HC Deb 22 November 1954 vol 533 cc750-2
3. Mr. T. Reid

asked the Minister of Food if he will make a statement on his present policy with regard to the supply of tea for this country; and what effort was made to purchase tea crops early this year on a long-term bulk-buying contract to forestall the excessive prices now being charged by the growers.

Mr. Amory

It is the Government's policy to rely upon the efforts of private importers to obtain the tea we want; there is no intention of resuming Government purchase on long-term contracts.

Mr. Reid

Is it the policy of the Government—no matter what the conditions of supply and demand are—to leave the matter entirely to the law of supply and demand, irrespective of the fact that at present common tea, which used to cost 6d. per lb., now costs 6s. a lb.? Surely that is a doctrinaire and disastrous policy?

Mr. Amory

I cannot agree. On the contrary, I think that that is the best policy. As the hon. Gentleman says, the price of tea is determined by demand in relation to supply, and no amount of Government control or Government bulk purchase would get away from that fact.

Miss Lee

Will the right hon. Gentleman find out whether, by getting back to long-term bulk purchase, he could not get the ordinary business advantages that follow from such purchase? If that is not possible, will the right hon. Gentleman consider once again subsidising the price of tea? Does he not realise that tea is one of the most important factors in the lives of old-age pensioners and low wage earners?

Mr. Amory

No, Sir. I think that even the last Government found that bulk purchases of tea were not possible after 1950. I think that they would be still less possible today. With regard to the second part of the hon. Lady's question, the answer is, "No, Sir." The Government do not consider that it would be a good plan to resume consumer subsidies on tea.

Mr. Bottomley

Is the Minister's statement, that bulk buying would not be welcome under certain conditions, an accurate statement? Have not the Pakistan Government made representations in the matter?

Mr. Amory

I did not say it might not be welcome. I said it would not lead to a lower price for the consumer in this country.

Sir W. Darling

Has my right hon. Friend considered approaching the tea exporting countries to ask them to reduce the export levy, which is a very important factor?

Mr. Amory

There is a Question down to me later on that subject.

5. Mr. Collins

asked the Minister of Food what representations have been made to his Department regarding the recent depreciation in the quality and flavour of tea and asking him to reimpose price control.

Mr. Amory

None, Sir.

Mr. Collins

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that not only has the price of the ordinary brands of tea increased from 3s. 2d. to 6s. 8d. a lb., but many people complain that the tea is not as good? If he does not intend to reintroduce bulk purchase or to reimpose a subsidy, what does he intend to do to see that people get a decent cup of tea at a fair price?

Mr. Amory

I have read in the papers reports to that effect, but I cannot quite understand them, because the teas which are in shortest supply are the cheapest and most common brands. The blenders are at present having to use higher qualities of tea for their blendings than would normally be used.

Mr. H. Wilson

Has the Minister seen the figures published recently in "The Economist" showing that the profits of the tea companies have risen from less than£1¾ million in 1952–53 to over £7 million in the past year? Is this not a very strong argument for reimposing price control?

Mr. Amory

Profits are high at one moment and low at another.