HL Deb 23 July 1952 vol 178 cc182-244

3.4 p.m.

LORD WISE rose to call attention to the rising costs of foodstuffs to the housewife; to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps are being taken to overcome these important factors in the lowering of the standard of living of the people of Great Britain; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. During the last few weeks we have had in your Lordships' House many discussions on important matters bearing essentially on national and Colonial affairs. I feel that the discussion which I am initiating this afternoon may be considered as of equal importance with those which have gone before during the last few weeks, and I hope that when the discussion is finished Her Majesty's Government will have been able to set our minds at rest, not only as regards the present but also as to the future. This subject is, indeed, a bread-and-butter matter. I propose, therefore, to deal with it quite simply, in the quiet atmosphere of your Lordships' House, on lines which I hope will commend themselves to your Lordships.

The question of the rising cost of foodstuffs is the daily problem of no fewer than 14,000,000 housewives in Britain, which is a goodly section of the population. I trust that, as the outcome of our discussion to-day, these 14,000,000 housewives will receive from the Government hope, and not the reverse. The subject to us, and to them, is so absorbing that I know it deserves our full consideration and a responsible statement from the Benches opposite. I am glad that the Lord President of the Council is to reply. We are all cognisant of the great war record he held in regard to the procuration of foodstuffs during the course of that tragedy. But since then he has been hailed by certain sections of the community as the great administrator who can solve all our food problems. Well, if he can do that, nobody will be more pleased than myself. But the fact remains that the Government have now been in office eight months, and I think this is an opportune occasion for the Lord President, as Co-ordinator of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Ministry of Food, to give the nation some account of his stewardship. I think the time is opportune, because in a few months' time we shall be in the midst of winter, and we are told that the coming winter will bring its troubles and distresses. It is also opportune to discuss this matter now in view of the wage negotiations which are taking place, and the climax, if I may refer to it as such, which occurred over the week-end. I would ask the Lord President to be quite frank with us as to the present and the future, because he will lose nothing by being frank.

Before I go further, I want to impress upon the House that the responsibility of feeding the people of this land is the Government's; in my view they cannot pass it on to anybody else. The Government, no doubt, are realising the difficulties of the present, not only in the procuration of foodstuffs from abroad but also in the production of food at home. We are not unmindful of the difficulties. We all know of the growth of the world population week by week, with many millions more mouths to be fed. We can all understand that certain countries which originally were rural countries have now become industrialised; and we can also understand that in our Commonwealth, and in other countries, the higher standard of life which is now being enjoyed means a higher food consumption by their people. We are not unmindful, also, of the rising costs of production, distribution and purchase, and the fact that in parts of the globe there are scarcities, though we hope they will pass away in the years to come. In regard to scarcities, I hold the view—it may not be held by other noble Lords —that in the future we shall be able to overcome world scarcities by the application to world agriculture of well-known scientific and practical knowledge. But the scarcities will not be overcome except by the proper co-ordination of the nations of the world.

I mentioned a moment ago the difficulties in which the Government find themselves, and without seeking in any shape or form to obtain a Party political advantage I want to refer your Lordships to the fact that, during the years following the war, the Government of that time met with much the same difficulties as are found at the present time. So far as we on this side of the House are concerned, we look back with a considerable amount of satisfaction to the record of the Government during that time. We proved to the world that our rationing system was a highly successful one. It brought fair shares to all of us. We held the prices of food by the continuation of subsidy policies and the improvement of subsidy policies. We increased the standard of living of our people, and we brought social protection. In addition—and I must refer to this point—the Minister of Health's Report which we received a few days ago shows that we brought a high degree of health and nutrition to the nation. We are therefore a little jealous of the record which we achieved, and we feel that no action must be taken which will jeopardise the standards of health of our people here at home.

I wish to refer for a moment to the debate which took place in another place a few days ago. I think I am entitled to refer to the speech of the Minister of Food, and if I am not no doubt I shall be called to order. It seemed to me that he missed an opportunity of rising to an occasion, for at the end of his speech I am fairly certain that the hearts of none of our people were gladdened by the information which he gave or withheld, and in fact he did not hold out much hope of better prospects in the future. May I express the hope that the Lord President this afternoon has a new brief, and will not go along the path which was adopted by the Minister on that occasion? It was evident that he was sheltering behind what he imagined to be the shortcomings of the previous Government. In my view, he brought out and placed undue reliance upon index figures, which are always unsatisfying and which can be turned in any direction one wishes, either to bolster up a weak case or to suit one's own purpose. I am going to ask the Lord President that, whatever he says this afternoon, he will have more "meat" in his speech and will give us something of which we can make use. In my judgment, index figures are merely the playthings of statisticians and politicians. They become guides, apparently, for political and industrial ends, but carry no conviction with, and are not understood by, the housewives of Britain.

Now let us look at this British housewife. We all know her. She is a very shrewd person. I do not believe there is any shrewder section of the community in our country. She has to be, because she has to deal with practical and not theoretical or abstract matters. She has to do her shopping to the best advantage. She has to look after her family and supply, according to her means and her spending power, the nutritious food which they require. That takes some considerable effort at the present time. Above all, she has to be sure—and it causes her a good deal of anxiety—that her spending is to the best advantage. She has a fixed amount to spend, and she is all the time cognisant and anxious about the prices of food—whether they rise or fall. She is the first one to feel the effect. She also knows when she cannot buy the commodities which she needs and which in the past she has bought in her day-to-day shopping expeditions. Above all, when she is shopping she has to keep her brain clear, her hands, as well as her feet, active, and her wits about her. She wants to know the reasons for the rises in food prices. Index figures will never satisfy her. She wants to know the real reason for the rise, and when she may expect prices to come down.

In the course of my home life—and I commend this idea to noble Lords on both sides of the House—I make a practice of doing my own village shopping. It is an excellent idea. It brings one into touch with the people and one can feel the reactions of the people to the things which are happening day by day. One can hear their conversations and realise what they are thinking. The main conversation in the grocers' shops when the women meet together is a dis- cussion on the price of the articles; the difficulty of feeding the family; the difficulty of getting the things they want, and about what is going to happen in the future. From my knowledge of village and town life, which I gain week by week, the housewives of Britain are worried and they are not satisfied with present conditions.

I think I ought to trouble your Lordships very briefly with some of the actual figures of price increases. In accordance with my Motion, I propose to deal only with the question of foods. I will leave out household commodities, because they all show their rises, as pour Lordships must know. Figures have been published repeatedly, but the comments have not always commended themselves to Her Majesty's Government. Lists have been prepared, and in that connection I may say that I have received from a housewife a list of no fewer than fifty-odd articles of everyday foodstuffs the prices of which have been increased during the lifetime of the present Government. Longer lists could be prepared, and I have no doubt that grocers and other tradesmen could supply them. But here in my hands is a list from a woman, whom I believe to be a typical British housewife, who has said that these articles have been increased in price during the last few months. I could go even further and produce my own grocery book for the last two or three years to show your Lordships exactly what has been happening. That would be proof enough that what I say is correct.

I do not want at this stage to deal with a long list of prices, but I want to refer first to the prices of rationed goods. I do not want to bore your Lordships with masses of figures; these, I think, are very simple ones, and the foods with which I shall deal are quite small in number. Among the rationed commodities I find—and I pass on the information to the Government, for what it is worth—that prices of such foods as margarine, lard and sugar have not increased; they are the same as when the Government came into office. Cheese has had a rise of 10d. per lb.; that, I think, was an early rise, but perhaps the Lord President may have something to say on it. Tea has risen by 8d. to 10d. a lb. Bacon has risen by 10d. a lb., and meat, recently, by an average of 4d. Those are the main increases, so far as rationed foods are concerned. I am trying to put the matter in as simple a way as possible in order that we may be able easily to grasp the position in which the housewife finds herself at the present time.

In regard to other price increases, in respect of goods which are not rationed, let me take tinned meats first. They have risen by at least 10d. per lb. Pork sausages have risen by from 5½d. to 6d. a lb.—I propose to say something about the sausages later on. Rice has increased by 3d. a lb.; eggs by 1s. a dozen, fruit cake by 3d. and milk by ld. a pint. In addition, there have been rises in the price of custard powders, jellies, tinned milk, tinned vegetables, cereals, and suchlike. In that connection I want to read a letter which has come into my hands from the Treasury. It is a letter written on behalf of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and signed by one of his officers, and refers to the anticipated rise of Is. 6d. per week as outlined in his Budget. It says: As you say, many things have increased in price, but I must point out that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget Speech in March that prices would go up by about 1s. 6d. per head per week he said that this would be the cost of the various increases that have to be made in the prices of subsidised foods in order to bring down the total of the food subsidies from £410,000,000 last year to £250,000,000 next year. He said that the prices of bread, flour, meat, tea, milk, fats, cheese, butter, sugar, bacon and eggs would go up. As you will know, some of the increases have been made but some have not been announced yet (the only ones in the list you attached to your letter are the increases in the prices of flour and bread). He was not attempting to say what would happen to all prices, which have to go up when wages and prices of raw materials go up. I commend those last words to the Government, in view of what is happening at the present time.

Now I should like, as I have already said, to refer very briefly to one or two items; and the first connected items with which I shall deal are bread and flour, because they are most important. In the last few months bread has been raised in price by 1½d., a large loaf rising from 6d. a loaf to 7½d. Self-raising flour has risen from 4¾d. to 6¼d. per lb.—4½d. on a 3 lb. bag. Plain flour has risen from 4d. to 5¾., or 5½d., I believe, on a 3 lb. bag. This question of bread and flour is of supreme importance in the household. We are told that the rises in these commodities mean an increase to the consumer of 4½d. a week, and in an ordinary household this may mean 1s. 6d. a week. Bread and flour have risen in price by reason of the withdrawal of the subsidy. The withdrawal of the subsidy has, I believe, meant a saving of £45,000,000 to £48,000,000 to the Exchequer and a corresponding increase, plus something else, to the consumer. It is obvious that in the ordinary household the rise in the cost of bread and flour per week can be regarded in terms of 1s. 6d. a week, and that in a large bread-consuming, working-class home the rise is higher.

I remember that in years gone by I had on my farm a large family—there are many like them up and down the country—who were consuming at least thirty-five loaves of bread a week. Your Lordships can imagine what that sort of expenditure means on the wages of the breadwinner. That is exceptional, no doubt, but at any rate it seems to me that, taking the country through and through, anything between 2s. and 3s. per week extra has to be found for the increase in the price of bread and flour. Any curtailment of consumption of these commodities must be detrimental to the health of the nation and to the health, particularly, of the children in the large cities who to a very large extent live, as they lived in the past, mainly on bread in various forms. In addition, the fact that the price of flour has risen has had its effect upon products of flour, such as cakes, cereals, custard powders, pastries, puddings and the rest. I think that is a serious situation so far as the main commodity of life is concerned. Later, I intend to invite the Government to consider the question of returning the subsidy, at any rate to bread and flour, and also the possibility of dealing with meat in some way.

Let me come to the question of meat. In the other place, there was a discussion a few evenings ago on this particular matter of the rising cost of meat. We are told that meat has risen in price an average of 4d. per lb. On some joints the rise is more, on other and cheaper joints it is less; but the average is 4d. per lb. The better joints have now risen to 3s. 4d. per lb., and I am advised that at the present time it is impossible for the working-class people of Britain to take up the whole of the allocation of meat to which they are entitled, by reason of the fact that the prices have risen beyond their means. That is a thing we want to avoid. I find within my own experience that, when I go into a butcher's shop, the butcher produces one of the best joints he has because the other folks around me have not been able to purchase that particular joint to which they ought to have access. It is wrong, and I hope that the Government will at any rate look at that problem. Irrespective of the fact that we must anticipate (I think the Lord President will bear me out in this) a rise in the cost of meat imported, we have also to anticipate a rise next year in the cost of home-produced meat. I am told that that probable, rise of about £50,000,000 almost corresponds with the costs of which the Government have relieved themselves by putting this additional price on our meat.

A moment ago, I mentioned the question of sausages, a very homely article of food. Sausages, and pork sausages in particular, in the last two or three weeks have risen from 2s. 2d. per lb. to 2s. 7½d. or 2s. 8d. per lb. That is a large increase when one realises that sausages are composed mainly of the cheaper parts of the animal. I think that a 5½d. increase on sausages is a high rise, and it is certain that the families who sometimes desire to have 1 lb. or 2 lb. Of sausages, as in the past, for high tea cannot possibly afford the additional cost which the sausages entail. There are other items I could mention in the same category. I could mention the high price of tinned meat, the high price of bacon and items of that sort. The trouble is that, according to circumstances, unless the Government take action in some form or another, these prices must rise still further.

Let me deal with the question of the subsidy. I want to make it quite clear that what I say is my personal reaction to the matter. The views which I hold may not be held by noble Lords on that side of the House or some noble Lords on this side. I want to give your Lordships my own particular viewpoint. In the debate in another place, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said that the withdrawal of the subsidy has already meant that 11d. of the anticipated rise in the cost of living, which the Chan- cellor of the Exchequer mentioned in his Budget speech, has been felt by the consumers, and that 11d. has been spread over bread, meat, flour, tea and milk. There is still 7d. more to come in the autumn in the way of withdrawal of subsidy—7d. more which we shall have to pay—and I hope that in his reply the noble Lord will give us some indication, if he can (I do not stress it, but if he can) how that additional 7d. will be allocated between the other items which are, at the moment, being subsidised. Up to the moment, I have been speaking in terms of pence and shillings.

I now want to come to millions, because the addition of pence per day per commodity results in millions at the end of the yew. I said in opening that I did not pay much attention to index or certain other figures, but I must give your Lordships a few calculations which may be of interest. On the basis of an increase of 1s. per week per head—


One shilling on what?


One shilling per person.


On food?


Yes, on food. On that basis with a population of 49,000,000 the annual additional expenditure is roughly £125,000,000. I think my arithmetic is right. I have struggled with that problem for some time, and I think it is right.


Did the noble Lord say £125,000,000?


Roughly £125,000,000. So the action of the Government in withdrawing part of the subsidy has already meant that the British consumer is feeling the burden. Let me put it more shortly. The housewife has already had to spend roughly £2,500,000 a week extra for bread, flour, tea, meat and milk, irrespective of additional costs of other foodstuffs. That sum naturally comes out of wages; or other income. The figure of the total weekly rise in the cost of foodstuffs is a matter upon which there is not full agreement. I understand that some families estimate that the rise has already reached 4s. per head per week. That may be too high a figure, but if that figure is right, 4s. per head per week means an increase of £500,000,000 per annum on the British housewife's food bill.


I do not think the noble Lord is right.


Am I not right?


I do not think so.


If it is less than 4s., the figure automatically decreases by £125,000,000 per Is. I will not use the figure of 4s.; it may be too high. But unless the rises stop, that figure may soon be too low.


The point I want to make is that it cannot be more than the total amount of the subsidy, which was £410,000,000. I think that must be a limiting figure. I hope I am not embarrassing the noble Lord by interrupting. What we have done is to take £150,000,000 off that. That is the figure you have really to deal with.


I join issue with the Lord President. He is not right. He has forgotten the unsubsidised foodstuffs. That is the point. They have, of course, risen in price. I hope I have made myself clear about that. Taken on a basis of 2s. per head per week, the total figure is £250,000,000; on a basis of 4s. it is £500,000,000. Again, if my figures and the index and the digest of prices are right, in 1950 (I do not think there are any later figures than those for 1950) the food bill of this country was £2,608,000,000. If anything approaching £500,000,000 is to be added to that figure, we shall reach a consumption figure of over £3,000,000,000 a year, which is a very high proportion of the wage packets of the people of this country. The Lord President may have figures in his mind which will either bear out or will just modify that position a little. It means that £60 a year will be spent for every man, woman and child in this country on foodstuffs alone—that is roughly 25s. per week per head. I have worked those figures out. The noble Lord will modify them if he thinks they require it. It represents an increase of 10 per cent. in expenditure. Some people have put it at 14 or 15 per cent., but I put it at 10 per cent. That is the difference between £2,608,000,000 and £3,000,000,000. But that latter sum may be a low estimate, because some foodstuffs have already risen by 33⅓ per cent., and some by a lower percentage. If this additional £300,000,000 or £500,000,000, whatever the sum may be, is to be taken from the wages of the working classes of this country, then it is a matter to which I advise the Government to give very earnest consideration.

These figures are significant, and their effect upon the domestic and industrial life of this country is significant. Whatever our political views may be, I am sure that we as a nation cannot afford to let the prices of foodstuffs rocket in this way. The Lord President (he may be justified in doing so) will possibly make his case on various offsets; he may introduce another side of the picture. The other day he produced a balance sheet in regard to housing. Today, he may produce a balance sheet in regard to food. He is entitled to do that, if it is part of his case. He may refer to tax reliefs, to additional pensions which are being introduced in the autumn, to children's allowances and so on. But I am informed that those reliefs, allowances and pensions have already been swallowed up in the additional cost of food. It is a poor case for anyone to say, "What I have taken off with one hand I have returned with the other," because one may say in reply, "Why did you take it off in the first place if you are going to put it hack in some other form?" No doubt I shall be told by the Lord President that the subsidy policy—and I personally am concerned with the subsidy—of the previous Government benefited the unjust as well as the just.


The needy as well as the affluent.


Yes, the needy as well as the affluent. My reply would be that the present procedure leaves some people more or less as they were, because you put back what you have taken off; but it also leaves millions in the lower or fixed-income groups much worse off than they were in the past. There are, I believe, 5,000,000 widows and pensioners receiving varying amounts per week, in most cases not very large amounts, as well as 2,000,000 war pensioners who are more or less in the same position as the other pensioners. Also partly covered by the figures I have just given there are 1,500,000 people living alone, and 8,000,000 people two in a family, many of whom live in one room. These may be the people who are being badly hit by the rising cost of foodstuffs. In addition, it is well within the knowledge of noble Lords that there are many thousands of people who, by reason of their occupation, have to go out day by day and have their meals away from home. There are literally thousands of lorry drivers who are on the road most of the week and who have to take their meals in cafés or wayside places. There are the teeming millions who come into the City every day. Each and every one of those people is feeling not only the trouble of providing foodstuffs for the family at home, but the extra cost of restaurant and café meals.

Noble Lords may ask whether there is any solution, whether the problem can be dealt with in any satisfactory way. I believe that certain solutions may still be open to the Government. I realise the difficulties of dollar exchange, of the importation of food and so on, but if the Government will consider the matter they may be able to take steps to "sugar the pill," if you like to put it that way, or ease the situation. I say quite frankly that. I personally am opposed to the withdrawal by the Government of the subsidy. I think that in present circumstances—and I should like to underline "present circumstances"—it would be far better to reintroduce the subsidy for bread and flour than to continue the high prices of those commodities, which may tend to rise again in the future. I think the Government should carefully consider the price of meat and also of cheese. I think the Government should endeavour to stabilise the costs of foods by whatever controls or other measures they may see fit to adopt. And I am certain that on no consideration whatsoever should our food importation be handed back, or handed over, to private enterprise. It is the Government's job, and I think that we as a nation can say to the Government: "We expect you in international trade, as we find it at the moment, to carry on the great system which, as the Lord President knows from his war experience, has proved so satisfactory to this country." Noble Lords may, perhaps, be wondering why I have not referred to home production and distribution. I understand that those are matters which will be dealt with by other noble Lords in the course of this debate, and I leave it at that.

There are certain questions which I have addressed to the Lord President, but it might be as well if I mentioned them again here. These questions have been addressed to Lord Woolton, not to embarrass him personally or to embarrass the Government but simply to obtain some information which may be helpful to the nation in considering the problem which confronts us at the present time. I did not speak of this first matter in the course of my previous remarks, but I have certain information to the effect that a short time ago margins of profits to retailers were increased. Those margins may account for some of the rises from which we have suffered. The question I want to ask the Lord President is this: has the additional margin of profit (I think the figure was £10,000,000 or thereabout) allowed to retailers in February already been absorbed in higher prices to consumers, or is it proposed that the whole amount shall be borne by the consumers or partly by reductions in wholesalers' and distributive costs? I have already asked the Lord President from what additional foodstuffs it is proposed to withdraw the subsidy in the Autumn. That was to have been my next question. The third question I would put to him is roughly this: if it is proposed to open the business of making meat purchases in the Argentine to private, enterprise, in what Commonwealth or other countries will the Government bulk purchasing arrangements cease also to operate in the future?


I wonder whether the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting him? I do not propose to make any reply concerning the Argentine, and with respect to the House I think that perhaps it would be a good thing if we did not say anything about the negotiations with the Argentine while they ate in progress. So I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me for not speaking about that matter.


That is fair enough; I accept it wholeheartedly. The next question I would ask is this. The Minister of Food has advocated the abolition at the earliest possible moment of Government bulk purchase of foodstuffs. Does he include home-produced fat stock in this statement? A further question I would put is: in view of the public feeling regarding the rise in food prices, will the Government reconsider the question of subsidies and reverse their decision to remove them from essential everyday foods? I dealt with that matter in the course of my speech. My last question relates to a matter which I have not touched upon so far, but I suggest that it is of importance because it has been mentioned during the last few weeks in another place. Have our food stocks, upon which we have drawn since November, been replenished, or are stocks still running down? I know the difficulty which the Lord President may experience in replying to that question. If he feels any embarrassment, I am quite prepared for him to take the same line as he is doing with regard to the matter of meat supplies from the Argentine. I hope that your Lordships will consider that I have put a fair case to the Government. I have not been unfriendly, and I have not followed a Party political line. I have dealt with the matter simply in my own way, with a view to obtaining information for the people surrounding us, and I have done so in the hope of obtaining for the housewives of Britain an assurance that, as we still live in a land of great potentiality, industry, production and wealth, no cupboard in our homes need be bare. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, I think all of us in your Lordships' House are concerned with the increasing costs of food and other materials, and we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wise, for putting down this Motion and giving us the opportunity of discussing the matter in this House to-day. This is no new problem. It has been with us since the close of the war, and although, for a time, steps were taken to alleviate it to some extent, the noble Lord who has lust sat down seemed to attribute to the Socialist Government—he did not call it the late Government—the whole merits of the rationing scheme. I had a very good rationing scheme handed over to me by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and I can assure the House that I handed it over unimpaired to my successor as Minister of Food, Mr. Ben Smith.


May I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? I did not suggest anything of the sort. I purposely used the word "continued."


Of course the noble Lord, as he says, used the word "continued." But, at any rate, I know that during the time I was Minister of Food I hoped that by seven years after the end of the war we should have been able to get ourselves into such a position that the rationing scheme could be abolished. But there is no difference between any of the political Parties on this—that so long as there is a shortage of essential foodstuffs in this country arrangements must be made, by means of the rationing system, to ensure that fair shares are had by all.

The noble Lord, Lord Wise, if I understood him aright—and I may again have misunderstood him—said he took credit for the Socialist Government for the high standard of health of the nation. At the time when I was Minister of Food, my public relations officer—and he was an extremely good one—was always inclined to take credit for the Ministry of Food for the high degree of the health of the nation. It is true that the noble Lord. Lord Woolton, had started these schemes for more milk in the schools, for the supply of orange juice, and halibut oil, and it is true that I had been able to expand them. But let us be frank about this. Let no Minister or Government Department take sole credit for the health of the nation. They can do things to help, as I hope we all have done, but the advances of medical science and the work done by health clinics of all kinds have a great deal to do with improved health, and we may as well spread the credit, since credit is due, over the largest number of people.

The noble Lord, Lord Wise, said the Socialist Government had held the price of food. He deplored the lowering of the ceiling on food subsidies and asked that the cuts should be restored. It is just as well that we should remind ourselves of the history of food subsidies. They were started under Mr. Churchill's war-time Coalition Government, when my noble friend Lord Woolton was Minister of Food and when a Tory—and a pretty good Tory, too—Sir Kingsley Wood, was Chancellor of the Exchequer. How were they running when the Labour Government first took office? When I left the Ministry of Food in August, 1945 (I stayed on a week or so at the request of Mr. Attlee, who had been called away to the Potsdam Conference and could not make all his Ministerial appointments immediately). I reckoned that the cost of food subsidies was going to be between £230,000,000 and £240,000,000 for that financial year. In the end, they worked out at £265,000,000. That shows that the increasing cost of buying foods had even then begun to take effect.

Prices went on increasing and something had to be clone about them. We all know who it was who first put a ceiling on the amount of food subsidies—it was Sir Stafford Cripps. In his Budget speech of 1949, Sir Stafford Cripps estimated that it he allowed the food subsidies to run on as they were they would cost the country that year £568,000,000. He placed the ceiling at £410,000,000. That means -hat he was content to allow food prices to run up an extra £158,000,000, and if the ceiling was to continue over subsequent years, that the Government were content to see food prices rise as buying prices continued to go up.

The noble Lord, Lord Wise, said that he hoped he was not unfriendly in his speech and I hope I am not unfriendly in what I say now. After the announcement had been made that Sir Stafford Cripps was prepared to let food prices devolve on the public up to £158,000,000—without the compensating advantages which Mr. Butler has given in spreading the costs to the extent of up to £160,000,000—I searched through the OFFICIAL REPORT of the proceedings of another place to see what protest the then Member for King's Lynn had made. I found he made a notable speech on farm-workers' rights and another on sugar beet pulp prices. I searched a number of volumes and the nearest thing I could get to "Wise" in one was "Wine"—slightly allergic to the noble Lord—and, in another, "Wire, barbed." Throughout That period there was no protest by the noble Lord against what he is now protesting against in your Lordships' House. There is really nothing sacrosanct about the amount of food subsidies. They were started by the Tories; the first ceiling was imposed on them by a Socialist Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the ceiling was lowered by a Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer. Now (and I am saying this from my own point of view. and I do not in any way commit anybody else, as I am not entitled to do so), if we take off food subsidies, it is only a matter of seeing that too great a burden is not placed upon the housewives and. incidentally, that large additional demands are not made for wage increases.

When discussing town and country planning in your Lordships' House, I pointed out that the Central Land Board collected development charges from the local authorities for council houses and that there was another body working under the Minister of Housing and Local Government which was paying subsidies to local authorities so that the rents of their houses should not be increased too much. I thought it absurd that we should have one group of officials collecting development charge and another group paying subsidies so that the development charge should not have too great an effect on the rents. In the Budget in these days we are collecting a considerable amount by way of purchase tax, which is levied on a great many articles essential in the ordinary house. We should realise, when talking about the cost of living, that food comprises only 40 per cent. of the items that conic into the cost-of-living index, and that there is a large range of other items which are, quite properly, taken into account.

It has sometimes occurred to me that we might be able, out of the purchase tax collected on the purchases the housewife makes, to get sufficient: money into the Exchequer to subsidise the foods which she also buys. I should like someone to consider whether it might not be more economical to take off a great deal of the purchase tax now collected on essential commodities, and even again lower the food subsidy ceiling, if the Government are only paying one set of individuals to collect the purchase tax and another vast number to organise and administer these food subsidies.


Would the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting? He is on a most interesting point but I have not quite followed him. Does he mean that the purchase tax should be taken off all the articles that come into the cost of living of the ordinary housewife, such as wearing apparel, domestic requisites and furniture, and should be put on to what we might term, for want of a better expression, luxury articles?


I was not making that suggestion, as a matter of fact. I am sorry that I did not make myself clearer. What I was saying was that at the present moment the Inland Revenue are collecting purchase tax on a large number of items which fall into the cost of living index—wearing apparel, saucepans, and all sorts of things which are quite necessary in the home that we have increased the number of Inland Revenue officials because they have to collect these purchase taxes; and, of course, the purchase tax is put on by the manufacturer, and goes all the way along to the retail price paid by the purchaser. Out of that money we are subsidising some articles of the same person's food. I was suggesting that if purchase tax were entirely taken off the real necessities (I am not talking about lace, diamonds, and those kind of purchase tax items, but about real essentials that go into every home), it might be possible, without doing any harm to the consumer, to lower still further the ceiling on food subsidies and at the same time cut down administration costs. That is the point I was trying to make.

I said earlier that this was not a new symptom, and that the cost of living and the cost of foodstuffs had unfortunately been rising quite considerably since Sir Stafford Cripps abandoned the effort to keep them absolutely steady by means of food subsidies. As a result, between February, 1950 and October of last year, when the Socialist Government went out of office, the food index of prices went up from 121 to 143 points, representing an increase of no less than 22 points. A new and, I understand, agreed cost of living index was started in January, and between October and January it went up by seven points. I believe that the great part of that seven points is not attributable to the present Government, but to their predecessors. I have the greatest sympathy with Mr. Maurice Webb. When he saw, just before the Election, that the food ceiling was not going to be maintained, he postponed putting up food prices until after the Election, and then, as it happened, he was mot the man who had to do it. But I have the greatest sympathy with him, because a similar kind of situation occurred when I was Minister of Food in 1945, when there was a tremendous demand for food for the liberated countries.

I was unable to get so much for our own people, especially in fats. After going to Washington, and bargaining for nearly a month, we came back with the most we could get, and much more than we should have got had we not gone. But it did mean that we had not enough fats "in the kitty," and in prospect over the year, to keep the fats ration throughout that coming winter as it was before. The Coalition Government agreed that we should cut the fats ration, and it was one of the last things that happened in that Government before Mr. Churchill formed what was afterwards known as the "Caretaker" Government. However, we went through with that cut, and it came into effect during the time of the Election. I was most unpopular with some of my colleagues, and with those fighting the Election at that time. But it was better for the country that it should be done; we should have had to impose a bigger cut in fats in the winter months if we had not done it in June of that year. That may have contributed to the small majority against me—it may even have been a fortunate thing, in the end, because otherwise I might not have had the honour to become a member of your Lordships' House. I am certain that it was the right thing to do, but I was most unpopular for having done it. Mr. Webb did not risk that unpopularity. But let nobody cast a stone at Mr. Webb's successor, when he had to do it because Mr. Webb did not face up to it before the General Election. Let that be looked upon, as indeed it is, as a direct legacy which this Government received from their predecessors. It is very much like one of those legacies which people occasionally get in these times, when the recipient has to pay more in death duties than he gets from the legacy.

When we come to the time between January and May, for which this Government are directly responsible, then we find that the price of foodstuffs has gone up by only 4 per cent. I do not think it is particularly due to what this Government have or have not done that that increase happens to compare favourably with the 6 per cent. rise during the period in the year before, under the Socialist Administration. At any rate, we all rejoice to see that there is at last a check in the rise of prices in general, because if that rise goes on for too long, and is followed by wage demands which are granted, then it is quite clear that shortly we shall put ourselves quite out of the running in our export trade. This rise in prices—and we cannot have it every way—is of course mainly due to increases in wages somewhere or other. I am not a person who regrets for one moment that the agricultural worker now gets a far better wage than he did. He deserves it. He is ore of our most skilled workers in the whole country. He has to hedge and ditch and plough a straight furrow, milk the cow and look after the horse and now, probably, he also has to be a bit of a mechanic and look after a tractor and all sorts of noisy appliances which, although they bring much greater efficiency to our farms, rather spoil the peace and quietude of our countryside. But he is expected to do all that, and he should have a good wage for doing so.

A good many people in this House and in another place have been talking about the small amount that producers in our Colonial Empire receive for their products. They have been saying they ought to get more. If they do get more, the people who consume their goods here will have to pay more. For instance, before the war we were buying Nigerian groundnuts at about £13 a ton; they now cost us £84 a ton—I am taking the straightforward production of the Nigerian peasant. Before the war we were buying sugar at £10 a ton, and now we have to pay £46 a ton. Because those Colonial producers are getting more for their daily work, people have to pay more for the food they consume. It is not often realised how any wage increase puts up the cost of handling and transporting food. There are claims for increases of wages being made at the present time. If only half the total number of workers in this country—that is, 10,000,000 people—received an average increase of £1 a week (and claims of that sort are being made) prices would go up by 7d. in the pound. For the average family of four, that would mean an extra out-payment of 9s. 4d. a week.

We have to realise that the only way we can carry on on a level keel is to try to ensure that further increases in our price levels are kept down. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, said that he hoped the Government would go on with bulk buying. If the Government bulk buyer can buy the food more cheaply for this country than private enterprise, then by all means let him do it. But I do not think that has been the experience. If we want to keep prices down we must see that the food is bought as economically as possible, and we must put the buying into the hands chat will do it in the most economical way. What I hope is that the Government will keep their realistic and restraining hand on the whole of the economy of this country. If they continue in that way, I believe that automatically we shall see decreases in the cost of living, and that when the present Government seek a new mandate from the people in about fours years' time they will get it because they will have shown by their realistic policy that they can bring about conditions where rises in prices and economic crises do not occur year by year as, unfortunately, has been the case in the last six years.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, may I first of all congratulate my noble friend Lord Wise for so ably opening this debate on the cost of living? To me it is a most important debate, and if your Lordships would allow me I should like at the commencement to do something perhaps a little unusual—that is, pay tribute to our housewives for the great courage, fortitude and patience they have shown since 1939. I believe our women are worthy of that very small tribute because, after all, they are the people who are carrying the burden. It is up to us to see how we can ease that burden.

My noble friend Lord Wise gave us a good deal of detail, and the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has also gone into a good deal of detail. I do not propose to do so. I want to leave the past a little behind, except to make one reference to what the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, said. He said that this food shortage is no new thing. Unfortunately, that is true. It has been with us for far too long, but it is becoming more acute year by year, and we must face the position. It is no use thinking that in three or four years' time we are going to have all the food we require. We shall have it if we work for it and produce it, but not otherwise. There is no question about that. The causes of the present shortage of food are well known. In the past fifty years the scientists have done great work in preserving life, and they have done a great job in giving us information about growing food. I am afraid that, so far as food production is concerned, we have not followed that advice. As we know, world population is increasing by something like 25,000,000 a year. While we are speaking here it is increasing at the rate of about 3,000 an hour, and the problems facing us are terrific.

What are we doing about it? Let us deal with it in our own country before we think of others. Are we tackling the job seriously? In my opinion we are not. Are we getting down to it as we did during the war years? Very definitely not. The world food position is relatively worse than it was in 1943. We have just got to get down to food production here, in so far as it is humanly possible. It is a slow business, this production of food, particularly of meat. If we set out now to produce meat it is going to be four or five years before we see a trickle. That applies also in regard to the countries of the Commonwealth. We have a wonderful potential in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. They can do a great deal to help us, and we must do everything we can to get those people with us. I must refer for a moment to one point which may be a little controversial, and that is the bulk purchase of food. Before doing so, I would say that the production of food is so important that it should be taken out of Party politics. Some noble Lords may not agree. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton looks—


I was just wondering what it meant.


Of course, there must be a Minister of Agriculture responsible to Parliament, but all Parties must agree on a policy; I want to get the best brains in the country all working together on this problem. Moreover, if we are to get the Commonwealth countries to produce the food we require, we must give them a long-term policy—one for not less than ten years, or possibly even for fifteen years. Since no Government can be in power for more than five years, no Government can pledge itself for more than five years. I make that point because, as I say, I believe the people in the Commonwealth must have ten years at least for the production of the food we require.

We need more meat, more milk and more cheese. I am sorry to see that the milk production in this country is going down somewhat. I should like to see it increased. We are at present producing something like 1,300,000,000 gallons a year. I should like to see that figure increased to 1,500,000,000. If we could do that and get the extra 200,000,000 gallons made into household cheese, what a blessing it would be to the country! If we can have only a little cheese, let it be good cheese. I want to see whole-milk cheese, and I think a great deal can be done in that direction.

As regards cattle, a great deal more should be done in the Highlands and Islands. There is much marginal land there, and the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, has proved to us that a great deal more can be done there. We are not tackling that part of the country in the way we should. There is a great reservoir there for the rearing of calves and for giving us the meat we require. I know there is difficulty in feeding the cattle in wintertime but we can supply them with forage, a great deal of which is now being burned. If that forage were baled and sent to the various areas round the coasts of Scotland and Wales it would do a great deal to help those farmers to keep their stock during the winter-time.

I am glad to observe that the Premiers and financial advisers of the various countries of the Commonwealth are coming over here for a Conference; but I very much regret that I have not observed that the Ministers of Agriculture are coming with them. I hope it is not too late for Her Majesty's Government to extend an invitation to the Ministers of Agriculture from the Commonwealth countries to conic here to see what can be done about this food production campaign. I am certain that we must get all the help we possibly can from the Commonwealth countries in this drive for food. I think that that is most important. When these representatives come here a policy must be formulated to get men back to the land—not only in Great Britain but also in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Men are still leaving the land, and I am greatly concerned about it. I want to see men going back to the land, otherwise we shall have great difficulty in producing the food we require. Far too many people in the world to-day, and perhaps particularly in this country, will simply not believe that there is a world shortage of food. They bury their heads, ostrich-like, in the ground. The fact of the shortage is unpleasant but it is with us. There are also far too many Micawbers, waiting for something to turn up; but increased food production will not simply turn up. We have got to work for it; we have got to turn up the ground.

There are two problems facing us, one economic and the other a food shortage. I ask myself which is the more important of these two and, without hesitation, my answer is, the food problem. I regard this as our greatest problem to-day. I suggest that money and materials must be found to produce food. Our finances should be so ordered that money, men and materials should be made available to the producers of food—the food which is so vitally necessary to us—and these men and materials and this money should be used in the most economical way. I believe we can produce 75 per cent. of the food we require in this country. At present we are having a struggle to produce 60 per cent—and we are slipping hack from the 60 per cent.: that is the unfortunate thing. We have got to have a good shake up. We want such a drive as we had in 1943, when the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, was Minister of Agriculture. I hope we shall treat the drive for food with the same urgency as we did when the Battle of the Atlantic was on in 1943. In my opinion it is just as urgent that we should go on with that effort. If we will only do that, I am sure the difficulties now being experienced by our housewives and the rest of us will become much less. The solution to our problems is the greater production of food, not only in this country but throughout the world.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, I am bound to say that I could not help being very depressed when listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wise, when he opened this debate this after- noon, because, after all, only a few weeks ago we had a two-day debate in this House on food production, in which there was, I think, universal agreement with the proposition which I ventured to put forward—namely, that if this country wanted increased food production, and wanted to reassure farmers about the future, one of the most important things that were necessary was to persuade the people of this country that the days of cheap food were over. I do not intend to weary your Lordships with quotations from that debate, but I heard no dissenting voice. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, himself spoke in that debate, and urged the necessity, if we were to get increased food production, of giving assurances to the farmers. The noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, followed me along the same line and the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton (I think it was), actually repeated what I said. He said that the days of cheap food were over for good; and yet, if you please, we have heard the noble Lord, Lord Wise—himself a farmer of repute, living n the good farming county of Oxfordshire, lately representing one of the leading arable counties in this country, Norfolk, which suffered as much as, if not more than, any other county in the inter-war years, owing to the craze of people for cheap food from abroad—within a few weeks of that debate suggesting that the price of food ought to be artificially reduced. I should have understood it if some other noble Lord, possibly someone not having that agricultural background, had done it; but for the noble Lord himself, with his agricultural background, to do that, I am bound to say, distresses me.

The noble Lord began his speech by saying that one of the reasons for our shortage of food to-day was the fact that many of the primary producing countries have become industrialised or semi-industrialised. I do not know whether he meant us to assume that that was one of the causes—not the only cause but one of the main causes—not only of the shortage of food but also of the increased price of food that we have to get from those countries overseas. All I can say is that the noble Lord evidently has not taken the trouble to read the latest pamphlet issued by his own Party and called Towards World Plenty, because that pamphlet appears to indicate that the solution for increased food, and food at cheaper prices is to industrialise many of those backward countries. You cannot have it both ways—at least, if you try to, it shows that the policy of his Party' is to increase industrialisation of these backward countries with a consequent increase of the price of food not only to them but to this country.

The noble Lord also said that he was proud of the record of the Government which he supported. He said: "We are jealous of the record we achieved, and we do not want to see anything done which will jeopardise the standard of living of our people at home." Again, I venture to suggest that perhaps the noble Lord will take the trouble to read a Report which has just been issued by the ten or twelve "wise men" of Europe (I think it is the O.E.E.C.), who have come down emphatically to the view that the period of office of the late Labour Government was responsible for jeopardising the future standards of living of this people; and, but for the advent of a Conservative Government, we should indeed to-day be in a far worse mess than we are. Again, I venture to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Wise, that an attempt ought to be made to get a certain amount of consistency among his own Party, because we had yesterday a long debate on the Report on the Colonial territories, in the course of which we heard his noble friend Lord Ogmore regretting the fall in the value of Colonial products, regretting the effect on the producers in Eastern Asia of the fall in certain products. We really must know whether the Labour Party are in favour of maintaining or in favour of reducing the price of primary products. Again, I suggest that they cannot have it both ways.

At the close of his speech, the noble Lord asked, "What are the remedies for this state of affairs?" All he had to suggest was that we should put back the subsidy. That, again, is directly opposed to the conclusions to which your Lordships came a few weeks ago—that if we were to assure the future of farming, it was essential that we should become realists. Putting back the subsidies is not a policy of realism; it is a policy of continuing to live in "Cloud Cuckoo-land." The noble Lord went on to say that the price of meat ought to be reduced. The noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, rightly said that the farmers of this country require a long-term policy, certainly a long-term period, for producing meat. It is not very encouraging for the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, to get up and say that we need a long-term policy and good prices for meat, and for the noble Lord, Lord Wise, to say that the most urgent necessity for the future of the country is to reduce the price of meat. It seems hardly consistent.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Wise, said that he was against the bulk purchase of food. But what did he imply? After all, under his Government, in spite of the bulk purchase of food, prices steadily rose. Prices for supplies from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Continent continually rose—quite rightly, because the costs of production rose. Bulk buying did not prevent that. What is his solution as regards bulk buying? According to information published in the Press this morning, the price of butter (I think it is) and cheese from Australia and Canada is to be increased by 7½ per cent. Does the noble Lord suggest that that price increase should be passed on to the consumer in this country, or does he suggest that the subsidies should pari passu be raised? If I may say so, with respect and without undue controversy, I think it is a great pity that the noble Lord, Lord Wise, of all people, should have introduced a debate of this kind and, having regard to his farming background, should have used the arguments that he did.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, while there may be some difference of opinion on the two sides of this House with regard to subsidies, bulk buying and so on. I think that all the members of this House will agree on one thing—that it is a primary duty of the Government to ensure that there is sufficient food for each of Her Majesty's subjects. If the food is not available, then it is a primary duty of the Government to ensure that a sufficient amount of food is made available. It was in trying to carry through that duty that rationing and subsidies were introduced. There may be a danger that subsidies and rationing may continue for too long. Vested interests may arise in this matter. There may be a danger that Governments may regard these temporary measures with complacency, may regard them as a normal, permanent procedure. I think we should regard them as temporary measures to meet an emergency, as necessary evils, to be got rid of as soon as possible, so that we can get back to the position where everybody can buy as much food as he likes and where he likes. But before we can get back to that position we have to ensure that there will be a sufficiency of food in such abundance that the price will, be within the reach of the poorest family in this country. It is on that aspect that I should like to make some comments.

We are faced to-day with a problem different from what it was in the nineteenth century. If your Lordships would allow me, I should like to refer to what happened in the nineteenth century and how different the conditions are to-day. We had the "Hungry 'Forties"—the 1840s—when food was scarce and dear, when there was social unrest and threat of revolution, which was not confined to this country but was centred in the Western European countries. Now what was the cause of that? It was not political upheaval. If you read the speeches of the leaders of the Chartists you will find in nearly every one of them a reference to the scarcity and the high price of food. In some of the industrial towns the workers were chanting for "Blood or food." That was the serious position a hundred years ago. Now look at the position in 1900, at the end of that century. Food had become abundant and cheap. The loaf that reached 11½d. in the 1940s was available in 1900 for 5d. The price of meat had fallen to almost the same level, and wages had risen 50 per cent. So the spectre of hunger which had haunted the homes in this country in the middle of the nineteenth century, seemed to have gone for good.

But let us inquire into the reason for this welcome change. Why was food abundant? Everybody knows. Two great new continents, with virgin land equal to the cultivated land of the whole of Western Europe, had been brought in. Never in the whole of recorded history has a nation suffering hunger by reason of great increase in population received such a gift by way of additional food supplies—and it was cheap. Why was it cheap? My Lords, it was cheap because the men who were producing the food were no, getting the same standard of living as the workers in the towns who were consuming it. In 1900 the workers engaged in producing food in this country were receiving 14s. to 15s. a week, compared with about 29s., which was the lowest wage for a labourer, and 35s. or 40s. for skilled workers. Imported food—our tea, sugar and rice—and even our raw cotton for the manufacturers, was produced by native workers who were getting less than one-fifth of the wage of the people who were consuming the food in this country. There was cheap food from the United States and from Australia. Why was it cheap? They were mining the land. They were exporting its fertility. We wore depleting the most important capital of mankind.

It was easy to pay for the food because we were the leading industrial country of the world. We had a market for all we cared to export. That was our happy position in 1900. To-day the position is totally different. Since 1900 the population of the world has risen from 1,600,000,000 to 2,400,000,000 and food production has not inceased in proportion. In 1900 we were almost the sole buyers of food. Eighty per cent. of some foods came to this country. We were on a buyers' market. To-day, with the large increase in world population, there is greater competition for the world's food. Japan, which was self-supporting in 1900, has to import 2,000,000 tons; and with its population of 83,000,000 rising rapidly, Japan will need to import more. India, from which we used to get 250,000 tons of wheat, has now to import 2,000,000 tons. Egypt, which was self-supporting, is now increasing her imports of food. In the food exporting countries there is a rise in the population and in the standard of living. They are consuming more of their own food. I have heard it stated that Australia will have no food to export ten years hence. I have heard it said that by 1970 the United States will have reached a population of about 190,000,000 and will have no food to export, and that greater measures must be taken against soil erosion, to ensure that they will continue to be self-supporting after 1970. The same applies to the Argentine. The abundance of food in the world's markets in 1900 is not there to-day.

No food is cheap to-day. I am glad that my noble friend, Lord Hudson, emphasised this question of the cheapness of food in 1900, and the rise in the price of food at the present time. Farm workers have now strong trade unions, and instead of getting 14s. or 15s. a week they are now getting £6 a week. Good luck to them; they deserve it. The native workers are no longer content to accept a low standard of living in order to supply food to this country which has a high standard of living. They are getting trade unions. In Ceylon, a trade union has struck for higher wages for picking our tea. As the standard of living rises and the demand for a better living wage continues, the price of imported food will continue to go up. There is not going to be any cheap food from exploiting the land of Australia and the United States. Those countries are now spending large sums of money in trying to restore the fertility of the land which was lost in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

We have to consider not only the amount of food coming on the world markets which we shall be able to get only in competition with other countries; we have to consider how we shall pay for it. We are no longer the leading industrial country in the world. We are faced, now and in the future, with great competition by the United States, which doubled its industrial potential during the war, and by Germany and Japan, which must export or starve. In addition, many of the countries which were content merely to export primary products are now becoming industrialised, so making for greater self-sufficiency. Not only is it going to be difficult to pay for imported food by our industrial exports; but in 1900 we had vast foreign investments which have been lost to us by reason of the war.

That is another factor which affects the food position, and is one to which I should like to make reference. In 1900 people were content with cheap meat, cheap white bread, cheap margarine, jams and so on. It was thought that if they had plenty of cheap food like that to satisfy their hunger, then the food problem had been solved. Since then, we have realised that a much more expensive diet is needed to keep people in health. I should like to say that I am very proud of my country because, when that was realized, Members on both sides of an- other place got together and began to change the policy. They realised that the problem was not one of over-production, but of under-consumption. Mr. Walter Elliot put through the Milk for Schools Scheme, and then during the war there was the wonderful food policy of my noble friend. Lord Woolton, which ensured that the nutritional needs of the people were satisfied in spite of the existing scarcity conditions. I did some broadcasting during the war, boosting our country, which is not sufficiently boosted, and telling the people what a wonderful food policy they had, and how food was distributed in accordance with need and. for example, that if a cargo of oranges arrived in this country a millionaire could not buy one until each child had had its share. We are all proud of that.

The result of that scheme has been that people are drinking more milk and eating more fruit and, when they can get them, more eggs. We have raised the standard of food consumption. Therefore, we are up against not only the population problem. The "Hungry 'Forties" were brought about because the population of 10,000,000 increased to 20,000,000, which in turn increased by 1900 to 37,000,000. But the gifts of food from America and Australia ironed that problem out. To-day, we have 49,000,000 mouths to feed, and more expensive food is needed to put into those mouths.

Now that is the challenge which faces this country. It looks a gloomy picture. Can we meet that challenge? We can. But there are certain things which will have to be done. The people of this country have to realise how serious the position is. It is not only a question of the farmers producing more food. Our industrialists have to realise that they must gear up their industries to meet increasing competition. And everyone must realise the need for co-operation. If you have a permanent national policy on which all Parties are agreed to put before the nation and appeal for their support, then you will have a very good chance of meeting this challenge in the same spirit that was shown at the time of Dunkirk.

Two things especially we have to do. In the first place, we have to consider how we can increase home production. There is not the slightest doubt that we can produce more. I think the Government has set its policy at a 60 per cent. increase. I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, who is so well informed on this subject will agree with me that if we were prepared to expend substantial capital sums on bringing marginal and other lands into a state of higher fertility, we could produce within our own shores 75 per cent. or even 80 per cent. of the food we consume. I think the Government's target for home food production is too low.


I agree emphatically.


Will the noble Lord agree that, before we devote a lot of money to bringing marginal land into cultivation, we should make sure that all the present known cultivable land is brought up to the highest possible pitch of production?


Yes, I agree. There is marginal land which can be brought in, and there is also the question of making the best possible use of land now in cultivation. With regard to paying for our imported food I think that our industries might do more—and when I say our industries, I do not mean only the workpeople but the industrial managers and exporters. They might do more to gets up the industrial machine of this country to meet competition by installing the very latest plant and adopting other methods of speeding up the work. That, of course, will also involve capital expenditure. I sometimes think that, taking the long view, it is permissible to ask the question whether part of the money which is at present being spent on rearmament could not be diverted to help in this connection. As we all know, we must rearm. That is simply a measure of prudence. But taking a long view over, say, twenty years, is it not possible that it would pay us to devote part of the money which we are now spending in this way to increasing our efficiency as an industrial nation and increasing the output of home produced food?

Another aspect of this matter is that of imported food. Can we do anything to increase world supplies so that there will be surpluses coming on to the world markets for us to import? There are, I know, two views about this. There are people who say that the world population will always increase faster than food production, and that we shall never be able to close the gap until birth control is generally accepted. Birth control is a remedy which may be all right in its way but it will be difficult to apply it in time to prevent the population of the world reaching 3,500,000,000 or even 4,000,000,000. If the World Health Organisation really gets going and eliminates diseases like malaria, there will be a world explosion of population in something the same way as there was such an explosion in this country in the nineteenth century. The other view is that if full advantage is taken of all the resources of modern agriculture and engineering technology, then the practical limit to food production is the amount of labour and money that we are willing to devote to it.

Take the case of Pakistan, for example, a country where I have been recently for the purpose of reporting to the Government on what should be done Pakistan is one of the hungry countries. But there are people there with vision, and the beginning which they have made in such matters as the development of great irrigation schemes shows what can be done. In this connection I must give credit, great credit, to the British Government for the inception of such schemes. The people of Pakistan, I believe, can increase the present producing acreage of 48,000,000 acres—which is the area at present being cultivated—to nearly 100,000,000 acres. Then take India. There, I think, in food production the yield is the lowest in the world—about half what it is in China and Japan. What do they need in India? They need fertilisers, green manuring, steel to make ploughs. They have 20,000,000 acres of good land which could be brought under cultivation, and some of it is undoubtedly mote fertile than land which is at present being cultivated. But can they get the machines needed to clear that land? Can they get the big tractors and other implements? They have cleared a few thousand acres and the yield on this new land is 50 per cent. more than on the land which is in cultivation at present. They need industrial products and an organisation which can bring goods and services to the door of the cultivator

It is difficult to set limits to the extent to which world food production could be increased if there were a combined world food policy. The late President Roosevelt had that in mind when he brought out his "New Deal," to fulfil the promises of the Atlantic Charter, and when he called the Hot Springs Conference with a view to getting the nations to co-operate in extending food production in the world and thereby to put an end to hunger and unemployment. Out of that arose the Food and Agriculture Organisation which put forward a plan. Your Lordships will be surprised to hear that that nearly succeeded. The great majority of the nations were prepared to co-operate. Mr. La Guardia, the head of U.N.R.R.A., went to Moscow and talked to Stalin and others there. They were very suspicious. They said: "That is the kind of thing we will go into, provided that Britain and the United States will go in." The United States did agree to go in. I think that perhaps the people of this country did not fully appreciate all that this meant to the world. I can tell your Lordships that the Director-General of that time, although an international servant, never lost sight of the needs of his own country.

Although America gets the credit for suggesting a world food plan, this country really deserves great credit. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, went to the League of Nations in 1934 or 1935, when the world was suffering from unemployment, hunger and bad trade, and put forward a scheme to get the nations to co-operate to increase agricultural production. Their object was not merely humanitarianism. As they pointed out, if what they advocated was accomplished there would be an increased world market for industrial products. They said that if world food supplies were increased, then there would be the money available for purchasing the products of industry. Arising out of that, the noble Lord, Lord Astor, was appointed Chairman of an important Committee of economists, nutritionists, agriculturists and others. It was a very high-powered Committee. One member of it afterwards became Prime Minister of France. The object of that Committee was to bring about international co-operation to increase food production, to bring about agricultural and industrial prosperity with a rapidly expanding world economy

My Lords, this country has got ideas. it knows what ought to be done. I am going to make a suggestion—it is one which I have made before, but I think it is worth repeating. On the last occasion the Lord Chancellor said that he could not hear me: I hope that he can hear me to-day. Food for this country is vitally important, for social contentment, for health, for trade, for finance. We are the most vulnerable country in the world in a world food shortage because we are so dependent on imports. The problem is obviously concerned with health and agriculture, but in addition it is connected with trade finance, and is a great political problem. My suggestion is that if some of the leaders representing all political Parties would be willing to come together to get at the facts, setting aside all political differences, and agree on what should be the united national policy for the next twenty years—subject. of course, to changes as dictated by the changing needs—they could do a great deal towards solving this problem. They could, I suggest, consider such matters as whether subsidies are right or wrong; what better methods can be devised, and how the cost of distribution could be reduced. Then there are problems in production. For example, there is the flat rate offered for products. How are we going to get over the difficulty of giving a price that will keep the man on marginal land in production and prevent undue profits for the man on good land with a highly equipped farm, who can produce at 50 per cent. less? We want unanimity on the methods to be used for the solution of these problems.

With regard to world supplies, I think this nation can make a great contribution to the increased total of the world supplies of food. We have made suggestions already. If we embark on a great plan of that kind we shall find that the main problem is international finance. But the City of London has an unrivalled knowledge of international finance and international trade. Then, while certain nations like the United States and Russia may be suspected of economic or military imperialism, this country, having done away with military imperialism and given independence to some countries within the Commonwealth and declared our policy of independence for the Colonies as soon as they are fit to govern themselves, cannot be accused of selfish imperialist ambition. These are great intangible assets—our knowledge of finance and trade and the prestige we have in being able to put forward a plan without any ulterior motive, apart from the safety of our own food supply and the increase of food supply to the benefit of everybody.

Now I have finished. We are politically a mature nation, with a great Commonwealth and Empire which, with all its faults, is the best the world has ever seen. We could offer a policy to the world and I think we should be surprised at the extent to which it would be accepted. If other countries will not accept it through the United Nations, let us have a Commonwealth and Empire policy within ourselves. I believe that, by getting out an agreed policy in the interests of this country and in the interests of the whole world, this country could give to the world an economic and moral leadership which to-day it urgently needs.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, this debate which the noble Lord, Lord Wise, has initiated, has brought, and brought very justly, tributes from noble Lords who have spoken to the most deserving, most hardworking and most neglected section of the community—to wit, the housewives. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr, is recognised by everyone in this country and all other countries where people can read reports as an authority on these problems, and we know the work he has done all over the world on these vital problems of food supply. The noble Lord has been clear in saying that the situation is one of extreme seriousness for us and for the rest of the world.

'That being so, I should like to direct the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, who is to reply, to some of the recommendations made by a distinguished medical authority, who for all I know may still be serving under the Lord President—Sir Edward Mellanby, who at one time was Secretary of the Medical Research Council. It is essential, particularly when supplies are short, that such foods as we have and use should be of the best. Therefore, the recommendations that have been made by distinguished medical authorities on the additives and manipulation of food should be carefully considered. In his recent Sanderson-Wells lecture, Sir Edward Mellanby ended with these words, if your Lordships will allow me to quote them: No use of chemicals based on effective æsthetic or even practical advantages conferred on food by these substances should be countenanced if they have harmful effects on animals; and, apart from questions of toxicity, the present trend of lowering the nutritive value of extensively eaten food such as bread, both by chemicals and by other forms of manipulation, demands attention. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, will allow me to draw that fact to his attention, so that the Departments which he controls may give some urgent consideration to these problems. It is interesting to reflect that so far as bread was concerned the recommendations of the Medical Research Council at the time that Sir Edward Mellanby was secretary were noted immediately by the Government of the United States of America and effect was given to them, but so far nothing has been done in this country.

In support of these contentions, may I draw your Lordships' attention to the following official figures of the death rate in Great Britain from diseases of the heart and circulation? In 1921 they were 65,000. I take 1921 because that was the year in which the agene process in relation to flour treatment was introduced. From that year right up to the present time there has been a rise in the death rate from these complaints, from 65,000 to some 250,000 in 1950. That is a matter that deserves close consideration. In further support of this submission to your Lordships, may I quote from the recent statistics of the United Nations World Health Organisation, in which Dr. Pascus, World Health Organisation director of health statistics, points out that in Scotland the cancer deaths were 185 for every 100,000 of the population in 1949, compared with 81 in 1901?

I submit that there is a great field for useful investigation in regard to these matters. The noble Lord, the Lord President of the Council, is the one person who has the machinery at his beck and call to carry forward an investigation, of this nature. There is far too much manipulation of food and there are far too many additives which eminent medical authorities have shown to be harmful to human health. I beg to suggest that the noble Lord consider what I have submitted to your Lordships before—the desirability of setting up a Royal Commission or other suitable body to go into these matters very thoroughly, because the position is most serious.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, the problem facing this world is not so much its ability to defend civilisation as to feed it. If the figure which my noble friend Lord Hungarton mentioned of the new arrivals into this world is correct, while your Lordships have been debating this problem 10,000 new mouths have arrived in this world to be fed.


But how many mouths have closed?


That is the net increase. The problem facing this country is to produce the maximum amount of food at the lowest possible cost and to buy in the world markets at the lowest price we can. If the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, were in his place he might attempt to correct me when I say "at the lowest possible cost." What I mean by that is the lowest possible economic cost, because the days of cheap food in this country and in this world are over. The noble Lord, the Lord President of the Council, will agree with me that extravagances are to be avoided in production, just as they have to be avoided in buying. I want to say this to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, now. In the remarks I have to make on behalf of noble Lords sitting on this side of the House I shall try to be helpful. The noble Lord has a terrible job on his hands—one of the biggest jobs to be performed in this country. My noble friend Lord Wise is quite right. The increasing cost of food in this country is liable to be at the root of all our industrial troubles in the future. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, must not only increase the production of food in this country, but must also go out into the world and buy food in the face of increasing demands all over the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr, has said, there have been rising food prices and falling production in those countries which have been our traditional suppliers of food for so many years.

I am not going to attempt to deal with the problem of production of food in this country, as it has been debated in your Lordships' House so often in recent months. I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr, and my noble friend Lord Hungarton have said. I want to address a few questions to your Lordships on what I regard as one of our greatest problems—namely, where are we going to get the food from in this world. If the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr, is correct, and if we cultivate to a maximum degree of efficiency, every acre of land it is possible to cultivate in this country, we shall still have to go out into the world, in the face of increasing competition, and buy a substantial amount of food for the people of this country.

About a fortnight ago, in a debate we had in your Lordships' House on the balance of payments I made some comments about food production in Australia, learned when I was visiting Australia in the early part of this year. I think this is one of the most serious problems which this country has to face, and with which the Government have to grapple. Owing to what I consider to be a tragic economic misconception in that great country of Australia, their primary products and primary industries have been neglected and sacrificed upon the altar of expanding secondary industries. I quoted the figures, and I will quote them again. Before the war, Australia exported 5,000,000 sheep and fat lambs a year, and 1,000,000 quarters of beef. Last year the exports from Australia were under 1,000,000 sheep and fat lambs, and 300,000 quarters of beef. In that country, I learned that, owing to the fact that they had not had the wisdom that this country has shown in increasing the capital investment, cattle were driven in Queensland for distances of 500 to 800 miles, losing weight calculated as a loss per annum of about £A2,000,000, because there was an insufficiency of railways. On last Sunday night the following news was broadcast on the wireless: Australian meat exports have shown a marked decline during the past year. According to figures quoted by Radio Australia, during eleven months of 1951 to 1952 exports of lamb fell by a half, and exports of pork by almost two-thirds. Altogether, exports of veal, beef, lamb, mutton and pork declined from about 94,000 tons to just over 57,000 tons. There was also a fall in the production of milk, butter, cheese and other dairy products. All the agricultural experts I discussed this problem with when I was in Australia told me that if Australia goes on neglecting her primary industry, concentrating her population, as she is, into her main cities, developing her secondary industries at the cost of her agriculture, and increasing her population at the rate of 3 per cent. per annum, as she is, she will be importing meat for her own consumption within six years. It is with reluctance that those who are knowledgeable on this subject—and I discussed it with the biggest agricultural experts of Australia—feel that we must recognise that we may have seen the last for many years to come—perhaps for ever—of Australia as a contributor to a solution of this great world problem of finding sufficient food. When you come to think of the great strides that we have made in this country—and let us pay a great tribute to the agricultural industry—the capital development that has been spent has brought our agricultural industry up to one of the greatest efficiency factors in this world. It is an amazing performance and I think tribute should be paid. But it is still not going to relieve the noble Lord, the Lord President of the Council, of that urgency of buying food abroad, and he is being forced by the circumstances I have outlined.

I noticed some surprise on the faces of noble Lords opposite when I quoted those figures just now. But that is nothing to the surprise which I should think will be seen on the faces of the housewives of this country, because it will mean that the Lord President of the Council will be forced to go into dollar markets for the food he requires. What about the result of all that upon the sterling area balances? I commend the very fine speech made by the President of the Board of Trade yesterday, when for the first time a British politician had the courage to tell America the truth. We have been too mealy-mouthed about this. I hope the Lord President of the Council or the Prime Minister, when the Commonwealth Premiers Conference is held, will say the same thing, and the appropriate thing, in strong language.

When I was in Australia I early learned that the last thing you should say to an Australian is: "Oh, you are a fine people. You are a fine country." His only reply will be: "Well, we know that. So what?" What you had to do to get the Australian to talk, to get under his skin, was to criticise in a friendly manner what you thought was wrong with the economy. It has been the tragedy of this country (and it is to-day more than ever the tragedy of Australia) that if you talk to an Australian on agricultural matters, the average Australian will say: "What you want to do is to drive us back to be hewers of wood and drawers of water." I said: "Not drive you back—drive you forward." The urban populations have been the greatest enemy of agricultural progress, not only in this country but in every country in the world. Why is that. Because going on the land is looked upon as a feudal occupation. That view is not held as widely here to-day, but it still obtains in Australia, and that is why 64 per cent. of the population of Australia is herded into the large cities.

If these facts are true—and I believe them to be true—and if we have to face the fact that the procurement cost of the food we need, both from overseas and that raised in this country, is going to be higher than ever, it behoves us to see that at least we distribute the food at the least possible cost. I wish to address a few remarks to the Lord President of the Council on that aspect. There are too many employed in distribution in this country. There are 2,600,000, and the figure is growing. We have too many units of distribution. We have still, according to the latest returns, about 750,000 retail shops. We have too many intermediaries inserting themselves between the producer and the consumer. I promised to be helpful and find common ground with the noble Lord the Lord President, because this is not a Party political matter. Let me say frankly that every Party is to blame; every Government has burked this issue of distribution. When I have been discussing in your Lordship's House such matters as road accidents and road construction I have said that the reason why the road accident problem has never been tackled, why we do not have sufficient good roads, is that there are no votes to be gained by it. The trouble with distribution is that there are too many votes in it: it is political dynamite. And that is why every Government for as long as I can remember has always burked that issue.

In 1946, I had the honour of presiding over a Committee that was charged to inquire into the working of the Agricultural Marketing Acts. Within this last day or two I brought out a copy of our Report and dusted it. I have been told on excellent authority that all the best Reports take seventeen years in a Government pigeon-hole to mature.


What was the date of that Report?


This was 1946, and the noble Lord has no possible hope of being in office in seventeen years from that date, so I am going to give him the chance of breaking this unfortunate rule. That Report stated quite definitely, and without any equivocation, that it is useless to get the production standard of British agriculture up to the high pitch which that industry can achieve and see the resulting gains lost in a wasteful distribution system. Sooner or later—and if this Government has any courage, it will be sooner—the recommendations of that Report will have to be implemented, because it is no good burking this issue: that on the cost of distribution, producer controlled marketing boards are no answer at all. The history of this country has proved conclusively that marketing organisations controlled by producers have never resulted in lower prices to the consumer. That is said very definitely and one could not have sat, as I sat, as Chairman of that Committee for nine months, and listened to all the evidence, without coming to that very firm conclusion. I do not want to argue the case so ably stated in this Report. I do not know whether the noble Lord, the Lord President of the Council, has ever read it.




There are many gems of wisdom in it, and things were said in 1946 that are very true to-day. In paragraph 215, this is stated—talking about distribution: Secondly, the improvement of efficiency in order to economise the use of manpower in marketing and to offset so far as possible the increased prime cost of the produce will be more than ever the imperative duty of such marketing authorities as may be set up. That was written in 1946. It is very true to-day. I am not going very far into that: I am coming down to the specific because, in my view, the present costs of distributing the prime commodities—those commodities the cost of which, as my noble friend Lord Wise so truthfully said, affects the housewife's purse—are inordinately high. When this Committee dealt with this subject they said—they were dealing with war-time controls: … in order to secure co-operation of the distributive trades, undertakings were given to vested interests as to the eventual resumption of their normal operations, and margins were paid out for services that were no longer rendered. The costs of distribution were and remain unnecessarily inflated. I am going to cite the case of meat. At the outbreak of war all the importing and the wholesaling of meat was taken over by the Ministry of Food, and the Government became the sole buyers of meat. That situation remains to-day. Now, the Government inserted three intermediaries between themselves as the buyer, and the consumer.


But that existed before.


They were there before in a slightly different shape. I am not quarelling about that. But there were these three intermediaries. There were the Meat Importers National Defence Association Limited—rather an apt and picturesque title, I always thought. That composed all the importers—Wilson's, the Vestey Group, Armours, Swifts, and people like that. Their function was to take the meat off the boat and put it into store. Then they passed it on to the next intermediary, acting as the agents for the Ministry of Food; that was the Wholesale Meat Supply Association. All the meat wholesalers became members of this Association, including all the wholesale branches of the importers who were in the first one. The job of this Wholesale Meat Supply Association was to distribute the meat to the third intermediary, the retail groups. Members of both the first and second organisations were agents for the Ministry of Food and were paid for the work they did. But they were all paid, over and above that, a compensatory sum of 1½ per cent. of their 1938 turnover, which means that a sum of £3,000,000 a year has been paid to these people for not distributing meat.

I ventured to address your Lordships in the course of the debate on the Address in reply to the gracious Speech of his late Majesty at the opening of this Parliament, and I addressed a question to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton. I said—I quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 174, Col. 256: I should like him to consider whether, in our present circumstances and in the difficult task he has before him, we can afford to have a distributive system in this country which contains the anomaly of paying butchers not to distribute meat. I am quite willing to concede that in 1938 that may have appeared to be a very good scheme. I have no doubt about that. Perhaps we were all optimistic about the danger of war passing and of our waking up one morning and finding ourselves able to go back to our normal daily avocations when a distributive system would start all over again. But I would ask the noble Lord to consider that £40,000,000 has been paid since 1938 to these people as compensation for not distributing the amount of meat they did in 1938. Perhaps the noble Lord would consider carefully whether we can really afford that at the present time.

A case was brought to my knowledge of a single wholesaler in the North of England who had a turnover in 1938 of £50,000 per annum. He has been paid for doing nothing, at the rate of 1½ per cent. on that sum—that is £750 per annum, ever since 1940. He has now received a total of £10,000. In 1938 he would, he said, have sold his whole business for half that sum. I ask the noble Lord to decide whether it adds up to sense, when we are considering this question of the cost of food and the cost of meat in particular, and when Lord Wise tells us that the housewife cannot afford to pay 3s. 4d. a pound for prime beef, that we should pay a pension—because that is what it amounts to: it is going on in perpetuity—of £3,000,000 a year as compensation for loss of business which these people had in 1938, business which perhaps they will never get back When is this state of things going to be brought to an end?

I think I have stated the case fairly. I ask the noble Lord to look into this matter. I ask him also how many more of these compensation schemes of distribution there are which are being handled by the Ministry of Food. I do not know. I do know that during the war milk distributors were paid for not distributing milk. Has that ended? I do not know. I have some figures here provided by the Agricultural Economic Research Institute that are rather staggering. Let me quote one or two. The United Kingdom consumption of milk to-day is in the region of 1,320,000,000 gallons—that is at the full price. The total cost of distribution is approximately £110,000,000 a year—20d. per gallon. I do not know how that figure is made up. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he will see that a toothcomb is put through this organisation of these distribution schemes of the Ministry of Food, to see what economies can be made. All of them are putting an added burden on the housewife, as regards meat, of £3,000,000 a year.

There is one other point into which I should like the noble Lord to look. I understand that in very rough figures the total consumption of food in this country to-day is of the value of £2,867,000,000, or something like that. Of that, packaged foods, either tinned or cartoned, amount to about £573,000,000 a year—about 20 per cent. of the total. And they are growing apace. Immediately food is put into a tin or a carton, it becomes a branded article. It is then price-protected, arid we then have that delightful sequence of events with which the noble Lord the Lord President of the Council and I are so well acquainted. It may not do any irreparable harm at the present moment, at least as regards rationed and price controlled goods. We were promised in the Government's programme at the beginning of this Parliament that legislation would be introduced to tighten up the effectiveness of the Monopoly Commission. I do not press the noble Lord to tell me when it is corning, but I do point out to him this danger: that price maintenance control of any branded article has always meant higher prices to the consumer.

Finally, I want to turn to one other subject, horticulture, because it is horticulture in the way of fruit and vegetables which, perhaps more than anything else, affects the housewife's purse when she goes shopping. I do not think I shall be guilty of an exaggeration if I say that the production and distribution of horticultural produce in this country is as unsatisfactory to-day as ever it was.


More so.


We dealt with that matter in the Report to which I have referred. Departmental committee after Departmental committee was set up, and the only thing they ever decided was that it was inexpedient to decide anything. To-day, at this time when the food position and the price of food is our major concern, we still get terrific gluts and shortages—and I am going to tell the noble Lord the cure, or at any rate the way to set about it. Horticultural production can no longer remain unplanned. We cannot afford to have 70,000 horticultural producers in this country growing what they will whether or not there is a market for it.


How many thousands?


Seventy thousand. Again, we have to give up the chaotic market system; we have to decentralise the markets. We have to go in for conservation, deep-freeze and every other scientific method by which we can store in glut and distribute in shortage. The noble Lord knows that it has been said that there was only one real economist in this world: the rest who followed him were fakes. That was the figure in Biblical history who stored in the seven fat years for the seven lean. He was the only true economist in this world.

I know that this idea will cost money, but, as I say, we came to the conclusion on the Committee over which I presided that that was the only solution: decentralisation of markets, a great amount of expenditure on conservation plants and, conducting the whole affair, an independent, non-profit-making commission—because the industry, broadly, has not done a thing and never will do a thing. The cost of such a scheme cannot fall upon the industry. The industry has not the money; it cannot raise the finance. So it will have to be a State scheme. I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply in about thirty seconds, as I come to the end of my speech, will not tell me, if he will allow me to use the vernacular, "the old, old story"—that is, of course, that in the country's economic condition we cannot afford the money. I am going to put to the noble Lord—


The noble Lord is going to tell me how we can do it?


No. I am going to tell the noble Lord what is going to happen if he does not do it. After all, he cannot expect to put all his responsibilities on me. I appreciate to the full the difficulty of the noble Lord and I will try to indicate to him quite clearly the horns of the dilemma on which he finds himself. Either the Government can spend money to prevent unnecessary increases in the cost of living, or they can let these increases go on in the way that I have mentioned, thereby stimulating demands for increased wages. That will be followed by increased costs of production, which will be followed by our pricing ourselves out of the export market. Where do we end? The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has no more a magic wand than has anybody else: he cannot perform miracles. If we are faced with increased wage demands, if our exports drop because of increased costs of production, and we are pricing ourselves out of the export market, then our fate as a great nation is sealed.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, I had no intention of taking part in this debate, but, after hearing certain speeches that have been made this afternoon I find it quite impossible to remain silent. I am reminded of two statements made by two great men. One was by Napoleon, to the effect that we are "a nation of shopkeepers." The other was by that great statesman Disraeli, that "a nation which neglects its agriculture is bound to decay." With regard to the first and with reference to the noble Lord who has just spoken, I may say that with at least three-quarters of what he has said I entirely agree. He has been, I might almost say, since the death of my dear old friend Sir Horace Plunkett, the great champion of co-operation, on the one hand, or, alternatively, a considerable decrease in what the distributors of this country are taking out for their own benefit, but to a large extent, to the detriment of both the producer and the consumer.

I am not going to pretend—and the noble Lord knows my views—that I agree whole-heartedly with the scheme which he promulgated some four or five years ago, but I entirely endorse what I may call his major premise. I feel that it is up to any self-respecting Government in this country which holds the view—as I do most emphatically—that the future prosperity and welfare of this country depend preponderantly upon this greatest and most vital industry, food production, at any rate carefully to examine the Report to which the noble Lord has just referred, to see to what extent those parts of it which will find general favour, not only with the public generally but also among the agricultural community can be implemented.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr, has left the House, for a more vigorous and convincing speech on the subject of food production I do not remember ever having heard during the long period that I have been a member of your Lordships' House. What impressed me so forcibly—your Lordships will forgive my saying it with the utmost emphasis—is that he asked so truly: Why do you allow food production still to be a matter of inter-Party controversy? He went further arid asked: Why cannot the whole British Commonwealth and Empire agree, so far as possible, upon a general food production policy, in order to meet the growing and ever-increasing needs of the whole world in the matter of more essential food?

I am going to make bold to express what has been a matter of conviction to me ever since the present Government came into office—namely, that they have no reason to be content with a target or objective of 60 per cent. above pre-war home food production. Candidly, subject to certain provisoes, I believe that we could raise our food output by 75 per cent. above pre-war level. By the way, I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr, in his specific reference to marginal land. I believe, with my noble friend Lord Hudson, that we might easily waste a considerable amount of national capital by pouring it into marginal land. Some of the finest and most fertile land in this country is crying out for more capital and for greater equipment, with up-to-date and, nowadays, essential machinery. That we need, if we seek to get the largest possible output from our land. But in all other respects, I entirely agree with what Lord Boyd-Orr said.

I said just now "subject to certain provisoes." The first and, I think, the most important proviso is that there must be a far greater application of modern science and technology to the processes of food production. Secondly (this has already been stated from both sides of the House in a previous debate), I urge the Government, do, for goodness' sake, soon get rid of that small section which is bringing down the reputation of the agricultural industry, and is not justifying its position as occupiers of agricultural land. To keep on deferring dealing with this problem is, to my mind, doing a national injustice. What are we doing? We are leaving the supervision of these people still in the hands of county agricultural executive committees. A large number of them are incurable. You may give them advice; you may continue to supervise them; but there will be no appreciable increase in output on their part. Therefore, the sooner we get rid of them, the better. What are they suffering from? Many of them are suffering from serious infirmity—they are much more infirm than myself, an old man. They have wholly inadequate capital to run any business; many of them have an utter lack of experience, and others suffer from incorrigible laziness. To my mind, if you really want to frame a safe and a sound agricultural policy you should get rid of those artificial conditions of subsidising here and subsidising there, according to what the present temper of the Government may happen to be. You will never effectually get rid of subsidisation so long as you continue to subsidise the incorrigible duffers at the tail end of our most important industry.

This is a subject to which I have given the whole of a long and somewhat laborious life. I am perfectly certain that if only we do what the best farmers in this country are doing to-day—namely, apply modern science and technology to this business; give up trying to subsidise, either calf production or ploughing up, and all the rest of it; aim at a freer economy by getting rid of the duffers; and, as far as possible, take agriculture and food production entirely out of the cockpit of the politicians—then there is some hope for this country and its sufficient feeding in days to come.

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, like my noble friend who has just sat down, I had no intention of saying anything this afternoon, but I feel that a voice from Scotland is necessary, for there we are often hampered in agricultural matters by people who know nothing about them. I am very interested that we should encourage people to remain on the land; that fathers and mothers should not take their children to town schools, but that we should retain the rural schools so that we may get the rising generation agriculturalised and willing to remain on the land, to carry on the farming of their forbears.

Then there is a tendency, due to the shortage of land, to build houses on agricultural land. That is an awful mistake to make, but it is going on all over the country. I would suggest that housing authorities and the Ministry of Housing should definitely discourage any encroachment for new housing schemes outside already developed land, for thereby you are only reducing the agricultural land which brings food to the people who inhabit this country. It is most important to do everything you can not to de-populate even the Highlands of Scotland. We have suffered a great deal this year from foot and mouth disease. The reason for that is that England exported it into Scotland. As a rule, Scotland exports into England, for the simple reason that the population of England is far larger than that of Scotland. We can help out in that way. But when you introduce foot and mouth disease into Scotland you are doing tremendous damage to yourselves in England, because you are losing cattle, pigs and sheep which would go to feed people in this country.

I quite agree that this is not a political business; it is an all-Party interest. I feel that we should all do what we can to induce and to encourage agriculture of all kinds, as well as horticulture. It is all very well to say that Australia ought to export more to us. But there are people going out from this country to Australia, and they want more food. We cannot get some foods from the Argentine or from Central and South America, as we used to, because their populations are increasing. Therefore, we, with our population tending also to increase, should do everything we possibly can to prevent agricultural land from being diverted to other purposes. I might add that we ought to encourage the Highland population to remain in the Highlands. There is a tendency, I think, towards over-afforestation in Scotland. It would be far better, I suggest, to put down substantial areas to agriculture Forests are undoubtedly very important, but a great deal of land which is now being devoted to forestry could very well be used for grazing; and grazing is a most important factor in producing food. With those few words from Scotland, I desire to thank the noble Lord who has led for the Opposition for what he has said and for keeping this discussion out of the region of politics. Agriculture and horticulture are about the most important industries in this country at the present time. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, every success in the great efforts which he is making in this most important subject of food.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, I think I ought at the outset of my speech to assure the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen and Temair, that there was no deliberate intention on the part of the English people to send foot and mouth disease to Scotland. That was no part of Government policy. If I may respectfully say so to your Lordships, the discussion which we have had in this House to-day has once again demonstrated the extraordinary power of this House in debate. I invite your Lordships to consider the debate we have had—a debate which has been singularly free from politics. When I think of all the things noble Lords opposite might have said about me, and which they have not said, I am most grateful to them. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, with great humility of spirit, said that he was speaking for the housewife as a gentleman who regularly did his own shopping. I congratulate him. If he were a member of Her Majesty's Government he would not have time to do any shopping.

We have had most valuable contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, who has never had the praise that was, due to him—if he will forgive my embarrassing him by saying so—for the way in which he conducted the Ministry of Food; from the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, who really was a great Minister of Agriculture; from the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr, who is an international figure and who spoke with great authority this afternoon; from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, with whom I disagreed profoundly, who has made the subject of distribution one of his own with which his name will always be associated ( I will conic to the disagreement part later on), and from my noble friend Lord Bledisloe, to whom I am indebted, for he taught me, at the beginning of my time at the Ministry of Food, the small amount that I know on the subject of agriculture. Such speeches, I submit, constitute a very considerable performance for this House to have put up. Of course, we went a long way, as we always do, from the subject of the Motion. But that is one of the privileges of the House of Lords.

I was doubtful about the wisdom of Lord Wise in making the speech that he did, because, of course, nothing is easier than to show that prices have gone up—and of course we all hate prices going up. They have been going up for a long time, Lord Wise did not attempt to blame anyone in particular for the fact that they have gone up. But agricultural prices, certainly, have gone up. The noble Lord was really very amusing on the subject of figures. He told us that he did not like some index figures. They did not happen to fit in with his brief very well. I knew those figures. And the noble Lord gave us a lot more figures. In this connection, perhaps I may recall that there was once a famous gentleman in another place who is reported to have said to his statistician: "This is the speech I am going to make; go and get me some figures to show that I am right."

The noble Lord, Lord Wise, produced some figures—and let me say this about them. We all have an enormous amount of sympathy with the housewife to-day, but I am perfectly sure that she does not want to be given a figure of an index. I do not think we should be wise in saying to the people of this country that we thought that over a long period of time (I am not talking about the immediate actions of the present Government) food prices are likely to go down. They are dependent upon a number of factors—notably on wages. The agricultural community, which the noble Lord opposite serves, did not have a very good time when food prices in this country were low. Those of us, particularly those of us who are primarily townspeople—and I have some justification for putting myself forward in this matter—who learned during the war the danger of this country neglecting its agriculture, are determined that we shall not neglect it again. If the process of cherishing our agriculture means that we are going to have to pay a little more for our food, I think it will be a good insurance. Moreover, I think it will be a very wise thing from the point of view of the general health and comfort of the nation.

I put myself forward, however, if I may, in another category, and that is so that I may speak of the importance of developing our Empire trades, and particularly our Empire trades in foods. Let us trade with our own people and then, whether we have in power a Socialist Government, a Government believing in bulk purchasing, or a Conservative Government, we shall at any rate not find ourselves constantly up against difficult political issues, for we can come to easy agreement with our own people. For myself, I am convinced that, whether we can do it as an all-Party matter or not, both Parties—I beg your Lordships' pardon, I should say all Parties—in this country, will be agreeable to the idea that we should tell cur own people, and tell the people in the Dominions, of our long-term programmes for the production of food. Otherwise, I do not see how we can hope to get the quantities we shall require.

We have talked a great deal about the effect of subsidies. It is a subject which your Lordships have debated previously. I was impressed by the reference made by my noble friend Lord Hudson to the O.E.E.C., who, I think wisely, doubted the wisdom of our continuing subsidies for any long period of time as a part of our food economy. But let that pass. I think Lord Wise was a little less than fair to us in one respect, and in one respect only. He told the House of the increases in the cost of various foods, but he must be aware, and I hope the housewives about whom he was talking are aware, that we have made some compensating payments to them. The noble Lord asked me to tell him what other prices were going up. Oh, no! I am sure your Lordships are much too good businessmen to think it would be a wise thing for the Government now to announce that at some time, in two or three months or maybe less (I am not committing myself to any time) we shall put up the prices of various articles. That would be disruptive of any distributive machinery, and I think your Lordships will be prepared to wait until the Minister of Food makes these announcements.

I am most anxious to return the courtesy that noble Lords have shown to me by answering the questions that have been asked. In fact, I am so anxious that I have abandoned the speech I had most carefully prepared, though I thought it a good speech—perhaps I may deliver it on another occasion! But it is important that I should try to answer the questions of noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, asked me whether the margin of profit to retailers absorbed the amount of increased profits. What a peculiar word this word "profit" is! It may be a gross profit, or it may not be a profit at all. One of the peculiarities of gross profit is that it may be a net loss. It is rather pitiful that we keep on using the word. The £10,000,000 by which the margin to retailers has been increased has been absorbed in the £250,000,000 of subsidies. Do not think that the £10,000,000 was a sort of bonus that the Government gave to retailers. I am advised that many of them are finding it extremely difficult to keep their businesses going. They are even more hard-pressed than the housewives.

The noble Lord asked me whether we were running down food stocks. I follow the admirable example set by the previous Government of saying that it is not advisable that we should tell the country the state of our food stocks, because if we tell the country we tell the world; and where the Government are buying it is most certainly not advisable to tell other people the extent of our need. Of course, there may not be any need; there may be a surplus—I will leave it at that. The noble Lord also asked, in our endeavour to go back to private enterprise in the buying of food, what we propose to do about home-produced foodstuffs. I hope I answer the question not evasively but satisfactorily by saying that we propose to continue to guarantee prices and markets to British agriculture. what other steps will be taken is a matter of negotiation, and I am not able to answer that question because no steps have yet been taken. I am labouring this point because I should not like the noble Lord or any agriculturist to think for a moment that because many of us retain the belief that the country is best served by private enterprise, we are going back on decisions, which were the decisions of both Parties, to support, sustain and cherish British agriculture.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr, has gone because I wanted to thank him not only for personal courtesies he has shown to me, which I greatly appreciate from a man of such eminence, but also for what I think was a fine and momentous speech. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Wise, would agree that, if nothing else had come from this debate, the very wise speech from the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr, would amply repay him for all the trouble he took in preparing his speech. "The days of cheap labour are over. The days of cheap food are over."—I am quoting the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr. Home-produced food can be increased and must be increased. Among all these experts I am a child. The Minister of Agriculture has said he will try to improve the present increase of 40 per cent. of our food production over the pre-war figures to 60 per cent., but the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, disdained any such moderation and said it could be 75 per cent. I was so surprised that I turned round and asked him if he really meant that. If that be true, it is very wonderful, and a great task lies before us. I can assure your Lordships that this Government will do everything they can. We are singularly fortunate in having a Minister of Agriculture who is also an agriculturist.


And a Joint Parliamentary Secretary.


And a Parliamentary Secretary who knows as much about agriculture as the Minister himself. So that the Government are very well served in this matter. It is not only that the Government will do everything we can: we must. The greatest problem facing this country is the problem of the balance of payments. We are living in apparent prosperity, or at least we are reasonably comfortable, but all the time we are concerned about this question: How can we afford to buy things? The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr, talked about the difficulties we shall have to face in the future. I am sure he must be right, because he speaks with so much authority. The difficulty we have at present is not that the foods are not there for us to buy, but that we are faced with this problem of the balance of payments. Can we afford to buy them? Can we maintain our reserves, and at the same time the stability of the pound, and still buy these things?

I wonder whether I may speak to your Lordships with great depth of conviction on this matter. The Government have a large responsibility—I do not attempt to disguise that But I do not believe that Governments of any Party, however competent, are going to be able to solve this problem. This is a problem for the people of the country. I wish they could realise that the issue, put quite simply, is this: that if we are to eat well, we must work well—I agree that if we are to work well, we must eat well. With all our craftsmanship and mechanical powers, and with all the magnificent will-power of the people of this country when they choose to exert it, the possibility of increasing our industrial output is very considerable. I would once again appeal to the people of this country to recognise the fact that we must increase our exports if we are to get more food. Meat is there waiting for us.




Do not press me. It is in the Argentine. We have to trade for that meat, we have to trade for those foods, if we are to get them over here. I hope that If have not departed too far from the subject of the debate in talking to your Lordships in that manner.

Now we come to a problem about which I have a certain amount of information which has not been supplied to me in a brief. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is most flattering to me when he says that I have got a terrible job, and I am grateful to him for his sympathy. But do not forget that the job really is the job of Her Majesty's Government, and the job of the Minister of Food and the Minister or Agriculture. Do not let us take any credit away from them, because they are the effective people in this operation They need encouragement, and the last thing in the world that I would do would be to detract from that credit. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made a most interesting and forthright speech of the first order. He told Australia exactly what he thought about her, and he said that that was the sort of thing they like. Well, he has been there, and if that is the sort of thing they like, that is all right.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the people in Australia. It is perfectly true that they used to send us 200,000 tons of meat a year. Somewhere I have the figures, if I can find them among all these papers, of what they are going to send us this year. We used to get 200,000 tons; in the year ended June, 1951, we received 86,000 tons; in the year ended June, 1952. we received 43,000 tons; and next year, l may tell you for your "consolation," my Lords, we shall probably get less. That is, of course, a great blow to this country. But do let us feel rather sorry for the people of Australia; they have had fire, they have had flood, they have had drought, all in one year. That, indeed, has had a devastating effect upon their capacity to send meat to the people of this country, and has involved them, as the noble Lord opposite knows, in very great losses. If he says that, with their great country, they could produce much more, I am entirely in agreement with him. In fact, I sent out one of my scientific advisers this year to see if he could be of any help, and they welcomed him. There is a vast area there which could be used for the production a more food, and the Prime Minister of Australia is very conscious of it.

When we come to the general question of distribution, here there is a problem which the noble Lord did not mention. I know something about the problem of distribution. It may be that it is very expensive—and the noble Lord must have heard a good deal of evidence about it. But do not let us be carried away by figures and by admirable arguments. Let us go back to the noble Lord, Lord Wise, because on this issue he faces reality—he goes shopping. What is the position of the housewife in this matter? Any system of distribution that fails to give the housewife at the nearest possible point to her home what she requires is not a good system of distribution.


The noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting. The housewife to-day cannot buy the prime cuts at the nearest butcher's shop; she has to travel the mile or so to buy the scrag end. The housewife is not that pampered individual. What she has to do is to buy her food to-day at the cheapest shop. That should be the criterion, and not the matter of accessibility.


I am strongly inclined to let the housewife do as she likes, and not to tell her where she has to go. If she likes to buy at a rather higher price round the corner—probably the noble Lord has never had to buy anything round the corner—


Yes, I have.


There are occasions when housewives find they are short of things and they do not want to go to any of those places some distance away. If you are going to have food available for people round the corner, then, indeed, it is true that it will be an expensive system of distribution. When the noble Lord says that there are 750,000 retail shops, and that is too many, I just do not understand what he means. Too many for whom? Too many for the public of this country? Well, let them decide that. Who are we to say that this is what the country shall have? If they care to support that particular form of distribution, in spite of the fact that there are cheaper places elsewhere, I, at any rate, am not going to he associated with any compulsion in the matter.

The noble Lord performed a great service, and I read his Report. He says that it takes seventeen years for a Report to mature—that is rather longer than a good claret. I promise him this: that once again I, personally, will go through that Report. I will tell the noble Lord this. When I was Minister of Food I tried to get a better system of distribution. The noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, spent a long time trying to find a better system of distribution. There have been four Government Reports, with no result. Why has there been no result? If the noble Lord found a solution, why did his Government not adopt it? That is a fair question.


I do not want to detain the noble Lord. I will not say anything.


It is a fair question.


I gave the noble Lord my answer in my original speech. It is because it was political dynamite, and it is political dynamite for any Government.


I see. That was not the thing which affected me during the war, because I did not have to bother about it. I tell the noble Lord quite frankly that my difficulty was that, having appointed a Committee of very expert people—and I did it privately, so that I was not embarrassed by having to publish the Report—I did not find a solution to this problem. I wish we could find a solution to it. I wish we could find some way of cheapening the cost of the distribution of food. I merely add that I have not as yet been able to find it. The noble Lord said—this is what I think he said; I took down his words, and the noble Lord will please check my memory in case I misheard him—that there were 70,000 horticultural producers who must not be allowed to decide what they will produce.


I said: "all producing in an uncontrolled manner." "Uncontrolled" and "unplanned" I think were the two words I used.


Does the noble Lord propose to allow the producers to produce what they like, or not?


Not if it is wasteful of a national asset.


That is a conception of society which does not appeal to me.


But the noble Lord does not allow it now.


I cannot conceive that we should tell the growers of vegetables in this country what they should produce. I believe it will be better for us to leave that to the demand of the market. At any rate, the noble Lord produced this Report. His Government did not take any notice of it, he says because it is political dynamite. I will look at it again and see if it is political dynamite. We might even be prepared to face political dynamite. At any rate, I promise him that his words shall not have fallen on us in vain this afternoon, in so far as it will result in my re-reading the Report. I have tried to cover the many questions—


I have listened with great interest to the debate, and to the observations my noble friend Lord Lucas made about meat. He said that what had originally started by being compensation had really become a pension, and that we were paying out about £3,000,000 a year.


I wonder why you did not deal with it when you were in office.


I do not know anything about it


I meant to reply to the noble Lord. I was responsible for starting it. The war was going to be over at some time—we all thought soon—and it was most important that these agencies should be kept in existence in order that they might resume. I understand that the position is that that has gone on. I understand that the cost is not any greater than it was. But there must have been some very good reason why, when the previous Government were in office, they maintained the system. I will ask my right honourable friend to go into the matter and see whether we are in fact wasting money.


May I add this? I am not making the slightest attack on the noble Lord for doing it originally, and I quite understand that it had to be done and had to be kept on over a period of years. But there comes a time, the noble Lord will agree—whether it came in the time of the last Government or not I do not know—when obviously that matter has to be looked at again. Directly you come to the conclusion that the circumstances no longer exist which make it possible for these people to resume, then obviously, as it strikes me, there is no longer a case for paying that which was perfectly properly paid originally.


I am sure the noble Earl will be satisfied if I say my right honourable friend will look into it.


I will try to be scrupulously fair. I said that the noble Lord might have had very good reasons for instituting this payment in the first place, for the very reasons he has advanced. But I did ask if he would consider whether the time had not arrived, in view of all the circumstances, when we could not go on paying £3,000,000 a year as a pension to meat distributors for not distributing meat. That is what I asked him to do.


I think I have given a complete reply. The noble Lord does not expect me to have a detailed answer?




I gave a complete reply when I said that l would ask the Minister who is responsible to look at it. I am sure there must be a good reason why it is being continued, otherwise, no doubt, it would have been done away with before. I will do what I can in the matter. I think II have occupied your Lordships' attention quite long enough. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wise, for giving us the opportunity of having this most excellent debate.

6.46 p.m.


My Lords, I wish very briefly to reply to one or two matters which have arisen during the discussion. I agree with the last sentence of the noble Lord, the Lord President. I think the debate has served its purpose. It has certainly given the Government an opportunity of making statements which will be received in the country with a good deal of interest. It has also given an opportunity for the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr, to play his part in the debate. He made a speech which will be read very carefully, I think, all over the world, and what part I played in persuading him to enter the debate I must not say at the present time. At any rate, I am glad that he did come in and that he made such a very fine contribution.

I did not think the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, was quite fair to me. I know of his strictures in the past. I do not think that transfer to your Lordships' House has changed him in the least. We always expected it from the noble Viscount in another place and we always took it in good part, as I do on this occasion. I did not touch upon home food production. I spoke for nearly an hour, and if I had spoken on home food production as well it would have meant detaining your Lordships much longer. I knew that some of my noble friends were prepared to deal with that aspect of the matter, and we have only recently discussed farming in your Lordships' House. I also knew that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr, was going to speak along the lines he did, so I purposely avoided that aspect. There was very much in what he said with which I agreed, and I think he agreed with me in what I said.

I realised, of course, when I framed my questions, that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, would not be able to give me an answer to some of them in this House. But there is one answer which I wanted to get from him, and which he gave me. It was that, so far as he knows at the present time, according to present circumstances, the purchasing of home fat-produced stock will not be altered. Twenty-five years ago at least I was advocating in this country guaranteed prices and assured markets. The farming industry now have something which is of inestimable benefit to them: they have one purchaser, if I may so put it, in the Ministry of Food. There is no doubt at all that in the war period the finest customer agriculture ever had was the Ministry of Food. While that arrangement goes on in regard to fat stock I think the farming industry will be satisfied. There is nothing further that I wish to say. We have had an excellent debate —I think we are all agreed upon that. The Government have told us things we wanted to know and which we did not know before. I now beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

6.51 p.m.


My Lords, may I make a correction? I have been suffering under one of the disadvantages of speaking for another Department. On the subject of the grocers' margin I am told that I may have been misunderstood. Therefore I should like to be allowed to make this correction by reading the words which I understand I ought to have used. They are as follows. The additional margin to grocers was included in the subsidy calculations for the year 1952–53, which would have totalled £460,000,000. As a decision was taken to reduce the subsidy level to £250,000,000, the extra £10,000,000 was, therefore, among the increased costs which have been passed on to consumers by way of subsidy reductions. But it is impossible to separate this from the general subsidy total, and it cannot be said that this specific increase has been passed on in any specific manner, and the items on which increased margins were granted are not necessarily those on which the subsidy has been reduced. I am grateful to your Lordships for allowing me to make that correction. I hope that it makes the matter clearer.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at seven minutes before seven o'clock