HC Deb 04 February 1957 vol 564 cc178-200

10.27 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 No. 2) Order, 1956 (S.I., 1956, No. 1989), dated 17th December, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th December, be annulled. Before I attempt to become controversial, I should like to take the opportunity to congratulate the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on his well-deserves promotion, and to express my regrets that he should undergo his initiation in such unpleasant circumstances, but, as his right hon. Friend has made it clear repeatedly, the Minister of Agriculture disclaims any responsibility for this Order. We all know that the real culprit is the Treasury, and once again we protest that the Treasury has not got the guts to come here to defend the Orders which it imposes upon the Ministry.

What this Order does is again to increase the retail price, and to reduce, and probably abolish, the consumer subsidy on milk. That commodity, which, at the time of the Election in 1951, was selling at 5½d. a pint, is now selling at 8d. a pint. The House will remember that when we last discussed this subject the hon. Member for Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) expressed the view that milk was too cheap. Apparently his view has been shared by the Government, because within six months they have again increased the retail price. As I pointed out then, and point out again, this increase brings no benefit at all to the farmer, the producer. As we know, he is, at the moment, suffering a 5d. a gallon cut on his milk cheque. But in fact there is a relationship between the present Order and the farmer. What is happening now is that there is an increasingly wide divergence between the production and consumption of liquid milk. The production of milk is still increasing whilst the consumption of milk—thanks to the previous Order and the present Order—is falling.

The Government must accept some responsibility for what is happening about milk. In the February White Paper on the Price Review the Government anticipated this year a change-over from milk to beef, but, as usual, they are 100 per cent. wrong. What has happened during recent months has been a switch from beef to milk caused by Government policy. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I am only quoting the farmers' Press and the figures that are before us. So far as we know and so far as the farmers articulately claim, that is due to the uncertainty and unprofitability of beef.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, there has been no consultation with the Milk Marketing Board about either of these price increases, and I think that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary should take the opportunity of telling us what is the milk policy of Her Majesty's Government. This is a matter of vital concern to the farmer.

Thirty per cent. of the total value of agricultural production is in the form of milk, and this is a matter of particular concern to the small farmer. What is the policy of Her Majesty's Government? Are they trying to stabilise milk production? Are they trying to reduce it, or are they trying to increase it? The reduction in return to the farmer can, in fact, lead to an increase in production, but that will bear very heavily on the small dairy farmer. What are the Government trying to do? I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us.

I want to dwell shortly on the problem that has arisen from the action of the Government. Milk is sold at two prices. It is either sold as milk for liquid consumption or as milk for manufacture. In view of the divergence to which I have called the attention of the House, although the consumer subsidy is abolished there is now inevitably a subsidy. The price for liquid milk is subsidising milk for manufacture. I am not going to talk about a milk surplus, but in fact as an increasing percentage of milk is now going into manufacture, this price is in effect being subsidised.

Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)

What price?

Mr. Willey

The price to the manufacturer, because the producer gets a common price. The present Order aggravates the difficulty because it is reducing the consumption of liquid milk. The last Order has already led to a reduction of 1 per cent. in consumption. There is no doubt that the present Order will lead to a further decrease in the consumption of liquid milk.

I want an answer to this question also. The problem is, how is this subsidy to be financed? Is it to be financed by the milk consumer or is it to be financed by the taxpayer? Is this price support to the farmer to be laid on the consumer or is it to be borne by the taxpayer? It looks as though by their present action the Government have decided that it should be borne by the consumer. That is grossly unfair. It is, in effect, taking the burden off the Surtax payer and putting it on the child and the large family. That is the effect of this Order.

Large families consuming the larger quantities of milk will make the greater proportional contribution to the price support for British farming. That ought to have remained on the taxpayer. I think the Surtax payer could bear that more equitably than the large family, particularly those families with small incomes. But, quite apart from that, as the subsidy was being enjoyed, until it was taken off, by the consumers of milk, it is unfair in present circumstances to redistribute income in this way.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, in his previous office, justified this by saying that it had led to an increase in our gold reserves and we were winning through. That was the purport of his peroration. In view of today's figures about gold reserves, that argument is obviously no longer valid. I should like to know what argument the present Parliamentary Secretary relies upon.

This matter has, of course, nothing to do with gold reserves. It has nothing to do with our economic difficulties or with our facing of them. All this is a redistribution of income. Not only is it unfair but in present circumstances it is politically stupid. I shall not go wide of the present Order, but we know that there are circumstances at the moment compelling an increase in the cost of living; it is unavoidable at the moment. Why at this time aggravate those difficulties by fiscal action, deliberately putting up the cost of living? What answer has the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the trade unions when the Government, by deliberate fiscal action, are putting up the cost of living?

Further, what the Government have done is socially and nutritionally unfair. The effect of the Government's price policy for milk has been to reduce consumption of milk by 4 per cent. Whereas consumption of milk was increasing under the Labour Government, the action of the present Conservative Government in increasing the retail price of milk reduced consumption by about 4 per cent. This reduction became stabilised and, in fact, at the beginning of 1956 it looked as though milk consumption was increasing again. That was why we were fairly sure, as I told the previous Parliamentary Secretary, that there would be a retail price increase last year. We got it. We have now, admittedly, only a short experience of the effect of that price increase, but there has already been a reduction of very nearly one-third of 1 per cent. in the consumption of liquid milk.

The Milk Marketing Board has made inquiries as a result of which we know that there is not an adequate consumption of milk by children in homes where there are large families. We know there is not an adequate consumption of milk in homes where there are low incomes. That situation will be aggravated again by the action of the Government in increasing the retail price. I say, quite apart from anything else, that this Order is socially and nutritionally unfair at the present moment, in the light of these figures to which the Milk Marketing Board has called our attention.

At the same time the Government are aggravating the difficulties of the farmer. They are depressing the price which the farmer will obtain, because, as we know, production is outrunning the standard quantities. The action of the Government is causing a lack of confidence among the dairy farmers. It is adding to our difficulties in controlling the increasing cost of living; and, quite apart from all that, in the light of the information which is currently before us, it is grossly unfair to the children who live in large families or live in families with low incomes.

For those reasons, I hope that even hon. Members opposite will not hesitate to support us in this Prayer, and help us to face our present difficulties by impressing upon the Government that this sort of action is absolutely disastrous in present circumstances.

Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)

I beg to second the Motion.

10.40 p.m.

Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) is usually in far better form than he was tonight, and he could have made a much better case for the Prayer than he did. He failed to make any suggestion to deal with this very complex problem of milk production, pricing and distribution. I did not hear him make any suggestion helpful towards solving the problem, which is indeed a problem of production of milk, which is a commodity which the country cannot import, except perhaps from Northern Ireland at certain times of the year.

I have the highest regard for the Milk Marketing Board, which is one of the most efficient organisations in the country, and which has a tremendous task to perform, but in the last few months it has, I think, fallen down on this problem. It failed to appreciate what the position might be this winter. It has been a good year in some ways, but on the other hand it has been a bad year for producers, for there was a bad hay crop. One has only to consider the price of hay today, and of litter straw fetching £10 to £12 a ton, to realise that producers have been in considerable difficulties. The Milk Marketing Board miscalculated. The producer is getting 5d. not ½d. less.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

This Order is confined to the price to the consumer.

Air Commodore Harvey

I am coming to that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. My intention is to show how this will affect the price to the consumer. The Government have put ½d. on the price because the subsidy has been cut and the Milk Marketing Board has taken 5d. off, which will, in due course, affect the price. I hope that I have made the position clear.

We ought to maintain a stable price for milk. We must give an incentive for it at other times of the year besides the winter. There may be a great incentive to milk production in September and October onwards for four or five months, but there is a falling off in the spring and summer, because the incentive then is not there. I suggest that the Board should pay a more average price all the year round. I think that that would be helpful.

Mr. Beswick

The hon. and gallant Gentleman says that the question of producing more milk is complex, but is he suggesting that this Prayer is concerned with anything other than the fact that the Government are proposing to save a certain amount in taxation? That is all that this Order is about. It has nothing to do with milk production.

Air Commodore Harvey

The hon. Gentleman may think it has not. I think it has. I imagine that Mr. Deputy-Speaker accepted my explanation, and so I shall proceed with my speech on my own lines.

What I am concerned about is that the aid and grants, with which I entirely agree, may affect the price in due course. The capital grants which are being given to dairy producers will—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. and gallant Member is getting very far from this Prayer.

Air Commodore Harvey

May I make this point, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? To offset the ½d. reduction in subsidy and the increase in the price, economies could be made in other directions.

I will put two or three suggestions. The first is that cartons ought to be used in greater numbers than they are at present in order to save bottles.

Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)


Air Commodore Harvey

My hon. Friend happens to be a milk producer and has an interest in this matter, but that is the view of many of those who are not producers.

I do not blame the Government for what they have done. We want to get rid of subsidies and get a balanced price for milk for the public and at the same time a fairly even production throughout the year. We should stabilise the price of milk. After all, it is only half the price of beer. The Milk Marketing Board could do a great deal of good by intensifying its advertising campaign, which has already met with some success. The Government can be absolved from blame. The halfpenny increase on a pint of milk is very little compared with the magnitude of the problem.

10.46 p.m.

Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)

I support the Motion to annul the Order. It can be rejected from the point of view both of the consumer and of the producer. I would not enlarge so much on the consumer's as on the producer's point of view, because we have now, and are gradually getting more and more, a surplus in milk production owing to the efficiency with which the dairy industry has been run. The amount of milk that the cow gives per year has steadily increased as a result of breeding and of milk recording.

Unfortunately, consumption has not increased in proportion to the increase in production. The Government now make the situation worse by cutting the subsidy, which, after all, was a subsidy to the consumer and not to the farmer. The Government have increased the price to the consumer by 4d, per gallon at a time when production is increasing. It is estimated that the total production of milk for the year ended March, 1957, will be 1,800 million gallons, compared with 1,670 million gallons in the year ended March, 1956.

The guaranteed price, fixed at the Annual Price Review, is for a standard quantity, which is now 1,651 million gallons. Any production above that goes to manufacture and is paid for at a very much lower price. It is estimated that this year's surplus will be 150 million gallons in excess of the standard quantity. That in itself poses a very serious problem to the Milk Marketing Board, which is an extremely competent and efficient organisation. It is true that the hay has been bad this year, but there has never been a time when there has been more grass.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Member is now following the previous speaker, the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey).

Mr. Philips Price

I was only replying to the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield.

I want to stress that now is the time when we should encourage milk consumption as much as possible. The Milk Marketing Board is doing its utmost to that end by turning out good quality cheeses of English manufacture to compete with foreign imported cheeses, and by publicity and propaganda. Now the Government wreck the whole campaign by increasing the price of milk by 4d. a gallon to the consumer. We as an Opposition would not be acting rightly if we did not demand that the Government withdraw the Order, which will make things very much more difficult for the consumer and the producer.

10.50 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel W. H. Bromley-Davenport (Knutsford)

I had not intended to intervene, but the few hastily-written notes which I have in my hand will provide me with the one point which I wish to make. I could not enlarge on the extremely eloquent and fluent speech made, as usual, by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey).

The point which I wish to stress is a strong one. It was made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). Unless my ears deceived me, he suggested that this increase in the price of milk will save the Surtax payer. As I understand it, all classes in the country provide the food subsidies in the form of taxes, both direct and indirect. I think, therefore, that it was highly infra dig. of the hon. Gentleman to make that point. It was the old Socialist trick of trying to induce envy, malice, greed and hate into what otherwise would have been a very clean Prayer.

10.51 p.m.

Mr. Sidney Dye (Norfolk, South-West)

I am afraid that I cannot reply to what was said by the hon, and gallant Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport), for I did not clearly understand it. I thought that his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) made a silly speech, in which he tried to blame the Milk Marketing Board for the Order. Nothing is further from the truth.

I am a farmer, but not a milk producer. Therefore, unlike the hon. and gallant Members from Cheshire, where obviously they do not breed them with the brains necessary to stand up for the milk producers and consumers, I wish to get the facts quite clear. It is unfair of the hon. and gallant Gentleman to say that the Board is responsible for a situation in which the retail price of milk is increased by ½d. a pint and the wholesale price to the farmer is reduced by 5d. a gallon. What board operating in any commodity could manage its affairs with the Government acting as they are doing with regard to milk, putting up the price to the consumer when consumption is increasing and the surplus is growing larger? One could not find one in Cheshire, or indeed anywhere else, which could operate the milk industry when the Government act like that.

The Government are completely haywire. They do not know whether they want to tell the farmers to produce less milk. They dare not tell them to produce less, but that is what they really expect and hope for. But if we produce less milk it simply means that there will be less efficiency in the milk-producing industry. For years the previous Government encouraged greater milk production on a more efficient basis, and having got it, we are now faced in this House, not once but several times, with action by the Government to cause the consumers to suffer because they have no plan about further expansion of the dairy industry to meet the needs of the population. That is the real cause of this price increase.

If we were concerned with the health of the population, particularly the growing generation, we should say the more milk they consumed the better, and the more the Government gave assistance to the Milk Marketing Board in aiding the consumption of milk or its manufacture into milk products, the better for the whole country.

Air Commodore Harvey

Does the hon. Gentleman disagree with the statement made by the Minister of Agriculture a few weeks ago, that they would give aids and grants to all types of farms, including dairy farms, which we hope will enable them in quite a short time to produce milk more economically? Does he admit that that is being done?

Mr. Dye

No, I do not. We are not discussing what may happen in the future. We are discussing the fact that the Government have raised the price of milk from 1st January of this year, without consultation or agreement with the Milk Marketing Board. Then the hon. and gallant Gentleman comes and blames the Board for that. I say we are not being fair to the farmers, the consumers or the Board, and it is time that the Government had a clear and plain policy to deal with the production and consumption of milk.

10.57 p.m.

Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) made the point that because of the rise of a halfpenny under the previous Order, there has been a reduction in milk consumption of a third of 1 per cent. Is that correct?

Mr. Willey

About 1 per cent.

Mr. Baldwin

I understood the hon. Gentleman the first time to say 1 per cent., and then a third of 1 per cent. Whichever it is, does he seriously consider the reduction of consumption by one gallon in one hundred will have any serious effect? Another point has been made, that it is the poor who will suffer from the increase. If one wants to reduce the price to the consumers, it is up to the consumers to take more care with their empty milk bottles. It is not the Surtax payer who is wasting milk bottles. I am speaking from experience gained in employing casual labour gathering potatoes and picking beans. After the operation is finished, one can pick up almost thousands of bottles which are thrown on the side of the field, and which are liable to cause damage to stock and everything else. This is sheer waste, by people who are probably in the lowest income group in the country.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)


Mr. Baldwin

If it were possible, I should like to see milk retailers making a charge on the empties, so that people would take more care of them. They are not only thrown away, but used for all sorts of other purposes which make them unfit for further use when returned. Instead of raising the price to the consumer, let the consumer pay a deposit on the bottles and thereby save the present enormous loss.

10.59 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Oram (East Ham, South)

I should like to support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) about the likely effect of this Order on the consumption of milk. Like him, I would refer to the effect of the previous similar Order which the Government introduced. In the second half of 1956 a distinct decline took place in the consumption of liquid milk, and I believe it to be highly probable that through this Order there will be a similar regrettable decline in liquid milk consumption.

In the first half of last year a marked increase was shown in every month, except one, compared with the first half of 1955. Again, the price during each of those periods was the same—namely, 7d. a pint. But when we had the increase which was imposed in July last year, there was a decline month by month in the amount of milk consumed. There were 8½ million extra gallons consumed in the first half of 1956 compared with the first half of 1955, but 5½ million gallons less were consumed in the five months July to November, 1956, compared with the corresponding period of 1955. That being the evidence arising out of the previous increase of ½d., I think that the House would be ill-advised to agree to this second completely unwarranted increase of a similar kind.

I wish to make a second point in terms of social injustice. My hon. Friend referred to the effect on large families. I wish to refer to the effect on old-age pensioners. The latest report of the Food Survey shows that milk in the diet of old-age pensioners is proportionately greater than in most other households. In fact, it represents nearly 12 per cent. of the expenditure of old-age pensioners on food compared with the average for other households of less than 10 per cent. It seems to me, therefore, that this increase will hit old-age pensioners particularly hard. It is in line with so much that this Government have been doing to hit hardest those least able to bear it. Because of the general lack of wisdom on economic grounds and the general injustice on social grounds, I think, that the House would be well advised to annul the Order.

11.3 p.m.

Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)

From some of the speeches made by hon. Members opposite one might suppose that the rise in the price of milk over the years since the war had been completely out of proportion with the changes in the prices of other foodstuffs. If hon. Members will forget the sentimental arguments for a moment and look at the official figures, they will find that the price of milk has risen less than that of many other foodstuffs, therefore I do not think—

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that this Government have been consistent in putting up the price of everything?

Mr. Vane

All prices are not put up by Governments. There are other factors concerned. I should not like to say anything harsh to the hon. Gentleman who was so kind as to pair with me not long ago, but I must remind him that between 1945 and 1951 stable prices were not the main characteristic of life in this country.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) spoke about milk policy generally in this country as if there had been a great change in policy with a change of Government. If he examines the White Papers on Price Reviews back to 1950 and 1951, he will find the most solemn warnings printed there about what would happen when the production of milk in this country rose beyond what the people were prepared to drink. I speak as a milk producer who has consistently increased his production year after year, knowing full well that eventually we should run into the conditions which in fact we have met in the December and January prices. Surely, in comparison with many other foodstuffs, milk is comparatively cheap in this country.

Milk is one of the commodities which always arouses argument and controversy when there is a change of price. I should be very interested to know why Ministers are not asked Questions when the price of mineral waters is raised by ½d. I have never heard such a Question asked, but I am sure that it has not remained stable since 1945. I should not have thought that mineral water was as nourishing as milk, and I believe that it costs a great deal more. I do not support the particular date for the price change, and it is a pity that it is taking place as from 1st January this year; but I think that hon. Members opposite, in moving this Prayer and arguing in its support, have been guilty of great exaggeration.

11.6 p.m.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes. [Interruption] If hon. Members interrupt me, I shall detain it for a couple of hours. The nub of this argument is easily seen. We on this side of the House are tired of hearing the parrot cry of hon. Members opposite that milk is too cheap, that coal is too cheap and petrol is too cheap. All the time while, through lack of intelligence, the party opposite raise the cost of living, they airily say, "Milk is too cheap in Britain". Yet we are far from head of the list of European countries as milk drinkers. I should have thought that hon. Members opposite would have encouraged milk drinking, knowing that we are low on the list.

We oppose the Order because it raises the price of milk by 4d. a gallon and neither helps the producer nor the consumer. I regretted to hear the complaint of the hon. and gallant Members for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport) and Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) against the Milk Marketing Board, which is an excellent organisation. They were scratching each other's backs, but they should be careful, as the Chairman of the Board lives in their area. They had better watch out or they might hear from him. [Interruption.] If hon. Members do not interrupt me, I hope to finish in half a minute.

This is a tragic example of the complete lack of policy of the Government. They scratch up a small number of millions instead of having a general broad economic plan. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said, they push the burden on to the old-age pensioner, the sick and the young, rather than saving by having an intelligent armaments policy. The intervention in Egypt squandered a hundred times more than will be saved on milk, which is valuable for its nutrition. To get an intelligent policy for this country seems to be quite beyond the party opposite. I think we are fully justified in opposing this Order, which is injuring British agriculture, the progress and prosperity of the country, and the rights of consumers

11.10 p.m.

Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

I wish to raise one or two points on the subject of this debate. There has just been the comparison in the consumption of milk in this country with other countries in Europe. The fact is that Britain has always been very far behind about three other countries in the consumption of milk; but we are fast catching up and, at the moment, are much nearer the top of the list, far nearer than ever before.

May I also clear up one other point—and these are statistics and facts and not merely my own information—about cartons as compared with bottles? For more than twenty-five years this country has been well ahead in trying out milk cartons. They are much preferable to bottles; for one thing, it is easier to handle them. But it has always been much dearer to sell milk in cartons. A bottle costs 3d. or 31½d. and, on the average, does fifty or sixty journeys with pints of milk; whereas the carton, although costing about a quarter of the price, carries only one pint. Furthermore, if we use cartons, milk would have to be increased by at least a farthing, and possibly by a halfpenny, purely to pay for the carton.

I ought to mention another point, and that is the value of milk as a food. My name has been referred to this evening, but I still say that milk is still cheap when compared with any other food. The food value of milk ought to be recognised when the price is taken into consideration. Today's price, when compared with any time in the past, shows that it has not gone up as much as other foodstuffs. It is still cheap, remembering its food value, and especially in comparison with other foods in this or any other country.

There is one major point which has been almost completely left out of this short debate, and that is that this country is ahead of almost every other—I believe, perhaps, every other—in so far as the taxpayer supplies cheap and free milk to the needy classes, and produces it in vast quantities. If hon. Members talk of the Surtax payer's milk, we should remember the total of millions of gallons supplied to the needy. Whether this decision has been made in agreement between both sides of the House, I do not know, but we are still subsidising needy people in the matter of this good food.

11.14 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)

May I first of all express my grateful thanks to the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) for his kind remarks in reference to myself? I should like to deal with some of the points which have been raised by him and by other hon. Members in this interesting although necessarily short debate, but before doing that I should like to touch upon a general issue which is of some importance. It is this. It has been the policy of this Government, and of its predecessors, progressively to reduce consumer food subsidies and to buttress the welfare provisions for those most in need. Milk is the last of the consumer subsidies left, and the fact that it has been left until last emphasises, I should have thought, the importance which this Government attaches to a high level of consumption of liquid milk.

Hon. Members opposite have been generally opposed to this policy of the reduction and eventual elimination of food subsidies. It is not unnatural, therefore, that they should be moving this Prayer tonight, particularly as it represents almost the last instalment of this process, which has now been carried out over a period of nearly five years. Indeed, it started somewhat earlier than that with no less a person than the late Sir Stafford Cripps, for it was he who first called a halt to the ever-rising cost of the food subsidies and set about reducing them. I am quite sure that in their hearts hon. Members opposite will be grateful to us for having had the courage to carry out this policy, which he initiated and which we have brought to its logical conclusion. I have the quotation here from Sir Stafford Cripps' speech if any hon. Member would like it, but I think it is probably in their minds; it is from the Budget debate of 1949, when he first took that step. We have followed faithfully in his footsteps and we hope that we shall have the support of hon. Members opposite in the Division Lobby tonight for that reason.

I do not wish to burden the House with too many figures but I should like to illustrate the point which I made just now about safeguarding the welfare provisions at the same time that the general subsidy is reduced. It is shown very clearly in the case of milk. In 1945, when the Party opposite took office, the general milk subsidy was running at £24½ million, while the welfare and school subsidies were about £19½ million. In 1951, when they bowed themselves off the stage, the general subsidy had risen to over £73 million, an increase of £48½ million, and at the same time the cost of welfare and school milk had risen to just over £30 million, representing a rise of only £10½ million.

Thus, while the general subsidy, of necessity indiscriminate in its operation, had almost trebled, the cost of welfare milk had risen by only a little over 50 per cent of its previous figure. The great bulk of the enormous milk subsidy, which that year totalled well over £100 million, was thus being applied absolutely indiscriminately. This £100 million, which was being provided by taxation, was to a very considerable degree being returned to the pockets of those who were paying for it. The point which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport) made about surtaxpayers is relevant there.

Let us compare that position with the latest figures available. These show that the general subsidy has dropped progressively year by year. In 1951–52 it was over £52 million. For the current year it has dropped to a fraction over £22 million, and, of course, the estimate for the next financial year will be substantially less. We therefore see the heavy reduction, to virtual elimination, of this, massive figure.

What has been happening, meanwhile, to the figure for welfare and school milk? In my view, that is important. In this time that figure has risen from about £30 million in 1951 to about £50 million now.

Mr. Willey

Surely the hon. Member appreciates that each increase in the retail price of milk increases the cost of the welfare milk. One of the disadvantages of this reduction of subsidy is that it automatically increases the charge to the taxpayer of the welfare milk.

Mr. Godber

I fully take the point, but it does not invalidate the point which I was making that we have transferred it from a general subsidy to a specific subsidy to help those who are in the greatest need. I think that is important. There is a rise of about £20 million in this subsidy compared with a rise of only £10½ million during the whole of the time that hon. Members opposite were in office.

Almost the whole of the very considerable sums still to be provided, therefore, are concentrated on the point where they are needed. There has been no cut here at all. On the contrary. I claim that these very striking figures show how much wiser has been our policy of concentrating on those whose need is greatest.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North, asked me a number of questions, but I should like first to refer to some points which he made in the last debate on milk prices. These are to be found in HANSARD of 24th July, Vol. 557. He referred to the position of poor people with large families, and he reverted to that again tonight. It is a very important point. He said: 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th July, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 357.] He made that point twice over, and it was also made by the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) in an intervention in the same debate, when she asked my hon. Friend who was then dealing with this matter to break down the total consumption in those families with dependent children.

I should like to say a word on that, because it is so important. The National Food Survey for the quarter ended June last estimates the annual weekly consumption of milk over the whole population at 4.87 pints per head, but I have here the detailed figures which they give of consumption in households with a man and his wife and with one, two, three and four children. With one child the total consumption in pints of milk per person per week is 5.31—a fairly high figure. With two children it works out at 5.04 pints per week—a slight reduction. With three children it is 4.79 pints per week, and with four and more children the figure is 4.35. Those are the points that the hon. Member had in mind.

Since that date, which was June, 1956, I am sure that hon. Members opposite will remember that we have, in fact, increased the family allowances for families with more than two children by another 2s. a week for each child. Therefore, if we have put up the price of milk—supposing there was a consumption of 5 pints per week per person, that is an increase of 2½d. per person on the cost—we have more than covered that in the same period by the addition of this 2s. a week per child.

Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance said at that Box only a month or two ago that none of the 300,000 children drawing National Assistance would benefit from the increase in family allowances?

Mr. Godber

I am dealing with the general figures over the country as a whole. Those drawing National Assistance do, of course, receive special allowances in cash to help them. This covers the points that the hon. Member was raising. Unquestionably there is a far greater coverage than the extra cost involves.

I have been asked what is the estimated fall of consumption as a result of this price rise. It is too early to give any clear figure. The first estimate for the month of January will not be ready for another week or so. In any case, traders may well have stocked up a little in advance. Therefore, the first week's figures would be misleading, but the Board estimates that the consumption has fallen by about 1 per cent. The cut may have been more severe in the first fortnight of January but it may well level out.

I have been asked about total consumption. The hon. Member for Sunderland. North spoke of a steady increase, as he put it, under his Government when they were in office which was changed when we came into office, and he said that there had been a reduction ever since. I should correct him. The reduction started when his Government put up the price in 1951.

Mr. Willey

This is a matter which we have previously debated, and I think the Parliamentary Secretary will find that that is not so. In fact, there was an increase in consumption after we increased the price in 1951.

Mr. Godber

That is the position as I understand it. The high point was reached in about May or June, 1951, and thereafter there was a slight decline. During last year there was an increase over the previous year. There has been a slight reduction as a result of the increase in price earlier this year, but we hope that that will be overcome.

In comparing milk consumption today with that pertaining while hon. Members opposite were in power, I think it is important to realise what a vast change has come over the whole scene since then. Milk was then one of the very few foods which were then freely available. Today there is ample choice of a vast range of foods of all possible descriptions, and the housewife can supplement her diet in any way she chooses. That is very important, and particularly so with regard to high-protein foods which were so short at that time. In those circumstances, it is remarkable indeed in my view that milk consumption has remained relatively near the peak which was then achieved when many foods were rationed or unobtainable.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that people still drink more milk in Sweden—[HON. MEMBERS: "Norway".]—or Nor way. Another hon. Member mentioned that people in all European countries were drinking more milk. In fact, I believe there are only two or three European countries whose consumption of milk is higher than ours today.

There were more questions put to me, but I am afraid I have not time to deal with them all. Various questions put were rather on the agricultural side, which Mr. Deputy-Speaker ruled out of order and I cannot, therefore, deal with them, much as I should like to do so. At this late hour, I think it would suffice perhaps if I were to conclude with these short remarks. The price paid by the Milk Marketing Board to milk producers was reduced in December by 5d. per gallon. That is a point to which the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) referred. The decreased price to producers was a matter for the Milk Marketing Board and not for the Government; it was entirely in the hands of the Board, and I do not think we could intervene in that.

The Members of the Opposition have merely been following tonight the

practice they have followed throughout the whole period of reduction of consumer subsidies. They have consistently opposed these reductions, yet they do not appear to have any clear policy or intention of their own. As far as I am aware, they have never said what level of consumer subsidies, if any, they think is desirable. They have never said what general food subsidies they would restore or increase, nor have they said what taxes they would impose or increase in order to pay the cost.

I would suggest to the House that the party opposite has, in fact, no policy in this matter, except to try to wring a little party capital out of each step we take. In contrast, our policy is clear and consistent: it is to get rid of these general subsidies which have so distorted our economy, while making special provision for those who need our help. Tonight, we have reached almost the last step along this road, and I am sure that the House will wish to show its endorsement of this policy and reject the Prayer.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 146, Noes 206.

Division No. 53.] AYES [11.30 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. Dye, S. King, Dr. H. M.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Lawson, G. M.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Edwards, w, J. (Stepney) Lee, Frederick (Newton)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Lever, Harold (Cheetham)
Awbery, S. S. Fernyhough, E. Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)
Bacon, Miss Alice Fletoher, Erio Lewis, Arthur
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Forman, J. C. Logan, D. G.
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.) Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Benson, G. Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. MacColl, J. E,
Beswick, Frank Gibson, C. w. McGhee, H. G.
Blackburn, F. Gooch, E. G. McInnes, J,
Blenkinsop, A. Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. McKay, John (Wallsend)
Blyton, W. R. Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)
Boardman, H. Grey, C. F. MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.) Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Mahon, Simon
Bowles, F. G. Hale, Leslie Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Boyd, T. C. Hall, Rt. Hn. Gienvil (Colne Valley) Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.
Braddock, Mrs, Elizabeth Hannan, W. Mason, Roy
Brockway, A. F. Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.) Mellish, R. J.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Hayman, F. H. Mitchison, G. R.
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Healey, Denis Monslow, W.
Brown, Thomas Once) Herbison, Miss M. Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)
Burke, W. A. Houghton, Douglas Moyle, A.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Mulley, F. W.
Carmichael, J. Howell, Denis (All Saints) Neal, Harold (Bolsover)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Hoy, J. H. Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, s.)
Champion, A. J. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) O'Brien, Sir Thomas
Coldrick, W. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Oliver, G. H.
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Hunter, A. E. Oram, A. E.
Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch&Finsbury) Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Orbach, M.
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Janner, B. Oswald, T.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)
Crossman, R. H. S. Jeger, George (Goole) Palmer, A. M. F.
Cullen, Mrs. A. Jeger, Mrs.Lena(Holbn & St.Pncs,S.) Pargiter, G. A.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Johnson, James (Rugby) Parker, J.
Deer, G. Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Parkin, B. T.
Delargy, H.J. Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Pearson, A.
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch) Kenyon, C. Peart, T. F.
Pentland, N. Snow, J. W. Weitzman, D.
Popplewell, E. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Sparks, J. A. Wheeldon, W. E.
Randall, H. E. Steele, T. Wigg, George
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Stewart, Michael (Fulham) Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Stones, W. (Consett) Wilkins, W. A.
Ross, William Strachey, Rt. Hon. J. Willey, Frederick
Royle, C. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E. Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley Sylvester, G. O. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Short, E. W. Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) Woof, R. E.
Shurmer, P. L. E. Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.) Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Silverman, Julius (Aston) Thornton, E. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Silverman, Sydney (Nelson) Timmons, J.
Simmons, C. J. (Brlerley Hill) Usborne, H. C. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Skeffington, A. M. Warbey, W. N. Mr. Holmes and Mr. J. T. Price.
Agnew, Sir Peter Green, A. Mott-Radolyffe, Sir Charles
Aitken, W. T. Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. C. Nabarro, G. D. N.
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Curden, Harold Nairn, D. L. S.
Alport, C. J. M. Hall, John (Wycombe) Neave, Airey
Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William Harris, Reader (Heston) Nioholls, Harmar
Arbuthnot, John Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'oh)
Armstrong, C. W. Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Oakshott, H. D.
Ashton, H. Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macolesfd) O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Atkins, H. E. Harvie-Watt, 8ir George Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D.
Baidock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Baldwin, A. E. Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare)
Barber, Anthony Henderson, John (Cathoart) Osborne, C.
Barlow, Sir John Hesketh, R. F. Page, R. G.
Barter, John Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Partridge, E.
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Hinchingbrooke, Visoount Peyton, J. W. W.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Hoiland-Martin, C. J. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Bidgood, J. C. Hope, Lord John Pike, Miss Mervyn
Bigge-Davison, J. A. Hornby, R. P. Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Bishop, F. P. Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Pitman, I. J.
Black, C. W. Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Pott, H. P.
Body, R. F. Howard, Hon. Creville (St. Ives) Powell, J. Enoch
Boothby, Sir Robert Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Price, David (Eastleigh)
Bossom, Sir Alfred Hurd, A. R. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Hyde, Montgomery Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Boyle, Sir Edward Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry Raikes, Sir Victor
Bralne, B. R. Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Ramsden, J. E.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Rawlinson, Peter
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Redmayne, M.
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Johnson, Eric (Blaekley) Ridsdale, J. E.
Brooman-White, R. C. Joseph, Sir Keith Rippon, A. G. F.
Bryan, P. Keegan, D. Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Kerby, Capt. H. B. Roper, Sir Harold
Cary, Sir Robert Kerr, H. W. Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Channon, Sir Henry Kimball, M. Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.
Chichester-Clark, R. Kirk, P. M. Sharpies, R. C.
Clarke, Brig. Terenoe (Portsrnth, W.) Lagden, G. W. Shepherd, William
Cole, Norman Lambton, Visoount Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Csrdeaux, Lt.-Col, J. K. Langford-Holt, J. A. Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Corfieid, Capt. F. V. Leather, E. H. C. Stevens, Geoffrey
Craddook, Beresford (Spelthorne) Leavey, J. A. Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Leburn, W. G. Steward, Sir William (Wootwich, W.)
Crouch, R. F. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)
Currie, G. B. H. Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Dance, J. C. G. Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
D'Avigdor-Goldsmld, Sir Henry Linstead, Sir H. N. Studholme, Sir Henry
Deedes, W. F. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)
Digby, Simon Wingfield Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral) Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Longden, Gilbert Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Doughty, C. J. A. Macdonald, Sir Peter Teeling, W.
du Cann, E. D. L. Mackeson, Brig, Sir Harry Temple, J. M,
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. McKibbin, A. J. Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Errington, Sir Erie McLaughlin, Mrs. P. Thompson, Lt-Cdr.R.(Croydon, S.)
Farey-Jones, F. W. Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster) Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)
Finlay, Graeme McLean, Neil (Inverness) Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Fisher, Nigel MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty) Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Tweedsmuir, Lady
Vane, W. M. F.
Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Maddan, Martin Vaughan-Morgan, a. K.
Freeth, D. K. Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Garner-Evans, E. H. Marlowe, A. A. H. Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
George, J. C. (Pollok) Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E. Wall, Major Patrick
Gibson-Watt, D. Marshall, Douglas Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)
Glover, D. Mathew, R. Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Godber, J. B. Maude, Angus Whitelaw, W.S.I.(Penrith & Border)
Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan Mawby, R. L. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Gower, H. R. Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L, C. Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Graham, Sir Fergus Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gram, W. (Woodside) Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh Mr. Wills and Mr. Hughes-Young.