HC Deb 08 March 1954 vol 524 cc1871-93

10.9 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Butter (Amendment) Order, 1954 (S.I., 1954, No. 114), dated 1st February, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd February, be annulled. I think that this Motion, and the following one on the Order Paper, relating to cheese, could be discussed together. If so, I am sure that that would meet the convenience of the House if you were agreeable. Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I think it would be for the convenience of the House, if the Government agree, to take the two Motions together.

Mr. Willey

May I, first, say that I am pleased to see the Financial Secretary to the Treasury with us tonight. No doubt he will intervene in the debate and, for the first time, accept proper Treasury responsibility for what hitherto the Parliamentary Secretary, unfortunately, has had to bear the responsibility.

These Motions refer to Orders which increase the price of butter by 4d. and the price of cheese by 2d. I presume that these will be the last price increase Orders consequent upon the last Budget, and that after tonight the housewife will have to await with fearful trepidation what the Chancellor intends to do about food prices next year.

As I understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer, his purpose was to reduce the food subsidies this year to £220 million and probably to reduce the rate of subsidy to about £150 million, though this is an estimate. We know, of course, that this has not happened; that, owing to the ineptitude of the Ministry of Food and the heavy commercial losses is has imposed upon the taxpayer, the subsidy will not be reduced to £220 million but will be £325 million, and the rate—this is important—I assume must now be in the neighbourhood of £400 million a year.

Although the entire basis for the price increases has gone the Chancellor is still pursuing an objective which no longer obtains. That is why we have these price increases being inflicted upon the housewife by these two Orders. I am sorry that I have apparently frightened away the Financial Secretary, but presumably the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food will answer the debate.

The hon. Gentleman has a habit of referring to what happened under the previous Administration, so I hope he will bear with me if I give some figures and, if I am wrong in any particular, that he will correct me. In the six and a half years of the Labour Government between 1945 and 1951 the price of butter increased by only 10d. in spite of the inflationary pressure upon world prices during those years. By this price increase today, since November, 1951—that is in two and a half years of the present Government—the price of butter has increased by Is. 2d. in a world of falling prices.

As I explained to the House only recently, in so far as there is a world price for butter that has fallen appreciably during the lifetime of the present Government. In fact, to quote the figures I gave before—for the benefit of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne)—whereas Danish butter was selling on the market at kr. 772 in October, 1951, it had fallen by October, 1953, to kr. 714. In the six and a half years of Labour Government, again faced with these difficulties, the price of cheese increased by 1d. per lb. In the two and a half years of this Government it has increased, not by Id. but by Is. 2d. per lb. This Government has doubled the price of cheese in two and a half years notwithstanding a world position of falling food prices.

The other argument used by the Parliamentary Secretary is in regard to supplies. Of course, when we are dealing with any subsidy question—and it is the subsidy policy which is behind these price increases—we are concerned with the level of consumption. Our pre-war consumption of butter was about half a million tons. Today, as then, practically the whole supply is imported, but in 1950 —which is the best post-war year for consumption of butter—the figure was only 366,000 tons. That is considerably less than pre-war.

What is the position today? I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary is with me in admitting that we have to take consumption over a period, so we will take 1953. In 1953 of course, we consumed more than in 1952. That was the lowest of any year after 1946. But in 1953 we consumed less than in 1951, less than in 1950 and less than in 1949. In fact, we consumed 21 per cent, less butter in 1953 than in 1950.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

Will the hon. Member tell the House by how much the national stocks had run down in 1951?

Mr. Willey

The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to intervene, but as I was dealing with 1950 I fail to see the relevance of his intervention.

Mr. Osborne

Will the hon. Member answer the question?

Mr. Willey

What we found at the Ministry of Food was that even a 5 oz. ration—which we enjoyed under Labour rule but have never attained under the present Administration—was fully taken up. Against the background of the figures which I have given it is not surprising.

What is the prospect of butter supplies? The Commonwealth Economic Committee estimates a slight improvement. They are probably calculating that the higher prices will attract some supplies, but it is not suggested anywhere that there is this year, any possibility of a return to the 1950 figures. The Minister has lapsed into complete hopelessness over this. As far as I know the latest pronouncement by the Minister is that "the butter just is not there."

In these circumstances, it is quite clear that such a price policy as is being pursued by the Government has as its objective what several hon. Gentlemen opposite have expressed as their views. It is to make butter a luxury; and that must be resisted by us. In the light of the debate we had about our economic difficulties and the industrial situation it is unfair to make something a luxury which is very much in demand—even on a 5 oz. ration.

The other subject we are discussing tonight is cheese. Pre-war, we consumed 184,000 tons. Of course, today, as I have conceded several times, we are consuming more. In 1951, we consumed 238,000 tons of cheese. I mention that year be cause hon. Gentlemen opposite expressed some concern about cheese consumption in that year but consumption has subsequently fallen. In 1953, we consumed more cheese than in 1952—

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)


Mr. Willey

But 1952 was an "all time low" since rationing was introduced. In 1953, we consumed less than in 1951, less than in 1950 and less than in 1949. I should remind the House that in fact we consumed 10 per cent, less cheese than in 1951.

The Commonwealth Economic Committee estimate that supplies will be the same this year as last. The question I put to the Parliamentary Secretary is this. Is he pursuing, as a matter of policy, the maintenance of a higher level of consumption than we had before the war? All the nutritional experts—and himself in his former capacity—declares this to be absolutely necessary. Are the Government following that policy? If they are, they are acting in an extraordinary way because in November last year—that is, before the increase in the cheese ration—20 per cent, of the ration was not taken up, and in December 24 per cent, of the ration was not taken up. That is, in terms of rationing, 13£ million rations in November and 14£ millions in December were not taken up.

What is the policy of the Government? It is to clear that against that background the effect of this price increase will probably be to depress cheese consumption to below pre-war. It will certainly further depress the consumption of cheese. I always understood, from such experience as I had at the Ministry of Food, that any ration non-take-up of over 10 per cent, was a serious matter. Here we have a quarter of the ration not taken up, and in that situation the Ministry propose a price increase.

To summarise—because we have discussed this matter in principle on many occasions this year the food policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in absolute ruins, and it is really a doctrinaire policy to pursue it in present circumstances. In fact, these price increases will have little to do with the financial results for this year. He ought to have awaited the Budget to see the picture for next year. His policy is in absolute ruins. A subsidy that was to be reduced to £220 million is now standing at £325 million.

This is another step on the road to making butter a luxury. The Government should have courage to say that that is what they are doing, because, in practice, that will happen very soon. There is no prospect of supplies meeting the demand today, and there is no excuse for the Minister putting up the price and then decontrolling it. We are not arguing rationing tonight. We are dealing with prices. There is absolutely no case for the price decontrol of butter. Whatever the Minister decides to do about rationing, price control should remain. We know that the Minister has already declared that he is going to sacrifice the housewife and cause a good deal of trouble in pursuing his objective of making butter a luxury.

As for cheese, I am sure that if the Parliamentary Secretary were back in his more congenial post he would be the first to say that we must maintain and promote the consumption of cheese. If he spoke as his real self, he would be appalled at the fall in the take-up because although this is a time of year when we have a high ration, which we welcome, he would be appalled at this serious fall in the take-up of rations.

In short, this is another stage in a retrogressive policy. This is the last chapter of the financial policy for this year—a policy which has brought price increases to the housewife and no relief at all to the taxpayer but an addition to the taxpayer's burdens. If any policy were more calculated to upset the country, I have not the imagination to conceive it.

10.24 p.m.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

I beg to second the Motion.

Although the Orders with which we are dealing relate mainly to the question of price control, they also concern the whole question of rationing and the arrangements by which commodities are distributed fairly among the people instead of being regarded—especially those of a superior nature—as the perquisites of the privileged few who are able to buy them. The removal of the price control of butter may lead to an increase in the prices of other commodities. We must take into account the alternative commodities which can be turned to by the people who may be unwilling or unable to pay more for butter.

Although margarine is not referred to in these Orders, it is closely associated with them because of the general treatment of these commodities by the Government. I cannot refer to what will take place in relation to butter without saying something about what will happen to margarine. The popular newspapers have expressed fears about what will happen with regard to both butter and margarine. Questions were put to the Minister about margarine this afternoon, but he could not say precisely to what extent the price is likely to rise.

I submit that he does not know what will be the future price of butter, either. [An HON. MEMBER: "He does not care."] I am only saying that he does not know, and I was excusing him for the very small amount of information which he has been able to give the House on this very important matter. I am putting the case very moderately, and saying that the Minister does not know, I do not know, and that hon. Members opposite do not know.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Billericay)

I would remind the hon. Member that his own party had no idea what the price of eggs would be. They thought that the price would go up to 1s.

Mr. Hudson

The hon. Member, who may have much to say about that matter, might now be expected to join with me in an effort to obtain an idea of the future price of butter and margarine, in view of the important changes which are being made. If the hon. Member for Billericay wants to discuss the egg question he can put down a Prayer or a Motion. He can then put forward all the points he wants to make, but I am confining my remarks to the Orders before the House. Butter is the main consideration, and margarine comes into the argument only because it is an alternative commodity for those people who will be deprived of the use of butter because of its price.

Firms who are to sell branded margarine are booking an enormous amount of space in the newspapers in order to advertise their commodities.

Mr. Nabarro

In the "Daily Herald."

Mr. Hudson

In the "Daily Herald" or any other newspaper. An enormous amount of newspaper space has been booked with the object of popularising certain brands of margarine.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I think that margarine, like eggs, is not dealt with under this Order.

Mr. Hudson

Margarine is not mentioned in the Order, but. I submit that the desire for an alternative to butter will become tremendously clamant when the price of butter is realised by the mass of people.

Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)

Would the hon. Member—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) was addressing me on a point of order.

Mr. Harris


Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I hope that I shall be allowed to deal with this matter myself.

Mr. Hudson

I understand, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you are ruling closely that as margarine is not mentioned in the Order you do not wish reference to be made to it. But I am arguing that although the Order refers to the price of butter, the prices of butter and margarine are closely intertwined and if people cannot obtain butter they must have something in the nature of fat for their diet. Consequently, margarine will be used to a greater extent and eventually the price of that also will be driven up as a result of this Order. I am arguing the consequential series of effects of this Order, which, I agree, deals only with butter.

Mr. Harris

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Hudson

If the hon. Member has a case to make on that point he can make it in a speech. I am sure that he will be allowed to do that.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I have decided that the subject of margarine does not arise under this Order and if the hon. Member's point concerns margarine I will not allow it.

Mr. Harris

I only wanted to make the point that the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) made the point some time ago, that there was no difference between butter and margarine.

Mr. Hudson

That is precisely the sort of intervention one would expect from the hon. Member. It was not an honest intervention. If he desires to throw missiles at my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) he should take the proper course in the way the Rules of the House allow. He was not dealing with my argument at all.

I will leave the question of margarine. I am saying that butter substitutes and butter alike will probably be raised in price. I do not know to what extent, but the Ministry of Food ought to know something about it and ought to be in a position to tell the House what the working class is likely to have to face as a result of the new proposals of the Minister.

Butter or margarine prices may be expected to enter into the expenditure of every family in the country. If the price of both or either goes up the Ministry should face the fact that it is presenting to the wage earners another obstacle in connection with the demands that they will have to make on their employers for an improvement in wages to meet the situation which the Government are creating. The Government may say that the rise in price is only 3d., 4d. or 5d. and that there is only a subsidy of 5½d. to be dealt with in connection with butter. But, at the end of it all, in view of the new effort of private traders to extract the price that the traffic will bear, it is probable—I do not put it any higher—that new burdens will be placed on the wage earners that, ultimately, will be reflected in the cost-of-living index.

The Government will have to face the fact that a new demand for increased wages is the inevitable result of this policy. Butter and margarine are foods of the people and although mere man, so I am told, does not know whether he has butter or margarine when the two things are offered, I find that the mass of the women seem to know. Women know which is butter and which is margarine when the alternatives are placed before them; they know which is which.

Mr. Nabarro


Mr. Hudson

The hon. Member had better have it out with the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Edith Summerskill).

If my wife wanted to deceive me, and, fortunately, she does not, I am told that she could give me margarine instead of butter. But she always knows which is butter and which is margarine and, therefore, as a mere man, I am not deluded. But the Government has no concern, as has my wife, with whether I should have, and other men should have, the commodities that they deserve. They should have the butter which they deserve.

"Guns before butter" used to be the argument, but in these days when guns are becoming a little fewer in the Government's armament programme, and the Treasury bench is beginning to admit that even in the Continental countries butter is taking on a greater importance than guns, we find here in Britain that both guns and butter are being presented together with burdens attaching to both for the working man.

We are, in this Prayer, protesting against a new and added burden on the working people of whom the Government seem to have such little knowledge. They seem to have such little knowledge of the actual weight of the burden to be placed on the shoulders of the people, and we say that the whole matter should be considered again and a proper rationing and price control system should remain as is in existence for bread and potatoes. For, let us remember, although neither bread nor potatoes are rationed, at least the price control remains, and there should be price control for butter, which enters in so important a manner into the diet of the people.

10.39 p.m.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

The two Orders which are the subject of debate tonight are further steps along the long chain of price increases. They propose to raise the price of butter and cheese to an alarming extent over the prices current when the Government came into power in October, 1951. At that time, butter cost 2s. 6d. a 1b. Now, as a result of this Order, it will be 3s. 8d. At that time, the price of cheese was 1s. 2d. and now it is proposed that it shall be 2s. 4d., or an increase of one hundred per cent.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

Could my hon. Friend say whether that is in accordance with the following, which I quote from the "Daily Mail" of 24th October, 1951: Churchill has pledged an all out attack on the cost of laving. Is this the pledge which is being implemented?

Mr. Jeger

That, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is a pledge which no doubt the hon. Gentleman will reply to in due course and, in accordance with his usual practice, will evade or brush aside and not give a straight answer to it.

Many butter and cheese rations are not today taken up. We say that is because of the high prices of these commodities. It has been established by officials that during the quarter October to December, 1953, no fewer than 10 million rations of butter and 40 millions rations of cheese were not taken up. Butter and chese, as the hon. Gentleman will be the first to admit, are valuable protective foods. They contain minerals and vitamins; they equip us to resist illness and disease. It has been part of the Government policy ever since the beginning of the war and of rationing to bring these foods into everyone's diet at a reasonable price which they could afford. By educational means the people were taught to have as much butter and cheese as they could get. By economic means, food subsidies, they were persuaded to eat more and more of these foods and to take up their full rations, but the further increase in the price will mean that less and less will be eaten by the lower paid people of the country.

A short time ago the B.M.A., in a charter for health no doubt well known to the Parliamentary Secretary, stated that lack of food is not due to lack of knowledge and that the main cause of lack of food is poverty. We say that because of the poverty of the lower paid workers and the steep increases in the price of these commodities they will not be taking up their rations in the future to the extent they took them up in the past. It is common knowledge that in the mixed residential areas it is possible to buy as much butter and as much cheese as the customer is prepared to pay for.

Any grocer in a mixed area will tell the hon. Gentleman if he takes the trouble to walk into a shop that he can have as much butter and cheese as he wishes because the lower paid people in the area are not taking up their full rations. I have made personal inquiries about this, and I am speaking from personal knowledge. I hope that hon. Members opposite who shake their heads will walk into their nearest grocer's shop, even in a district like Victoria, and discover for themselves that these are facts. The Minister says that rations are not being taken up because there are plenty of alternative foods.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

What is the alternative to butter?

Mr. Jeger

The alternative to butter is, of course, margarine.

I am not going deeply into the question of margarine because it is not mentioned in these Orders, but it is worthy of note that, although the Minister said the other day that the take-up of margarine is greater than in 1951 it is in fact less. On 24th February, the Minister said that the weekly issue of margarine was 6,500 tons in 1951 and that today more was being eaten. The Minister of Food very often mistakes the letters, "M.O.F." for "Ministry of Figures" and not for Ministry of Food because he is much fonder of wangling figures than of arranging for the distribution of food in this country. But his figures, like his food distribution, are rather erroneous and, in this connection, absolutely wrong.

If the hon. Gentleman will consult the Monthly Digest of Statistics, table 105, he will find that, far from the weekly issue of margarine being 6,500 tons, it was 8,250 tons. Therefore, the 1953 weekly issue of 7,810 tons was far below the weekly issue in 1951. The Minister compared 1953 with 1951, misleading the House and giving wrong figures, and I am entitled to correct him. I say (hat his figures were completely false.

Let us deal with his figures for the consumption of butter over the last few years. These figures are taken from the official digest of statistics. In 1953, it was 5,660 tons per week; in 1952, 4,640; in 1951, the last year of a Labour Government, although not a full year, it was 6,230, and in 1950, which was the last complete year of a Labour Government, it was 7,170. From 7,170 it has sunk to 5,660, accompanied by a steep rise in the price.

Take cheese. In 1953, the weekly consumption was 4,060 tons. The year before it was 3,340. In 1951, it was 4,540 and in 1950, 4,380. So with all the great prosperity and the spread of food among the people less of these rations are being taken up than in the last two years of the Labour Government.

If it is being argued as some hon. Members opposite have suggested, that alternative foods were being eaten, if it is suggested that butter and margarine together may account for the fall in the consumption of butter, let us take them both together. They are alternative to each other and if there is less of one people will turn to the other. In 1951, the combined consumption was 14,480 tons weekly. In 1953, it was down to 13,470. So that the alternative was not being eaten or bought, because the price had gone up and placed it beyond the reach of the ordinary workers to the tune of 1,000 tons a week.

The Government has a class policy with regard to food, making it less available to the lower paid worker and more available to those with money to buy. That is the principle behind the whole of their derationing system and decontrol of price. They are doing that in spite of the fact that they pledged themselves at the General Election to provide more food and cheaper. They are hoping that the people will have short memories and be more interested in television stars for amusement and less in food and the political situation. Instead of getting, as they were promised by this Government, more food and cheaper, the people are getting less food and dearer.

10.49 p.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he remembers that in 1934 we had a report presented to this House by Sir John Boyd Orr, as he then was, called "Food, Health and Income," in which there were graphs showing the relationship between butter and cheese and their costs? Does the hon. Gentleman remember how they ran parallel showing beyond all measure of doubt that if the price was increased there was a corresponding fall in consumption? That has applied consistently in this country, certainly in the last 50 years.

I have heard the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and gallant Friend state again and again that the policy of the Ministry is greater freedom of choice to the people and a greater variety. May I ask whether the hon. Gentleman proposes to defend this as an example of freedom of choice? It is freedom for people like himself and myself to have butter when we want it, and freedom for so many of our constituents to do without butter and have a substitute.

10.50 p.m.

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

As I listened to the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. G. Jeger) dilating upon the subject of less food, I found it difficult to reconcile that picture with the fact that by the middle of this year we shall have successfully derationed and decontrolled the foods which were the subject of rationing. He told the story of butter consumption, of butter take-up; but what he ignored was that the take-up of butter, as recorded in the National Food Survey, is 97 per cent., with the take-up as high in the low income-groups as in the high income groups.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) recited the consumption figures since 1950. That year has been described as the "honeymoon" year, though I doubt whether such description is appropriate to the interferences with freedom which obtained then. Let me tell him what happened in 1950. In that year, butter stocks were run down by one-quarter. In 1951, the stocks were run down by three-quarters, to the lowest ever. In 1952 the stocks were increased by 150 per cent., and in 1953 they were doubled, thus putting us in the present strong position.

Taking 1950 as the year affording the best example from the hon. Gentleman's point of view, the picture of butter taken up, and the figure of cheese taken up, was made possible only by the drastic running down of stocks, which was one of the factors that contributed to the subsequent crisis.

Mr. Willey

Is the hon. Gentleman talking of butter, or of a national safe deposit? How long does he think we keep butter in stock? Butter is a consumable commodity. Will he tell the House the amount of stocks to which he is referring?

Dr. Hill

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that figures of stocks are never given from this Box. Bearing in mind that the next phase will be the phase of disposal of those stocks, I am certain that the hon. Gentleman's business instincts will lead him to the conclusion that it would be undesirable at this moment to reveal the amount of stocks. I do not propose to reveal them. The hon. Member knows well that butter is kept in stock in considerable quantities for a considerable time.

Mr. Willey

There is no public policy involved in revealing the stocks in 1951 and 1952.

Dr. Hill

I have given the percentage figures of change since then, and the hon. Gentleman could doubtless do the necessary arithmetic and arrive at the present stocks if I gave the 1951 stocks. The stocks situation is an element in the position. I join with the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson)—

Mr. Jeger

Does the hon. Gentleman not recollect that about a year ago, following the formation of the Government of which he is such a distinguished member, the Prime Minister, in reply to a Question that I put to him, admitted that the country was still living on accumulated stocks and said that as soon as those stocks had been disposed of our balance of payments position would begin to get serious? Therefore, the stocks were still built up at the time that the Labour Government went out of office.

Dr. Hill

I have given the House the percentages for the decline in stocks in the years in question, and I will give them with greater mathematical exactness if the hon. Gentleman desires. I do not propose to give the actual stocks figures. I am making the point that in 1950 and 1951 there was a distribution of butter and cheese in excess of the butter and cheese which was obtainable in this country from home producers and abroad under the Labour Government, and the stocks position is now in a much more satisfactory position.

I want now to pass on to the hon. Member for Ealing, North, for I have a contrary—

Hon. Members

What about the take-up?

Dr. Hill

The take-up of butter is 97 per cent., and the take-up is the same in each of the social groups of the National Food Survey. I have said that once, and if it helps hon. Members opposite I will repeat it, using the form of investigation which the Labour Party used and quoted as an impartial survey of the position.

I have been trying hard to express some sympathy with the hon. Member for Ealing, North because of the difficulty he found in introducing the subject of margarine in connection with the post-control phase. Like he did, I shall have to contrive to deal with the situation within the rules of order.

The question has been asked: What will happen to the price of butter following decontrol on 8th May? I am sure that the Labour Party, like everyone else, must be chary of offering a prophecy as to what will happen. I put it no higher than that; I am sure that the Labour Party would be embarrassed by a reference to 8d., 9d. or 10d. for eggs. I am not suggesting that the same will happen; in all charitableness, I am suggesting a little caution on all sides.

It is impossible to judge what the demand will be following decontrol.— [Interruption.] My more boisterous moments may come, but for the moment I am looking at this factually. It is impossible to forecast. In the case of sugar the consumption after derationing proved to be less than the estimate which had been formed. In the case of sweets the consumption figure proved to be higher than the estimate which had been made. In the case of butter, bearing in mind the most intense preparations which are now being made to put before the public what we are told are new, hitherto quite unknown standards of margarine, in view of the vigour with which competitive activity of that kind is being carried on and in view of the determination on the part of butter producers to withstand that competitive effort, it is quite impossible to say with any precision what will happen.

However, I am bound to say to hon. Members that, as I shall show in a moment, the cheese position is one which permits complete decontrol and derationing. It would be impossible to maintain control upon one milk product while allowing another to go free. As hon. Gentlemen will appreciate, the switch that might well take place to the production of the commodity that is freed might well make the rationing and control system impos- sible to work. If butter were the only commodity about which there were this uncertainty, it would be absurd to maintain the whole system of rationing and control and food offices throughout the country in relation to that one commodity were de-rationing possible and desirable of all others.

I want to pass to the problem of cheese. The hon. Gentleman told us again—

Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)

Is the hon. Gentleman not going to justify the increase in the price of butter first?

Dr. Hill

I was going to do that thirdly, but if I may I will do it now. The answer is that in the case of butter and cheese these increases are the increases necessary to remove the consumer subsidy. Whatever may be thought of its merits, the removal of the consumer subsidy is an essential part of the decontrol exercise. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North has been trying to wear two pairs of trousers on this subject. Time after time he tells us that the Tories have cut the subsidies. Tonight he has been harping on that theme, but last time he told us the Tories had not cut the subsidies, and was seemingly bemoaning the fact that they were at £325 million instead of £220 million. In this case these increases are specific subsidy increases for the purpose of making decontrol possible.

The hon. Member for Goole referred to the increase of 1s. 2d. in butter in the past two years. In fact, between April, 1947, and May, 1951, there was an increase of 1s. 2d. a lb., and that was then related to the subsidy ceiling imposed by the party opposite. This is not the first time that there has been an increase for the purpose of keeping within the subsidy ceiling. It is the first time there has been an increase which so eliminates the subsidies as to make decontrol and derationing possible. [HON. MEMBERS: What about the election promises?] I will not be deterred from a careful examination of the argument put forward.

Mr. Willey

Would the hon. Gentleman first deal with this point? After all the Government have had some experience in the last 12 months. They no longer believe as a matter of doctrinaire outlook that the subsidy must go if there is decontrol, because we have had eggs decontrolled and we have the re-introduction of the subsidy. Surely the argu- ment can be no longer valid that the removal of the subsidy is essential if there is decontrol? As far as having two pairs of trousers, I am not surprised he said that because I have caught him napping and taken his away very often.

Dr. Hill

I said "consumer subsidy" and deliberately used the term. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman knows better than anyone else on his side the distinction between agricultural and consumer subsidies, and he knows perfectly well what has happened to the agricultural or producer subsidy on eggs and other commodities.

The hon. Gentleman delivered himself of some generalities, aided by the hon. Member for Ealing, North, in relation to election pledges and the cost of living. I do not know how long hon. Gentlemen are going on denying the significance of their own impartial indices. I should have thought the Economic Secretary dealt pretty effectively with that kind of argument last week, but what has happened to the index of food prices on a January to January basis? In the year to January, 1954, there was an increase of 5 per cent.; the year to January, 1953, an increase of 9.2 per cent.; the year to January, 1952, mostly during the Administration of hon. Members opposite, an increase of 18 per cent.

Taking the all items index, the figures are as follows: In the year ending January, 1952, an increase of 12.8 per cent.; the year ending January, 1953, an increase of 4.5 per cent.; the year ending January, 1954, an increase of 14 per cent. If that does not represent, in terms of their own statistical indices, a steadying of the cost of living, I do not know what is.

Mr. G. Jeger


Dr. Hill

I listened patiently, and I must be allowed to make a reply that has some continuity.

There is enough cheese for everyone. It is virtually derationed today, and from 8th May it will be completely derationed. We have been told of the 1950 and 1951 position. Let me say straightaway that if we take the stock position, we have a position comparable to butter. In 1950 the stocks were more than halved. In 1951 they were brought to the lowest level ever, and to a dangerous level. In 1952 the stocks mounted by 150 per cent., and in 1953 they mounted by 60 per cent.

This is typical of the food story. The party opposite ate into the stocks in their honeymoon years. We have had the difficult task of building up those stocks once again. If 1950 was a genuinely good year in this matter of supplies, why were not measures of derationing and decontrol undertaken during 1951? They knew perfectly well that it was an illusion of comparative plenty as a result of the raiding of stocks. We have heard of the take-up of cheese. Of course, the take-up decreases as the availability of cheese increases. As the availability of other food increases, there is bound to be a fall in the take-up of cheese. As I told the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis), it is possible to get the highest possible take-up with the lowest possible rations with the greatest of ease.

I want to say a word in response to a reference by the hon. Member to the virtues of cheese. I have no doubt whatever that cheese is a much more valuable food than many people believe it to be. It is a matter of real satisfaction that the cheese consumption today is very substantially higher than it was before the war, and although it is unequally distributed over the country, for there are certain areas and certain kinds of workers who consume much more cheese than others, the total consumption of cheese is very substantially above what it was before the war. Last year it was between 20 per cent, and 25 per cent., and in the early months of this year it was nearly 40 per cent.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House that the average consumption per head by the steel workers, upon whom we very largely depend—with the miners—is the same as it was when there was rationing and the price was controlled?

Dr. Hill

I know of no statistics which set out the consumption for steel workers or any other section of the community.

Mr. Jones

I do.

Dr. Hill

If there had been such statistics we should have had them again and again from the hon. Member for Sunderland, North. An abundant supply of cheese is available for every section of the community.

Mr. Jones

They cannot buy it.

Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)

Only for those who can pay for it.

Dr. Hill

This reference to the increased price of cheese is not without its significance, bearing in mind that 10d. of the increase was necessary in order to return to the subsidy level of the party opposite.

Mrs. Braddock

Do not be silly. We are not on the radio now. The hon. Member cannot see his face, but we can.

Dr. Hill

I am not going to exchange mutual compliments about appearance with the hon. Lady.

Mrs. Braddock

I am not going to exchange faces with the hon. Member either.

Dr. Hill

That is one point about which I agree with the hon. Lady. These increases in the final stage before decontrol involve the removal of the last remaining element of consumer subsidy in these two commodities. They enable the derationing of all commodities except one to take place on 8th May and, as the House knows, the derationing of that last commodity will take place in the first fortnight of July. I believe that the country welcomes the prospect of this decontrol and, later, the end of allocations and of the ration book. These are necessary steps to that end.

11.13 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

The hon. Gentleman is quite inimitable. We have

listened so often to this extravaganza. I only wish that he had been with me on Saturday afternoon when I met an audience of old-age pensioners in my constituency. They had no doubt as to what had been the effect of the Government's policy and what its later phases were likely to be. I noticed that on Saturday the hon. Gentleman was playing the part of a Liberal and saying that, having seen the Conservative Party from the inside, he did not mind remaining there. Even Jonah prayed to be delivered from the whale's belly.

Mr. Osborne

The right hon. Member has just referred to the old-age pensioners of his constituency. When I met old-age pensioners from my constituency they complained of not being able to pay for coal, gas and electricity. All three have been nationalised.

Mr. Speaker

There is no mention of coal, gas or electricity in these Orders.

Mr. Osborne

Would the right hon. Gentleman look at the question from the point of view of the producers? I represent agricultural workers. If they are going to be paid a decent wage for what they produce people in the towns must pay a decent price for it, in the same way that it is demanded that we should pay a higher price for coal so that the miners may have a decent wage.

Question put.

The House divided: Ayes, 173; Noes, 191.

Division No. 48.] AYES [11.15 p.m.
Adams, Richard Corbet, Mrs. Freda Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Cove, W. G. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Lianelly)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)
Awbery, S. S. Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)
Bacon, Miss Alice de Freitas, Geoffrey Hannan, W.
Balfour, A. Deer, G. Hargreaves, A.
Bartley, P. Delargy, H. J. Harrison, J. (Nottingham. E)
Benn, Hon. Wedgwood Dodds, N. N. Hastings, S.
Benson, G. Driberg, T. E. N. Hayman, F. H.
Beswick, F. Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich) Hobson, C. R.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Holman, p.
Blackburn, F. Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse) Holmes, Horace
Blenkinsop, A. Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Houghton, Douglas
Bowles, F. G. Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Hoy, J H.
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury) Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)
Brockway, A. F. Fernyhough, E. Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)
Brook, Dryden (Halifax) Fienburgh, W Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)
Broughton, Or. A. 0. 0. Finch, H J. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Fletcher, Erie (Islington, E.) Hynd, H. (Accrington)
Burke, W. A. Foot, M. M Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)
Burton, Mist F. E. Forman, J. C. Janner, B.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.) Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Freeman, John (Watford) Jeger, George (Goole)
Chetwynd, G. R. Gibson, C. W. Jeger, Mrs. Lena
Clunie, J. Gooch, E. G. Jones, David (Hartlepool)
Coldrick, W. Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C Jones, Jack (Rotherham)
Collick. P. H. Grey, C. F. Jones, T. W (Merioneth)
Keenan, W. Oswald, T. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E
Kenyon, C. Padley, W. E. Sylvester, G. 0.
King, Dr. H. M. Paget, R. T. Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Lee, Frederick (Newton) Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley) Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury) Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)
Lever, Harold (Cheetham) Palmer, A. M. F. Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Pearson, A. Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Lewis, Arthur Peart, T. F. Thornton, E.
Lindgren, G. S. Plummer, Sir Leslie Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lymn
Logan, D. G. Porter, G. Usborne, H. C.
MacColl, J. E. Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Wallace, H. W.
McGhee, H. G. Proctor, W. T. Warbey, W. N.
McInnes, J. Pryde, D. J. Watkins T E
McLeavy, F Pursey, Cmdr. H. Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)
MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Rankin, John Wells, William (Walsall)
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Rhodes, H. West, D. G.
Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Robens, Rt. Hon. A. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Mann, Mrs. Jean Roberts, Albert (Normanton) White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Manuel, A. C. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Mayhew, C. P Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) Wilkins, W. A.
Mikardo, Ian Ross, William Willey, F. T.
Mitchison, G. R Royle, C Williams, David (Neath)
Monslow, W. Shackleton, E. A. A Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)
Moody, A. S. Short, E. W Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Morley, R. Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill) Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Skeffington, A. M. Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)
Moyle, A. Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent) Yates, V. F.
Murray, J. D. Slater, J. (Durham, Sedgefield) Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Oldfield, W. H. Steele, T. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Oliver, G. H. Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.) Mr. Bowden and Mr. Popplewell.
Orbach, M. Stross, Dr. Barnett
Aitken, W. T. Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok) Lucas-Tooth Sir Hugh
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead) Macdonald, Sir Peter
Amory, Rt. Hon. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Garner-Evans, E. H. McKibbin, A. J.
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.) Glover, D. Maclean, Fitzroy
Baldwin, A. E. Godber, J. B. Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W)
Barber, Anthony Gomme-Duncan, Col A Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Beach, Maj. Hicks Gough, C. F. H. Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Gower, H. R. Maitland, Patrick (Lanark).
Bannett, F. M. (Reading, N.) Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E
Birch, Nigel Harden, J. R. E. Markham, Major Sir Frank
Bishop, F. P. Hare, Hon. J. H. Marlowe, A. A. H.
Bowen, E. R. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.) Marshall Douglas (Bodmin)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Maude, Angus
Boyle, Sir Edward Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Maydon Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Braine, B. R. Heath, Edward Mddlicott Brig, F.
Braithwaite, Sir Gurney Higgs, J. M. C. Mellor, Sir John
Brooke, Henry (Hampstead) Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton) Mclson, A. H. E.
Browne, Jack (Govan) Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Morrison John (Salisbury)
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G T Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Nabarro, G.D.N.
Bullard, D. G. Hirst, Geoffrey Neave, Airey
Butcher, Sir Herbert Holland-Martin, C. J Nicholls, Harmar
Campbell, Sir David Hollis, M. C. Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)
Carr, Robert Hope, Lord John Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)
Channon, H. Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Nield, Basil (Chester)
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Horobin, I. M. Oakshott, H. D
Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead) Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives) Odey, G. W.
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.) Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N) O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Cole, Norman Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.
Colegate, W. A. Hulbert, Wing Cdr N. J. Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Hurd, A. R. Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H F C. Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'rgh, W) Osborne, C.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E Iremonger, T. L. Page, R. G.
Crouch, R. F. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Perkins, Sir Robert
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Peto, Brig. C. H. M.
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood) Kaberry, D. Peyton, J. W. W
Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.) Kerr, H. W. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Davidson, Viscountess Lambert, Hon. G. Pilkington, Capt, R. A.
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA Lambton, Viscount Pitman, I. J.
Donner, Sir P. W. Lancaster, Col. C. G Powell, J. Enoch
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm Leather. E. H. C. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Drayson, G. B. Legge-Bourke, Maj E. A. H. Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Duncan, Capt J. A. L. Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Profumo, J. D.
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T. Raikes, Sir Victor
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Lindsay, Martin Rayner, Brig. R.
Fell, A. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Redmayne, M.
Finlay, Graeme Lockwood, Lt.-Col J. C. Rees-Davies, W. R.
Fisher, Nigel Longden, Gilbert Renton, D. L. M.
Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. Low, A. R. W. Ridsdale, J. E.
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth. S.)
Roberts, Peter (Heeley) Stoddart-Scott, Col. M. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.) Storey, S. Walker-Smith, D. C.
Roper. Sir Harold Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.) Wall, P. H. B.
Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard Studholme, H. G. Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Russell, R. S. Summers, G. S. Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Ryder, Capt. R. E. D. Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne) Wellwood, W.
Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. Teeling, W. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Scott, R. Donald Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury) Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)
Scott-Millar, Cmdr. R. Tilney, John Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Shepherd, William Touch, Sir Gordon Wills, G.
Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.) Turner, H. F. L. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Smithers, Peter (Winchester) Turton, R. H. Wood, Hon. R.
Soames, Capt. C. Vane, W. M. F.
Spens, Rt. Hon. Sir P. (Kensington, S.) Vaughan-Morgan, J. K. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.) Vosper, D. F. Major Conant and
Mr. Richard Thompson.