HC Deb 24 July 1956 vol 557 cc353-74

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Milk (Great Britain) (Amendment) Order, 1956 (S.I., 1956, No. 920), dated 13th June, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th June, be annulled. If it will not inconvenience hon. Members from Northern Ireland, I suggest we might also consider at the same time the following Prayer: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Milk (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Order, 1956 (S.I., 1956, No. 921), dated 13th June, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th June, be annulled. Then, if necessary, each Prayer could be divided upon.

I am sorry to see the Joint Parliamentary Secretary about to reply. He knows as well as I do that this is a matter the responsibility for which falls upon the shoulders of the Treasury Ministers; for that reason, and because I feel rather kindly disposed towards the hon. Gentleman, I will speak with some moderation, restraint and brevity. I realise, as he too realises, I am sure, that he did not do very well when we last discussed a Prayer of this kind, and I do not want him to lose his Parliamentary reputation for the sins of the Treasury.

This Order deals with the price of full price fresh milk; it increases the retail price and reduces the subsidy. I say at once, so that there shall be no apprehension in any quarter of the House which might otherwise be caused, that the farmer, as I am sure the Joint Parliamentary Secretary concedes, obtains no benefit at all from this price increase. It is a straightforward reduction of subsidy.

This full price milk was sold under the Labour Government at 5½d. a pint, at the time we went out of office, and, as this Order now reveals, it is now being sold at 7½d. a pint. This represents the latest of a series of retail prices increases. I want to say a word or two about the arguments which have been previously deployed by the present Postmaster-General in support of these price increases. Originally, when we had the first retail price increase, the Postmaster-General argued, and vehemently argued, that it would not lead to a decrease in consumption. On the contrary, he said, there would be an increase in consumption, and he expressed the view that he would be very unhappy indeed if the price increase should lead to a decrease in production.

I mention that because at that time, this being early in the Parliamentary career of the right hon. Gentleman, he enjoyed a reputation as being knowledgeable on matters of nutrition. He indicated at that time that the consumption of fresh milk had not, in his view, by any means reached the optimum level.

The Postmaster-General became extremely melancholy and unhappy, because it was very soon revealed that there was in fact quite a sharp reduction in the consumption of milk. He then argued, when we had a subsequent price increase, that although there was a decrease in consumption owing to the price increase, the decrease was purely trivial. But, as the figures revealed that his margin of error was between 600 and 700 per cent., that argument was soon abandoned. I am dealing only with the major arguments upon which he relied. He then reverted to a third argument, saying that, after all, people spent twice as much money upon beer as upon milk, and obviously, to drink more milk, they should drink less beer. I do not know whether the Joint Parliamentary Secretary intends to rely upon that argument tonight, but if he is I should ask him in fairness whether he has had full and proper consultation with the brewers. He knows as well as I do that his party has a particular dependence upon the brewers. As we pointed out in earlier debates—if the Parliamentary Secretary has not refreshed his recollection—by and large the people whom we wish to encourage to drink more milk would not be well advised to drink beer.

Having failed to convince the House upon that argument the Postmaster-General then relied upon a fourth argument. He said, "Well, I concede that there has been a decrease in the consumption of milk; I concede that I am most unhappy and melancholy. Having upset the brewers, I no longer rely upon this as being a disincentive to beer consumption. My argument now is that this reduction in the consumption of milk has been borne by the higher income groups." That was absolute nonsense.

I am glad to see that the Postmaster-General has decided to join us in this discussion, because he will remember that the only intervention made by the Parliamentary Secretary was upon this point. When I was ridiculing the Postmaster-General, he intervened to say: Quite right."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 24th June, 1953; Vol. 516, c. 2055.] He owes an explanation to the House. I do not know whether he meant that my ridicule was quite right or that the subject matter of my ridicule was quite right, but whatever the purpose of his intervention it is quite clear now that that argument is absolutely fallacious, because the Milk Marketing Board has provided us with some most interesting research, mainly into the consumption of milk in the nine towns.

That has shown quite conclusively that the fall in the consumption of milk has been in the lower income groups, and particularly in the lower income groups with large families. In other words, although we have a far larger consumption of milk—even now under a Tory Government—than we had pre-war, it still remains a fact, as I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will concede if he has read the report, that poor people with large families do not by any means consume sufficient milk.

To summarise our experience under a past Conservative Administration, their price policy led to a reversal of the trend which we enjoyed under the Labour Government. Whereas we had had an increasing consumption of fresh milk, this trend was reversed, quite deliberately, under a Conservative Government, and we can see now, because the figures are available, that as a result of the price increases of the first Conservative Government the consumption of fresh milk fell by between 3 and 4 per cent.

The interesting feature is—and this is the primary cause of the present Order—that during the early months of this year it appeared quite clear that the decline had been arrested. Although there was very limited evidence, it appeared that there was a slight increase in the consumption of milk. That was the position as it appeared at the beginning of the year. For that reason I said at once, without regard or particular consideration to the economic crisis that was brewing, that there would shortly be an increase in the retail price of milk.

That anticipation, unfortunately, has proved correct. I do not think that the Order is in any special way related to the problem of keeping our trade balance on an even keel. It is because the Government had noticed that it appeared that the consumption of milk snowed signs of recovering from its decline, and of increasing. I say this to the credit of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Unlike the Postmaster-General, and, recognising the evidence that was now readily available to all of us, he made no bones about it. He said that one of the purposes of this increase in the retail price was to discourage consumption. In fact, if we look to the other documents published by the Government, it is clear that it is their policy to discourage increased milk consumption and that they look for some reduction in consumption.

Our main quarrel with this price increase is that it seeks no particular effect. I think that the words of the Chancellor were that it would have no appreciable effect, but in seeking this limited effect of reducing consumption, which we deplore, the Government will drastically reduce consumption where we ought to be advocating and encouraging increased consumption.

This overall relatively small decrease in consumption will be borne largely by poor people with large families, as the report of the Milk Marketing Board shows. After all, we have shown to the House in previous debates that what the researches of the Milk Marketing Board have revealed had already been revealed by reports which we had received from large co-operative societies. So we say that the purpose of the Government is deplorable, but that its effect in this particular instance is especially deplorable, and is directed against people with limited means who have large families.

I concede to the Chancellor that he has put his case fairly. The second argument put by the Chancellor is that this is a further operation of Boyle's law, that this will lead to a general reduction in overall purchasing power. That is why I invited the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to say whether this Order was directed especially against the brewers, because it is directed against somebody. Perhaps we shall hear when the hon. Gentleman replies to the debate.

In its application this is equally unfair because it is generally regressive, but again it is particularly directed against the people with low incomes and especially those people with large families. Those are the people who will find that if they are to continue their present level of consumption, which is inadequate according to the evidence before us, they will go short of other things.

Now I want to say a general word about subsidies. The subsidy was there until 1st July, so in effect this change is a tax, and a poll tax upon everyone. I want to remind the Joint Parliamentary Secretary of the previous debates and discussions which we have had about food subsidies. Probably he himself has argued, certainly many of his hon. and right hon. Friends have argued, that the food subsidies were not a social service—

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Harmar Nicholls) indicated assent.

Mr. Willey

I see that the hon. Gentleman nods his head in agreement, but what did he and his hon. Friends argue that the food subsidies were? They argued that they were an economic device. For what purpose? To keep the level of wages and prices stable.

In other words, in the past the Conservatives have argued that they could tamper with food subsidies provided that by other means they kept prices and wages stable. To upset food subsidies must make prices and wages less stable. This is what we really cannot understand, that at the very time when we are trying to achieve stability, both in prices and wages, the Chancellor of the Exchequer does his utmost to upset that stability. Yet he and many other of his hon. and right hon. Friends have argued that, not conceding the argument for a social service, food subsidies could only be justified on these grounds.

So we oppose this Order because, in the first place, it seems politically stupid. It has repercussions which I am sure all of us on both sides of the House would wish to avoid. Nutritionally and socially, it is objectionable, because we have recent reports which show conclusively that there are many lower income groups, particularly those with large families, who ought to be encouraged to drink more milk.

Finally, we oppose it because it is basically and patently unfair. If the Government show this bias, they are not equipped to guide the country out of its economic difficulties.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

I beg to second the Motion.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Perhaps, in his endeavour to be brief, the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) has avoided going deeply into the facts of the case. I will not accuse him of doing it purposely, but it is obvious that he has avoided mentioning milk products. This was not because it would be out of order to mention milk products, but he purposely confined his arguments to milk.

Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

The Order is about milk.

Mr. Gurden

Admittedly, but the right hon. Gentleman tried to draw a parallel between the facts of milk consumption today and during the time of the Labour Government, when, in fact, many milk products were prevented from being sold by rationing.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Is it not customary for hon. Members speaking about a certain industry to declare a present or recent interest in it?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

If there is a direct pecuniary interest, an hon. Member declares his interest; otherwise it is not necessary.

Mr. Gurden

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Perhaps I might say that I have no interest whatever at the moment in the industry.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

To whom did the hon. Member sell it?

Mr. Gurden

I am not sure whether the hon. Member thinks I ought to have sold it to him.

If one has to take into account milk consumption today and compares it with any other period, one must certainly take into account the consumption of other milk products. The consumption of other milk products is extremely high today, far higher than in the days of rationing.

Mr. Willey

Surely the hon. Member is aware that he speaks in error. Surely he is aware that the main milk product, butter, is by no means in adequate supply. If it were at a proper price, there would be a far greater demand for it.

Mr. Gurden

I am sure that Mr. Speaker would stop me if I went deeply into the subject of milk products. Butter is only one of a tremendous variety of milk products. There are proprietary brands of milk products which figure very largely in this matter. I should say that the overall milk consumption in this country is far greater today per head of the population than it has ever been.

There is a more important factor than that. In relation to nutritional values, milk is the cheapest food we have today, even at present prices. It does justify an increase, because at its present price milk is still too cheap—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—in comparison with other basic foods and, compared with non-essential foods, it is cheaper still. One can take calorific, chemical, or bacteriological values, and one will find that milk is still the cheapest food we have.

If there is a criticism to be made, it is that the price emphasis and the subsidy emphasis in the whole of the dairy trade are now beginning to shift from the hygienic to the chemical values. I mean that the higher fat and solids content of milk is becoming more important. Over the years we have moved towards having more hygienic milk and, thanks to all Governments who have played a hand in this matter and to the trade, there has been a considerable improvement in the hygienic quality of milk. The bacteriological position is far better today than it has ever been, and it is still improving. Under the Labour Government very much was done to help in that direction. If I can say this without blushing, I tried to help and was told that I helped considerably at that time. At that time I should have had to have declared an interest.

In the future the Minister could, with advantage, consider—it may be necessary to set up a committee for this purpose—a shift in the subsidies or prices charged, when there is control, to chemical quality, rather than, as has benefited us in the past, the hygienic and bacteriological quality of the milk. I am not for a moment suggesting that we should ignore the bacteriological factors in the matter, because they are extremely important, but now we should try to get a better quality yield from our cattle.

If there is to be criticism of profit, it should lie with proprietary milk products. We should not subsidise any proprietary milk products, because they are very little better than the non-proprietary brands. What proprietary brand is better than good old Cheshire cheese? Where we are subsidising we should shift the emphasis to ordinary brands away from proprietary brands.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)

A few moments ago we had one of the most extraordinary speeches any of us has ever heard from the Front Bench opposite. I am not certain that the speech we have just had from the back bench ran the speech of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs very close indeed. That milk is too cheap today must be one of the most extraordinary statements in the many extraordinary remarks which have been made from the other side of the House during the debate today.

I hope that the Joint Parliamentary-Secretary will tell us in plain simple words, so that we and the people outside can understand, what good purpose will be served by the Order. The farmers are not going to benefit; the consumers are not going to benefit and our economy surely cannot benefit by another measure designed to put up the cost of living.

It is necessary to realise the background to this matter. Here we have a proposal to increase the price of a basic foodstuff. This comes after last week's announcement of a 10 per cent. increase of imported bacon—the deliberate policy of the Government. We shall eventually have an increase in the price of bread and flour, and many other increases have been made in every essential article which goes into the kitchen through the increases in Purchase Tax.

When the hon. Member for Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) talks about milk being too cheap, he should appreciate, as a person having a wholesale interest in the matter, that milk is not something which one buys just now and again. An increase of a ½d. in the price of a pint of milk means 1s. 2d. a week to a family of four, if each member has a pint of milk a day.

Mr. Gurden

The hon. Member should at least be fair. My remark was only in relation to other foods. I said that it was too cheap in relation to other foods.

Mr. Beswick

Would the hon. Member at any rate agree with me that after a series of increases, which has increased the milk bill in my household—as I mentioned the other day—by about 6s. 6d. a week since the present Government came into power, this increase is of importance in a working class budget? I suggest that it is a most important item.

What is the reason for introducing the Order? Would the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who is speaking for the Government, and not just for his Department, be good enough to tell us why, at the present time, the Prime Minister is justified in demanding a standstill in the price of gas and electricity while the Government go out of their way to increase the cost of milk? How can we tolerate price increases in essential foodstuffs when we are told that it is absolutely essential to hold the prices of other basic commodities? What is the policy behind this Order? I hope that we shall get a plain, straightforward and simple explanation from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.

10.28 p.m.

Mr. Sidney Dye (Norfolk, South-West)

Although I am interested in agriculture, I am not a dairy farmer, although many of my constituents are. It may be argued that this Order has nothing to do with the production of milk; it is merely a question of increasing its retail price by a ½d. a pint, and as the hon. Member for Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) has told us, even with the additional increase in price it is still cheap. The question is whether it is cheap enough to encourage our people to consume all that we can produce in as fresh a state as possible, and to maintain the industry to the advantage of the health of the nation.

If the purpose of the Order is to rectify the unhealthy state of the finances of the country, we shall surely be worse off if we injure the health of the children and the babies in carrying out that purpose. That is the argument which I and my hon. Friends would use against the Order. So long as we encouraged the greater consumption of milk and kept its price at such a figure that it encouraged greater consumption, we were following a policy which was for the benefit of the country. Now it is argued that, because the financial state of the country is getting out of hand, we must put up the price of milk along with the price of many other things in order to restore financial stability.

Are we not doing something to injure the stability of the country? We could have taken other steps to restore financial stability. It would not be wise to pursue that argument, but I think it pertinent to say that the increased price of milk will result in a decrease in the consumption of liquid milk, which will upset the balance of our agricultural economy. Already we are producing more milk than we are consuming in liquid form. In the first half of this year Great Britain has risen from fourth to third place in the export of condensed milk. Are we not therefore calling on the consumers of this country to subsidise the export of milk to other parts of the world?

Questions have been asked recently about what enabled certain men to maintain their stamina through the heat of Australian days on the cricket field. Now we are told that what enabled Tyson and Statham to continue to send down fast balls and get the "Aussies" out was the milk that they consumed. It was not beef, brawn, mutton, lamb, or anything of that sort, it was the milk and egg flips which they took for lunch and in the middle of the afternoon which kept them fresh even at the end of the day.

Mr. Nicholls

Has the hon. Gentleman any record of what Washbrook had to drink?

Mr. Dye

Now, look here—[Laughter]—it is an old dodge to try to get a person off the right point. My particular point at the moment is that milk is the great stamina-producing agent; and here is this wretched Tory Government putting up the price of milk at the very time when we are faced with the Australians.

Today we have our greatest growing generation, the greatest ever number of children going through the schools of this country, and their parents are faced with this determined attitude on the part of the Government to do two things, to stabilise wages or bring them down, and to put up the cost of living. It seems to me that the Government are going mad—[HON. MEMBERS: "They have gone mad."]—in dealing with agriculture when they should be dealing with the financial institutions and the methods by which affairs of State are financed. This is a bad Order. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who represents the Peterborough Division, knows that, and so do his constituents.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

I would not have intervened in this debate but for the speech of the hon. Member for Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden). I speak as one who drinks milk and the hon. Member spoke as one who used to sell it. By looking at the pair of us it is plain to see who sold and who drinks it.

We dragged out of the hon. Member the admission that he used to have a vested interest in the selling of milk, apparently under a Socialist Government which subsidised milk so that the good stuff our workers and children needed most was sold at the lowest price. When the profit was lost he sold out. I suppose he is wishing he had not come to Parliament in view of Orders such as those we are now discussing.

I understand that there is a big chocolate-making factory in the hon. Member's constituency. I hope he will have the guts to go to his constituency and tell the housewives, particularly those with big families, that milk is too cheap and tell the workers of Bournville that their raw material is too cheap, that he wants it to go up in price so that it would be more difficult to sell and, therefore, there would be more of these workers out of work. I hope he does that, because the result would not be long in coming.

10.36 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Harmar Nicholls)

I came to the House tonight with the usual apprehensions to answer a Prayer, but I must confess that my apprehensions were turned to terror when I was led to believe by the hon Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) that the result would be that we shall lose the next vital Test Match. That is a matter which would really strike terror into most of us.

We know that the opportunity of a Prayer is an opportunity for the Opposition to have a good all-round smack at the Government. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) had some kind things to say about me in his opening speech. May I in turn say how delighted I am to see him back from his travels so that he can go back into battle with his ability. If there is one hon. Member who can claim the title of past master in dealing with Prayers, it is the hon. Member for Sunderland, North. The hon. Member was hard pressed tonight to find anything new to say. I do not know whether to commiserate with him on the slender grounds for argument or to congratulate him on the enthusiasm with which he did his work. He said some unkind things about the Postmaster-General, but he had almost nothing to say about the Orders we have before us. While my speech may be more prosaic than was his, I think it incumbent on me to say a few words on the actual Orders which are being prayed against.

We welcome the fact that the two Orders are being considered together, but for convenience I shall confine my references to the Great Britain Order. The principal Order, which the Great Britain Order amends, prescribes a maximum price for each type of milk sold in Great Britain. The most familiar types are pasteurised, tuberculin tested and sterilised. The amendment to the principal Order increases the maximum price by ½d. a pint from 1st July this year. The increase, which ought to be on the record, is from 7d. to 7½d., which applies to pasteurised milk, 7½d. to 8d. in the case of tuberculin tested, and 7½d. to 8d. also for sterilised milk. Further details are in the Order.

Another effect of the Order is a point which was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak (Mr. GurdenX The Order will transfer the quality provisions of the principal Order, as they relate to the Channel Islands and South Devon milk, from the orbit of the wartime emergency legislation under which they have been operating to permanent legislation under the Food and Drugs Act, 1955. My hon. Friend was quite correct in paying so much attention to quality milk. The 4 per cent. minimum butter fat content, which was the basis of the quality provisions under the principal Order, will be maintained under permanent legislation. The House will remember that my right hon. Friend discussed this in greater detail last month, when he asked the House to agree to the Milk and Dairies (Channel Islands and South Devon Milk) Regulations, 1956.

It has been the policy of successive Governments to reduce our reliance on war-time emergency legislation in favour of permanent legislation, and this is another move in that direction. It makes no difference to the standard of the milk; it means that the 4 per cent. quality control will continue but that the enforcement will be the responsibility of the Food and Drugs authorities. It is right to have this on the record, because these are the bones of the Orders; they should be on record in addition to the political arguments of the previous speeches.

We must bear in mind that the prices laid down are maximum prices for milk sold in Great Britain. The House will have noticed that the word "retail" does not appear in the Orders. This is because the maximum price in the Orders is the normal price which the housewife has to pay at her door. The two prices are one and the same and there was no necessity to identify the retail price by referring to it in the Orders.

We have been asked for the reasons for this price increase. The House will remember that it was foreshadowed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 17th February, and I do not think I can do better than repeat the point which he made then. He said that with such a high level of employment and high wages it was difficult to justify the continuance of these general consumer subsidies on their present scale."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 2670.] particularly at a time when the Government were making great efforts to reduce expenditure and were asking every spending section throughout the country to do the same. If those words are reexamined, I think it will be seen that they were responsible words in the context of the problem with which the country is faced, and I think the House will accept them as a fair and proper statement of the position.

Dr. Edith Summerskill (Warrington)

If that statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is valid, why has the consumption of milk dropped in the lowest income groups, where there are dependent families?

Mr. Nicholls

I will deal with that point. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North made a point about what he described as the special burden this increase would be on large families, and I will deal with that. But I do not think it could be established that over the last few months the general consumption of milk has fallen in the way that the hon. Member suggested.

In the economy drive, the Chancellor's first efforts were monetary and fiscal and bore principally on investment. It was never in the Government's mind, nor ought it to have been in the Government's mind, that the whole burden should be placed upon investment. The Government have always claimed that the consumer should play his part, particularly when such a high 'proportion of consumers have benefited from increases in wages, salaries or profits.

As the hon. Member for Sunderland, North said, the demand for milk is fairly inelastic. Whatever their social positions, people have their regular standing order for milk. One of the weaknesses of food subsidies is that the Government have to put the screw on all taxpayers in order to get the money to pay the subsidies to benefit many who do not need or desire the help of subsidies. That is a fundamental weakness of the whole basis of such subsidies.

Nor ought we to overlook the proposition that, in the long run, it is healthier and better that people should pay the proper price for the commodities which they are buying and using. I have been asked the reasons for the increase, and I am giving a reason which I hold sincerely and which is a basis of Government policy. To try to hide the imperfections in the normal working of our economy and to conceal indications which ought to be known will, in the long run, affect the general efficiency of the country.

Mr. Willey

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to intervene, because he is now saying something which is of considerable importance. Is he now giving forewarning that the Government intend to attack welfare foods?

Mr. Nicholls

I will deal with that. What I say now is that the Government have said that, in order to face the problem now facing the whole of the country both investment and consumers should play their part in bringing back stability.

Until 1st July, the general milk subsidy was running at over £40 million a year, and that represented one point in the cost-of-living index. In putting up the price of milk by only ½d. a pint we get an immediate reduction this year of approximately £17 millions, and of £20 millions in a full year. That, I think, will be accepted as a very considerable contribution to the general effort of the Exchequer to see that there there are no hidden prices or hidden values.

I would argue, too, that it is merely a transfer of the burden as far as milk is concerned. The people are getting the advantage of paying less as taxpayers and make it up in payment as consumers.

Mr. Speaker, having made those points on the long-term value of the people paying economic prices, I think that we should recognise—and this, I think, is the point which the right hon. Lady had in mind—that there are exceptions which have to be faced. I do not think that any critics of the increase of ½d. a pint on milk should overlook the extra family allowances which are to be given by the Government. The hon. Gentleman made a big point of the fact that the Orders would put an extra burden on households with large families but, to make that statement and at the same time to ignore the fact that we are giving extra family allowances to those very households, is not very helpful. We either have to look at the picture as a whole or else put a very unfair interpretation on what the Government are doing.

I heard comments about the old-age pensioners. What have the Government done? Are they ignoring the old-age pensioners? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I think that it should be remembered on the other side that when the party opposite were the Government the old-age pension was 30s. a week and today it is 40s.; that the widow's pension was then 26s. a week and today is also 40s. I know that it is part of the tactics of party conflict, but I do not think that it is fair that a special gloss should be put on an Order of this sort while completely ignoring all the countervailing improvements.

Mr. Willey

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I want to be fair to his right hon. Friends. I did not mention the increase in family allowances, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer has never claimed any association between subsidy cuts and the increased family allowances. The increased family allowance has been given because of the rapid increase in the cost of living, disregarding, for that purpose, the increase which has been caused by this subsidy cut and by the bread subsidy cut.

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Gentleman really cannot get away with that. He made it the main point of his argument that the result of the Government's action was to put a burden on the households with big families. I am saying that, as a result of Government action, those households with big families are getting greater assistance from the Exchequer than ever they did when the hon. Gentleman was in office.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that only this week, in reply to a Question put by me today, the Secretary of State for Scotland has admitted that every child at a kindergarten school in Edinburgh will have its mid-day school meal increased in price from 4d. to l0d. a day?

Mr. Nicholls

I do not see the relevance of that to what we are now discussing. Those families will also get the advantage of the increased family allowance.

I do beg the House to keep a sense of proportion in this matter. The average consumption of full price milk, according to the records, is four pints per head per week. An increase of a halfpenny a pint will make a difference of twopence a head a week. To make the sort of speech which the hon. Gentleman did, on the basis of increases of this Order, at a time when expenditure on tobacco, beer, wines and spirits and sweets has gone up to £1,938 million a year, is really nonsensical.

Any Government subsidising these essential foods should take into account that that amount of money is available from the profits, wages and salaries which all are enjoying, and that being a fact it is hard to establish that an extra twopence per head per week on milk is likely to be an intolerable burden.

On the question of welfare foods, I would make clear that we have already taken into account the necessity of continuing assistance on the welfare milk. Children under 5 years of age and expectant mothers will continue to receive milk at the rate of one pint a day at the old price of l½d., and in necessitous cases this milk is provided free of charge. That will not be altered. Also, our schoolchildren are not affected under this Order. They will continue to receive their daily third of a pint free of charge when at school. It is well to remember that those two schemes account for about 15 per cent. of the total amount of liquid milk consumed in this country.

Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

Is it not a fact that the Government have insisted that the children at nursery schools will have their consumption of milk reduced to 50 per cent.?

Mr. Nicholls

The scales I have announced are the scales being adhered to in the schools—a third of a pint.

The other suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends was that general consumption of milk was falling. I think that I should give the figures of liquid consumption to put that in its proper perspective. So far as the consumption of liquid milk is concerned, comparing January to June, 1955 with the same months of 1956 these are the figures: in January, 1955, liquid milk consumption was 128.2 million gallons; it went up in 1956 to 128.5 million; in February from 117.8 million to 123.4 million; in March, 1955, it was 130.9 million, and in 1956 it stood at 130.1 million; in April, it went up from 122.6 million to 124.3 million; May, 129.7 million to 130.4 million; in June. 125.8 million to 127.7 million.

I quote those figures because the suggestion from hon. Gentleman opposite was that we had had a falling-off in consumption of liquid milk.

Dr. Summerskill

Will the hon. Gentleman break that total down? What was the consumption in those families with dependent children?

Mr. Nicholls

I have already dealt with the question of families which have more than two dependent children. I have not the figures which the right hon. Lady asks for, but if she will allow me, her hon. Friend was suggesting that the consumption of milk was falling at an alarming rate. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am merely wanting to show that over the last five months we have seen an improvement in liquid consumption, which I am certain will give a lot of satisfaction.

Mr. Willey

I think we should try to get this matter right. I said that the consumption of full price fresh milk had fallen by 3 to 4 per cent. under a Conservative Government. Does the Joint Parliamentary Secretary deny that? Secondly, I said it appeared on the evidence before us, which was perhaps inadequate, that during the early months of this year there had been a slight increase in the consumption of full price fresh milk, and for that reason I said that I anticipated the Government introducing a further increase in the retail price.

Mr. Nicholls

If the hon. Gentleman will take into account all the speeches which have come from the Opposition benches tonight, he will find that the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West was not quite in keeping with that. If the hon. Gentleman has helped me to leave on the records of the House that over the last five months the anticipated general increase in price has not caused a falling off in consumption, we have both done our job extremely well.

The way in which the debate on the Prayer has gone is in keeping with those on past Prayers. In so far as there has been criticism of what the Chancellor has tried to do, it is only fair to say that the improvement in our gold reserves and balance of trade and the general feeling of improvement even in our motor exports, in spite of German competition, have shown that he is winning through. If we take all the arguments together and look at the effort that my right hon. Friend is making to achieve a balanced economy, without trying to separate this small aspect from all the other aspects, we shall feel satisfaction that we are moving along the right road.

However, we do not expect hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that. All I can do is to ask the House to say it, and show that it means it, by opposing the Prayer.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 171, Noes 230.

Division No. 268.] AYES [10.55 p.m.
Ainsley, J. w. Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.) Owen, W. J.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Hayman, F. H. Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Healey, Denis Palmer, A. M. F.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)
Awbery, S. S. Herbison, Miss M. Pargiter, G. A.
Bacon, Miss Alice Hobson, C. R. Parkin, B. T.
Balfour, A. Holman, P. Pearson, A.
Beswick, F. Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Popplewell, E.
Blackburn, F. Howell, Denis (All Saints) Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Blenkinsop, A. Hoy, J. H. Probert, A. R.
Blyton, W. R. Hubbard, T. F. Proctor, W. T.
Boardman, H. Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Pryde, D. J.
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Randall, H. E.
Bowles, F. G. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Robens, Rt. Hon. A.
Boyd, T C. Hunter, A. E. Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Hynd, H. (Accrington) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Short, E. W.
Burke, W. A. Janner, B. Shurmer, P. L. E.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Skeffington, A. M.
Callaghan, L. J. Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Johnson, James (Rugby) Snow, J. W.
Champion, A. J. Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Chetwynd, G. R. Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Sparks, J. A.
Clunie, J. Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Steele, T.
Coldrick, W. Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury) Kenyon, C. Stones, W. (Consett)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda King, Dr. H. M. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Cove, W. G. Lawson, G. M. Sylvester, G. O.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Ledger, R. J. Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Cronin, J. D. Lee, Frederick (Newton) Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Crossman, R. H. S Lindgren, G. S. Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Davies, Harold (Leek) Logan, D. G. Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Timmons, J.
Deer, G. MacColl, J. E. Turner-Samuels, M.
Delargy, H. J. McInnes, J. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Dye, S. McKay, John (Wallsend) Warbey, W. N.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. McLeavy, Frank Watkins, T. E.
Edelman, M. MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Weitzman, D.
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Mahon, Simon Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Mallalieu, E. L, (Brigg) West, D. G.
Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.) Mann, Mrs. Jean Wheeldon, W. E.
Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury) Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Fernyhough, E. Mason, Roy Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
Finch, H. J. Mayhew, C. P. Willey, Frederick
Forman, J. C. Mikardo, Ian Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Mitchison, G. R. Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Monslow, W. Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Gibson, C. W. Moody, A. S. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Gooch, E. G. Mort, D. L. Winterbottom, Richard
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Moyle, A. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Mulley, F. W. Woof, R. E.
Grey, C. F. Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) O'Brien, Sir Thomas Zilliacus, K.
Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Oram, A. E.
Hamilton, W. W. Orbach, M. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hannan, W. Oswald, T. Mr. J. T. Price and Mr. Simmons.
Agnew, Cmdr, P. G. Bidgood, J. C. Chichester-Clark, R.
Aitken, W. T. Biggs-Davison, J. A. Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Cole, Norman
Alport, C. J. M. Bishop, F. P. Conant, Maj. Sir Roger
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Black, C. W. Cooper-Key, E. M.
Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William Body, R. F. Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.
Arbuthnot, John Boothby, Sir Robert Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)
Armstrong C. W. Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Crouch, R. F.
Ashton, H. Boyle, Sir Edward Cunningham, Knox
Astor, Hon. J. J. Braine, B. R. Dance, J. C. G.
Atkins, H. E. Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Davidson, Viscountess
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry
Baldwin, A. E. Brooman-White, R. C. Deedes, W. F.
Balniel, Lord Bryan, P. Digby, Simon Wingfield
Barber, Anthony Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Dodds-Parker, A. D.
Barlow, Sir John Burden, F. F. A. Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.
Barter, John Campbell, Sir David Doughty, C. J. A.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Carr, Robert Drayson, G. B.
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Cary, Sir Robert du Cann, E. D. L.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Channon, H. Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.
Duthie, W. S. Lambert, Hon. G. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Lambton, Viscount Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E, Lancaster, Col. C. G. Profumo, J. D.
Emmett, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Langford-Holt, J. A. Raikes, Sir Victor
Errington, Sir Eric Leather, E. H. C. Ramsden, J. E.
Fell, A. Leavey, J. A. Rawlinson, Peter
Fisher, Nigel Legge-Bourke, Mal. E. A. H. Redmayne, M.
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Remnant, Hon. p.
Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Lindsay, Martin (Solihull) Renton, D. L. M.
Freeth, D. K. Linstead, Sir H. N. Ridsdale, J. E.
Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Rippon, A. G. F.
Gammans, Sir David Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral) Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Garner-Evans, E. H. Longden, Gilbert Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
George, J. C. (Pollok) Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Glover, D. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Roper, Sir Harold
Godber, J. B. Macdonald, Sir Peter Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.
Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. B. (Nantwich) McKibbin, A. J. Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Green, A. Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Sharples, R. C.
Gresham Cooke, R. McLaughlin, Mrs. P. Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Speir, R. M.
Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster) Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)
Gurden, Harold McLean, Neil (Inverness) Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)
Hall, John (Wycombe) MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty) Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley) Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfd) Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)
Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Maddan, Martin Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark) Studholme, Sir Henry
Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Markham, Major Sir Frank Summers, Sir Spencer
Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Marlowe, A. A. H. Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)
Hirst, Geoffrey Marshall, Douglas Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Holland-Martin, C. J. Mathew, R. Teeling, W.
Hope, Lord John Maude, Angus Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Hornby, R. P. Mawby, R. L. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C. Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R.(Croydon, S.)
Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Monckton, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)
Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Nabarro, G. D. N. Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Hulbert, Sir Norman Nairn, D. L. S. Touche, Sir Gordon
Hurd, A. R. Nicholls, Harmar Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.) Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham) Vane, W. M. F.
Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H. Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch) Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Nield, Basil (Chester) Vickers, Miss J. H.
Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Noble, Comdr. A. H. P. Vosper, D. F.
Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Nugent, G. R. H. Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Oakshott, H. D, Wall, Major Patrick
Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Johnson, Eric (Blackley) O'Neil, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.) Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)
Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D. Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Joseph, Sir Keith Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare) Whitelaw, W. S. I.(Penrith & Border)
Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot Page, R. G. Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Keegan, D. Pannell, N. A, (Kirkdale) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Kerr, H. W. Peyton, J, W. W. Wood, Hon. R.
Kershaw, J. A. Pilkington, Capt. R. A. Woollam, John Victor
Kimball, M. Pitt, Miss E. M. Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Kirk, P. M. Pott, H. P.
Lagden, G. W. Powell, J. Enoch TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Legh and Mr. Wakefield.
Mr. Willey

In view of my failure to gain any support from hon. Members from Northern Ireland, I do not propose to move the second Prayer.