HL Deb 18 May 1966 vol 274 cc995-8

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps it will be convenient if I now answer the Private Notice Question which the Leader of the Opposition asked earlier. If I may, I will use the same words as were used by my right honourable friends in answer to two separate Questions in the other place. In the case of the Minister of Agriculture these were:

"In view of home production and commercial stocks, there is no immediate problem about supplies of food. Therefore, there is no need at all for any panic buying, nor for any unjustified increases in price. I am, of course, keeping a close watch from day to day for any supply problems that may develop if the strike is prolonged.

"I am in the course of seeing the leaders of various sectors of the food industry so as to ensure that I am kept in constant touch with the supply situation. I have told them that the Government do not intend to allow this situation to be exploited for excessive personal profit. I am glad to say that the representatives of the trades I have seen have readily associated themselves with this view, as have leaders of other trades. For instance, the National Federation of Meat Traders Associations have asked their members to absorb what increased costs they possibly can, and have said that they can see no reason at present for substantial increases in meat wholesale prices. I have also to-day seen the representatives of the marketing boards of the overseas fruit growers, who have also promised their co-operation. For example, the South African citrus organisation (supplying almost all our citrus at this time of year) have undertaken to peg their prices at pre-strike levels for at least a month. The wholesale and retail fruiterers organisations will do their best to ensure that this decision is reflected in retail prices.

"Supplies of meat are at present fully adequate, but if the strike continues imports will be affected, and the Government must offset as far as possible any loss or interruption of supplies. My right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade is accordingly revoking, with effect from 21st May, existing licences for the export of non-pedigree cattle, sheep and pigs, and prohibiting from the same date the export of carcase meat and offal of these animals, except under licence.

"These arrangements will remain in force solely to deal with the situation caused by the strike. I am glad to say that the President of the National Farmers' Union accepts that this step is necessary for the duration of the strike."

My Lords, the words used by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland were as follows:

"My right honourable friend the Prime Minister made it clear when he spoke to the country on Monday evening that the Royal Navy stood ready to ensure the delivery of essential supplies to isolated parts of the country dependent on shipping services. Accordingly, three naval vessels are sailing this afternoon for various destinations in the Inner and Outer Hebrides."


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for repeating those two Statements. I think all of us will agree that these measures are necessary, and certainly nobody in this House would condone any profiteering. Equally, I think we shall agree that in the present circumstances it probably is necessary to revoke licences for the export of meat and offal. But may I ask the noble Lord what would happen where there was a contract for the export of meat? In such a case, what liability would the exporter have to suffer?


My Lords, there is no general answer on the effect of the cancellation of contracts. It would depend completely on the terms of the contract. Most contracts, I am glad to say, have a clause to cover this sort of contingency; but obviously I cannot go beyond this general sort of statement this afternoon. The actual contracts that might exist will have to be looked into, but at the moment that is as far as I can go on this rather difficult point.


My Lords, I appreciate the difficulty the noble Lord is in, and for all I know there are very few of these contracts; but I think it would be quite wrong that private firms and individuals should suffer as a result of something the Government have done, some Government policy. I hope the noble Lord will be good enough to look into this point.


My Lords, I am sure we shall take note of this point because it is clearly a very important one to the private people who might be involved.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say how long the meat stocks in this country will last?


I have no information that will give an answer to this question exactly, but at the moment my right honourable friend is not especially worried about the position. Nevertheless, this is an extremely important matter, and one that will have to be looked after as best we can. What it means is that we have to make the best possible of a bad situation.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord about these three ships of the Royal Navy that are sailing to the Inner and Outer Hebrides? Are they for passengers, as well as for goods?


My Lords, the information I have is that they are to be used for absolute essentials. For example, the supplies that are being carried in these vessels this afternoon are milk, bread, perishable groceries, vegetables and fruit. I think that at the outset we must ensure that people in these Islands have the means of keeping alive.


My Lords, arising out of the Statement of the Secretary of State for Scotland, has the noble Lord's attention been drawn to the rather menacing speech made by Mr. Hogarth as to the possible consequences that might arise if the Royal Navy were to be used in connection with the strike in any shape or form?


My Lords, in this sort of situation statements are made which can be rather foolish. What we in this House must try to do is to avoid anything which might exacerbate the position and cause attitudes that have already been taken up to harden. We want the two sides to get together and solve this problem, for the sake of our country, as soon as possible.