§ 4. Mr. Tebbit
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list the powers he possesses to introduce rationing of basic foodstuffs such as sugar.
§ Mr. Tebbit
Would the Government consider taking such powers or, alternatively, altering their policies, as these powers may be needed unless the policies are altered? I assure the hon. Gentleman that I say this in no unpleasant terms. I have a good deal of sympathy for the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State who has had the beef rug pulled out from underneath him and who has seen the Commonwealth producers rat on their obligations to supply us at reasonable prices. May I ask him again, if he does not intend to change policies on this matter, whether he will consider 1231 taking steps to make sure that the British housewife can get sugar somewhere, because she cannot today?
§ Mr. Strang
The hon. Member has ranged widely. I agree with the first part of his supplementary question, but would add that rationing is a very serious matter. It would be a drastic and expensive step to take, and one which would be appropriate only in a situation in which we had a serious and prolonged shortage. That situation does not exist for any commodity at present.
§ Mr. Woodall
Is my hon. Friend aware that unofficial rationing of sugar is now taking place in my constituency? I have evidence which I can produce to my hon. Friend of grocery concerns which are permitting only customers who purchase a specific amount of groceries to buy sugar? If he has no powers to introduce rationing, has he powers to stop this unofficial rationing?
§ Mr. Strang
I can understand my hon. Friend's concern about the situation which exists in some shops in his constituency. Some housewives are, of course, having difficulty in obtaining sugar at present, but we must recognise that the amount of sugar going into distribution, and which has gone into distribution over the last few months, is up on last year. What we have at this time is an abnormal demand.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that many of my constituents—he knows this because I have written to his right hon. Friend about them—are demanding sugar rationing as the only fair way of dealing with this subject? Does he and his right hon. Friend accept that it is not only sugar that will need to be rationed shortly? It will soon be beef.
Does he also accept that, although the Minister of State said that the present price showed the failure of intervention—since intervention brought prices in Belgium to £22, in France to £23, in the Netherlands to £19 and in West Germany to £21, while we are getting £12 without it—farmers in this country would be delighted to accept the "failure" of intervention if it were to be introduced?
The question relates to sugar. I assure the hon. Lady that my 1232 right hon. Friend is doing everything within his power to secure adequate supplies for this country.