HC Deb 01 July 1953 vol 517 cc530-49

10.15 p.m.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Canned Corned Meat (Prices) (No. 2) Order, 1953 (SX, 1953, No. 815), dated 14th May, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th May, be annulled. The Order to which I am objecting replaces another which has not operated for very long. It has a similar title. The first one became operative only as recently as March last. The present Order makes alterations in the terms of the earlier one in two important respects. The first is that it raises the maximum price of canned corned beef from 3s. to 4s. 1b., a considerable increase. Secondly, it specifies a schedule of the charges referring to tins of a smaller size instead of those of 6 1b., and so on, in weight in which corned beef was formerly packed. That has an important effect in the way the trade is distributing it.

The result is that the corned beef which was formerly extracted by butchers from 6 1b. tins and then carved and sold in butchers' shops is now to be packed in small luncheon size cartons and tins of as low a weight as three-quarters of a 1b. That appears to be part of the Ministry of Food plan of transferring from the butchers to the grocers a considerable part of this trade. It is in the grocers' shops that it is expected that the demand for most of the smaller size tins will be made.

The butchers, naturally, are up in arms about this proposal because, after all, the situation is not now different from what it was in 1940 when the arrangement was first made that they should have the canned corned meat trade in their hands. They received that undertaking then because of the great shortage of meat that then prevailed and corned beef was to be used to supplement the butchers' trade.

I now submit that the situation that prevailed in 1940, although it is not as bad as it was then, is still very serious in regard to meat shortage and I propose to give some facts from sources that hon. Gentlemen usually accept as reliable sources, namely, from the Press. I will first give the quotation from the "Financial Times," made as recently as 29th May. As much as 2,300,000 tons of meat a year is needed in Britain to get her back to the prewar consumption. This year she will fall short of that figure by 500,000 tons. A situation of that sort is not a good time for taking away what was admitted from the first to be a type of meat which enabled the butchers to meet their demands.

Not only the "Financial Times" took that view, but the "Daily Telegraph" said more recently, on 5th June this year: Meat supplies in 1953 are now estimated to be more than 1,850,000 tons. This compared with 1,783,000 in 1946. Hon. Members opposite will not claim that there has been a wildly extravagant increase in the consumption of meat from those days of a Labour Government in 1946 to the figure that I have just given.

That is about the extent of the way that the Lord Woolton promise of more red meat and more variety of food has been met. In fact, there is very little change in the situation, as indicated by the figures I have quoted from the "Daily Telegraph," which, after my comparison that 2,160,000 tons is a little less than was quoted by the "Financial Times," went on to say that 2,160,000 tons was the pre-war figure. I therefore say to the Minister of Food that on the general figures he had no justification for this large increase in the price of canned corned beef.

There is another reason why the Minister was in no way justified. We have today been listening to complaints, not merely from this side of the House, but to complaints almost as strident—indeed, more strident as far as the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) was concerned—from the benches opposite about the type of meat that is now available in the butchers' shops. We have heard about scrag ends and big deliveries of very large meat which, when cut up, confront the butcher with the problem of chunks of fat that he finds it extremely difficult to purvey to the average housewife in search of a reasonable cut.

The butcher has on his hands today a considerable amount of meat, especially pork, which the housewife does not want. She might have had it if a reasonable bacon policy had been pursued from the beginning, but the housewife has not had that advantage, so she is faced with this pork, which she does not want. The housewife, therefore, looks round to get her supplies made up with beef, but the beef is not in the shops in sufficient quantity, despite all that Lord Woolton promised. Indeed, the beef shortage is far more serious than the shortage of any other kind of meat. That being so, the same problem exists as in 1940, when the butchers were guaranteed this privilege of being able to sell tinned corned beef.

I will not say anything more on behalf of the butchers. Speaking as a Co-operator, we have both butchers' and grocers' departments, and what we lose on the swings we gain on the roundabouts. I agree, however, that behind the issue of the shortage of meat and the possibility of making up the shortages by corned beef, the social problem still exists.

Why, then, this large increase in price of 1s. per 1b. on the 3s. that was already charged? I suspect that it is actuated by the Minister's desire to safeguard the cuts of meat that are not now being sold in the butchers' shops, which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is responsible for supplying in the first case, and forcing purchasers, when they do not have money to spend on tinned corned beef, to buy the other cuts that they do not like because of their inferior quality. This is a guard to cover the Minister's mistakes of policy and it is built up at the expense of the housewife, who is already beginning to feel the pinch of the pressure in economic affairs and who finds it harder and harder to buy the meat that she needs for her family.

I will not weary the House with further quotations from the "Daily Telegraph." Still more recently than the quotations which I have read to the House, however, the "Daily Telegraph" has spoken about the fact that the butchers are not taking up the added ration that the Minister has prepared—and they are not taking it up because the price is getting too much for the people to afford. To take this very convenient form of meat which the butcher formerly supplied and to put the extra charge upon it is a thoroughly reprehensible policy. It is the more reprehensible because so many high-sounding promises were made on this question.

I do not think there is a more serious failure of the Government than their failure to live up to promises made on behalf of the party opposite by Lord Woolton and other leaders in such loud voices at the last Election. As we go on I believe that the people will become increasingly aware, even from newspapers which support the party opposite, of the obstacles put in their way by the actions of this Government.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I beg to second the Motion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Hudson) has mentioned the quality of meat and I am sure that the Minister—whose attendance at our late-night discussion we welcome—would at once agree that at the moment there is a considerable amount of exceptionally poor quality Australian mutton on the market because there is a correlation between wool prices and Australian mutton. It is a fact, which no one denies in the trade, that there is far too much ancient Australian mutton on the market and far too much fat pork.

We do not object therefore to corned meat being released. What we object to is the price at which it is released. The general background about corned beef is that this Government, as did the last Government, have deliberately restricted the import of canned corned meat to this country. This interference with free trade may disturb some hon. Members opposite, but it has been done quite deliberately in favour of carcase meat. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, last year, also restricted imports of meat products generally.

In spite of the general ban on canned corned meat it has been allowed to come into the country for obvious reasons—to build up strategic stocks. This is no secret. It is clear from the trade returns, but presumably those trade stocks have to be turned over. Again, it is obvious to anyone who looks at the returns that it is the policy of the present Government to turn over the stocks every two years. That is obvious from the fact that we had practically no canned corned meat released last year. We are now turning over strategic stocks.

The Minister has told us that he is releasing 11,000 tons. That is not a very large amount. Before the war we consumed, on an average, about 50,000 tons a year. It is not very large in comparison with the canned corned meat released by the previous Government; we released 17,000 tons to 20,000 tons. The Minister has released a comparatively small amount of canned corned meat, but without any restrictions upon the way in which it is to be disposed.

That seems to us quite wrong. This is not a free market; this is a controlled release of a very limited amount of stocks which are held in the national interest and the Minister, rather than taking the trouble to see that it is fairly distributed, says that he could not care less. He does not even confine it to the butchers but says that, generally, butchers and grocers can distribute it as they will and those who can get it will get it.

I think that the main reason he has taken this step is that he realises that price will determine who now buys this canned corned meat, which was bought in the national interest. Before the war it was selling at about 1s. a 1b. When we were in office, for six and a half years, the price went up by 8d. Under this Government, in less than two years, it has gone up by 1s. 8d.

I have two questions to ask. When the Minister came into office this canned corned meat was selling at 2s. 4d. a 1b. It is now selling at 4s. The £ is worth much less than it was in November, 1951. Who does he think can afford to buy it? The second question is this. He has explained that the price has gone up because he has taken the subsidy off. But how much did he pay for it? What about all his boasting about businessmen going out to buy meat, if he has paid so much more to buy canned corned meat?

First, this reveals a startling inefficiency and incompetence, and, secondly it reveals a wanton disregard for the housewife. She is entitled to say that these are national stocks, and if, to maintain those stocks in decent condition, they have to be turned over, she is entitled to say, "Let us have fair shares." The Minister has again paid no regard to these considerations, and I hope that we will vote against this Order tonight to show that this sort of "couldn't-care-less attitude" is quite intolerable in present circumstances.

10.32 p.m.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

As this debate is honoured by the presence of the Minister himself, I am sure that he would be disappointed if one who has to declare an interest in this matter did not put one or two points to him for consideration. I want briefly to ask him some questions.

First—and this point has already been made strongly by my hon. Friends—I want to refer to the very excessive price of 4s. a 1b. for corned beef. When all is said and done, this is the same stuff that we used to call bully beef. My recollection carries me back to 1917 at Ypres, when we made a pathway of cans of bully beef up to our hut because of the bad weather—and I do not mean bully beef cans, but cans of bully beef. When I think of that stuff now being retailed to the consumers at 4s. a 1b. I am completely appalled.

During the war, if my memory serves me right—and I am sure it does on this occasion—it was retailed on the ration at 1s. 8d. a 1b. During the lifetime of the Labour Government it increased by 8d. to 2s. 4d., but in less than 18 months this Government has managed to get the price of bully beef up to 4s. a 1b. I suggest that it is a completely ridiculous price to ask consumers to pay for this type of meat.

My next point is this. The margin to the wholesaler in the schedule to this Order of 2s. a tin of 6 1b. is excessive. I suggest that the wholesaler, in comparison with the retailer, is getting far too much out of the distributive service which he is giving. I should like to know how much the first-hand distributors pay the Ministry of Food for these kinds of corned beef. I should also like to know how much the Ministry pay for it from abroad, so that the people at the various stages—the first-hand distributor, then the wholesaler and then the retailer—shall get their profits.

My other criticism—and I think it is justified—concerns the method of distribution. There are far too many fingers in the distribution of this canned corn beef. The method chosen by the Minister increases the cost of distribution and provides rather more than adequate profits for very little service rendered. The method of distribution is failing to ensure equality of distribution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) referred to the fact that he was associated with the Co-operative movement, and that it did not matter whether the grocer's or the meat department sold this commodity. But it is a very important question. Had the Minister taken the step of issuing this canned corned beef through the meat trade channels, selling directly, as Minister of Food, to the retailers, he would have cut out various units of distribution, with their profits. Because he has failed to do that he is giving the meat to the consumers at a greatly enhanced price, and is giving only a quarter of a pound to each member of the population. He should have ensured that everybody had an opportunity of buying it—

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

And being able to afford it.

Mr. Royle

—and being able to afford it. If he had distributed it in the way I have suggested, on the registration basis, everyone would have had his fair share of what was available through that channel. As it is, many traders who were carrying the can during the war and serving this stuff on the ration—and who had no accounts with grocery wholesalers before the war—are now unable to obtain supplies. Only those traders who are in with the right people can get it. Had we handed it to the trade channels, on a registration basis, everybody would have had a fair share.

I suggest that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has made a tremendous mistake by choosing this method of distribu- tion, but the most important aspect of the matter is price. The interruption of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) is a reminder, if one is necessary. In our industrial areas—and we know Lancashire particularly well—housewives, particularly those with families, are certainly not able to afford to buy meat at this price. I think of the meat ration of 2s. 4d., and of a family consisting of a father and mother, with four children. Does anyone suggest that a lower-paid worker with such a family can afford to spend 14s. a week on meat? It is ridiculous.

The action taken by the Minister is making the position considerably worse. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), with others on this side of the House, will regard the matter so seriously that they will challenge the Minister to a Division on it.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. W. R. A. Hudson (Hull, North)

It is not often that I intervene in a debate on Prayers which are moved from time to time by hon. Members opposite, because I realise that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Food and the Parliamentary Secretary are well able to answer for themselves. I do so very briefly tonight, however, because I want to say a word or two in reply to some of the suggestions put to us by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson).

From time to time we notice that the movers of these Prayers speak from the theoretical and academic point of view, and not so much from the practical viewpoint. Last week, we had the hon. Member for Ealing, North, speaking of his connection with the Co-operative movement; and how practical is that connection I do not know. May I say that I have a practical connection with the business, and have no hesitation in declaring it.

I suppose that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) speaks from the practical point of view, because he had experience as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food in the last Government; but, so far as the hon. Gentleman is concerned, I think that on these occasions, he should know better. Speaking practically, I can say that the release of this canned corned beef in this way is extremely welcome to the public.

It has been suggested that the release of the 12 oz. tins in the way in which they are released is an action to divert trade from the butchers. That is what has been said tonight. It has been said that it will divert trade from the butcher to the grocer, but this has always been a grocer's trade, and I do not think it matters much; to me it means little, because I have an interest in both. But it is most certainly a grocer's item, and I am glad that the Minister has seen fit to release it in this way.

I would suggest that the reason the release is so popular is that it is well-known that during the days of the last Government, canned corned beef was held in reserve to supplement the fresh meat which that Government was unable to obtain. Now that we have the red meat in reasonably plentiful supply, we are able to release this corned beef; and the public regard it as very much better than some of the mixtures imported during 1951. As to the price, I would say that while 4s. a 1b. is not cheap, the public is taking it willingly. The amount released is being sold very rapidly, and I am glad to be able to support this Order.

10.44 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I should not have risen, but I think that the speech to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. W. R. A. Hudson) needs to have a reply. I do not know whether I am correct in saying that it was the hon. Member's maiden speech; I did not interrupt, but I can be as controversial as he was. The hon. Member said that the public agrees about this; I would ask him whether he suggests that the public is pleased?

Mr. W. R. A. Hudson

I said that the public was taking the canned corned beef which has been released, and that it is to the satisfaction of the public.

Mr. Hale

Then if it is to the satisfaction of the public, I would ask whether he cares to come with me to Oldham, where he can talk to the old age pensioners who are not only not able to buy this corned beef, but who cannot take up their bacon ration; who never have a slice of ham. I will take him to the miserable homes in Oldham, where there are people living in dire destitution compared with the circumstances of a few years ago, and anyone who cares sufficiently knows that they were not very good even then. How can these old age pensioners buy ham at 8s. a 1b., corned beef at 4s.? Why is it that the butter ration is never taken up in many homes in Oldham, and why is the cheese ration, small as it is, often ignored?

What does the hon. Member know about all this? What does he care? He tells the House that the public is buying this corned beef very rapidly. Of course, some people are. I can buy a ham in any grocer's shop when I want one; I can go to any grocer's counter in the country and ask for very good bacon, and know that I shall get it—if I pay for it. Hon. Members opposite who are smiling know these facts to be true. This is rationing by the purse. It is a vicious system. It is the old system of diverting to the rich the best of the world's goods and depriving the poor of the necessaries of life.

I had not intended to intervene, and I should not have intervened if we had not heard that sort of speech which my hon. Friends and I used to read with shocked disgust in the poverty areas of Britain 30 years ago, before we knew this House at all. It had the same sort of placid content. There was the same sort of gratification that the expensive restaurants are now full of a great variety of food which the wealthy can buy and of which the poor are rapidly being deprived. I rise merely to record my protest against the vicious system of rationing by the purse which is causing hardship to those who deserve best from the community.

10.46 p.m.

Colonel Alan Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)

The Pharisee was one of the most nauseating characters in history, and when I saw the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), well-nourished and well looked after, giving vent—

Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) said that he could afford to buy the corned beef or bacon.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

That is just what I inferred. Why interrupt?

Mr. Hale

The hon. and gallant Gentleman should take his hands out of his pockets when he is addressing the House.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

At least, they are in my own pockets. I do not want to deal with what the hon. Member has said, except to say that this artificial sympathy is rather overdone in his case. We all know many folk in our constituencies who have the greatest difficulty in making ends meet, but to say, automatically, that the old age pensioner cannot afford to live is nonsense.

Mr. Hale

Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will let me show him some.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

I have many in my own constituency.

Mr. Shurmer

They must be different from those in my constituency.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are not discussing old age pensioners. We are discussing corned beef.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, for having been led away by the exhilarating speech that we have heard from the hon. Member for Oldham, West.

I was surprised to hear that the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) was a soldier in 1917—

Mr. Royle

Why be surprised?

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Look at the hon. Member. He looks about 40.

Mr. Shurmer

He was in it at 14. He is a grandfather.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

My experience of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment was that they were able at least to look after themselves, as many of the Scottish regiments were, and bully beef was of great importance to them. We want to look at this business of the bully beef Order. I call it bully beef because I like the name, just as the hon. Member does. Corned beef is a very respectable name perhaps, but all of us understand "bully beef." The Minister has made a good move in making it available.

Mr. Shurmer

To those who can afford to buy it.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

That leaves more meat on the ration to be bought by those who cannot afford to buy bully beef. [Interruption.] It is something inherited from the Labour Government. [HON. MEMBERS:"Oh."] When the chorus from hon. Members opposite has finished, I will continue.

I think the Minister has taken the step to free this form of meat in order to release the general pressure on the meat supplies. The hon. Member for Salford, West will appreciate that if certain goods are taken off the ration and can be bought freely, that releases the pressure on the rationed food. That, I think, is the value of this Order. I am convinced that the Minister will make it clear that this is a worthwhile Order and therefore, in spite of the fact that the Loyal Regiment got most of the bully beef in those days, I am satisfied that the Minister has done a good job in making this corned beef available off the ration so that rationed meat will be available to those who are less well off. That is fair distribution.

10.51 p.m.

The Minister of Food (Major Lloyd George)

Only a few minutes ago this was a quiet, not to say placid, debate. Then some heat was engendered by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), which gave him a certain amount of enjoyment. I do not complain; like his hon. Friends, he has had a depressing day, and if he can cheer himself up, I am very happy. I will come to the points he made a little later in my speech.

The principal points made have concerned price and the method of distribution. It is as well to bear in mind that before the war bully beef was predominantly a grocery line—and this has a bearing on the method of distribution we have adopted. Owing to the war and the difficulties of the meat position, bully beef—as I think we prefer to call it, for we recognise it better that way—had to play a part in the meat ration. When it became part of the meat ration, the only way to distribute it was through the butchers who distributed the remainder of the meat. This was in 1940. For about 12 years now, therefore, this commodity has been distributed through the butchers as the ordinary meat ration was distributed.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) said the position then was not good—nor was it—and that it is better today. I agree with him wholeheartedly. Today, we are no longer in a position in which it is necessary to use any canned corned beef to supplement the ration.

From time to time we have to turn over the stocks of this corned beef, for obvious reasons, and, recently, I was advised that about 11,000 tons which had been in store for some time would have to be turned over. In the circumstances, it not being necessary to use this as the ordinary meat ration, it seemed right to me that it should be made freely available to those who wanted to purchase it outside the ration. With an adequate meat ration and ample supplies of other kinds of canned meats in the shops, and also cooked gammon freely available, there is every justification for releasing corned beef in competition with those other types of meat, thereby enabling those who appreciate this type of meat to obtain their requirements.

Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)

If they have the money.

Major Lloyd George

I will come to the question of money in a moment. There is a good deal of nonsense talked about money, too, and I will explain why I say that in a moment. The hon. Member would be very surprised if he knew where a lot of these canned meats were sold.

Because this corned meat was being issued in this way, and would compete with these other meats, it seemed right to me that it should be sold at the economic price, which was, in fact, the cost of replacing the 11,000 tons which we had released. With an ample, and subsidised, meat ration at the moment, there was no cause to choose one type of canned meat, the corned meat, and subsidise it to the general public. That is in line with the policy of the previous Administration, for in its trading accounts and balance sheets for 1946–47, it said: In the earlier part of 1946–47 the subsidies covered a wide range of foodstuffs, but the rising cost of imported and home-produced supplies later necessitated a contraction of the subsidy field, the subsidy being concentrated on the main basic foodstuffs. We are only releasing a comparatively small quantity, and it would be unfair, to put it mildly, to have in the shops subsidised canned meat competing with unsubsidised canned meat; in other words, we might be subsidising the Argentine product against Dominion and other suppliers. Therefore, it was released unsubsidised. A good deal of nonsense has been talked about the price.

Mr. John Edwards (Brighouse and Spenborough)

Will the Minister say what the poundage subsidy is in relation to the increase?

Major Lloyd George

The subsidy is equal to roughly 8d. a 1b.

By the time this Motion has been debated there will be very little of this canned corned meat left. What will happen if this Prayer is carried I do not know. The consumers have had it, and enjoyed it. Let us not get too excited about the question of price. The price is 4s. a 1b. That includes the 8d. subsidy, and a margin for distribution. The price to the wholesaler is 3s. 6d., to the retailer 3s. 8d., and the retail price is 4s., with an allowance of 4d. for slicing. Let me compare that with what happened under the late Administration. Tongues, which are much more expensive, were normally 6s. 4d. a 1b., with a slicing allowance of 8d. Jellied pork was 4s. 7d. a 1b., with a slicing allowance of 5d. The hon. Member for Oldham, West got excited about old age pensioners in Oldham.

Mr. Hale

I did not get excited.

Major Lloyd George

All right. If the hon. Member prefers it, he was perfectly calm and normal. He said that old age pensioners in Oldham never buy tinned ham. I have never pretended that the lot of old age pensioners is an easy one. We have made it a little easier than it was under the previous Administration. The old age pensioner is better able to buy a slice of ham than he was under the late Administration, because we are not selling ham at 12s. a 1b. as the late Government did. We sold ham at 8s. per 1b.

Mr. Hale

I am sure that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would not wish to misrepresent me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] If his hon. Friends wish to suggest that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes to misrepresent me, I cannot help it, but I was talking about the ham and bacon which the old age pensioner gets on the ration, not about the other kind of ham which he never has. When we were in power the ham on the ration was 1s. 8d. per 1b.

Major Lloyd George

My point is a perfectly simple one. It is no good hon. Gentlemen opposite complaining when the late Administration were prepared to sell ham at 12s. a 1b., which is 4s. more than we are selling it today. A great deal of nonsense is talked about prices by some people who ought to know better. There are cries of rationing by the purse. Was there ever a time when there was not rationing by the purse? If a man is a non-smoker and teetotaller he is entitled to spend some of his money buying something extra to eat. It all depends on the taste of the people. As I say, a lot of nonsense is talked about prices, and particularly is it nonsense when it comes from the late Administration, who were cheerfully prepared to sell ham at 12s. a 1b.

We come now to the method of distribution. I mentioned that before the war this trade was predominantly a grocery trade. I also said why, in 1940, it had to go to the butchers. That was because this corned meat was part of the ration. But when this was done it was clearly understood that when the opportunity arose this trade would be restored to its pre-war practice; in other words, the grocers would have it returned to them, not solely but along with the butchers. We have a better meat ration than we have had for some considerable time, and with no need to add corned beef to the ration, I considered it was only right that we should stick to the arrangement made in 1940 and return it to the grocers as well as to the butchers. It is quite natural that the butchers should complain about that. They are quite entitled to do so, but once distribution started we received no complaints from the trade or from the consumers.

May I sum up, briefly, the position? I repeat that we found it necessary to release some 11,000 tons of this commodity which had to be turned over in the ordinary normal way. With a better supply of carcase meat in prospect, with ample supplies of other canned meats available to be sold in the shops at an unsubsidised price, it seemed to me that that was right to sell the canned corned beef off ration and unsubsidised. It was issued off the ration and made freely available at an economic price. To the best of my knowledge there has been a fair and widespread distribution throughout the country. There have been no consumer complaints whatever, so it is reasonable for us to assume that the operation has been successful and has been welcomed by the public, who appreciate the opportunity given them to buy what they want when they want it. I therefore invite the House to reject this Motion.

11.4 p.m.

Mr. John Edwards (Brighouse and Spenborough)

We have listened to what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has had to say with great care and attention. We hope that the absence of the Parliamentary Secretary does not mean that anything untoward has happened to him. I, personally, hope that he has not been depressed by his recent visit to the National Liberals in my constituency.

Major Lloyd George

My hon. Friend has gone to win another by-election for the Government.

Mr. Edwards

That remains to be seen.

I was disturbed by the intervention of the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. W. R. A. Hudson). I can understand him rallying to the defence of the Minister, but I would have expected him at some point to have said something other than the kind of thing that would flow naturally from those lips. We, as Members, represent many interests, and at no point did he seem aware that he represents his constituents at all.

Mr. W. R. A. Hudson

I should like to make it perfectly clear what I was trying

to do. I was speaking for the consumer, and, by reason of my contacts, I believe that he welcomes the release of corned beef at a price of 4s. a 1b.

Mr. Edwards

No one on this side has even remotely suggested that it was wrong to release the corned beef. We wished the amount could be more, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) gave the figures in previous years. What we are primarily complaining about is the price. The Minister told us that 8d. represents the loss of subsidy. Disregarding the subsidy element that means that the price of this product has gone up by 1s. a 1b. since the right hon and gallant Gentleman took over the Ministry.

I do not know what price he is paying for corned beef. It looks as though he is having to pay very much higher prices than we did in 1951, when I had something to do with buying some of the corned beef. But I would have expected that in this period the Government would so have improved their technique of negotiation, and have put all the private enterprise boys on the job, that we should be having corned beef not at 4s. a 1b. but even allowing for the subsidy, at no higher a price. Are right hon. and hon. Gentlemen really going to try to defend a 1s. 0d. increase in 18 months? That is the position.

It seems to us that the Minister is replacing planned distribution by a system of scrambling, and that these high prices necessarily mean not that all people can have corned beef, but that many who used to be able to have it will no longer find it possible to have it. For those reasons I would advise my Friends on this side to divide the House.

Question put,

The House divided: Ayes, 134;, Noes, 159.

Division No. 211.] AYES [11.8 p.m.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Brown, Thomas (Iuce) Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)
Anderson, Alexander (Motherwell) Callaghan, L. J. Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)
Awbery, S. S. Carmichael, J. Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)
Bence, C. R. Coldrick, W. Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)
Benn, Hon. Wedgwood Collick, P. H. Fernyhough, E.
Beswick, F. Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)
Bing, G. H. C. Davies. Stephen (Merthyr) Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.
Blackburn, F. de Freitas, Geoffrey Gibson, C. W.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G Deer, G. Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)
Bowles, F. G. Delargy, H. J. Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)
Brockway, A. F. Donnelly, D. L. Hale, Leslie
Hannan, W. Manuel, A. C. Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent)
Hargreaves, A. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Slater, J. (Durham, Sedgefield)
Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.) Mitchison, G. R. Sorensen, R. W.
Hayman, F. H. Monslow, W. Sparks, J. A.
Healey, Denis (Leeds, S. E.) Moody, A. S. Steele, T.
Herbison, Miss M. Morgan, Dr. H. B. W. Sylvester, G. O.
Holman, P. Morloy, R. Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth) Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Thomas, David (Aberdare)
Hubbard, T. F. Morrison Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.) Thomas, lorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Hudson, James (Ealing, N.) Mort, D. L. Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Moyle, A. Thornton, E.
Hynd, H. (Accrington) Nally, W. Timmons, J.
Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Neat, Harold (Bolsover) Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Jeger, George (Goole) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)
Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford) Oswald, T. Weitzman, D.
Johnson, James (Rugby) Padley, W. E. Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John
Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Paget, R. T. Wheeldon, W. E.
Jones, David (Hartlepool) Palmer, A. M. F. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.) Pargiter, G. A. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Pearson, A. Wigg, George
Keenan, W. Peart, T. F. Wilkins, W. A
Kenyon, C. Popplewell, E. Willey, F. T.
King, Dr. H. M. Price, Joseph T. (Westhougfiton) Williams, David (Neath)
Lee, Frederick (Newton) Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Proctor, W. T. Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)
Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Rankin, John Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Lewis, Arthur Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
MacColl, J. E. Ross, William Wyatt, W. L.
McGhee, H. G. Royle, C. Yates, V. F.
Mclnnes, J. Shacklelon, E. A. A.
MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Shurmer, P. L. E. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill) Mr. Bowden and
Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Skeffington, A. M. Mr. Kenneth Robinson.
Allan R. A. (Paddington, S.) Godber, J. B. Morrison, John (Salisbury)
Alport, C. J. M. Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Gough, C. F. H. Nabarro, G. D. N.
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Gower, H. R. Nicholls, Harmar
Arbuthnot, John Graham, Sir Fergus Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)
Ashton, H. (Chelmsford) Grimston, Sir Robert (Westtoury) Nield, Basil (Chester)
Asshoton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.) Hall, John (Wycombe) Oakshott, H. D.
Baldwin, A. E. Harden, J. R. E. O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Banks, Col. C. Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.
Barlow, Sir John Heald, Sir Lionel Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Baxter, A. B. Heath, Edward Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)
Beach, Maj. Hicks Higgs, J. M. C. Osborne, C.
Beamish Maj. Tufton Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Partridge E.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Perkins, W. R. D.
Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.) Hirst, Geoffrey Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Birch, Nigel Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Powell, J. Enoch
Bishop, F. P. Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Black, C. W. Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Profumo, J. D.
Boothby, Sir R. J. G. Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.) Raikes, Sir Victor
Boyle, Sir Edward Hurd, A. R. Rayner, Brig. R.
Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N. W.) Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.) Redmayne, M.
Brooke, Henry (Hampstead) Hylton-Foster, H. B. H. Remnant, Hon. P.
Brooman-White, R. C. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Renton, D. L. M.
Browne, Jack (Govan) Kerr, H. W. Roberts, Peter (Healey)
Bullard, D. G. Lambert, Hon. G. Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Burden, F. F. A. Leather, E. H. C. Roper, Sir Harold
Butcher, Sir Herbert Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Russell, R. S.
Campbell, Sir David Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T. Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.
Carr, Robert Llewellyn, D. T. Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur
Channon, H. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Scott, R. Donald
Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead) Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C. Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Cole, Norman Longden, Gilbert Shepherd, William
Colegate, W. A. Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Conant, Maj. R. J. E Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)
Cooper-Key, E. M. McCallum, Major D. Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)
Craddock, Beresford (Spellhorne) Macdonald, Sir Peter Stanley, Capt. Hon Richard
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)
Crouch, R. F. Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.) Summers, G. S.
Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.) MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty) Surcliffe, Sir Harold
Deedes, W. F. Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Maitland, Patrick (Lanark) Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)
Dormer, Sir P. W. Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E. Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L Markham, Major Sir Frank Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)
Fell, A. Marlowe, A. A. H. Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.
Fisher, Nigel Maude, Angus Tilney, John
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C. Turner, H. F. L.
Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone) Mellor, Sir John Turton, R. H.
George, Rt. Hon Maj. G. Lloyd Molson, A. H. E. Vosper, D. F.
Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.) Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge) Wood, Hon. R.
Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone) Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.) York, C.
Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth) Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. Wills, G. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro) Sir Cedric Drewe and Mr. Kaberry.

Question put, and agreed to.