistically virtuous: if they do not they will repudiate the very indices which they themselves invented and used.

With regard to meat products, the Order had a rather rough reception. The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) said about the Order, last time: How are we to expect ordinary traders, in small shops in the back streets, to understand a complicated Order of this nature? Imagine them wading through the Order…. The whole thing is ludicrous in the extreme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th April, 1952; Vol. 499, c. 1418.] The hon. Member for Sunderland, North said in. July last: While I would resist de-control of these foodstuffs, I would at the same time say that the present control cannot be a successful one."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th July, 1952; Vol. 503, c. 1672.] The hon. Member knows that it has not worked. He wants control for its own sake, and yet he wants to say that this Order is no use. He knows that the price of meat products generally has fallen substantially. I will not weary the House with figures. The hon. Member admitted the point. He said that people are not buying them now. He said, to quote his words: "The people cannot buy them. The Government have reduced the supplies of meat products." Nothing of the sort. The Government have increased the availability of manufacturing meat by rather more than 60 per cent. The exact figure for manufacturers for the week ended 7th February, 1953, is up 61 per cent. on the previous year's figure. Meat available to butchers is up 25 per cent. It has not occurred to the hon. Member that it is greater abundance of meat products which has led to this situation. Competition is doing the job, without the necessity of price control. There is a danger that control, if continued too long, may have an opposite effect and maintain prices too high rather than let competition do the work.

The hon. Member for Coventry, South referred to the sausage. I think that I should be out of order in pursuing that subject further. But it is not a bad thing to allow the tastes and desires of the people to determine the strength of the sausage and to get away from this ludicrous position of determining it by Order.

I can give a plain and simple answer on the question of the price of rice. We get all our rice from Burma at the moment and the price of rice from Burma went up by 22 per cent. As a result, the price of rice went up at the retail end by 15 per cent. The cost per citizen in this country will be 6d. a year. So this is an increase that has followed the simple and unalterable fact that the price we pay for the rice has increased by 22 per cent.

How did the issue of the release of bananas from control arise? I do not know that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North ought really to be allowed to stand up in this House and condemn us for removing price control from an article which he regards as nutritionally poor. Let the House listen to what the hon. Member said on 9th April, 1951, when his hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds), still at the game of bearding the Ministry of Food, asked his Socialist colleague, the Minister of Food, …if he is aware of the concern at the de-rationing of bananas; and what additional supplies have been received or expected to enable their de-rationing. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North replied: I am not aware of any widely expressed concern at the lifting of restrictions on the distribution of bananas. Bananas have no special nutritional value and plentiful supplies of many other fruits are now available. Gradually increasing quantities are being imported, but supplies may not always fully meet the demand."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April. 1951; Vol. 486, c. 648.]

Mr. Willey

In my argument tonight I have not employed anything at all about the nutritional value of bananas. I have said on occasion that their nutritional value is equal to that of potatoes. But it has nothing to do with this argument. I am complaining of the profiteering in the distribution of bananas which are poor in quality and in short supply.

Dr. Hill

If the hon. Member is going to say that it is wrong to remove a control because it may result in an increase in price, let me cast his mind back to what his party did in the middle of 1950. They de-controlled oranges, which doubled in price. That does not make it necessarily a wise thing to do. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] Thank you.

The Cameroons and Jamaica are the two main sources of supply. The Cameroons asked that the free market in bananas should be restored. They realised that that might mean a slight increase in price, but they thought it would speedily have the result of more bananas being visible for sale and, by a process of competition, of reaching a market price. Discussions began with Jamaica. Jamaica have agreed, and from 14th March the position will be that a free market will cover the whole field.

The hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South drew attention to some prices. I have been gazing at bananas lately. I have seen them at 1s. 6d., 1s. 3d., and 1s. 2d.; and I saw some at 1s., but I give her the point straight away, that at that price they looked like some pretty tired bananas. I have had some inquiries made as to what in fact are the prices charged at present. The investigation has covered 173 towns and 841 shops in one week, and a lesser number in subsequent weeks—

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

What about the barrows?

Dr. Hill

The investigation has covered all kinds of selling agencies, including barrows. These are the figures supplied by a Government Department, and the Opposition used them as well. How the Opposition dislike statistics when they are inconvenient! The weighted average price was 1s. 2d. From a wide investigation, although the margin of costs varied considerably and, of course, the quality of the bananas also varied considerably.

Miss Burton

Would the hon. Gentleman tell the House where one can buy bananas at 1s. 2d.? Is he prepared, tomorrow, to come on a tour of the shops and barrows in London and see if he can find bananas at that price, because wherever I have seen them they have been 1s. 6d.

Dr. Hill

I do not maintain that I have been to all 173 towns and all 841 shops in order to calculate the statistics on this basis. If determined to prove their case, hon. Members can search for the most expensive or have their attention drawn by instinct to the most expensive, and possibly they will find high prices for this and every other commodity. If, on the other hand, they are engaged in a modest search for truth, and spread their inquiries throughout a sufficient sample, they will come to the conclusion that price is somewhat up, but not to the level suggested by the hon. Lady.

The question was asked by the hon. Gentleman as to whether we were making a profit on the bananas we are still importing. He will realise that we are still importing Jamaican bananas. For a short time we have been making a modest profit, but for a long time we made a considerable loss on Jamaican bananas, and all I can say, if it will reassure the hon. Gentleman in any way, is that From 14th March there will be neither profit nor loss, for Her Majesty's Government will no longer be in the banana business.

Bananas have returned to the shops and the operation of a market that expresses the contact between the producer and the consumer will in future determine the price of the commodity which the hon. Gentleman thinks so little of.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

Before the hon. Gentleman desists from his modest search for truth, will he permit me to ask him a question about ham going the same way as bananas? He was able to give us, in reply to the charges we were making that there had been a definite retreat from taking up rations in the shops, certain figures which, he said were the latest available. I think they were from the quarterly survey and related to the third quarter of last year. But in the modest search for truth, the Minister himself announced in the House this year that in the last quarter of last year, there were 2,270,000 bacon rations per week not taken up. The Minister is anxious about the modest search for truth. Comparing that with the previous year—again the figures are from his own Department—there were only 175,000 as compared with the 2,270,000.

Is it not, therefore, a valid point for us to make that much of this problem presented by the higher priced bacon and ham arises from the fact that owing to the general increase in prices, despite all that the Government promised at the Election, people are not able to take up the rations that ought to be theirs, and this has led to the situation with which we are dealing tonight?

Dr. Hill: If

I may briefly answer the hon. Member, assuming the accuracy of his figure of 2,270,000—I say "assuming," because that figure has been used in reference to four weeks, but let us assume that it relates to one week—that is one twenty-fifth of the population. That is a 4 per cent. failure of take-up of the bacon ration in a particular week. Of course, as the ration rises there are people who do not want the whole ration. There are some people who do not want the ration at any time.

Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)

What does the Parliamentary Secretary mean about the ration rising? In December it had not risen.

Dr. Hill

The hon. Member should look at the statistics before he intervenes. The bacon ration in December last was 5 oz.—very substantially more than the ration a year before.

Question put, and negatived.