§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Fulham, West)
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add:But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech contains no reference to, or provision for dealing with, the high cost of food, which is bearing so heavily on households with small incomes, and particularly on the old-age pensioners.This is the last day of the debate on the Address. The debate has been fairly comprehensive in range and scope. Nevertheless, I predict that today's contributions, which will all be related to the primary needs of the poorest in the community, will be followed with the closest attention by the large section of the population whose interests are totally ignored in the Gracious Speech. It is indeed a striking omission.
There is no mention of the needs of the lowest income groups, the most harassed section of the community. There is a paragraph dealing with the needs of the miners and quarry workers. I take it that that refers to an extension of the legislation affecting those suffering from pneumoconiosis which I had the honour to introduce into this House when I was Minister of National Insurance. Apart from that reform, there is nothing to alleviate the lot of the poorest and humblest in Britain. Yet these proposals for the ensuing year must have been examined frequently by the Cabinet. Why was it that not one Minister in the Cabinet perceived this omission?
788 What are the poor asking for today? They are asking for something to relieve their greatest distress, namely, the effect of the cost of living in their homes. When I examined the Gracious Speech, I came to the conclusion that the reason there was no alleviation for the poor was that there was not one Minister in the Cabinet close enough to the lives of ordinary people to understand their problems.
But yesterday we learnt the truth. We learnt why this matter has been conveniently ignored. The Minister of Food, at Question time yesterday, made the astonishing admission that he could not forecast under derationing how high the prices of food would go. Some of us sat back and thought that perhaps the Minister had had some kind of mental lapse, but later in the evening the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after having devoted most of his speech to attacking my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) for statements which my right hon. Friend had made 20 years ago, made the statement that he did not know how derationing would turn out. There was uproar in this House for two or three minutes.
Does this mean that the Government intend to gamble with the food of the people next year? If the Minister of Food has come today prepared with the kind of evasive answers which he gave yesterday, I suggest at this stage that he disposes of his brief. If he has come prepared to give statistics calculated to confuse the issue, then he need not speak. My Friends on this side want to have one question answered. We want to know how the people are to be fed, and at what cost to them, under derationing. This is a legitimate question. This debate is related to the Measures which the Government intend to introduce in the ensuing Session. We have put this Amendment down because we recognise that the measure of derationing next year is one of primary importance to the poorest people.
Therefore, I ask the Minister not to give us statistics, percentages and figures which relate to years, but to tell us precisely what controls are to be imposed on food in order that the expensive food, the protein body-building food, shall be within the reach of the poorest. I advise the Minister to have a serious talk with his Cabinet colleagues, otherwise next 789 year his exodus will be ignominious, because it will coincide with his fall. Indeed, he will not walk out; he may well be propelled out from behind.
I say that because we have seen other Ministers in the world of food and agriculture believing that all is well. We saw a Minister last night who was very uncomfortable on the Government Front Bench. I think, Mr. Speaker, that you may feel rather sensitive about these matters. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] Certainly not. The memory of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal is as long as mine. Sometimes Ministers find themselves on top of the world and then one day they discover that the people feel very strongly about certain problems, and they have to go. I am sure that this afternoon the Minister of Food will be provided with ample material for a serious discussion in the Cabinet room before it is too late.
In approaching this problem, we have to remember that the first calls on the purse in any poor family are for rent and food. When the Minister of Housing and Local Government was telling us that the landlord whose house would be repaired under the new scheme would find his reward in the happiness he was giving to others—a piece of smug hypocrisy, I think the House will agree—we on this side of the House were not thinking of the pleasurable sensations of the landlord so much as we were wondering how these proposals would affect the old-age pensioner. That has not been mentioned in the House; the Minister of Housing and Local Government certainly did not mention it.
What will happen will be this: many old-age pensioners will be entitled to National Assistance, for only a shilling or two prevents them from being able to secure National Assistance now. They will then obtain their extra rent from the National Assistance Board. In other words, the State will be paying the landlord. Those already on National Assistance will get an increase, and again the State will pay the landlord. The others will have to economise on something, and there is only one thing on which the old-age pensioners can economise, and that is food. If hon. Members opposite think that is an overstatement, I ask them to go to the next conference of old-age pensioners. Last 790 week I crossed from this House to the Central Hall. There was an astonishing meeting of 5,000 old-age pensioners.
§ Dr. Summerskill
There were 3,000 in the hall and there was an overflow of 2,000. It is astonishing how, from their experience of life, these old people can express themselves, and I was struck by the fact that each speech returned to the cost of living. These old people, with a long experience of life, with the threatening cold weather in front of them, were fearful of the effects of a low diet. It was rather curious that they did not ask for more fuel in the shape of coal; they asked for more fuel in the shape of food, which they knew gave them a lasting body warmth.
As I listened to them describing their ordeals of last winter, I thought of the publicity given lately to "smog." I mention it for this reason: "smog" has baffled the doctors of London. I shall not charge the Minister with the responsibility for "smog" and all its consequences, but I notice that his Parliamentary Secretary is by his side and I am sure he will agree that it was rather a curious coincidence that last winter was the first winter for many years in which old-age pensioners were unable, because of the price, to take up some of the foods which give them a resistance against colds, coughs, bronchitis and pneumonia; and, at the same time, there was a striking increase in the death rate. The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) laughs. He laughs because in his old age he does not know want or hunger.
§ Sir H. Williams
On a point of order. As the right hon. Lady appears to be making what is in the nature of a personal attack on me—
§ Sir H. Williams
I was not laughing all the time. I was laughing at the nonsense which was going on. Is it proper to suggest that I was laughing at the 791 fact that old-age pensioners had died because of "smog"? My constituency happens to have suffered more from "smog" than any other, and the bulk of those who died were not old-age pensioners.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. As far as I could hear the hon. Member's point of order, I did not recognise it as a point of order at all.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The hon. Member has helped my case. Whereas I exempt many hon. Members opposite from this, the hon. Member for Croydon, East symbolises the worst in Toryism in this House, and indeed always has symbolised it. I want the Minister of Food to recall what he said yesterday about rationing. If he could not cross to the Central Hall to these 5,000 people—
§ Mr. William A. Steward (Woolwich, West)
Why did not the right hon. Lady go when she was a Minister?
§ Dr. Summerskill
As I was Minister of National Insurance for two years, I should think it was probably in 1950. The old-age pensioners will confirm that. I have never yet run away from anything. Yesterday the Minister of Food told the House that the reason the ration of butter was not being taken up to its full extent, or the ration of other fats, was that there was plenty of food on the market. I read that in HANSARD this morning.
§ The Minister of Food (Major Lloyd George)
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Lady, but this is a matter of some importance. I said that the suggestion that the non-take-up of margarine was due to the fact that people had no money was made into nonsense by the fact that the non-take-up of butter was less.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I agree that that is what the Minister said, but he went on to the reasons why these foods were not taken up, and in answer to a supplementary question he said it was because there was plenty of food on the market. If he had gone to that conference of old-age pensioners and given them that reason, he would have needed police protection. 792 The reason these people did not take up their ration was that they could not afford it. To suggest that an old-age pensioner does not take his butter ration because there is so much other food on the market is nonsense, and I believe that in view of the evidence which the Minister has, and which he has given in the House, of the failure to take up rations, the Government should review all pensions immediately and adjust them to the cost of those foods which are necessities. That would be the policy of the next Labour Government. I will go further and say that those figures should be examined every year in future.
Some of us have been a little bewildered by the varying views of the economists, for those of us who never presume to pronounce on these things could have warned the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the inevitable consequences of removing the food subsidies. Those consequences are not limited, of course, to the increase in the price of important foods, for they bring in their train demands for higher wages which, if accepted, must be reflected in the price of our exports. The Minister of Food yesterday tried rather to brush off my hon. Friends when they suggested there had been an increase in the price of food. Does he say that those responsible trade unions which are now applying for an increase in pay, on the ground that the price of food has gone up are making frivolous claims, because that would be consistent with his statement, or his implication, yesterday that the increase in the price of food is comparatively small?
I shall not pursue this matter, however, because I am anxious to devote my remarks to the increase in the prices of protein body-building foods which have already adversely affected the diet of the people. I speak very seriously when I say that these deficiencies in the diet of the people arise by an insidious process, and that slowly but surely the pattern of feeding of the poorest people will come to resemble that of the 1930s, if the Government have no plan for controlling prices. By the "pattern of feeding" I am thinking in terms of the important nutrients, the body-building, expensive foods—meat, bacon, eggs, cheese, milk—which were deficient in the pre-war diet. This deficiency was responsible for nutritional diseases, for lack of resistance 793 to sickness of all kinds and for the small bodies and bent bones of many of our people.
The Parliamentary Secretary knows what people did under other Tory Administrations. They used the cheap foods. Bread, potatoes, and sugar were used in disproportionate amounts in the homes of the poor, and tinned condensed milk was always used instead of fresh milk. The under-fed child in the 1930s and before was even denied a meal at school. It is significant that one of the first actions of the Tory Government was to increase the price of school meals, with the result that the consumption of meals has decreased; in other words, the Government are arriving at the same result; they are denying the children a meal at school, as their predecessors did by a different process.
There is no need for me to quote to the House statistics published in the medical journals of the increase in height and weight of the modern child as compared with children 20 years ago. I need only to remind hon. Members opposite of the little grandmothers in their constituencies who have to look after their towering grandchildren. The reason for that is that under a Tory Administration grandmamma was filled as a child with cheap filler foods—[An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."]—while her grandchildren under the Labour Administration—[Interruption.] Yes, these are all scientific facts—
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way. I want to call her attention to another scientific fact. How was grandmamma living under a Conservative Government when she must have been alive between 1906 and 1914, when there was a Liberal Government?
§ Dr. Summerskill
It is a little difficult to see the difference between them. The vindication of Labour's policy—I am sure that this will interest many hon. Gentlemen on the Government benches—was in a statement made at the British Medical Association conference at Cardiff in July, 1953, when a nutritionist said:The only nutritional disease in Britain is found in the adiposity of the overfed.It may be that hon. Gentlemen think that I am a scientific crank. Let me therefore vindicate myself. Let me quote from a pamphlet: "Health and the Family."
§ Dr. Summerskill
It is a reflection on the hon. Gentleman for him to have made that interjection, as he will discover at the end. This pamphlet says:Of the several social factors upon which good health is based, food is perhaps the most important of them all.… Everyone needs a proportion of his food in the form of building foods, milk, meat, eggs, fish, cheese, and to a less extent, some vegetable foods.… Thirdly everyone needs a sufficiency of vitamin-containing foods such as butter and margarine, green vegetables, fruit and salad vegetables.… The further the average diet of a group falls below the level necessary for health the poorer is the physique and the greater the tendency to the many diseases to which mal-nourishment disposes.That pamphlet was a Conservative one, written by one Dr. Charles Hill. I agree with every word of it. All that astonishes me is how the Parliamentary Secretary ever came to throw in his lot with the people around him.
The reason I stress this matter is—and the Parliamentary Secretary was quite right to write it in his book—that it is very interesting that the Parliamentary Secretary should have stressed the foods that I am talking of, the body-building foods. He made no mention of the sugars and the carbohydrates about which I shall have something to say in a minute and which rather obsessed the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is interesting to see that an intelligent Member of the Conservative Party does not mention those other foods which I had already described as "filler" foods—carbohydrates: bread, potatoes and sugar—which the Tories had always used to fill the poor. I shall prove in a minute that the same thing is emerging. The Parliamentary Secretary quite rightly does not make any mention of them in this scientific pamphlet.
I want to emphasise this matter because the whole process is a slow one. The tragedy is that it has taken years to improve the diet of the poorest, and the first Tory Administration is already undermining it. I will take the prices of the body-building foods. In the first place, I would remind the Minister of Food that I am not going to trick him. I shall not take some percentages of one year. The few prices I am quoting have all been taken from HANSARD and been given by the spokesman of the Ministry of Food, so I think I am being quite fair. 795 Like the Parliamentary Secretary, I am stressing the importance of the bodybuilding, expensive, protein foods—meat, cheese and bacon—which are commonly used and liked in all homes.
While in October, 1951, the average price of meat—there are many cuts and kinds of meat but I have taken the average—was 1s. 8d., in June, 1953, the average price was 2s. 4d. I noticed that the Prime Minister became a little tied up at Margate by these figures and he was prompted by his wife. He tried to prove that the average consumption of meat was higher now than last year and that that therefore showed that all rations were being taken up. My hon. Friends yesterday knew perfectly well that this was not so, and that the full ration was not being taken up by the old-age pensioners, although it was quite possible for us to consume more than last year because the wealthy bought it.
If hon. Members think that I am making a party point, I am prepared to quote a paper which nobody will say was written by a Socialist.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I will take the "Farmers' Weekly." The farmers may not like the Government of the party opposite, but they always vote for the Tories. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That proves that the farmers are Tories. This paper is the "Farmers' Weekly," dated 28th August, 1953. The farmers must know something about meat and what is happening to it. The "Farmers' Weekly" says:High prices prevent many housewives from buying all the food they could do with. Meat rationing is, technically, still with us, but it is now price, rather than supply, which governs retail sales. The butcher with even ration meat not fully taken up, now serve "anyone with the money to pay for the meat.We do not condemn the "Observer" as a newspaper for being very partial; I think it is fairly objective in its approach. The "Observer" more or less repeats what the "Farmers' Weekly" says, and yet the Minister comes here and tells Members on this side of the House, who know what the working-class economy is like, that they do not know the facts. I suggest seriously that the Minister—he might like to camouflage 796 himself if he likes—goes shopping next weekend, and then he will find in regard to many of the things in the butcher's shop that the statistics which he believes are correct are quite false.
Now I come to cheese. The price of cheese in October, 1951, was 1s. 2d. per lb. In October, 1953, it was 3s. per lb. Hon. Members opposite may say that the children do not eat cheese and most people have it only after lunch, and so on, but the fact is that cheese is used as a filler for sandwiches by hundreds of thousands of workers. The practical result of this price increase is that sandwiches, instead of being filled with bodybuilding food, will be filled with something tasty and nice but of no nutritional value whatever.
§ Dr. Summerskill
That just shows the hon. Member's complete ignorance. Snoek is a protein. I should be quite satisfied if the sandwich were filled with snoek rather than with some of these curious pastes which look all right, which taste of something, but which are absolutely valueless nutritionally.
I come now to bacon. The average price in October, 1951, was 2s. 7d. per lb. In June, 1953, it was 4s. 8d. per lb. This next figure is not from HANSARD, but I am told that it is in a Ministry of Food report that 18 per cent. of bacon today is not taken up. This means that bacon is a luxury food for the old-age pensioner and a near luxury in the homes of the workers. It is a food which is needed by them for breakfasts, high teas and suppers. It is nutritious, attractive and easily cooked. I know that this small domestic point cannot possibly appeal to hon. Members opposite—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I have not come to the point yet. The fact is that hundreds of thousands of people live in one room, with a gas ring and a frying pan. It just happens that this particular food can be cooked easily in a frying pan. There are, therefore, other factors. Old-age pensioners do not often have an oven in their room; they have a gas ring and a frying pan. At this rate this food, at 4s. 8d. per lb., will be completely removed from their dietary.
What will happen in the home? The main wage earner will certainly be fed, but what will happen is what happened 797 in the 1930s. The adolescents, with their big appetites, and the young girl in her early twenties, with a low wage, will be given a taste of these protein foods, but the plates will be filled up, as in grand-mamma's day, with the filler foods—bread and potatoes, neither of which assist growth or protect people from disease.
I do not have to seek further than the admirable speech last week of the hon. Lady the Member for Edgbaston (Miss Pitt). In an excellent little constructive speech the hon. Lady confirmed that the tuberculosis rate had decreased in the last few years owing to the improved social conditions. I believe she would be the first to agree that first and foremost the improved diet of the workers went to achieve this. I am not making a party point. [Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members will not laugh when they hear what I have to say. This disease, which we are all trying to eliminate, has proved particularly intractable in underpaid young girls whose diet is deficient in the expensive body-building foods; and I think every Scottish Member will agree, because I recall the figures given in answer to a Scottish Question on this subject.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on Friday, rather tried to evade this issue—I hope that the Minister will not follow his example—by telling the House that the cost of food had risen during the last year by only 2½ per cent. But in giving these figures, it is only right that Ministers should explain to the House precisely what is the Index of Retail Prices for food. This is where the House is deceived. Ministers, I suppose, must make a debating point—they have to defend their Departments—but they know as well as I do that this always evades the question.
I wonder whether the House knows that in the Index of Retail Prices food is weighted in such a way that when we are being told just how little more the old-age pensioner has to pay, it is probably the drop in price of many of these things that is taken into consideration: ice-cream, soft drinks—I suppose, Kia Ora, lemonade and orangeade, and things like that; sauces, table jellies, custard powder, canned peas, canned fish, marmalade, boiled sweets, chocolates, coffee essence, proprietary food 798 drinks, breakfast cereals, canned fruits, bananas—which, I think, work out at something like 4d. each these days; oranges, rabbits, liver, pork sausages, canned ham, corned beef, buns, cakes, and biscuits, together, of course, with the important foods that I have been talking about, the foods that matter. All these other things are the foods which are weighting the figures that are given by the Front Bench opposite. I do not blame Ministers, but I tell them that the time has come when the whole thing has to be reconsidered afresh. But when the Chancellor gave that figure on Friday, it deceived the whole House.
I am concerned at the price of the most important foods. Not for one moment do I say that everything in the Ministry of Food is right, either its index or anything else, but we must not deceive people and we must not deceive the House. I have emphasised the importance of the body-building foods and I have said that the same pattern of the 1930s is emerging. On Friday also, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House that he was going to spend more dollars for sugar for the people. Am I or am I not right when I say that this is history repeating itself—plenty of money for sugar? Sugar is a filler; sugar takes the edge off the appetite better than any other food. There is plenty of money for that, but not enough money for the body-building foods that matter.
May I say something about milk? Milk has often been described by the Parliamentary Secretary on the radio on Fridays as the perfect food. He is quite correct. Unfortunately, the amount of the perfect food bought by the people of this country has been reduced this year for the first time. I think it is the first fall for many years. I would say that it is not so much the price of milk which has prevented housewives from buying it, but the necessity for them to economise in milk in order to buy a certain amount of meat and bacon. That is the economy of the housewife. What is to happen? The right hon. Gentleman knows what will happen in any household. The perfect food will be diluted with water; instead of having so much milk in the house for the children and family, for puddings and so on, the housewife will now dilute with water—a poor substitute for a perfect food.
799 If evidence were forthcoming that, let us say, certain wealthy, corpulent city directors drank the babies' milk, it would be regarded as anti-social and there would be a terrible outcry. But I conceive it just as anti-social for people who do not need meat and expensive body-building foods to consume the best cuts of meat which the children and the manual workers need. Indeed, if the policy which I should like to see were followed—it is very difficult but it is ideal—it would mean that the body-building foods would be given only to those who need them. There would be no hardship to the directors; probably it would increase their expectation of life and, of course, do the recipients a lot of good.
In the case of the growing child there is an overwhelming case for fair shares. An individual's body, in the early years, is dependent for its development on the quality of food and not on the quantity. I say again that in this coming year the wealthy will eat the meat which, morally, belongs ot the children of the poor, and if the Minister—[Interruption.] If that is regarded as an over-statement, then let the Minister—[Interruption.] No, I must remind hon. Gentlemen of the statements made last night. Everything I say is related to those. The Government have no idea how derationing is going to turn out. The Minister has said that he has no idea how high the prices of these foods will rise, and if what I have said is an over-statement, let the Minister tell us how he is going to control prices in the coming year. [An HON. MEMBER: "How would the right hon. Lady? "] We shall show hon. Gentlemen when we occupy those benches.
It is contended—I am sure this will provoke cheers from friends of the Conservative Party—that ration books are irksome. I have never heard an old-age pensioner say they are irksome, but I have heard this statement from many friends of the Housewives' League, that allegedly non-party organisation which ceased functioning directly the Tories were returned to power. I am sure the Minister will recall that in his childhood, when the 1911 insurance scheme was introduced, the wealthy women of the country convened a meeting at the Albert Hall to protest against the irksomeness of sticking stamps on cards for the benefit of their 800 domestic staffs. On the other hand, the farmers have not objected to guaranteed prices on the ground that filling up forms is too irksome. It seems to me that it all depends on who is benefiting that determines the irksomeness of a regulation.
I want to say just a word to the Press. I never abuse the Press, but I should like to criticise it on this point. Certain representatives of the Press suggest that it is reflection upon Britain that we should continue to use ration books nine years after the war when our allies and enemies have dispensed with them. Those who write in this way are out of touch with world opinion on this point.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
May I ask the right hon. Lady whether it is now the Socialist Party's policy to return to ration books should they return to power?
§ Dr. Summerskill
It is part of the Socialist Party's policy to see that everyone is adequately fed, and we shall adopt any methods that we think are necessary.
What I have to say now is very important to those who say that rationing is a reflection on Britain. I say they are out of touch, because nothing is easier than derationing if we are prepared to do it at the expense of the poorest. Nothing is easier. We could have done it in the first year after the war, in the way the Tories are doing it now, but I say that if it is achieved in this way, then, far from being a triumph for Britain, it is a surrender to the greedy and to the selfish. Liberal-minded people in other countries have not regarded the continuance of rationing in this country, which has to import 50 per cent. of its food, as a weakness. To ration our available food, at a price all can afford, is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of that strength of character which is the hallmark of the British people.
If I am asked how I know that, I reply that it is because I stood at that Box for four very difficult years after the war when hon. Gentlemen opposite heckled me—and I was quite uncomplaining—but that when I went back to the Ministry from the House, time after time we would have visitors from other countries, from France and every European country, and from the United States. They would say to me, "How is it that you manage to 801 retain these controls?" I shall not mention countries, but here and there they would say, "We have a black market of such dimensions that we have had to take all controls off." Then they would compliment us, and say it was the British love of fair play—and I think it was. Therefore, I say that the Press is wrong when it says that this is a reflection on Britain. It is not.
Occasionally, hon. Members opposite and the Prime Minister will accuse us on this side of fomenting class war. They plead for tolerance and unity. Indeed, the Prime Minister, in his speech last week, called for an understanding between the two 14-million masses which vote for the two parties. I say to the Minister that when next June derationing is introduced, the Government will bring the class war into every butcher's shop in the country, if the prime cuts are more expensive and the workers have to buy only inferior meat. If that happens, industrial disputes will increase, because the trade union leaders' case for restricting wage increases will weaken.
Thinking Conservatives know perfectly well that the Communists in this country have made no headway politically because the Welfare State has met the social demands of the people. This cannot be said for any country where there are hunger and misery. The undernourished half of the world is seething with discontent, and yet Conservatives have not learned their lesson. They are prepared to give the trouble-makers in industry the kind of weapon which is most effective—the appeal to the stomach. This will happen next year unless the Government have a policy and a plan to control the price of food.
The Prime Minister conjured up a vision of the portals beyond which was a world at war or a world of material fulfilment. It was a wonderful vision which rightly earned the approval of the House. But visions are apt to fade and to be forgotten. The Labour Government did not waste their time on dreams, but opened the portals to a better life for the people who had been waiting on its doorstep for a long time. Now millions in Britain are watching the doors close slowly but inexorably in their faces.
Today, more than at any time in our history, Britain should offer an example in political and social behaviour to all 802 those small nations struggling to establish their independence. A nation, like an individual, is judged not by what it says but by what it does. We know that half the population of the world is undernourished. These millions of people saw a dream of hope in Britain from 1945 onwards. They recognised that the same ration of food was being given to the poor in this country as to the rich—a revolution indeed. They felt that if powerful Britain thought this fit and proper, there might be a chance in the years to come for the millions whose expectation of life today is determined by the amount of food they eat. I say that their hopes are doomed if a Conservative Britain determines the shape of things to come. Britain's influence for good in the world is slowly diminishing with each Tory Measure which is calculated to improve the lot of the better-off at the expense of the poorest.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ The Minister of Food (Major Lloyd George)
I find it somewhat difficult to follow the speech of the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) because it covered such a wide field that I do not think that I should have the time to touch on all the things she mentioned. We have had what I would call a lecture on foodstuffs generally, which I found very interesting. We were also told of the terrible things that happened before the war, and so forth.
§ Major Lloyd George
I would remind hon. Members who care to listen to me that not only before the war but during and since the war there has been a steady fall in the death rate from tuberculosis, and that children have grown steadily bigger and stronger. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] This was going on for a very long time before the first Socialist Government came into office. No one party can claim any special credit for it, but every party can claim some part of the credit.
We were also told that if, by next June, we deration meat the wealthy will take all the meat. I do not know who the right hon. Lady means by "the wealthy." [An HON. MEMBER: "Ask your dad."] I hope hon. Members opposite will treat this matter seriously, because it is serious. The right hon. Lady 803 said she hoped that the debate would receive close attention. I hope to be allowed to devote myself to the Amendment which the right hon. Lady has moved, because this is a matter of tremendous importance.
§ Major Lloyd George
If the hon. Gentleman will do me the favour of listening to me, it will do him no harm. In fact, it will do him a lot of good. It is much easier to conduct an argument if a sentence can occasionally be finished. The terms of this Amendment—
§ Major Lloyd George
I have just begun my speech and I shall make it in my own way. It is a queer habit that I have formed after 30 years in the House.
The wording of the Amendment itself is proof, if any proof were needed, that the Opposition have never really understood the economic difficulties which face us. It is a mistake to believe that food questions can be dealt with in isolation from other economic problems. Surely the greatest service which this or any other Government can give to the community, including those with small incomes and those who live on pensions, is to strengthen the economy. This was mentioned in the Gracious Speech, and we have done a great deal in two years to strengthen the economy.
It cannot be denied that when we came into office, two years ago, the country was heading for bankruptcy. All the subsidies and all the rationing in the world could not have prevented disaster if the policy of the late Administration had been pursued. We have made a good beginning in the short time during which we have been in office. The balance of payments position is far healthier than when we came in. The £ sterling has been strengthened—[Laughter.]—and, while hon. Members opposite may laugh, they cannot deny that the steep rises in the cost of living generally, and in food prices in particular, have been slowed down. Our success in this direction is doing a great deal more to help the people than the palliatives of which hon. Members opposite are so fond.
§ Mr. Shurmer
Come and shop in Birmingham. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman will need a policeman's helmet.
§ Major Lloyd George
Let me now turn to food subsidies. Obviously, a reduction in the level of food subsidies has the effect of increasing food prices. In this policy we are carrying out the intention so often declared by Socialist Chancellors of the Exchequer but so rarely carried out in practice. The right hon. Lady chided me because she said, quite wrongly, that I could not say what the price of certain foods would be next year. I do not think she could either—even with regard to any other commodity. Successive Labour Chancellors of the Exchequer were quite unable to predict what the ceiling on subsidies would be the following year.
Subsidies were adopted as a wartime expedient, and they served a very useful purpose during those critical years. With the ending of Lend-Lease, in 1945, the full cost of the food subsidy policy first became apparent. In the financial year 1946–47 food subsidies were running at £325 million. This led the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton)—who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer—to say, in introducing his Budget in 1947, and in commenting on the fact that the food subsidies would be running at £392 million for the coming year:We have now reached a point where, in any case, it would be necessary to consider very carefully whether we could face any further increases in the total cost of these subsidies.He went on—and these words are very important:Otherwise, this element, alone in all the total of our public expenditure, might seem to be passing out of our own control."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1947; Vol. 436, c. 44.]That was in 1947. In that speech we had what I might call the first red light of warning from the then Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Despite that, in the year 1948–49 the food subsidy figure was running at £484 million. In opening his speech in 1949 the late Sir Stafford Cripps estimated that the figure would rise in the following year to £568 million, unless some remedial action was taken. Commenting on this increase he said—and I heard him say it: "That just cannot go on." So, once 805 again, a ceiling was fixed—this time at £465 million. The following year the Socialist Government reduced the ceiling to £410 million. In two years, therefore, the Socialist Government had lowered the ceiling from a potential £568 million—[Interruption.] That was the figure to which Sir Stafford Cripps said the cost of the subsidy would rise unless action were taken. The potential figure was £568 million and it was brought down to £410 million. I do not recollect any Amendment being put down by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite then on the lines of the one we are discussing today. I would remind the House that at this time the price of food was steadily rising.
§ Major Lloyd George
The Korean war did not start in 1947. There seems to be no issue between us whether we should have an unlimited subsidy policy. So far, at any rate, we are on common ground.
§ Mr. Keenan
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman will perhaps allow me to intervene if he got a wrong impression of my interjection. The Labour Government's last ceiling was £412 million. What I meant by my interjection was that the ceiling he quoted—of £568 million-was not really a ceiling. In any event, what is the ceiling of the Conservative Party?
§ Major Lloyd George
I do not know what that question has to do with this argument. I shall come to that point in a minute. I take it that there is no disagreement in the House that there cannot be an unlimited roof to subsidies.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has dealt with 1947. Will he tell the House that there were three price decreases in 1947? The price of bacon was decreased by 4d.; butter by 4d., and sugar by 1d.
§ Major Lloyd George
We can easily pick out different items. I can give the hon. Member something much better. I can pick out particular items at any time 806 and show that they are going up or going down. The right hon. Member for Fulham, West did the same thing. I take it that we are on common ground in saying that there should be a ceiling. [Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen opposite disagree they should say so.
Such argument as there may be will obviously be concerned with what that ceiling should be. Just before we came into office the Socialist Government had put on a ceiling of £410 million, but when we came into office we found, not surprisingly, that they had been unable to live up to their policy of limiting the subsidies. They were once again running well above the figure which had been settled upon.
As a result of that, the first price increases which we had to make were directly attributable to the previous Government's failure to keep to their declared ceiling. In fact, of the 13 per cent. rise in the cost of food as a result of the first rises in price which we had to make, 5 per cent. was directly due to bringing down the ceiling to the £410 million which the Socialist Government themselves had fixed.
I think the House will agree that this short resumé of the subsidy position puts hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in some difficulty. All the time they were in office they repudiated unlimited subsidies, but they refused to tackle the problems presented by their repudiation. I have not heard any alternative proposals from them which would satisfactorily solve our difficulties in that direction. It is our belief that the first necessity is to secure a stable economy in which producers and traders are free to use their initiative and to provide consumers with the foodstuffs they require at the most reasonable prices possible.
The shackles which have fettered our economy since the end of the war must be struck off. Controls and rationing are not ends themselves in a peacetime economy. No one can seriously suggest that producers, distributors and consumers of food should be tangled up in a web of controls eight years after the war has ended, when those controls were imposed for quite another purpose. These restrictions rob the individual trader of the use of his skill, and the housewife of the elementary right to shop where she likes and how she likes.
807 In that connection, I was interested in a speech made by the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), on the question of a little breath of the fresh air of freedom. Speaking in 1947, in regard to supplies, and so forth, he said:We should quite unhesitatingly and steadily apply a policy of decontrol and delicensing so that the winds of free competition may blow through those areas. I believe that they would be refreshing winds."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1947; Vol. 439, c. 1180.]I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Dundee, West is not here. There have indeed been some very refreshing winds. The loosening up of the economy has been most salutary. It is often forgotten that the reduction of subsidies has been a necessary prerequisite of our policy of derationing and decontrol, and I am sure that this policy has the overwhelming support of the people.
§ Major Lloyd George
Let us look at the question of food prices. The right hon. Member for Fulham, West made an extraordinary statement about the cost-of-living index. Referring to it, she said that the House had been tricked. That is a wicked thing to say, because it means that the Opposition have been responsible for tricking the House for nearly six years.
In 1947, the new basis for the cost-of-living retail index was introduced, and if all these items which the right hon. Lady quoted were not relevant it was very naughty of her, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, to let them go through. I can only believe she did not really look at the list. She was at the Ministry for a considerable time. I have forgotten now for how long she was Parliamentary Secretary—
§ Major Lloyd George
—but from 1945 or 1946 she was there, and for the whole of that time the price of food went up steadily. But that is by the way. If the House has been tricked, then I can only say that it has been tricked by the Socialist Party with the cost-of-living index of retail prices.
But let us be clear about this. This is the only valid measurement of the cost of living. It is the only one at the 808 moment. It is not based on every individual budget. It could not be, but it is a fair comparison of like with like, which is what matters. It cannot, of course, measure the extra expenditure on the greatly increased amount of food now available, which does make its pressure on the family budget. I shall come back to that later.
Let us now look at the picture as it has unfolded during the past few years—from, first of all, the inheritance which this Government took over to the position to which we have now moved. The figures I am going to give are for calendar years, from January to the end of December every year. In 1948, there was an increase in food prices of 4.4 per cent. In 1949, the increase was 11.2 per cent. Next year, 1950, the increase was 5.5per cent. In 1951, it was 18 per cent. and, in spite of the legacy to which I have referred and which we inherited, in 1952 the increase was down to 9.2 per cent. and in the first three-quarters of this year the increase has been only 1.6 per cent.
§ Major Lloyd George
I would rather not give way. I want to finish my speech.
Those are the percentages of food price increases overall. Since April, six months ago, that is, the index has actually fallen by one point, and this, mark you, at a time when we were deliberately reducing subsidies to more manageable proportions and bringing a long overdue breath of reality into the food price structure. The increase this year has been the smallest rise in food prices since 1947, when the new index was first produced.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
I accept those figures, but surely the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree that when prices were going up under the Labour Government world prices were also going up.
§ Mr. Bottomley
Is the Minister aware that since this Government have been in power world prices have fallen 35 per cent., food prices 15 per cent.?
§ Major Lloyd George
I cannot possibly accept those figures. I should like the House to tell me, what is the world price today, and where do we get it?
§ Major Lloyd George
I cannot keep on giving way. I have taken too long.
Thus, our policy of removing controls.—
§ Mr. Lewis
Is it not, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the normal custom of the House, that if a Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not a point of order."] I am not asking hon. Members opposite, but Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Is it not the normal custom of the House, if a Minister challenges hon. Members on this side, for him to give way to allow us to give the answer, which we can give him?
I am not here to answer questions about normal custom, and the point raised by the hon. Member is not a point of order at all.
§ Dr. Summerskill
May I ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman this question, because I did devote my remarks to it? Can he tell us the increase in price of the body-building, essential foods? I think he will agree that we really must know about this. All those things I read out, ice cream, and so on, were being imported. Sugar was cheaper. Sugar was scarce, and all these extra things were very high in price at that time. Surely the only honest thing is to compare the prices of the body-building foods in those days with their prices these days. Will the Minister do that?
§ Major Lloyd George
The right hon. Lady is anxious to pick things out to suit herself. If she did not put body-building foods into the computation of the original index, then I am very surprised that she was at the Ministry of Food at all. In the basis of this index body-building foods are included.
§ Major Lloyd George
There is only one method we can take. If we were to take one commodity one day, which was up in price, a fortnight later we might find it down in price, and we could not give any basis that way. The index has to be on an accepted basis, and the real point is surely that we compare like with like.
§ Major Lloyd George
If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who has had a lot of experience in this House, wants to take part in the debate, I am sure his hon. Friends will let him.
This is a point of some importance. If we are to have an index of food prices and of the cost of living the thing that matters is that we compare the same thing with the same thing, to see whether the price has fallen or risen.
§ Major Lloyd George
That is very unfair. I have given the figures from the cost-of-living index since it was started on the new basis in 1947, and given the comparisons down the years. These figures are open to challenge, and I say—and I repeat it with pleasure—that this year has seen the smallest rise in food prices since that index came into being. Our policy of removing controls and restrictions can be seen to be having the desirable effect forecast by the Minister in 1947. It is enabling people to buy the food they require—
§ Major Lloyd George
—at prices which are becoming more stable than at any period since the war.
I do not want the House to think for one moment that I am complacent about this continued increase, however small it is and however we may seem to be achieving no small measure of success in stabilising the position, but this particular time, to say the least of it, seems the most inappropriate for hon. and right hon. Members to move an Amendment to the Motion for an Address deploring the high cost of living, when, for the first time, it has dropped.
811 I do not underestimate the very real difficulties of the pensioners and those with small or fixed incomes in these days, but Her Majesty's Government have taken steps to overcome their very real difficulties. First, our general economic policy, as I said just now, has prevented a national catastrophe not only to those groups but to the whole community; and when it comes to what we have done for the old age pensioners, I have been to some trouble to look into this matter.
§ The Amendment particularly refers to the position of old age pensioners. I say that we have taken steps to assist them in various forms. Let me tell the House the history of that. I do not think that there has ever been a time when there has been sufficient for all of the average pensioner's needs through his pension if he has no other resources. It has always been recognised that for those with only limited resources supplementation by the National Assistance Board has been necessary.
§ The 1946 Act fixed the rate at 26s. for a single person and 42s. for a married couple, subject, of course, in the case of retirement pensions to a substantial increment for postponed retirement. These minimum levels of benefit and pension were retained unaltered until October, 1951, throughout a period of rising prices and the falling value of money. It was not until the eve of the General Election that the Government raised the pension by 4s. for a single person and 8s. for a married couple, for a limited class of pensioners. That is to say, those, and those only, who had reached pensionable age by 1st October of that year. For the other old age pensioners, the rate of 26s. and 42s. remained unaltered.
§ Last year, in fulfilment of their Election pledge the present Government restored all social security benefits, including retirement pensions, so as to give them the purchasing power which they enjoyed when the National Insurance Act first came into operation in 1948. This involved a raising of benefits and pension rates by 25 per cent. to figures of 32s. 6d. for a single person and 54s. for a married couple.812
§ Major Lloyd George
At the same time, the National Assistance Board recommended, and the Government adopted, higher scales of national assistance, which had previously been raised in October, 1951. The increase in the assistance scales was from 30s. to 35s. for a single person and 50s. to 59s. for a married couple plus, of course, I would remind the right hon. Lady, rent allowances, representing an increase of 16½ per cent. for a single person and 18 per cent. for a married couple above the level adopted by the Socialist Government in October, 1951.
It will be seen, therefore, that the pensioner whose resources are so limited that he has to have recourse to the National Assistance Board is better off today by any standard than he was at any time under the late Government. Another thing which will help the people mentioned in this Amendment will be the record of the last few months which, with its falling index, shows we are now making a real contribution to price stability.
Now let me deal with the food consumption levels of the two categories referred to particularly in this Amendment—householders with small incomes and old-age pensioners. Here I take my information from the National Food Survey, with which hon. Members opposite are familiar, and which has established itself as a non-partisan source of information.
The latest figures which I can give hon. Members are up to the middle of this year. Both for the poorer household and for old-age pensioners the Survey shows that these sections of the community are spending about the same on rationed foods as all other groups. The right hon. Lady talked about butter. The old-age pensioner take-up of butter is 100 per cent. Apart from meat and bacon, I think that it will be found that for all other basic foods the take-up is about 100 per cent.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Has the right hon. Gentleman ascertained that the consumption of butter by old age pensioners is 100 per cent.?
§ Major Lloyd George
What other method has the right hon. Lady of ascertaining the consumption? Does she go 813 round to all the old age pensioners asking, "How much butter did you eat last week?" There is no other method. We can only get at it by comparing like with like. The right hon. Lady knows that perfectly well. She was at the Ministry of Food and she ought to know that.
We have heard about the consumption of liquid milk. Their consumption of liquid milk is higher now than at any time since 1950. Of course, I do not pretend that they have unlimited money to spend on less essentials, and this survey does show that, in respect of the basic foods, there is little difference in expenditure between all the social groups. When we look at this whole question of food prices, it is essential for us to face up to the fact that we are, in this post-war period, in a phase where it may well be necessary for some readjustment in the pattern of our personal expenditure to take place.
During the war and in the post-war period, under the Socialist Government, the consumer was in a strait-jacket of controls and regulations. There was a general scarcity of ordinary consumer goods throughout most of that period and money tended to be diverted to other channels. With more goods in the shops there is bound to be an increasing desire to buy, and this, in its turn, is naturally responsible for a certain element of pressure on what we call the housekeeping money. It is a simple fact that when there is more to buy there is an increased desire to buy it.
I readily admit that I am supposed to be responsible for increasing the claim on the housekeeping money, because in the last two years we have been able to provide more food for the community as a whole. I do not apologise to the House for this, because it is surely acceptable to both sides of the House, as it is to the country as a whole. Indeed—and this is a very important point—had there been no increase at all in the index, the consumer would still have been spending more on his food, simply because there is more food for him to buy. I sometimes wonder whether the increased pay packets of the last two years or so have always made their due contribution to the family housekeeping budget because wages have increased in the last few months, at any rate, more than the cost of living.
814 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), when Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking in a debate on food, in 1950, made a very interesting contribution, which I should like to read to the House in support of what I am saying, about the increasing pressure on the houskeeping money. The right hon. Gentleman said:Finally, I think, there is another reason why nowadays people feel stringencies which they did not feel in earlier years. It is the simple fact … that there happens to be more to buy. When there was nothing much to buy in the shops people had plenty of money in their pockets, and the complaints, as we all remember very well, were about shortages. When more things that we all want to buy come on the market—well, my experience, at any rate, is that my wife presses me for more money to replace things—for instance, clothing, and says that we ought to spend a little more money on clothes; and we find the temptation, of course, to spend more ourselves very much greater: and this creates a feeling—a very natural feeling—of stringency, that money is tighter and that somehow or other the cost of living is going up."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November. 1950; Vol. 480, c. 345.]That is what the right hon. Gentleman said, and there is a great deal in it. There is certainly more food to buy in the shops.
While I am on the pattern of the postwar expenditure I must give the House one or two figures. We cannot overlook the fact that, whereas now nearly 33 per cent. of national expenditure goes on food as against 30 per cent. before the war, 15 per cent. goes on drink and tobacco as against 10 per cent. pre-war.
§ Major Lloyd George
As a nation, we are spending at an annual rate of about £1,800 million on drink, tobacco and entertainment.
There is another point which refers to every household, as the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) will agree. Since sweets were derationed—successfully this time—we have been spending at an annual rate of £60 million more than we did last year. That is an increase of over £60 million a year on sweets alone. With an average weekly consumption per head of 7½ oz. we are the greatest sweet eaters in the world, even including the U.S.A. The expenditure on sweets has increased by £60 million compared with last year and £93 million compared with the year before that.
§ Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)
Has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman any figures to show increased expenditure arising from the visits of foreigners to this country? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman keeps saying that our expenditure has increased. Is he taking into account expenditure by foreign visitors coming here?
§ Major Lloyd George
That must, of course, be so. I do not suppose that all the visitors to this country are non-smokers and teetotallers, and I am sure some of them suck sweets. I am giving figures which I know to be correct. The actual expenditure on sweets today is more than £160 million per year.
§ Major Lloyd George
Where does one get any figures?
The amount I have mentioned represents £1 4s. or £1 5s. per person per year. I did not compose the retail price index and cannot give all the figures right away, but we are certainly eating more sweets than any other country in the world, including the U.S.A. There are no significant differences between districts throughout the country in the consumption of sweets.
These are formidable figures. I do not produce them in any way to condemn the expenditure, but I want us to keep a sense of proportion. All I suggest is that we should get back to the habit of putting first things first, and in some small measure we have to adjust our scale of values and our pattern of expenditure, which got out of focus during the war and since the war because of the shortage of essentials.
There is another important factor. We are all agreed about the necessity to keep a stable and efficient agricultural industry in this country, and we are all agreed that this will have to be paid for. About 50 per cent. of our food is home-produced. It is now inevitable that we shall have to pay more for our food than we did prior to 1939.
The Amendment deplores the lack of steps to reduce food prices. What would the Opposition suggest? Would they restore subsidies? I observe that there is a Motion on the Order Paper which:
… calls upon Her Majesty's Government to refrain from any further cuts in the levels of the existing food subsidies, and to revert to the levels of food subsidies obtaining in October, 1951.
§ Is that the policy of the Opposition? To restore the subsidies to the position they were in in 1951 would mean a subsidy level of approaching £800 million, nearly twice the ceiling fixed by the Socialist Government in 1951, and well over £500 million more than the figure allowed in the current Budget.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I understand the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to say that if we wished to restore food subsidies to the level of 1951 a sum of £800 million would be required. Does not that reflect the increase in prices which has developed since that period? How does that square with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument?
§ Major Lloyd George
It would be that if we restored the subsidy in relation to the prices current in 1951, but what the right hon. Gentleman has to remember is that, despite what was said about the fall in world prices, there has been a substantial increase in procurement costs, not only overseas but also in this country. We have had several price reviews. I have given the cost of living figures, and they are open to examination, and are open to be exploded, if possible. Procurement costs have risen on many commodities owing to agreements signed by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, such as that with Australia.
§ Major Lloyd George
There are other things which must not be forgotten. We must also not forget that, in addition to increased procurement costs, there has been increased consumption. To restore the subsidy level today would cost well over £500 million. Would the Opposition restore those subsidies? According to the Motion on the Order Paper they would. Would they put back rationing and controls? They would have to, because one cannot spend public money without controls. Would they bring back food cuts to avoid the dangers referred to by the late Sir Stafford Cripps, in 1949. When he said of the subsidies:We must call a halt, or else we shall find ourselves in the ridiculous position of having to refuse to import much needed food, because 817 we cannot afford to pay the subsidy out of our Budget."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 2085.]Do hon. Gentlemen opposite now repudiate that statement? If so, to what level of subsidy are they prepared to go? Are they prepared to ignore all the warnings of their post-war Chancellors and adopt a subsidy policy without any limit? If so, where do they propose to find the money? Do they propose to reintroduce rationing, with its cumbersome procedures, its restrictions on the housewife and its heavy administrative costs? Those are questions to which not only the House but the country as a whole will expect an answer.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
During the past three or four years I have probably spoken in food debates more than any other hon. Member. On this occasion I rise more in sorrow than in anger. It is obvious that the irritability which the Minister of Food now always displays when he speaks on these subjects reveals how uncomfortable he feels. It is clear that in the Government the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary are—I shall not use the traditional expletive—the infantry. They do the dirty work, face the barrage and give us as effective a reply as they can, but they have not the slightest idea what is happening and do not know a thing about the tactics and strategy of the Government.
The right hon. Gentleman quoted my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton). I also will quote him. This is what he said in 1937 during the debate on the Address:It appears to be the purpose of Ministers on that bench to argue that the cost of living has not risen and is not rising; but the unemployed know better; the housewives and the old-age pensioners know better; and even the officials of the Ministry of Labour know better."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1937; Vol. 328, c. 563–4.]What the Government are now doing is exactly what was Tory policy in the 1930's. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland then said that the Government were, in considerable measure, pursuing this policy because it was the consequence of the financial policy of the Government. He said that they were also following it because it was 818 the deliberate policy of the Government to restrict the supply of foodstuffs. That is equally true today.
I would only add one third fact which is that the policy of the Government in the 1930s was to provide a subsidy to the farmer at the direct expense of the housewife. These were the three factors which determined the shape of Government policy during the 1930s.
§ Mr. Willey
I shall give a few illustrations because the hon. Gentleman always needs a few illustrations before he appreciates what we are talking about. I do not think he understands even then.
The political argument in the 1930s was about food taxes. We got in the 1930s what the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) finds so difficult to understand. We got rising retail food prices in this country with falling world prices. That was very difficult to understand, and it could only be explained by the financial policy of the Tory Government. During that Parliamentary year the Leader of the House told hon. Members—he was then at the Treasury, where, obviously, he learned his bad habits—that the increase in food taxes since 1931 was £27,500,000.
That was a considerable sum, judged by the amount of Government expenditure at that time. In fact, we find that, for the five years from 1933 to 1938, the price of bread went up 2d., butter went up about 2d., cheese about 2d., bacon 4d., and tea 5d. It was agreed that these increases were not due to production cost increases, but to the financial policy of the Tory Government.
The second point was restriction of supplies. We know that then there was a glut of food in the world. It needed all the ingenuity of the Government to prevent it coming into this country. They succeeded. For example, the supplies of frozen meat from the Argentine were cut to 65 per cent.—
§ Sir H. Williams
On a point of order. Does not the Motion, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, refer to current events and not to the events of 20 years ago, interesting as they might be?
§ Mr. Willey
I can quite appreciate the embarrassment of the hon. Gentleman. We cut the supplies of frozen meat from the Argentine to 65 per cent. of the amount they had previously sent us. We said to Denmark, "We will only take an average of the bacon you sent us in the years 1925 to 1930." We played our part in the world wheat agreement and the international tea agreement which restricted world supplies. By a whole battery of mechanisms we prevented food from coming to this country. And, finally, we financed the farmer—because it was agreed that he must be subsidised—at the expense of the housewife.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) was quoted yesterday for what he had said about the Wheat Act. He does not withdraw a word that he said on that. How was the farmer subsidised? By a levy on every sack of flour. That is how it was done. What did that mean to my part of the world? In the distressed areas the people on unemployment relief, who were forced to eat more bread, were paying far more to the British farmer than was the right hon. Gentleman. Was that fair?
I now come to the Milk Marketing Board. We have no argument to make on that score, because we want marketing machinery. But how was the Board financed? Very largely in exactly the same way. What do we find? Let me give another illustration to assist the hon. Gentleman. We find that the manufacturers of condensed milk got their milk at 6d. a gallon, while our school children, with a Treasury subvention, paid 1s. 4½d. and the housewife paid 2s. At that time of distress and malnutrition we were exporting 12 million gallons of condensed milk.
That was really fantastic. Here were the poor making the biggest contribution to the farmer through the bread tax and also in milk prices. We can all congratulate ourselves that the production of milk was increased. For the years 1934 to 1936, milk production was increased by 167 million gallons, but of this 135 million gallons went to the manufacturers.
That was Tory policy. It was not an act of God. It was an act of deliberate policy in a Britain of restricted food supplies to make sure that their own friends 820 were all right because they could afford to pay the increased prices.
§ Mr. C. N. Thornton-Kemsley (Angus, North and Mearns)
I only rise to protect the hon. Gentleman from his own hon. Friends, because had he been present in the debate yesterday, as were most of us throughout the day, he would know that the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), and almost every other speaker on the benches opposite, accused us on this side of the House of doing nothing for the farmer in the 1930s.
§ Mr. Willey
There is a case for orderly marketing, which, incidentally, we initiated, but there was no case for this financial policy which lay behind the Tory policy. That is what upset the farmers because they knew it was an inevitable consequence of this policy that, in the long-term, production would fall because the demand would fall.
Now let us deal with the position today. I am sorry that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not paying attention, because I am now going to give the House the figures of consumption for 1952 as set out in the Ministry of Food Bulletin No. 720. These are the latest figures. What do we find? In 1952, the consumption of dairy products was less than in 1951, 1950 and 1949. Butter was less than for every year since 1945. Cheese was less than for every year recorded. Meat was less than 1950—in fact, 10 per cent. less. It was only 77 per cent. of pre-war.
We talk about red meat, but beef consumption was less than in any year so far recorded. Mutton and lamb was more than in 1951, but less than for any other recorded year. Poultry, game and fish were fewer than in 1951, and, in fact, less than in any recorded year since the war. Eggs were fewer than in 1951, and, indeed, fewer than for every year since 1948. Sugar was less than in 1951. Fruit was less than in 1951, the same in 1950, but less than for every year since 1946. Vegetables were fewer for every year since 1941, and flour was less than for every year since 1940. Tea is relevant because it has been derationed. It was more than in 1951, the same in 1949, and less than in 1950, 1947 and 1946. It was one lb. less than prewar figures. Coffee was less than every year since 1946 and cocoa was an all time low record.
§ Mr. Willey
I have given the figures which are comprehensive. There is no argument about it; the figures about supplies are on record.
When people talk about rationing all that I am concerned about is supplies. Why cannot the right hon. and gallant Gentleman apologise to the House for his miserable record in cutting supplies? He talked about meat. What is the position this year? We have the records for meat consumption for the first nine months. What do we find? For six months of this year we have eaten less meat than in the corresponding months in 1950 and in only three months have we eaten more. The overall consumption, however, is less than in 1950, and in the last recorded month we ate less than we did in 1950. So much for the abundance of supplies.
In fact, there has been the old Tory policy of restriction, and I will give one illustration of that. When eggs went free the Minister of Food cut Danish imports by 10 per cent. to support the price here. We want more to eat, but the Government have restricted supplies.
On prices, they have put up the prices, but more glaringly than they did in the 1930s. It is no good the right hon. and gallant Gentleman saying to us that we held the subsidy between £400 million or £500 million when his purpose is to destroy it altogether. What nonsense.
It is dishonest to conceal the fact that there were three price decreases and only one price increase in the year 1947. There was a case for a ceiling, especially when food prices were actually falling. The whole position has been given in the Economic Survey. We were fighting against world inflationary prices. Recent price increases by this Government have been due to a reduction in food subsidies. The facts are there for all to read.
When the Labour Government's term of office ended the subsidies totalled £440 million, and the first year that the Tory Party were in power they reduced them to £330 million. This year they are reducing them to £220 million. Where has the money gone? We need not go over all this again. In 1952, there has been a decrease in supplies in almost 822 every essential foodstuff but, nevertheless, the price went up because of the food policy of the Government. Less food cost us £347 million more to buy, and subsidised foods alone went up in price by £172 million.
I thought the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would pay some attention to the things I repeatedly said to him. He ought to know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given the figures. Last year, from the reduction in the food subsidies, we got £53 million worth back by way of increased social services and all that, but what is the position this year? The subsidies are reduced by a further £110 million, and all the social services get back against those increased prices, amounting to £110 million this year, is £24 million. That is just the same thing over again. The price support that the subsidies provide is taken away, and redistributed by way of Income Tax concessions, reduction of Purchase Tax on luxury goods, and all the rest of it.
Now for the farmer. What has the Parliamentary Secretary to say about milk? In the last year we were in office, taking the first nine months for comparative purposes, we increased the consumption of fresh milk by nearly 10 million gallons following a whole series of increases year by year since we took office. In the first year the Tory Government reduced consumption in that period by nearly 20 million gallons, and already this year they have reduced it by about 18 million gallons.
That is why the milk distributors are so upset today about the Government's proposals. They know that their well-being is linked with sales of milk. They are disturbed by what has happened in the last two years. They are disturbed by the fact that the Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have made it quite clear that they regard the consumption of milk as being too high, and they are determined to reduce it further.
There was one question that the Minister of Agriculture could not answer yesterday. He said, like the Minister of Food, "I cannot reply to it, but my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer "—who was at that time sitting next to him—"will reply later in the debate." The one thing which the Chancellor did not answer was this one question. I asked 823 about the consumer subsidy on milk and I wanted to know if it will remain.
The Minister of Food knows as well as I do that we cannot restore the powers of the Milk Marketing Board if that present subsidy remains. There was talk about an element of consumer subsidy, but what did the Chancellor say. He said that there was an element of producer subsidy, and the impression he created upon the House was that it was the producer's subsidy alone that was going to be preserved. Presumably also to some degree, though we do not know to what extent, the element of subsidy regarding welfare foods will also be preserved.
That is why we are disturbed, and that is why the distributors are concerned. The farmers, also, are upset because this means a policy of further reducing the consumption of milk, which, in the long term, is going to affect the producer as well as the ordinary consumers.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) knows something about eggs. What do we see here? We get exactly the same approach. The Minister reduced supplies coming in from Denmark. In fact, we have received fewer eggs from Denmark this year than last year.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Surely egg consumers are not interested in the source or the origin of the eggs so long as they are fresh. Is the hon. Member aware that in the six months following the decontrol of eggs, on 26th March last, the total sales of eggs in this country went up by 6 per cent.?
§ Mr. Willey
We have had a reply from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and, in fact, the consumption of eggs this year is about what it was last year.
§ Mr. Willey
I am taking my facts from the Minister, and if the hon. Member wants to quarrel with his right hon. and gallant Friend he can do it in his own time.
The Minister, as the sole importer of eggs, told the Danes, "Although you 824 have got the eggs we will not take 10 per cent. We will stop them coming in to hold the price here." In this country we have had a lot of experience of import policy for purposes of price control.
§ Mr. Willey
No, I will not give way.
We have imported more eggs this year than we did last year, but substantially fewer than the year before.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Charles Hill)
I rise merely to get right the statement that was made. It was that the number of eggs coming into commercial channels and so into the towns, on an annual basis, had increased from 104 to 110. I am not arguing, merely getting the facts.
§ Mr. Willey
The fact is that the Minister of Food prevented eggs coming in. So he cannot say that the housewife had paid increased prices for additional supplies, because he was preventing those supplies coming in.
The second thing is this, and it is the real essential weakness of this policy. The Minister of Food has not revealed to the House that eggs are being subsidised today. Will he deny it? What a position to be in? The taxpayer is now subsidising eggs, but receives no benefit from cheaper supplies during the rest of the year. Now we have got all the fantastic results of trying to meddle with a free market.
Tea has been freed and we can see the effect of decontrol upon it. I told the House in April that the Indian Tea Association announced that they would restrict production. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said they announced that, but that they have not carried it out. What do we find? Tea is freed, and for the first nine months of this year we have imported substantially less tea than we did last year.
Let me remind the House again of what has happened. Prices of essential 825 foods have been put up deliberately, not to deal with the burden of rearmament, not because of our economic difficulties, but to make concessions to a few. Secondly, the Minister has deliberately restricted supplies. He was quite wrong in everything he previously said about tea. It has gone up in price by about 20 per cent. and we have less of it. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has monkeyed about with eggs so that we have had dearer eggs and fewer eggs—
§ Mr. Willey
The Minister's policy means that he is trying to get us back to the position in the 'thirties, where the burden fell directly upon the housewife and particularly on those with large families. The result of this policy, to my constituents, is tragic. We are the biggest shipbuilding town in the world. We, of all people in this country, know what competition in the export market means. Management and men in the shipbuilding industry are second to none.
§ Mr. Willey
What chance have they got now? The managements say that we are being out-competed. The Government have botched steel allocations, but we are not debating that today. The Government have compelled the unions to put in a wage claim. What do the unions say? They say:Some prices have fallen. But many more have risen. The policy of the Tory Government has ensured that the prices which have risen are those that matter most to the working-class.… The Tory Press gives the impression that they are the only patriots. Yet they applaud the Chancellor's deliberate raising of the price of food, and at the same time welcome his reduction of the taxes on profits and luxury goods. Their ideal seems to be a Britain in which there are rising profits for already prosperous companies, and hard work and sacrifice from the workers.The right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his Government have brought tragedy to the constituency I represent. Ours is an industry which can least afford industrial unrest at the moment. This has not been brought about by the managements, it has not been brought about by economic circumstances. It has been brought about by the Tory policy of the Government, against which the illustrous father of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman spent his life battling.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
I listened with interest and surprise to the speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey)—
§ Sir H. Williams
Because the hon. Gentleman was making statements which were inaccurate. By chance an hour ago I obtained a copy of the Trade and Navigation accounts. The hon. Gentleman talked about meat. Well, the imports of meat in the first nine months of the last three years were as follows: in 1951, 15,516,000 tons, in 1952, 16,399,000 tons, in 1953, 19,811,000 tons. I have not got the figures of home production.
§ Mr. Willey
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has overlooked the fact that the figures he has given are comprehensive ones including bacon?
§ Sir H. Williams
I know that the consumption of bacon and pork has gone up very much, but it has not gone up to anything like that extent in the aggregate. I am giving the total imports of meat. The consumption of bacon went up from 3,915,000 cwts. in the first nine months of 1952, to 4,870,000 cwts. in the same period in 1953, which is a quarter of the total increase I have read out. Therefore, the hon. Member for Sunderland, North was quoting figures which were misleading.
§ Mr. Willey
We must try to get this right. The hon. Gentleman will remember that I gave no import figures about meat. I gave consumption figures. Those are published by the Government and are available.
§ Sir H. Williams
I agree, but as the bulk of the stuff is imported, it has to be eaten fairly quickly—[An HON. MEMBER: "No, it keeps."]—and the quantities in cold storage do not vary very much, so the imports are a pretty accurate record of what is consumed in the next month or six weeks.
§ Mr. Willey
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Ministry of Food was compelled to reduce the price of bacon because the cold stores, not only in this country but in countries abroad, were chock full of bacon?
§ Sir H. Williams
Precisely, and since every cold store was chock full of something, the imports had to be eaten. Now about eggs. The importation of eggs from Denmark is down by 1 per cent. for the first nine months of this year as compared with nine months last year, but it is higher than it was in 1951. Imports of eggs from Denmark in the month of September were up substantially as compared with September, 1952. So again his statement is totally misleading. I did not know that the hon. Gentleman would quote those figures, and it was only by chance that I had this document and was able to realise that he was misleading himself as well as the House.
§ Mr. Willey
The hon. Gentleman now agrees with me that the import of eggs from Denmark was less this year than last, in spite of the fact that the availability this year was far greater than last year.
§ Sir H. Williams
I pointed out that there was a diminution of only 1 per cent. over nine months, and I then went on to point out what had happened in the last available month. There was an increase from 4,094 thousand dozen in 1952 to 4,588 thousand dozen in 1953. Nearly everything in the speech of the hon. Gentleman related to what happened 20 years ago, but I am dealing with what is happening now.
§ Mr. Willey
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman knows that we had to say to the Danes in the summer, "Store the eggs. We will not let them into this country because they will bring the price down"? Of course those eggs came in later on in the year, but the import of eggs for the first nine months of this year was less than it was last year.
§ Sir H. Williams
I said that in the first nine months there was a drop of 1 per cent. but, nevertheless, the figure was higher than in 1951 and the whole burden of the speech made by the hon. Gentleman was deceiving. It is true that in 828 the case of tea there has been a slight drop for the first nine months of this year as compared with the same period in the previous year, but there was a substantial increase over 1951. So that the bulk of the representations made by the hon. Gentleman were misleading.
I am rather sorry that the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) has gone to get some of the expensive tea to which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North referred, because I thought that her speech was the most unadulterated nonsense ever delivered from the Front Bench on either side of the House, and that is saying a good deal. I am sorry to say this in her absence. I would not mind saying it to her face.
There was the usual business of talking about rationing by the purse. That is the most dishonest slogan that anybody could use. There are in this House a substantial number of people who are eminent in the trade unions. Some belong to the craft unions and some to the general labour unions. The craft unions always insist on maintaining a differential. In other words, they want a longer purse, and when one has a longer purse it means that one is entitled to buy more. Does anybody here say that we should have equality of income?
§ Sir H. Williams
It is really the doctrine that everybody should have the same pay. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is the implication. I know Lord Citrine quite well. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Why not? One may think differently on politics but, thank Heaven, that does not preclude friendship. When he was appointed to administer a nationalised industry his salary was fixed at £8,500, no doubt with extras thrown in. Does anyone suggest that because of that all electricians should have £8,500 a year? I expect that Lord Citrine spends his money wisely. In other words, he rations his purchases according to his purse.
829 I listened to Questions yesterday which were obviously designed to forestall this debate. They were not too successful. Their effect was to say, "Look at this terrible state of affairs. People do not take up their margarine rations."
§ Sir H. Williams
I can answer that. It so happens that I found out only today at lunch when we had as guest a lady who runs a small household. She and my wife were discussing food and I asked my wife if she took up all the margarine ration. She replied, "Some weeks I do and some weeks I do not." And, although I am neither very poor nor very rich, I can afford to buy it if we need it.
§ Sir H. Williams
I was glad to hear from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food that the old age pensioners take up their full ration of butter. [An HON. MEMBER: "And sell some of it."] Some hon. Member opposite is now accusing old age pensioners of doing black market trading. I hope that the next time there is a meeting about pensions at the Central Hall he will repeat that statement. I know that I have suggested that some of the concessionary coal is sold. I happen to know that that is true, but that is a different matter.
The new index of prices has an advantage over the old index. The old index was based on a survey made in 1904 and revised in 1914, when it was found that the proportions had not altered materially. It was examined once or twice during the war and I think in 1937 or 1938, when it was shown that it was still a fairly accurate method of estimating the cost of maintaining unchanged a certain standard of living. That index does not describe the position of any individual family. It is based on the assumption that the family position remains unaltered, that nobody gets any older. It deals with what it costs year by year to buy the quantity of goods which, on the average, this imaginary family would buy in the year under survey.
It was rightly felt in 1946 that the matter should be looked into and the Minister of Labour appointed a committee to inquire into it. The Government then introduced an interim index, which 830 suggested that they meant to have another index later. This interim index has contained, since June, 1947, rather more detailed information than that supplied by the old index.
Now it appears from the monthly issue of the Ministry of Labour Gazette that foodstuffs make up 40 per cent. of the total cost-of-living index. When the Amendment which we are discussing today was put on the Order Paper I was very interested to notice that it was limited to a reference to food. No doubt that was because hon. Members opposite saw that the total index had remained for several months at 140 to 141. It had just moved slightly, for instance when new potatoes were taken into account instead of old. That change always pushes up the cost-of-living index temporarily by about 1 point.
§ This Amendment does not deal with the cost of living as a whole. Hon. Members opposite have selected food for their attention. They have looked at those things which are widely publicised and not at those which receive less publicity. I have had to consult every number of the Ministry of Labour Gazette since January of last year to get at the facts. There was virtually no movement in the index in 1952 until the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced his Budget as a deliberate act of policy, with which I agreed. He decided to make a cut in the food subsidies. I have always thought it complete nonsense to have a food subsidy to keep down the cost of living and then Purchase Tax to keep it up. That has been the declared policy of Socialist Chancellors. It is the economics of a lunatic asylum. I want both reduced pari passu so that things can be sold at their proper prices.
§ Sir H. Williams
I am talking about the raising of the Purchase Tax as a deliberate act of policy by Sir Stafford Cripps, and I think by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), to restrain purchasing power.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I remember very clearly at the beginning of the war that to avoid the inflationary spiral gathering momentum Sir Kingsley Wood imposed 831 a food subsidy and that policy was later followed by the present Lord Waverley. The subsidies were increased in lieu of advances in wages.
§ Sir H. Williams
The hon. Member has missed my point. During 1945–50, on at least two occasions, a Chancellor of the Exchequer representing the hon. Member's party deliberately increased the Purchase Tax for the purpose of absorbing inflation. I thought that was a stupid policy. It would have been much better to cut the food subsidies and the Purchase Tax pari passu in such a way as to leave the cost of living virtually unaltered.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
Would the hon. Member detail to us those things which were allowed to remain under Purchase Tax and those things from which Purchase Tax was lifted, and also the types of food which carried a subsidy?
§ Sir H. Williams
There is a great range of commodities. For instance, when I was driving through my constituency the other Friday in very wet weather I did not have a rag with which to clean my windscreen. It did not strike me as a luxury, but the shopkeeper said, "I am very sorry, but that the price is rather high as it is subject to Purchase Tax." That was an ordinary rag. But to come back to my point, the Chancellor, as a deliberate act of policy, with which I agree, decided to cut food subsidies in his Budget of March, 1952. Naturally, it had the effect of putting up prices.
§ Mr. Lewis
Is the hon. Member not aware of the fact that the Minister has admitted, and everyone knows, that the price of food has gone up. The hon. Member admits that that was because of the Chancellor's Budget, to which he said he was a party. Is he aware that the Tories won the last election on the definite pledge that they would bring down food prices and that he is now saying that he supports a policy that put the prices up?
§ Sir H. Williams
I would not have given way to the hon. Member if I had known he was going to introduce remarks which were fundamentally irrelevant to what I have said. The index for food had risen to 108.5 by 15th July. That was an increase of 8½ points. Then there was seasonal fall. It dodged up 832 and down and in March this year reached the level of 110.7. There was a further rise in April to 112.5, and since then there has been a downward movement—
§ Sir H. Williams
I am not giving way again as I have not been permitted to speak for a whole minute uninterrupted. I think we should have some consideration for the reporters. For six months past the cost of living has remained virtually steady except for seasonal changes due to new potatoes taking the place of old and odd things like that. I cannot see why this subject has been chosen for debate since it is six months out of date. Some months ago we had a debate on the fall in production, springing largely from the textile slump which started when the last Government were in office, and when we had that debate the situation discussed was out of date. They will read out of date official literature.
The problem which faces any Chancellor of the Exchequer is that between cost of living and full employment. That is the real issue we have to face. If I were empowered to go to the Bank of England and say, "Put up the Bank rate 6 per cent. and stop printing notes," I would bring about a catastrophic fall in the cost of living, but I would also put a lot of people out of work. Any Chancellor is walking a tight-rope all the time between inflation and deflation and between a rise in the cost of living and full employment. That is the issue we have to face, irrespective of political views. I think that up to now the present Chancellor has been very successful in walking the tight-rope.
There is an industrial dispute possibly pending, and I hope it will not come off. I read a lot of Sunday newspapers. I go to church as well. I went twice last Sunday.
§ Sir H. Williams
No, I do not. I buy the "Sunday Pictorial" every Sunday to see what kind of nonsense comes out of one of the divisions of Coventry. On this occasion I not only visited Coventry but also Blyth, because I found an interesting article by the right hon. Member for 833 Blyth (Mr. Robens), who used to be editor-in-chief of the Ministry of Labour Gazette, I believe. He described a constituent of his called Joe. The article said that a week or two after Christmas Joe's wife started having a few words every Friday. "Joe," she said, "I cannot manage on this money, prices are going up and I need more." That would be about the middle of January. It happens that the engineering employers and trade unions have agreed to an increase in wages of 7s. 4d. a week for a 44-hour week, which came into operation on 14th November, 1952.
That was designed to deal with the cost of living as it was in November, 1952, when it was not very different from the cost of living in June, 1952. As a matter of fact it was slightly lower in November, 1952, than in June, and I think we can say that the 7s. 4d. put things right. Joe's wife presumably lives in Northumberland, in Blyth and got distressed very quickly because there had been virtually no increase in the cost of living between 18th November and 30th January. There was nothing to get excited about but she said the money would not run to it.
The right hon. Gentleman wrote that the negotiations were much too dilatory. It was well established when the right hon. Member went to the Ministry, because he said that the National Council of Engineering Shop Stewards made a proposal in February for a 15 per cent. claim, but it was not until 12th March that the Confederation got busy, and on 29th April the Confederation said, "Go ahead." On 26th May the trade unions submitted the claim to the employers. The early dilatoriness was on the part of the trade unions. Under a procedure established 40 years ago the employers and the unions have regular meetings in York. The right hon. Member approved this procedure. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the point?"] The point is that I do not know why the right hon. Member wrote such a misleading article for the "Sunday Pictorial."
§ Sir H. Williams
Everything, because the debate is based on the rise in the cost of living and the rise in the case of the engineers has been compensated for by 7s. 4d. a week. We often make speeches 834 based on newspaper articles, and sometimes the writer of an article in the Press is a right hon. Member. Here is this matter all mixed up with to-day's debate, with the risk of a grave dispute in the engineering industry misleading people in that industry in regard to the change in the cost of living since they last had an increase in pay.
I have never known a debate so badly opened as this debate. The second speaker from the Opposition supplied a great deal of out-of-date information or current information which was grossly misleading. I do not understand why the party opposite have raised this debate. They have never had a weaker case. It was obvious when the Minister was speaking that they were amazed at many of the things that were said. For the first time they were hearing the facts of life about the situation instead of the dreams that come into their minds when they get on to the platform and when next day they have to read the newspapers to find what they really said. I have taken five or six minutes longer than I intended because I was ceaselessly interrupted, but next time hon. Members want light literature for a Sunday afternoon they should read the article by the right hon. Member for Blyth.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) wonders why we on this side of the House have chosen food as the subject for our Amendment. I suggest to him and to hon. Members opposite that if we were having a General Election soon they would know why food was chosen for this debate today. It is because the rise in the cost in food is giving concern to the lower paid workers of this country, to the old and to sick people.
I am speaking on behalf of the ordinary housewife. I do my own shopping. I have looked up my order book for two years and can tell hon. Members opposite that it is now costing me 8s. to 10s. a week more for the ordinary food I buy from the Co-operative stores.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Surely the answer to the question of the hon. Lady is that the local Co-operative's dividend is looking so sick?
§ Mrs. Slater
The hon. Gentleman shows his ignorance, as he very often does, because the dividend does not enter into the amount which I pay week by week for my groceries.
It is on this question of food prices that the difference between the approach of the Tory Party to the welfare of the people of this country and the approach of the party on this side of the House is thrown strongly into relief. It has always been the policy of hon. Members on this side of the House to consider first of all the welfare of the vast majority, the 80 per cent. If we consider the debates which have taken place, even since I came to this House this year, we find it quite evident that the policy of many hon. Members opposite is to consider first the welfare of the 20 per cent. rather than that of the 80 per cent.
As I said, today I am speaking on behalf of the tens of thousands of housewives agitating in tens of thousands of back kitchens, as was referred to on Friday by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh). It is the ordinary consumer who is always in the front line to meet the attacks on consumers when they are made. At one time we had a great outcry from an organisation known as the Housewives' League. They are remarkably quiet now. Why? Because they were a political organisation who never really understood the real problems.
§ Sir H. Williams
Is the hon. Member aware that the Housewives' League was not a political organisation? It was started by a clergyman's wife in my constituency who voted against me in the 1945 Election.
§ Mrs. Slater
I have heard the hon. Member make that statement before. I suppose he would call the lady a sensible Tory.
One proof of the rise in the cost of food, not in the cost of living generally, is shown by the increasing demands being made for wage increases. They are being made because of the pressure brought on their husbands by the housewives by reason of the rise in their weekly budgets. If we want another reason—and this has been referred to before—let us remember that this year the number of school meals has gone down by something like 250,000. 836 Why? Because the extra cost of 2d. per day for the meal, which is really an added burden on the cost of the food in the home, is something which many housewives cannot face.
If we want further proof that the price of food is rising and causing real hardship, let us remember the cost to the old age pensioner, the widow and the person in receipt of sick pay. It is true we have been told, as we were told on Friday and as we have been reminded again today, that old age pensioners can apply for National Assistance. What they want is not supplementary benefits, but a pension which will meet the cost of living. To an old age pensioner the cost of living represents, in the main, the cost of food.
Lord Beveridge said only a few weeks ago that many old people were now living below the subsistence level, and that is a very serious statement to make. One widow in every four in this country is at present receiving National Assistance. Of the people receiving sickness benefit, one in every six receives National Assistance. In December, 1952, National Assistance was paid to 1,147,870 old age pensioners. In September of this year that figure had gone up to 1,191,839, an increase of almost 10 per cent. It means that every one of those people receiving National Assistance have, in effect, had a means test.
May I read the budget of an old age pensioner: rent, 10s. 8d. a week; 1 cwt. of coal, 6s. 2d.; electricity and gas, 5s.; bread and half a pint of milk per day, 3s. 1d.; a quarter of a pound of tea, 1s. 3d.; sugar, 4d.; butter, 11d.; margarine, 4½d.; cooking fat, 2½d.; bacon, 11½d.; meat, 2s. 3d.; potatoes, 3d.; flour 7d. That leaves just 5½d. for clothes and shoe repairs and all the other needs. Hon. Members opposite try to put up the case—an attempt has been made this afternoon—that very many more goods are in the shops and people can buy them. Sweets was mentioned as an example. But let us be realistic and consider how many old age pensioners can afford to pay for the extra commodities which are offered to them in the shops today.
We have been told that prices rose more steeply under the Labour Government, but let us look at the facts. When they came to power, the Labour Party had to face widespread devastation of food production, not only in Europe, but 837 in other parts of the world. Food factories had been taken out of commission. There was an exhaustion of food stocks. There was a rising population, rightly demanding their fair share of what was available. There was a time in pre-war days when many of these people could have been disciplined. Today they have learned that they have rights and they are demanding their rights. Lastly there was Korea, which caused a steep rise in world prices.
In the face of these difficulties the Labour Government protected the basic foods—that is the thing to remember—by subsidies and price controls. In that way they safeguarded the health and welfare of the majority of the people of this country. Today it is the Tory policy—as we have been told repeatedly during the last few days—to scrap all food subsidies and to take off price controls. Housewives know that when price controls are lifted almost inevitably prices go up. It is because we refused to pay the price for eggs that that price was brought down.
One would think that the Government of a party who claimed at the Election that they would mend the hole in our purses were really concerned about the welfare of the people, and that they would give to the people of this country the benefits of a reduction in world prices. All import prices fell by about 17 per cent. between January, 1952, and August, 1953, and food prices fell by about 5 per cent. But the Minister of Food told us today that food prices have been reduced by only 16 per cent. Was not it right to expect to receive the benefit of the 5 per cent. drop in prices on world markets?
I do not want to discuss the increases in prices of basic foods. Many were mentioned at the start of the debate. Tea is among the commodities which have increased in price. The chairman of Brooke Bond told us yesterday in the "Evening Standard" that the price of tea would have to be further increased, and yet that company increased their dividends from 30 per cent. to 35 per cent. only a few days ago. Tea, sugar, butter, bacon, cheese, margarine—all these foods have increased in price and all are foods which people cannot do without if they are to be healthy.
838 What has happened in other countries during this time? In Australia the increase has been 10 per cent.; in France it has been 3.5 per cent., and in Italy 8 per cent. In the United States of America there has been a decrease of 1 per cent. and in Canada a decrease of 9.4 per cent.
§ Mrs. Slater
These are the figures for 1952–53. That was when the prices went down. The figures up to July of this year show that prices have gone down in some of the countries at a very much quicker rate.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
The hon. Lady posed a question to the House—what has happened in other countries? Does she agree that in every other country rationing, price controls and subsidies have been removed?
§ Mrs. Slater
That has no bearing on the question we are discussing. We on this side have always said that when subsidies are removed prices go up. When rationing is abolished prices go up because the subsidies are removed.
The Minister said in October that price increases arising directly from Government policy of reducing subsidies to £220 million would mean an increase of 5d. in the price of bacon, 4d. in the price of meat, and 10d. in the price of butter and tea. These increases in the cost of basic foods have been imposed during a time when the Chancellor of the Exchequer has granted big reductions in Purchase Tax on luxury goods. The biggest reductions in Purchase Tax were on luxury commodities.
At the same time the Chancellor gave the biggest tax reliefs to the people who could best do without them. For a single worker earning £5 a week, a tax relief of 8½d. a week was granted. A man earning £1,000 a year was given a tax relief of 6s. a week, but a married man with three children earning £12 a week was granted a tax relief of 10d. a year.
It was a Tory Government which gave these reliefs to people who least needed them, at a time when prices of food for folks who most needed the basic foods were increasing. We are told that the subsidies benefited some who could afford to do without them. So did the tax reliefs. We are told that we have a greater choice in the shops and that the 839 women will like that. Let hon. Members opposite come to our meeting on Thursday afternoon—
§ Mrs. Slater
Let them come to the Grand Committee Room at 5 o'clock and hear whether the women who will be at that meeting would not prefer food at prices which they could afford rather than shops packed with tinned fruit and other commodities which they cannot afford to buy. It is nonsense to say that the old people and those in the lower income groups are not rationed by the purse. They are, and they will be, if prices continue to increase.
Let us keep our sense of values. For instance, we shall be told that there is available today a great variety of various types of cheese. But to the old age pensioner or to the ordinary housewife with two or three children that is small consolation. They cannot afford to buy cheese at 5s. a lb. To the person who can afford that price, does it matter whether rationed cheese has gone up by 1s.? He probably does not notice it. The choice of greater variety does not matter two hoots to most housewives.
We are told that, tins of fruit will be released during the next few days. They will cost 3s. or 4s. a tin. They would be a luxury even for Christmas tea for the old age pensioner. The slogan which it is evident the Tories will have at the next election is not that they will mend the hole in our purse but that it is nicer to have more in the shops. That just will not work on those folk who cannot afford to buy what is in the shops.
If this policy of increased prices is continued the burden on the ordinary housewife will be such that eventually the health of the people will be undermined. Figures from the Ministry of Food Bulletin show that the consumption of meat, cheese, milk, butter, potatoes, bread and cereals has gone down during the last two years. It is true that there have been increases in the consumption of fish, margarine and sugar, but the foods which really matter—the butter, milk and cheese—are being consumed in smaller quantities by most people compared with 1950. Inevitably that will affect the health of the people. We say to the Government that food 840 prices should be related to the needs of the majority of the people, people in the lower income groups and the old age pensioners, and that is why we have put down our Amendment.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
As I am the first hon. Member from Birmingham to take part in the debate on the Address since it was moved a week ago, I should like to begin by paying a brief tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Miss Pitt). Her triumph last Tuesday was no surprise to anyone who has been with her on a public platform, and I am sure that it was no surprise to hon. Members for Birmingham constituencies sitting on the other side of the House who have known her for many years.
The last time I heard the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) take part in a debate was when their celebrated "boxing match" took place at the end of May. We are very glad that they are now such good friends again and are co-operating in the debate today.
Hon. Members opposite are on very dangerous ground when they say that the Government's food policy has helped the wealthier section of the population more than the poorer section. During the last 10 months of the Socialist Government, between January and October, 1951, this country spent no less than £29,875,000 on imported tinned bacon and ham. With the exception of £1,500,000 worth, it all came from European countries whom we had to pay in gold, and it was retailed in the shops at about 12s. per lb. When the present Government took office, this was one of the very first imports they had to take off open general licence, and it is still subject to quota restriction.
During the first nine months of the current year we have spent only £10 million on tinned ham instead of £29¾ million. But we have, at the same time, very greatly increased our dollar expenditure this year on sugar, for we have bought an extra one million tons which has enabled us to deration sugar. I put it in all seriousness to the Opposition that the ordinary housewife would far rather we spent more of our reserves on sugar, 841 which is a commodity within the reach of everyone, rather than on canned ham at 12s. per lb. which only a section of the population can afford.
I believe that the present Government have a very good record over the cost of food and over the standard of living. Indeed, the only criticism I would make of my right hon. and hon. Friends is that we have not publicised this record as much as we should. A few weeks ago I was asked to write an article for the "Birmingham Mail." It was called "Two years of high achievement." I quoted all the figures I could find about the cost of living and the standard of living, and I have been very much interested to find that not a single letter has since appeared in the "Birmingham Mail" questioning any of the figures I gave. Anyone who reads the "Birmingham Mail" will know that that is very unusual in the case of controversial articles.
I propose to compare 1952 food prices with 1951 food prices and then to say something about 1953. I promise hon. Members opposite that I shall not shirk the question of the old age pensioners, which, I agree with the right hon. Lady, is an important one, and I shall not shirk the question of world prices and the terms of trade. However, to get the background right I must point out that since this Government came into power two years ago wages have risen by 12½ per cent. and prices by 8½ per cent., so that under the present Government real wages have risen. That was not the case during the last four years of the Socialist Administration, because between 1947 and 1951 wages rose by 20 per cent. and the cost of living by 27 per cent. When considering the cost of food it is important to get the background right, and to realise that real wages fell during the last four years of the Socialist Administration but have risen during the two years that the present Government have been in office.
I have looked up figures published by the Ministry of Labour, which were repeated in a pamphlet published at the time of the last General Election. One of the advantages of being a Parliamentary bachelor is that there is more room to keep past literature in a bachelor bed-sitting-room than there is in a double 842 bedroom, and sometimes that literature comes in very useful for making comparisons. Despite the cut in food subsidies, food prices did not rise during the first year of the present Government quite as steeply as they rose during the last year of the Socialist Government, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer reminded us on Friday. Between October, 1950, and October, 1951, food prices rose by 14½ per cent., whereas between October, 1951, and October, 1952, food prices rose only by 13½ per cent.
§ Sir E. Boyle
It may seem very stupid to the hon. Lady, but I cannot believe it will seem so stupid to people who are concerned with the price of food.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I remember that the hon. Lady had the pleasure of following me in the debate on the Address last year, I did not think that such a plain and simple statement of fact as I expressed would cause so much trouble.
The present Government also took far more energetic steps than did its predecessor to safeguard the standard of living of those who are most affected by rising prices of food. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) raised taxation in his Budget in 1951. It is true that he also raised National Assistance benefits, and he also raised some, though not all, old age pensions.
In 1952 the present Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a much wider range of reliefs. He reduced the tax burden on 14 million people and removed taxation altogether from two million people. He increased National Assistance benefits, 843 disablement benefits and war pensions, and he also restored all National Insurance benefits to the purchasing power which they commanded in 1948. I would say to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Shurmer), who interjected on this subject a little while ago, that it is true that contributions went up as well, but they went up by a considerably smaller fraction than the benefits did. The benefits went up by one-quarter, but the contributions went up by a smaller amount—I think one-ninth.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
Has the hon. Gentleman referred to the Oxford University monthly statistics during the last few months? Those statistics have shown that all people with under £500 a year, on the basis of the food subsidies, Income Tax and increased National Insurance contributions, were worse off as a result of that Budget and that all with more than £500 a year were better off.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I did read that article to which the hon. Member refers. I think he means the Oxford University Bulletin of Statistics, a red periodical which appears regularly. I do not want to make a cheap point of this, but hardly ever does on article appear in that Bulletin on any controversial subject without some other economist refuting it shortly afterwards in a later number. If the hon. Gentleman ever read that remarkable symposium in the Bulletin on the effects of putting up the Bank rate he will know how difficult it is to get two economists to agree upon anything. I really do not regard the hon. Member's point as decisive.
Old age pensioners have been very rightly referred to in the debate. As I have already pointed out, we were the party which raised all National Insurance benefits so that they returned to their 1948 purchasing power. I very much agree that it is unfortunate that the number of people on National Assistance is rising all the time, but do not let us forget that it is not a new development, as my right hon. Friend showed earlier today. At the very moment, in July, 1948, when the National Insurance Scheme came into force, the retirement pension was already 844 in effect 8s. below the subsistence minimum which was being administered by the National Assistance Board. Already, in July, 1948, National Insurance benefits were below the National Assistance minimum, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and the Minister of Health have pointed out in their pamphlet "Needs and Means." I quite agree that this is very regrettable, but it would be unfair to suggest that it only started under the present Administration.
§ Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the retirement pensions were not increased in July, 1948, but a considerable time before? They were brought forward in advance of the 1948 increases.
§ Sir E. Boyle
That does not contradict what I said. I am concerned only to point out that it is no new development for retirement pensions to be below the minimum subsistence figure. I thought it was implied that this had first happened under the present Government, but that would not be true.
Above all, it is extremely wrong for anyone on the other side to suggest, as at Margate, that we could ever work a scheme of making old age pensions slide up and down with the cost of living. I will give a reason for saying that, and I think hon. Gentlemen will have to agree that this is a fair reason. Suppose it were ever necessary again to devalue the £—and if hon. Gentlemen opposite were ever unfortunately returned to power again that might well be unavoidable—prices would certainly rise. Yet we can reap the benefits of a devaluation only if we make cuts at home so as to make room in our economy for increased exports.
In 1949, when the £ was devalued, so far from social benefits being raised, there was an immediate announcement by the Government of a large series of cuts, including cuts in education. Here, then, is a case in which it would be impossible for a rise in prices to be accompanied by an increase in pensions. I am sure that no responsible Chancellor of the Exchequer would ever think it possible to do such a thing. I have far too much respect for the right hon. Member for Leeds, South to think that he would ever increase pensions in that situation.
§ Sir E. Boyle
Agreeing to something in Opposition is rather different from actually doing it when you get back to office. Let me get on to the present year. Since October last year, prices have risen by 2½ per cent. Butter and margarine have gone up, sugar has gone up very slightly, and bacon has gone down. One does not hear very much about the fall in the price of bacon. It is also a fact that the amount of food we are consuming has gone up very much. During the first part of this year we ate 4 per cent. more food than in the previous year.
§ Sir E. Boyle
What I have said can be verified from the figures which have been published. They show an increase in consumption. I would point out one very interesting figure which was published in the recent "The Times Financial Review." The hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North referred to Co-operative societies. On page xix of "The Times Financial Review" she will see a table printed, showing that the value of the retailed sales of meat during the first nine months of 1953 at Co-operative stores alone was 30 per cent. up on 1952. [HON. MEMBERS: "Because the price is up."] That does not affect the argument. There has been no substantial increase in the price of meat during the last few months, while the value of sales in the last nine months in the Co-operative stores has been very much greater than in the corresponding months of the previous year.
§ Mrs. Slater
Is it not during that time that meat went up 4d. per lb., and therefore that the value in terms of price is bound to be higher?
§ Sir E. Boyle
The figure of 30 per cent. shows clearly that there has been a substantial increase in the amount of meat sold in Co-operative stores. On the other hand, the percentage increase for 1951 in the same column was minus 0.7 per cent. That is an indication of what has happened under the present Administration as compared with what happened under the Labour Administration.
I should like to call attention to one other fact, which is that the increase in 846 Co-operative sales of groceries and provisions is very much less this year than in the previous year. It is decidedly down. That suggests to me very strongly that people who have been able to obtain more meat have in consequence spent less on non-rationed substitutes. The clear evidence of this table is that people who buy from Co-operative stores have been at last able to spend a bigger proportion of their money on the things that they really want, rather than on the foodstuffs that they had to buy before, because they could not get what they wanted most.
I shall say one or two words about the terms of trade. It is true there has been a fall in world prices and a slight fall in the prices of some imported food. I would not deny that for a moment. As a matter of fact, a good many imported foodstuffs have gone up in price. We are paying more for Argentine meat than in 1951, and we are to pay more for Australian meat. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would point out those statistics at once if we were debating something different and it had suited them to do so. The figure which the hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North gave was completely vitiated by the fact that she did not allow for home-produced food, which has certainly not fallen in price.
When one considers all the figures, there is no doubt that, although world price of such things as copper has fallen, the world price of many important foodstuffs and their cost of procurement have not fallen during the last year. Furthermore, I do not agree with those who think that the improvement in our terms of trade is purely fortuitous. I do not want to go into this matter in detail, but I believe that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury is perfectly right when he says that a wise financial policy will strengthen a beneficial trend in our terms of trade just as an unwise financial policy will strengthen any adverse trend. I cannot agree therefore that the improvement in world prices, from our point of view, has simply been due to the good luck of the present Government.
I am sorry to have detained the House for so long, but I should like to end on this note. I was reading the "New Statesmen and Nation" as I usually do, last week, and I discovered these words:A Labour Government, coming to power in, say 1955, would have to spend most of its 847 time legislating in the face of a Tory filibuster, not to build a new society, but to create the very instruments of building, most of which in 1945 were inherited.I think that is perfectly true. I always thought that Socialism consisted very largely in perpetuating a war-time system of economic controls in peace-time. If by any mischance hon. Members opposite are ever returned to power, they will find it very much more difficult to re-build the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain on the basis of derationed sugar and unlimited sweets.
I am sure we are right in saying that we cannot be a prosperous country and at the same time continue indefinitely a war-time machinery of control. I am equally sure that we are right progressively to dismantle this machinery, for, unless we do, we shall not earn our essential imports in the markets of the world; and we shall jeopardise the standard of living of our people, and not least the section on whose behalf this Amendment has been so mistakenly put down.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)
I had the pleasure of following the hon. Member for Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) on the occasion of his maiden speech. Then, I had the pleasure of congratulating him, and I did so very sincerely. I only wish I could do the same again this afternoon.
When the hon. Gentleman says that we on this side are not suggesting that there should be a sliding scale for old age pensioners, that is perfectly true. But what we also say is that that is no excuse whatever for a Government who have demonstrated a complete lack of consideration for old age pensioners at any time to allow the cost of living to rise beyond their means. The speech of the hon. Member for Handsworth was very academic in the main, but mine will be taken from life. The hon. Gentleman is a bachelor, and I suggest to him with respect that marriage may be the only cure for such a speech as he delivered.
I challenge the Minister of Food on the statistics he gave in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) regarding the rise in the cost of food. In this respect, it is very conspicuous that the figures given 848 by the Minister are much less than those given by his economist friend the hon. Member for Handsworth. I challenge the fact that since April, in particular, the index of food prices has dropped by one per cent. How does the Minister reach that conclusion in view of certain price increases which have taken place since that time?
I support this Amendment in which I entirely believe, and I shall tell the Minister why. During the debate on the Gracious Speech many problems of major importance have been discussed. Matters concerning colonial development, international affairs, and the Commonwealth have been especially interesting to hon. Members on both sides of the House. But I think that if I were asked what is the most important question affecting the majority of the general public in this country at the present time I should say that it is the rising cost of food. I do not say the rising cost of living, because some sections of the cost of living are falling slightly.
If there is a fall in the price of commodities other than food, which are taken into consideration in making up the cost of food index figure, then, automatically, the index figure for food is not the same, and is higher than the difference between the two. The problem of the rising cost of living is something on which the Government stand condemned more than on any other problem which they have to face. All sections of the community with, seemingly, the exception of the Government themselves are concerned with the rising cost of food.
I was disappointed at the very short reply given by the Minister to my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West, when she accused the Government of completely omitting this matter from the Gracious Speech. The fact that it has been omitted from the Gracious Speech is sufficient to condemn the Government, because they are drawn from a political party which promised that, if returned to power, the price of food would not go up and that there would be no cuts in the food subsidies. I shall read to the House the actual words used by Lord Woolton in this regard. He said:In regard to the cost of living, when you return a Conservative Government you can rely on it "—849 and I emphasise those words—that the cost of your food will not go up. I promise you.But the promises of the noble Lord and of the Government are very much like pie crust. Lord Woolton went on to say:I promise you that you will have a greater choice, better variety, at no higher prices.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
Yes, he said that there would be no cut in subsidies. His exact words were:There is an Election story going about that the Conservatives would cut food subsidies. That is not true.In view of those two statements, it is not merely reprehensible that the Government should have omitted the matter from the Gracious Speech, but downright wicked. It is an insult to the people who are sincerely and genuinely concerned with the problem. The omission is a tacit confession of irresponsibility on the part of the Government. Do the Government really realise the seriousness of the problem or are they so isolated from the ordinary man and woman that they do not realise that the problem exists? Or is it that they are the only section of the public who do not care what happens to the price level of food?
Having listened to the Minister today, and having seen the smiles on the faces of his hon. Friends behind him, I can only come to the conclusion that they do not care. I say that advisedly and categorically, and I believe that, in the main, that is the opinion of most of the low wage earners in the country. Do the party opposite realise that when we as Members of Parliament go into our constituencies and attend public functions and meetings held in church institutes and by movements like the Women's Cooperative Guild, and even at the recent conference of Conservative women, the main subject agitating the minds of those present is the rising cost of living?
I grant it to the Minister that it is very hard to make a computation as to how far world prices have fallen, but I do not think that even he would be bold enough to say that they have not reduced considerably during the last two years. My rough estimate, from the figures of the World Food Organisation, is that the 850 reduction is in the region of 14 to 16 per cent. If I am right in that computation, then the great condemnation of, and the gravamen of our charge against the present Government is that our food prices, during the same time, have, on the confession of the Minister, risen 10½ per cent.—and on the computation of his hon. Friend behind him, almost 13 per cent.
I hope to show that that rise is slightly higher, and I am speaking, not from books or from index figures, but from actual accounts from people who have bought the goods. I will give some illustrations shortly. These facts demand, not merely acknowledgment of the problems in the Gracious Speech, but something more; if they are proved in this House tonight, they demand a radical change of policy on the part of the Government, in order to meet the needs of the poorest in the community.
I want to anticipate one or two replies that might be given tonight, and some which have been attempted by hon. Members, in support of the Minister today. One of the things that has been greatly stressed has been that the increase in the price of food, in these last few years under a Tory Government, has not been as fast or as great as it was during, say, the last two years of the Labour Government. That is the charge that has been made by the hon. Member for Hands-worth (Sir E. Boyle). But, whether he likes it or not, he cannot avoid the fact that from 1949 to 1951 world prices were advancing, but the increases under the present Government have taken place while world prices have been reducing. That is what the Government have to face.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I quite agree with the hon. Member if one begins with the Korean war, but one of the great mistakes was that his Administration let our stocks run down so much before that. If his Government had not run down the stocks so much before the Korean war the position would not have arisen.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
The person who has contradicted that statement is the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who devoted the money from the sale of stocks we had, to the benefit of the people of his class, in the shape of increased reliefs in Income Tax.
851 The Labour Government, at the time when world prices were advancing, built better than they knew. When we were in power we bought in bulk, under the Ministry of Food, and sometimes our retail prices were then cheaper than the world prices. In other words, at that time, our retail prices were cheaper than the world wholesale prices. If that is not commendable in a Government I do not know what is. And it should be remembered that we gave a guarantee to the distributors. We made it possible for the poorest members of the community to have their share of anything available. I question whether we are moving into a position where the present Government can say as much.
At a special meeting of the Manchester Grocers' Association, as reported in the "Grocer" this last month, the President of that Association—and he is not a Socialist—talking about the present Government's freeing of commodities, said:Now that we have got it I am not so sure that all of us want it.That is the situation in the wholesale and retail grocery trade throughout the length and breadth of the country. They themselves are very uncertain that this freeing of commodities, this cut in food subsidies, this deliberate policy of pricing up goods, is going to be an advantage to the whole distributive trade.
I do not wonder that the Minister will not say, or even imply that, because the interim index figure has been stable for a few months, prices will not now rise again. He would be a bold man in politics who tried to prophesy, but it would be an even bolder man who prophesied that no prices would advance in the near future. Even if the Government were prepared to make a statement of that kind, I do not think they could avoid price increases in the next few months, because the temporary halt in the index figure does not take into consideration the many factors that must inevitably result in increased prices.
The Minister talks about a 1½ per cent. increase in the cost of living, from January this year to the present time. I would mention that, apart from the increases that have taken place as a result of the cut in the subsidies on meat, butter, 852 milk, bacon, cheese, and so on, I have here a list of over 60 items that have increased in price since January of last year—and I do not get my figures from such academic papers as the "Economist." I have been to the grocers of the country, and, according to their lists of advances and reductions I have made this list of 60 items that have increased in price. They are not covered by the cut in food subsidies, nor are they primary foods, yet the Minister dares to come to this House and say that the cost of living, as it affects food, has advanced only 1½ per cent. These figures give the lie to that, so far as I am concerned.
I have here another document. It is an actual account, paid and stamped, a grocery bill of three weeks ago. There are 17 items on it. There is no meat, no bread, no luxuries of any description—just the mere necessities of life. There is bacon, buttter, self-raising flour, but no vegetables. The total is £2 4s. 7½d. I have taken the trouble to compare it with the corresponding week two years ago, when this Government came into power, and the difference in price, on this one list alone, is 6s. 8d., or 14 per cent.
But there is something much more important and significant than that. This list is for five people; roughly 9s. per head per week. If, for the bare necessities of life, without vegetables, bread, milk, or any luxuries, or any meat, it is costing 9s. a week, how can the old age pensioners manage on their present pension even if they do get a supplementary payment? Taking that list, it means that, out of 23s. 6d., they have to pay for coal, gas, electricity, insurance, repairs to boots and clothes, and other replacements both personal and in the home. I tell the Minister that, if he could do it, he gives the lie to the many old age pensioners who have been used to living on low incomes all their lives. He has to face the problem, from a practical point of view, that these people and all people in the low income groups find it impossible to deal with the situation.
During the weekend I was passing a shop when I met an old lady whom I knew. She lives on her own. She has to face the problem which I have just mentioned to the Minister. She had just come out of a boot repairers and was carrying a pair of shoes, which she had 853 been waiting for nine months to have repaired, and they had cost her 9s. 11d. How can she find 9s. to spend on primary foods, 9s. 11d. to spend on shoes, and something else with which to meet the day-to-day necessities of life? I asked her how she managed. She said, in her own Yorkshire fashion, "Nay lad, we shall have to manage on bread and jam."
While men and women with low incomes, who have done a good job for this country, are reduced to bread and jam, I say it is time that this Government awakened to their real responsibilities. Even though we talk of having eased the problems in our financial relationships abroad, we shall never solve our economic problems while people in the lower income groups have to live on jam and bread. The Minister is not in a position to assure this House that price increases have stopped.
Something has happened during the past week which ought to be mentioned in this House. Most hon. Members are aware that the Minister has informed margarine manufacturers that in six months' time margarine will be completely freed, and that after April next the manufacturers will be allowed to make their own branded commodity. I do not know who is to undertake the task of announcing to the public that the present margarine subsidy of nearly 3d. is to be removed. Neither the manufacturers nor the Minister want to do it. Margarine is now 1s. 6d. a lb.
The Minister cannot say that margarine will not rise to 1s. 9d. in the next six months. If branded lines are introduced—there are no new oils to help the manufacturers—it means that even if they restrict their margins as much as they can, as they are asked to do, after six months the price of margarine must rise to 2s. a lb.—a rise of 25 per cent., due entirely to the action of the Minister in freeing this vital commodity.
We know what has happened with eggs and national flour. During the week-end I asked the manager of a bakery how the new white loaf was selling, and he said, "It is not going at all, because it is priced out of the market." We know what happened to eggs. The egg importers are talking about sales resistance. There is no such thing as sales resistance. People do not gather together 854 in groups in order to resist price increases; the fact is that they have not got the money with which to buy. That is the simple explanation. I could go from eggs, margarine and bread, and refer to almost every commodity, and I could show that these matters have been mishandled, that there has been bad blundering and a great deal of irresponsibility on the part of the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary.
The only way that I know of assuring industrial peace, the only way whereby we can overcome this difficulty of rising prices, is to ensure that falling world prices reflect themselves in the level of retail prices in this country. The Government should face their responsibility and, even though they have to admit that they have made a great mistake, they can do no other than restore the prices of the primary foods by means of subsidy. The amount will have to depend upon the circumstances of the moment, but unless primary foods are subsidised in the very near future there is a danger of food prices rising higher and higher because many of the grocers will demand greater margins that they had in the past—and goodness knows, many of them deserve it.
In opening the door to a free market, the Minister has caused a draught that is paralysing the poorest in the community. That is unforgivable, and when the next Election comes round the public will show that they do not forget.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. A. Hudson (Hull, North)
I have an interest in this matter as a consumer, but I have also a further interest as a distributor of food, and I think I ought to make that interest quite clear so as not to transgress the custom of this House.
I do not want to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom) except to this extent. He claimed that he spoke as a married man, and the theme of his speech was taken from life. I can tell him that we are on common ground there because I am in exactly the same position, and my speech is taken very much from life.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) is not here at the moment, because he raised a 855 question which took us into the dim and distant past, and I was reminded that at one period in the inter-war years Danish bacon was selling at 6d. a lb.—a foolish and a most uneconomic price, but that raises two points to which I should like to refer. One, referred to by the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) is that it proved that abundant supply brought prices down. The second point is that referred to by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, namely, the action that was taken at that time by the Government to support and develop the pig breeding and bacon industry.
§ The question I should like to ask is this. Was that policy right, or would the hon. Gentleman have preferred British agriculture to suffer by the competition from that bacon at 6d. a lb.? Would he have taken the steps that were taken to support our industry?
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
I think my hon. Friend would have answered in this fashion. What he was concerned with mainly was that the support to the industry, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, came mainly from poor people in his area. He would have said that in Lancashire and in the North of England generally in those years the number of deaths of young people and adolescents, as compared with the average mortality rate for youngsters in the country as a whole, was such that in the North we lost 50,000 of those lives a year. That would have been my hon. Friend's answer.
§ Mr. Hudson
I was glad to give way to the hon. Member, but I do not think that that was the tenor of the argument of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North.
I do not want to rely too much upon the cost-of-living index or upon the figures for the price of food, which have been admirably stated by my right hon. and gallant Friend. In brief, they reveal quite clearly that the Government's policy has succeeded in putting a brake upon the rapidly mounting costs which prevailed before 1951, when we came to power. The figures show that at that time the situation was almost out of hand.
856 I well realise that this is a controversial matter, but I do not want to be controversial. I want to direct attention to a rather different line of thought. The figures themselves do not tell the whole story. There are other considerations, but I shall refer to them later. At the moment I want to discuss what is really happening and is likely to happen as a result of the greater freedom to trade which now obtains, and to show, in effect, how the housewife already benefits and is likely increasingly to do so.
As my first example I take the question of flour. In one form or another flour provides the staff of life. On 1st September flour control virtually ceased, and on that very morning, in some shops, the housewife could buy a whiter flour than she had been able to buy since 1940, at a lower price than she had paid, the day before, for National flour. I am not discussing the merits or demerits of white flour as compared with the darker National flour; I am simply stating the fact that decontrol, freedom for the millers, the impact of the world wheat market, and, above all, competition, brought a reduced price to the consumer, who could obtain a fine grade of flour—a grade costing more to produce—at a lower price than National flour.
§ The question of self-raising flour was referred to by the hon. Member for Brightside a few moments ago. I am sorry that the hon. Member has gone, because I wanted to put a question to him. This flour constitutes a most important article in the household cupboard. There has been a reduction in its price and the price is still falling. I suggest that that is a complete answer to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater), who suggested that when controls were removed prices immediately advanced. Here, in the case of a most important product, controls were removed and the price dropped the same morning.
§ I take another article of food—dried fruit. In this case control disappears on 1st December, and from that date importers, merchants and retailers will be able to operate with almost complete freedom, subject to licences in certain cases. What is happening now? Already the holders of stocks of some dried fruits are beginning to liquidate them as fast as they can, and they are doing so at a 857 price which is many shillings below the Ministry of Food price. I know that, because I am able to buy some of them for resale.
§ More important than this, importers are now getting offers of the most important of all dried fruits, namely, currants, at highly competitive prices. The Ministry of Food price for currants—the first-hand distributors' price for currants of all grades—is 88s. 3d. landed duty and carriage paid. That is the price irrespective of quality. Some are very good and some not so good. In other words, the price covers the average of all grades.
§ A few days ago I was offered, for arrival early in December, first-class, shade-dried Vostizza currants—almost the finest grade which can be bought—at 86s. per cwt. landed duty and carriage paid. I saw a shipping sample and they were good. This price is 2s. 3d. a cwt. below that of the Ministry of Food.
§ I am not holding the Minister responsible for this in any way, but just pointing to the fact that these top grade currants were being offered at a price 2s. 3d. per cwt. below the Ministry of Food price for average fruit. Moreover, they were offered shipped direct to the port of Hull, cutting out all rail charges, the possibility of delay, and the burden upon our railways, which is very great today. Other grades, almost as good, were offered at still less money, and good grades at even less again.
§ There you have the position. Holders of stocks of dried fruits are liquidating at prices far below those of the Ministry. Competitive offers of fruit of a very high standard are coming in again, at prices much below those which have prevailed in the Ministry. Prices may fluctuate, but they are down. Freedom of selection is restored. Housewives will have a better choice at lower prices. As the Minister has said, traders can again use their selective ability in order to provide the most suitable fruit for the customers whom they serve.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
As one who is very fond of a bit of currant cake, and raisins, too, I should like to ask the hon. Member a question. He is telling the House about the high quality of imported dried fruit which will be available on 1st December. Is he giving a guarantee that there will then be better 858 quality fruit, more of it, and at a lower price than the prevailing price?
§ Mr. Hudson
The hon. Member can take it as being no promise of anything of the kind. I am saying that there is a competitive offer, and, in the absence of market fluctuations, I think the hon. Member will be entirely satisfied in that particular connection. It may even be that prices will be lower still.
§ Mr. Hudson
This question of freer conditions has an aspect even wider than the one to which I have referred. It has a world-wide aspect. I want to refer briefly to a matter which, I think, will interest and, I hope, will please hon. Members on both sides of the House. On 22nd September, in "The Times," there appeared a report on the rice situation in the Far East. That may not seem of very great significance to us, but it is of very great significance to the teeming millions of the East, to whom rice is far more important even than wheat is to us, because we have a great many more alternatives from which to select.
I wish to read that report in "The Times," because I think that it will both interest and please the House. It is headed: "Asia growing more rice: 7 per cent. increase in a year." It reads:A 7 per cent. increase in rice production in 12 months is recorded in a favourable report of Asia's economic progress which is published in the quarterly bulletin of the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East. The report, which covers the year to the end of March last, says that the increase in rice production overtook the rate of population growth so that there was a net increase in the per capita supplies available to those people.Then it adds:One reason why rice was more plentiful was that larger areas were under cultivation as current prices make rice a more profitable crop than others.I beg hon. Members to take note of that most significant statement. What greater benefit could there be to mankind as a whole than this, that production of all staple foods should outrun the increase in world population?
I beg hon. Members to take note also, of the comment which accompanied the report, the comment to the effect that the reason for this high volume of rice production was that rice was the most profitable crop to produce. In other words, 859 the law of supply and demand was working, and working most effectively; and, no doubt, as a corollary to that, increased supplies will make prices recede, and those millions in the Far East will be better fed at lower prices.
So it is with the wider variety of foods to which I want now to refer, those goods which are bought by the housewives in addition to the rationed foods and other staple foods which serve to make up the cost-of-living index. What has been happening since 1951? Of course, it must be admitted that many of the prices have gone up; but not all. Only yesterday I was comparing the prices of many of these things today with those of two years ago, and I found that there had been quite a number of reductions in the prices of these semi-essential things like cereals, canned fruits and vegetables. All kinds of things were lower in price.
But what has been happening in the last three months? I looked up a list. I have a list of at least a dozen articles that have been substantially reduced in price in the last three months. Of that dozen at least seven were the protein foods of which the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerrkill) spoke with such emotion.
I suggest that here we have clear and conclusive proof, in the case of flour, in the case of dried fruits, in the case of many of these varied foods, that increased supplies, freedom to trade, do give the housewife a greater choice, bring prices down, because the trader is able to select. I believe that everything I have said is a complete vindication of the policy which the Government are pursuing.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I am sorry that attendance on the benches now is rather thin and that those whose arguments I was objecting to have gone. I noticed that when we were at the beginning of the debate the benches were very well full and that the handsome faces of the hon. Gentlemen opposite me were wreathed in bland smiles. Apparently they think they are doing well. All the figures trotted out to them would bear out that they are doing well. The ladies who supported them at the General Election are now having a very easy and a very comfortable time. It is not a case of having 860 six ration books before one gets a sirloin steak. It is just a case of having an extra £6 in money and one can get it.
It is now becoming so easy—for whom? Hon. Members opposite say "we: we are find it easy." But who are "we"? She who has a telephone and a large income. It is she who has not a telephone and who is below the £7 a week line who is having one terrible struggle. I addressed 2,000 of them on Friday afternoon in Glasgow—2,200 such women. It was the first time they had been able to get a demonstration on those lines for a long, long time. I am told there will be 3,000 whom I shall be addressing on Thursday afternoon in the Central Hall. If hon. Members opposite now heard the rumblings underneath that are going to turn them out of power their faces would not look so sweet and so smiley. They are telling themselves they have done marvellously. They have taken tea off the ration, sugar off the ration, eggs off the ration. They have.
§ Mrs. Mann
They who constantly taunted us that the war was over four years and we had not taken everything off the ration book; they who taunted us for not taking enough off the ration book when we took 90 items off in 1950. In 1950 we took 90 items off the ration book, five years after the war, and because this crowd have taken three items off eight years after the war they think they are entitled to a front seat in the Kingdom of Heaven for ever and ever, amen.
Yes, and we went about it differently. Housewives had to pay eight points for ½ lb. of biscuits; for a tin of salmon, 32 points; four points for 1 lb. of porridge a week; eight points for a jar of jam. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had 26 points to give up for a suit of clothing. Need I go over the whole 90? I still have to keep reminding them of it because that Press up there in the Gallery who pamper and shelter them will never acknowledge that we took 90 items off.
When we took them off we put on a ceiling price. We said 1s. 6d. for 1 lb. of jam, whereas hon. Members opposite have said. "We believe in competition, and we are sure that competition will 861 reduce prices." But it has gone quite the other way, as I intend to show in a minute. It has been competition upwards, and not competition downwards.
§ Mr. W. R. A. Hudson
Is the hon. Lady suggesting that the price of jam advanced to 1s. 6d. for 1 lb.?
§ Mrs. Mann
I was just illustrating that we had a ceiling price. I cannot just say how much jam was. It might have been at 1s. 4d. We allowed competition below our ceiling price. The hon. Gentleman may take that as a lesson. The argument that I objected to today and which has been trotted out so often must be countered. It goes like this: that between October, 1950, and October, 1951, the increase in the price of food under a Socialist Government was 14½ per cent. In 1952 the increase, due to the withdrawal of subsidies, was only 13½ per cent., and in 1953 the increase is only 2½ per cent. This is received with great cheers from every Member of the benches opposite. The Chancellor is so proud of it that he referred to it on Friday in somewhat different figures. I think that the laughter which followed such a stupid argument is reminiscent of Oliver Goldsmith's remarkAnd the loud laugh that spoke the vacant mind.Let us look into these arguments. In 1950 the Socialists raised the price of food by 14½ per cent. They got the sack for doing it. There was a nation-wide advertisement for new management, and the new managers went up and down the country telling the people that this rise was unjustified, that it was time for a change, and that they would get far more food at half the cost and in greater variety. May I quote Lord Woolton, "A greater choice and better variety at half the cost." Now they are taking credit and cheering their heads off for having increased it again by 13½ per cent. in 1952, and for having further increased it by 2½ per cent. in 1953. They are now talking about stabilising it ceiling high. Even then, the Minister will give no guarantee that prices will be stable when derationing takes place in the spring.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) asked the right hon. Gentleman point blank if he would stabilise prices; she asked him 862 what the price would be, and he absolutely refused to give any guarantee. May I give another example about the 13½ per cent. and the 2½ per cent.? I knew a man who was dissatisfied with his housekeeper because she was taking a great deal more to run the house. He advertised and interviewed quite a number of women, and he chose one who said that she would not increase his running expenses—she could manage far more satisfactorily than her predecessor—and she got the job. However, she, like this Tory Government, went on increasing his expenses and the next year she increased them still further. She got kicked down the stairs, just as hon. Members opposite are going to get kicked down the stairs when they go to the country.
The Minister had quite a number of quotations thrown at him today about how prices have risen because of decontrol. We have here on record, and he cannot deny it, that bread has increased by 24 per cent., flour, 36 per cent., beef, 26 per cent., mutton, 19 per cent., bacon, 51 per cent., milk, 8 per cent., butter, 20 per cent., margarine, 14 per cent., cooking fat, 13 per cent., cheese, 86 per cent., sugar, 17 per cent., biscuits, 15 per cent., tea, 16 per cent., and vegetables, 11 per cent., with further increases on cereals and tinned food. He said that the main causes of these increases in prices were the increased cost of procurement, processing and distribution. To excuse himself he is constantly reminding us that we can afford to pay so much on alcohol. He said in his broadcast:Let us not pretend we cannot afford it. A nation that spends so much on alcohol can certainly afford increased prices.Again, that is a stupid argument and shows the lack of any logic on the part of Members on the benches opposite. One might as well say that because there is so much spent on alcohol in the Smoke Room, those of us who have our meals in the Tea Room ought to have to pay more because we can afford to pay more. We are telling the man who, at the end of the day, has a pint of beer, that because there is so much spent on alcohol he can afford increased prices. Some hon. Members opposite know how to throw a dinner party and spend £80 on alcohol. Yes, I know of some who can do so.
863 Everyone in the House knows that it is not the cost of the food that makes up the bill but the cost of alcohol. Yet the Minister has the audacity to say to poor people who have never taken alcohol in their lives, who cannot afford even their meagre butter ration, "Because we are spending so much on alcohol, let us not pretend that we cannot afford this extra on food."
I do not want to speak too long. I am concerned with where this country is going, and I am concerned with the economic consequences of the policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Food. Here are the weekend papers, and here is one in which we are told that in the West of Scotland we have lost an order amounting to over £2½ million for locomotives to India. The North British Locomotive Works, of which we are all proud, have time and again captured the Indian market for locomotives, and here is what a newspaper says:From New Delhi there comes the news that India was to buy 400 locomotives worth £2,625,000. Three or four years ago this contract would certainly have come to Britain.Of course, three or four years ago we had Sir Stafford Cripps; three or four years ago we had a Government that could ask for a wage freeze because it was prepared to peg prices and could get a response. Today we have a Government that want a wage freeze but is letting prices shoot up through the roof to please their friends, the Housewives League and the "Daily Express," which tells us all to make a bonfire of controls. Hon. Members can now see where they are landing by following the "Daily Express" and making a bonfire of controls. They cannot ask the working classes to freeze wages when they pursue that policy. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite might as well resign and let the editor of the "Daily Express" run the country—such a wonderful leader.
This paper goes on to say:British tenders were not even considered, so high were the prices quoted, and the contract has gone to Germany, Japan and Austria. British builders have been shocked and puzzled by this news—puzzled because they know that their steel is still the cheapest in the world. Yet they have been undercut by a fantastic margin.864 What is the explanation? This is what the paper says:The explanation, while not conclusive, is that these companies have received either Government subsidy or financial assistance from other sources without the burden of heavy interest charges.That is how hon. Members opposite look after our industrialists. The food subsidies which were indirectly subsidies that would enable wages to be frozen have been taken away by the present Government.
The paper goes on to say:Basically, however, they believe that the trump card held by their foreign competitors is the ability to quote fixed prices.That surely is the essence of the matter. It goes on to say:India has still to place orders for a further 350 locomotives, but if the present wage claims are granted we can look for this work going abroad as well.Will the present wage claims be withdrawn? Are the Government doing anything other than shooting up prices? Can hon. Members opposite guarantee that by March prices will have stabilised? The Minister could not do so today. The Government have given no guarantee. I am quite certain that butter will run at around 4s. 8d. a lb. That is why the Government are in such a big hurry to feed the British public with margarine and pretty shoddy stuff it is. We have been living on this tallow fat called margarine for the last six years and we are getting pretty well fed up with it, yet if we are to have butter we shall have to pay anything between 4s. 8d. and 5s. a lb. for it.
During the Recess I was told by certain manufacturers that they did not know what to quote in January because they did not know what claims are waiting on them. In my constituency steel workers are tied to the cost of living. If the cost of living goes up their wages automatically go up. What do the Government expect engineers, railway-men, miners or shipbuilding workers to do when they see that the steel workers' wages are going up automatically? What do they expect of the great British spirit that won the war? Do they expect men to be lions abroad and lambs at home? They must expect a wage claim from the British workman who looks after his wife and family and deems his infants to come first.
865 The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that we must get costs down and our production up. The Chancellor does not know that the first cost in production—the production belt—is the belt round the waists of the workers and producers. The Ministry of Food have tightened that belt and they give us no guarantee that they will not tighten it further. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has apologised in his own constituency for taking away the food subsidy. He said,If I had not done that I should not have been able to do other things.What other things?
I have here an advertisement of mink coats which states:Thanks to Mr. Butler this Canadian range mink coal has been reduced to £1,450.The Chancellor has "other things to do." I know that I shall be told that the Chancellor has reduced Purchase Tax on household goods, for instance 1d. in the shilling on linoleum which one only buys every 10 years. The "Daily Telegraph" carries an advertisement in the personal column which states:You may have your choice of either an otter fur cape or a mink which, thanks to Mr. Butler, are now reduced to £245 and £175. respectively.My own Glasgow paper advertises one refrigerator model which has been reduced to £143 5s. 10d., and a Kelvinator which has been reduced to £132 13s. 5d. A £200 piano was reduced after the last Budget to £170. The Chancellor had "other things to do "—things vital to Britain and her economy. However nice these ladies may look in a mink coat, and I should like to see a working-class woman in a mink coat—
§ Mrs. Mann
No one can say that those things are part of the production line. If it was necessary for Labour to pursue the policy which they pursued between 1945 and 1950, if it was necessary for the right hon. Sir Stafford Cripps to make an unpopular demand on the workers and ask them to freeze wages whilst at the same time we pegged prices for them, those things are more than ever necessary today, because we are now in competition with many other countries and we have to face Germany and Japan. The right hon. and hon. Members opposite have 866 never faced up to this situation. The country will suffer the economic consequences of the policy of the Ministry of Food unless we have a General Election pretty quickly, after which the country undoubtedly will make the remarkable recovery that it made between 1945 and 1950.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mrs. Eveline Hill (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
I hope that the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) will forgive me if I do not follow her very closely, except to say, first, that I am a distributor of food and that the majority of people to whom I distribute are not in the least interested in mink coats. Whatever red herrings have been produced today to impress the electors with the allegation that under a Conservative Government prices have risen faster than they have risen in other countries, or that food prices have risen here and world prices have fallen, one must realise that many other countries, including countries that were over-run, have dispensed with rationing and with subsidies long before we have done.
§ Mrs. Hill
That is probably a good way of trading. What the housewife appreciates today is the fact that freedom of choice has been given by the Government. It has been said that there are good stocks in the shops but people are not able to buy them. But people are able to choose and go from shop to shop and woe betide the shop which puts up its prices. Naturally, the housewife looks for the best goods at the cheapest price. For many years she has been prohibited from giving her family the best but, thanks to the Government, that is not now the case.
§ Mr. Hobson
Does the hon. Lady realise that where that state of affairs exists, particularly in France and Italy, they are almost on the verge of a revolutionary situation?
§ Mrs. Hill
According to the newspapers the other day it was due to the "toughs."
It is conveniently forgotten by hon. Members opposite that quite substantial increases in prices should have taken 867 place before they left office in 1951. They went out before putting prices up and that was when they decided to limit the subsidies to £410 million, as the Minister of Food told us. We had to do so and that accounted for some of the increases which have taken place since we took office. For instance, meat and butter have had to be increased in price. We have had to pay more for them and, therefore, charge more to the consumer. When the Government have been responsible for reducing the subsidy they have seen to it that compensations were made to people who were having to pay higher prices. Those compensations included children's allowances, higher unemployment benefits, and sickness benefits and the Chancellor made some reductions in Income Tax.
We should all like to see food prices reduced, particularly, as the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) said this afternoon, the costs of protein foods. I agree with her that we eat far too much starch, but I should like to see the quantity of those protein foods increased. Yesterday, in the discussion on food production, the Government said it was their intention to encourage production and a steady flow of food to the consumers, and we can all be grateful for it. We need a higher protein content in food and I think the Government are going the right way to produce it.
When prices rise then, apart from the Minister of Food, there is considered to be a nigger in the woodpile. Producers think the wholesaler is getting the profit, while the wholesaler thinks the retailer is getting the profit and the consumer thinks all three are getting it. [An HON. MEMBER: "He is right."] I must say, as a trader, that in many spheres of retail trade today the margins of profit are very narrow. In fact, some think that we are shopkeepers but the shops are not keeping us.
In discussing food prices sometimes we do not look at other things which have a particular effect on the increased costs of food. For instance, the price of milk, compared with many years ago is very high, but there are many reasons for that. Its price could hardly be reduced while the costs of production, distribution and 868 all processes related to it are so much higher than they were years ago. Milk is transported long distances and at the farms and dairies we insist on high standards of hygiene in its production and handling. That is only right, but we cannot have all that and not add something to the price. That has to come from somewhere.
Another thing which affects the cost of food today are the higher charges made by nationalised industries. It cannot be gainsaid that they have a very material effect on the cost of production of food at many points. In the production, processing and manufacturing higher prices for coal, gas and electricity all have an effect on the ultimate price. One hears of subsidies, but, after all, subsidies have to come from somewhere and it is necessary to realise that we have not a bottomless purse from which to provide subsidies for so many different articles. We must realise that it is quite impossible to approach anything like the pre-war prices of foods. I am sure farmers and market gardeners would agree that very often in pre-war days they were ill-paid for their labours while we enjoyed cheap fruit, vegetables and meat.
Frequent reference is made to cost of living indices. It is interesting to note that under this Government earnings have outstripped the rise in the cost of living. What I say now will not be popular with the men folk. I often wonder whether the housewife has really received all the benefits which higher rates of earning, higher allowances and reductions in Income Tax are designed to give her and to compensate for some of the higher prices. I have asked many housewives about this and they have been quite surprised. They have said, "I had not thought of that, but I will go into it." While it may not be the view of everyone in this House, I think it is the view of very many people that the buying public is really the best controller of supplies and demands and if given a chance will control prices.
We are eating more foods, the foods that matter, as the Minister told us. If we are eating more of the food that matter—for which the right hon. Lady pleaded so earnestly this afternoon—we must be a reasonably well fed nation. If we are a reasonably well fed nation we can be reasonably satisfied with our standard of living. The transition from 869 this era of controls to an era of freedom is bound to present some difficulties. It would be amazing if it did not. But I think that time will prove that they will be smoothed away.
What we need at this moment is a consolidation of that stability which this Government have worked to achieve. That can only be brought about by the good will of all concerned; and while farmers, producers or traders cannot be expected to be benevolent societies no one section ought to make exaggerated profits. If they did they would upset the whole of the Government's efforts to provide freedom for the housewife and reasonable prices at which she can make her purchases.
We are a nation of traders, and I am sure that those to whom I have referred will respond to the obligations which are placed upon them in the Minister's efforts to free the food trade and in the nation's efforts to improve the standard of living and the possibilities of all income groups to buy exactly what they like.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)
The hon. Lady the Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill) said that she was a food trader, and I naturally understand her enthusiasm for the present Government. She will, I know, forgive me if I do not follow her in the points which she made.
One of the great advantages of sitting on these benches is that we can see the smiling face of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). I am sorry he is not here now. I do not blame him for that, because he is a very assiduous attender in the House. I feel that the beautiful smile on his face is symbolic of the mood and the myth which at present sustains the Tory Party, the myth that everybody is eating better because the Tory Party has saved the country from bankruptcy. That is completely untrue. The truth is that some people are eating better because the Tory Party has channelled into their larders and thence into their bellies the phenomenal good luck which this country has enjoyed in the past two years.
I shall say more about the good luck, but I admit straight away that any hon. Member opposite would be entitled to 870 say to me that it is the good player who deserves the luck, to which I should reply that the devil looks after his own. We might leave it at that. As to saving the country from bankruptcy, I would make a comparison to whose validity I think hon. Members opposite will in fairness assent. If a small trader is in danger of sliding down to bankruptcy, there are only two ways in which he can save himself. One is by making more, the other is by spending less, or a combination of both.
There is no other way of saving the small trader or any other fundamental way of saving the country from bankruptcy. Apply that to this country on the production side, since the party opposite has been in power. I do not want to make a false point, I know that production has been rising in the last two months, and we hope that it will rise still further. But during the two years term of office of this Government this country has produced less; no one on the other side of the House would contend otherwise.
What about consumption? On Friday we had the Chancellor confessing that we had consumed £400 million more. We are producing less and consuming more. How have the Government saved the country from bankruptcy in that way? The answer is that we are getting by on the basis of living on stocks and good luck. When addressing party meetings hon. Members always try to concentrate attention only on the balance of payments in 1951 and 1952, the last year of the Labour Government and the first year of the Conservative Government. From their point of view I do not blame them; I should probably do the same if I were in their position.
From the point of view of the balance of payments only, it looks shocking from the Labour point of view and good from the Tory Party point of view. But let us again consider the case of the small trader. One would not only look at cash in the bank from one year's end to another; but one would also look at stock in hand. If cash had gone down badly but stock in hand had more than proportionately risen, one would still say that he was perfectly all right and vice versa, if the cash position improved while the stock position had slumped, one would say that his position was worse.
871 In 1951, the balance of payments on current account was £440 million to the bad. In the same year the value of physical stocks and work in progress increased by £610 million—a net improvement of nearly £200 million in the last year of the Labour Government. That is not "going broke." By comparison, in 1952, the first Tory year, the balance on current account was £158 million to the good and stocks were run down by £123 million to the bad. So this myth that the Tory Party has saved the country from bankruptcy is completely untrue.
Where have we got the increase in consumption from? We have got it from the extraordinarily good luck that this year we can buy the same quantity of food and raw material as we bought in 1951 at £500 million less than we had to pay for it in that year.
The question I wish to ask is, what have we done with that good luck? Have we used £500 million worth of good luck to build up stocks which we might need for a rainy day? No. We have run down stocks. Have we used it to re-equip our industries? I wonder how many hon. Members have read the pamphlet "Rethinking our Future" by the "Observer," one of the best and most practicable guides to the future tasks which lie ahead of Britain? Here is job after job set out in this pamphlet which has to be done, not for the sake of getting the country on easy street but for the sake of saving this country from ruin this side of 1965.
Has any one of those jobs been started by this Government in this period of phenomenal good luck? Not one of them. Have we used our good luck to help our friends overseas? I shall come to that in a minute. No, we have not done anything with our good luck, except that we have eaten it.
Who has done that? We have had a certain amount of controversy about it and I do not want to make a false point when I speak, as I propose to do, of the richer and the poorer half of the community. I fully recognise that there are a certain number of manual workers, on good piece-work rates and doing some overtime, who may be among the richer half of the community; and a certain number of families, where there is a high ratio between the number of 872 wage earners and dependents, who may also be in the wealthier half of our people. On the other hand, I appreciate that a few people living on dividends may be among the poorer half. Subject to that, however, half of the community on the smaller incomes is eating less than when this Government came to power.
The reasons we say that are, first, because we talk to our constituents. One man tells me that he has given up drink and tobacco in order to go on eating the same amount of food. That might or might not be a good thing if everyone of us was making the same sort of sacrifice. Another man says that baked beans for tea has, for him, become a memory. A woman says she used to have four packets of cereals a week but that now it is only two, with perhaps another one later on in the week if she is lucky. Another man says, "My wife's jam pastries used to be famous down at the works. She cannot afford to make them any more." Another one says, "A piece of blue cheese used to be my idea of luxury, now and then. It is a long time since we have been able to have any." It is that kind of conversation which convinces us that the poorer half of the community are consuming less than before.
If we take wage rates and compare prices and rates to a base of 100 in October, 1951, and then see how they vary from then on, we find that the food prices are always out ahead of the wages. Then again, it may be surprising to many to know that in 1952 we actually consumed less food than in 1951. Re-valued at 1948 prices, so that we are comparing bulk with bulk, it was £2,420 million worth in 1951 and £2,412 million worth in 1952. The hon. Member for Kidderminster was smiling all over his face in 1952. He and his friends were not eating less then, but someone was.
In the first two quarters of 1953 the increase in the food consumption of this country was only 2½ per cent. I do not believe the hon. Member for Kidderminster was grinning over a mere 2½ percent. Taking all these things together, could we not come to an agreement that probably the poorer half of the community, at any rate, is not consuming anything more than before? In which case the whole of that £400 million of 873 increased consumption, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer admits, is going to the wealthier half of the community, even if we on this side are wrong in thinking that the poorer half have actually suffered a diminution.
Again, I do not want to make a false point, and I therefore admit that among the poorer half of the community, for reasons which escape me, there are a certain number who vote Tory. Against that there are a certain number among the wealthier half who, for reasons which I appreciate, vote Labour. But by and large the Tory voters are to be found among the wealthier half of the community, and therefore I assert and charge this Government that as near as any Government are capable of contriving it they have channelled the nation's unexpected good luck to feed the Tory voter—and I do not believe any Government could have done that job better than this Government.
At whose expense has this been done? May I draw the attention of the House to the citizens of Ceylon, who also happen to be fellow members of our Commonwealth? The trend in the terms of trade, which is £500 million in our favour, is disastrously against a country with an economy such as Ceylon, which exports raw materials. Their trading balance has been shattered, their budget thrown out of gear, they have been compelled to scrap food subsidies so that on 20th July rice, their staple food, went up in price from 12½ cents, per lb. to 35 cents, per lb., which has had the same catastrophic effect as if in this country the price of the 7d. leaf had gone up overnight to 1s. 9d. That is what the people of Ceylon have had to suffer. That is the other side of the penny in comparison with the good luck with which this Government are feeding their own supporters.
What are we doing to help them in Ceylon? Look at the latest report on the Colombo Plan. When that plan was brought out originally the idea was that it would be financed by £1,084 million by external aid and £1,030 million by internal resources. Roughly speaking, external aid and internal resources more or less balanced. What is the latest position? It is in the final communique issued by the Colombo Consultative Committee, meeting in Delhi from 13th to 17th October, 1953. They have accepted 874 a report which states that by far the larger part of the economic development programme in a country has to come from the resources of the country itself. In other words, the idea that we had in 1950 of helping people from outside on a fifty-fifty basis has gone by the board, and the resources with which we might have helped them have been consumed by the Tory voter.
I turn to another people in our Empire who are hungry at the present day, and they are the Kikuyu. I am not talking about the Mau Mau but about the Kikuyu who are fighting against the Mau Mau and whose confidence we must win if there is to be peace in that country. One of the great problems is that the people are hungry. They are land hungry. Where are we to get them land? Some say from the white highlands and some say not. But even if we should take some land from that source there is not enough land there to satisfy the need. The only hope is to irrigate new land for the Kikuyu under the Tana River scheme which will cost £50 million, and we should get no money back out of it. All that we should get would be the opportunity to feed these people better. Where are the resources to carry through that plan? The Tory voters have eaten them. That is what has happened under this Government.
The Government in this kind of way is making our people flabby and self-centred—self-centred individually because each considers his own advantage and self-centred as a nation because we put national advantage in front of the advantages of other people who are poorer than ourselves. This is done at the very moment when our nation and our people should be resolute, conscientious, disciplined and concerned as much for the needs of others as we are concerned for the needs of our own selves.
This policy pursued by the Government would be perfectly sound if there were any prospect of Britain walking out into economically easy times any time in the next quarter of a century, but I believe there is not. Maybe there will not be a war. We all hope not. But if there is not, it is not for us to lie back and enjoy peace. In order not to have a war we must wage peace. One of the fronts on which we must do that most resolutely 875 is the food front—our own food front and the food front of the whole world.
To meet the kind of challenge which is directed against us we shall need to have—I know this sounds sanctimonious but there is no other way of expressing it—something in the nature of a moral and spiritual revolution in our own country. There is no hon. Member opposite who would dare to say that that is untrue. We need it. How on earth do we get it on the basis of encouraging everybody to go out for his own self-interest and setting up that as the high ideal of government policy which everybody should support? We can never get it that way.
We can never get it unless we go out with some common cause to pursue, with the whole nation planned and organised to pursue it on the basis of fair shares for all. As a matter of fact, the Government do not really believe in the policy of everyone out for his own self-interest as a national policy. They believe in everyone out for his own self-interest as the motive and the philosophy which ought to inspire the business men, the traders, the managers and the directors and the chambers of trade and commerce up and down the land. But on another level they think that the responsible leaders of big trade unions should exercise a restraint over their rank and file for the sake of patriotically cooperating to see the country through this difficult time.
They cannot have it that way. They had better make up their minds which way they want it. If they want to have it on the basis of our nation co-operating for a common cause and waging peace on all fronts, including the food front, they ought to be pursuing a food policy which makes sense in relation to such aspirations.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior - Palmer (Worthing)
It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Baronet the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) in his fluent speeches. I cannot follow him in all the false points which he did not wish to make or in any of the false points which he made, but he knows as well as I do that in the autumn of 1951, when his 876 Government decided to go to the country, the nation was racing to bankruptcy at the rate of £800 million a year. He knows perfectly well that his Government had to face up to the devaluation of the £ again, and that is why they went to the country.
I agree with his remark about the Tana scheme. That is the solution to a problem in Kenya, and that type of scheme is the solution to similar problems in other parts of the world. Had his party spent on the Tana scheme the £30 million which they lost on the groundnuts scheme, I should have supported them.
We have heard, in some emotional speeches such as we always get from the Opposition, one or two things about the old age pensioners. I hope that hon. Members opposite, as well as other hon. Members, will not persist in the belief that National Assistance is some form of the old Poor Law.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
National Assistance exists to assist old age pensioners who have no other source of income. If they have no other source of income it is right and proper that they should go to National Assistance. Also, let us not forget that it was the present Government which raised the old age pension and the present Government which relieved two million people in the lower income groups from paying any Income Tax at all as one of the steps to offset the cutting of the food subsidies.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman must not run away with the idea that hon. Members on this side of the House have failed in their duty. They have told the old age pensioners who are, unfortunately, compelled by economic circumstances to go to National Assistance, that National Assistance is not the old Poor Law as we understood it in years gone by. There is evidence of this in the fact that since 1951 up to the end of the September quarter of this year more than 300,000 old age pensioners have had to seek assistance from the National Assistance Board.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
That is exactly the point that I was making. I was suggesting that National Assistance is part of the pensions scheme.
877 It was clear from the speech of the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill)—although she would not face up to it exactly—that the policy of the Labour Party, when they get back to power, is to return to controls and rationing. I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) will tell that to the 3,000 people in Glasgow to whom she is to speak next Thursday. I am sure they will not be pleased to hear it.
The Labour Party are also in favour of returning to the importation of cheap food which, in the past, has been the ruination of our agricultural and horticultural industries. I regret that there was no reference to horticulture in the Gracious Speech or in the debate yesterday, which I sat through in the hope that I might be allowed to deliver the speech which I am going to deliver now.
The subject of horticulture is very much tied up with the question of food. There is no doubt that the horticultural industry is still the Cinderella of the agricultural family. It is a better-looking sister, but it is nothing like so well cared for. The horticultural industry has a great effect on our food prices. Those in the industry will agree that, owing to the extreme fluctuations in the yield and perishable nature of their produce, they cannot expect the same safeguards as the farmers have in the way of guaranteed markets and prices; but we should not forget that the horticulturist is subject to the Agricultural Wages Act, although he has none of the assistance which the farmer gets from the Government.
Furthermore, the fall in feeding stuffs in the world, which affects the farmer favourably, does not in any way affect the horticulturist. His chief raw material is coal, the price of which has been steadily going up. We inherited a system of quotas and open general licences, and of suspension of those licences at times of peak production. These instruments were used for the protection of horticulturists, but they are cumbersome and unworkable. It is, for example, very difficult to assess whether a quota is likely to be exceeded or not. We have done a great deal in preventing quotas from being exceeded, but the system has not worked properly.
878 I am convinced that the ultimate solution of this problem is a system of sliding tariffs, which will coincide with periods of peak production. It is obviously not possible to implement this theory all in one fell swoop. It takes a certain time. In addition we have reciprocal agreements with foreign countries the breaking of which, as some hon. Gentlemen have suggested should be done, would have a disastrous effect upon our export trade. We have the commitments, which we all deplore, under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is to be congratulated on obtaining at Geneva a waiver, in order that we may impose tariffs on certain horticultural imports. I hope that the horticultural industry will note what has been done, but until these tariffs are introduced we must continue the system of open general licence. Our record in this matter has not been too bad over the last two years, contrary to what is written in some of the farming journals and is said on certain occasions.
Today has been a day of figures. I shall weary the House by quoting a few more, not in pounds, shillings and pence, because that measure is subject to fluctuations. I shall quote figures in absolute weight, showing the import of various horticultural products between 1951 and 1953. Apples are my first example, given in hundredweights. The imports were 3,490,000 cwt. in 1951, and 2,187,000 cwt. in 1953; cherries were 74,000 cwt. in 1951 and 29,000 cwt. in 1953; pears were 1,129,000 cwt. in 1951 and 989,857 cwt. in 1953. In the case of strawberries, the imports in 1951 were 43,182 cwt. and 21,500 cwt. in 1953.
Tomatoes are the only commodity which has not dropped appreciably in the period since this Government have been in office, for the reason that most of the tomatoes imported come from the Channel Islands, which are part of Great Britain. Therefore, the import quota did not affect the commodity at all. We might just as well impose a quota on Sussex tomatoes in order to give preference to the tomatoes of the West Country. Therefore, please do not let us get hot under the collar about these tomatoes. The chief tomato imports other than from 879 the Channel Islands is from the Canary Islands, and these tomatoes come in during the winter when our tomatoes are at a low level of production.
The other thing I must mention today is the question of for what period and what amount the open general licence was completely suspended for the import of horticultural goods at the time of our own peak production. A lot of nonsense is written about this matter, so I should like to have one or two facts placed on record before I sit down.
I want to quote beans first. Between 1st July and 30th September, none was allowed to be imported. Between 1st June and 1st July no carrots were allowed to be imported. Between 1st July and 15th November no cauliflowers or broccoli were imported, and no lettuce—that great controversial horticultural product—was allowed to be imported at all into this country between 1st May and 30th October.
Therefore, when horticulturists complain that they have to plough lettuces into the ground owing to lettuces being imported from abroad, I hope they will look at those figures. The answer to the lettuce problem is simply that it is a highly speculative crop, what one would call, in racing, a 100-6 chance. When it comes off, it pays handsome dividends, but, when it is a flop, it is a real flop. Horticulturists who grumble about the question of lettuces should remember that if they are not prepared to take a long shot, then they should not plant lettuces.
I suggest that those figures completely refute the accusations made against this Government that they have done nothing for the horticultural industry since they have been in power. Having said that, I would point out that there are market gardeners today who are feeling the pinch. They are not the large ones with a lot of capital behind them. It is very often the small man, the ex-Service man, who has sunk his pension and gratuity into a small market garden who has not the capital to tide him over the bad times.
I hope that my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench will do something with the Chancellor of the Exchequer about it. The banks are not playing with the small horticulturists in the way the Chancellor 880 wished them to do, and for that reason some of these small men are in a bad way. I hope that something can be done to assist them. If we look at countries like Holland and Denmark, where the horticultural industry is a flourishing one, we find that they have a system of a Land Bank from which money can be borrowed at rates of interest as low as 2 or 3 per cent. Thus the horticulturist is enabled to change over from, say, an open air crop to a glass crop if he so desires.
We have not done as much as we can do. I suggest that the small man should be assisted in the matter of the railway rates he has to pay for his return empties. That is another way in which he can be helped. We have improved tinplate supplies and increased the fruit content of jam. We have made packing materials easier and have taken sugar off the ration. All those things, which have happened only recently, should help the industry.
I regret that there was no word spoken on this subject from either side of the House in the debate yesterday. I hope that now that the Minister of Agriculture has solved the very knotty problem of the farmers and the butchers—which, I gather, he spent the whole summer trying to solve, not having taken a single day's holiday—perhaps after he has had a holiday he will turn his attention to the horticultural industry, which, after all, is one of our arms of defence. In war-time we need that industry very badly indeed. Should war come again and should we allow this industry to go down, we shall never get it on to its feet again.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
I was surprised to learn that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House was to wind up this debate. What is the matter with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food? Is that melodious voice to be hushed? At the last General Election he was one of the principal, indeed, he was the principal, propagandist for the Tory Party, although he disclaimed being a Tory. [An HON. MEMBER: "He has lost his script writer."] What is to happen to the hon. Gentleman? I am sorry that he is not present. The only word we have had from him, in an important debate on food prices 881 was a feeble interjection about eggs. And that is all. It is a very unflattering commentary on the assessment the Government have of the hon. Gentleman's capabilities. However, we must make the best of a bad job.
It is obvious, from what we have heard in the course of this debate, that hon. Members, and to some extent right hon. Gentlemen, are not in complete agreement on this subject of food prices. The hon. Lady the Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill), who addressed the House a few minutes ago, declared, in reply to an interjection, that she was in favour of rationing by price. That was a very interesting admission. It would be equally interesting if a representative Member of the Government made a similar declaration, or, if not, refuted what the hon. Lady said.
Then we had the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), who, incidentally, distinguished himself, earlier in the debate, by indulging in a running commentary on the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill). He was, as usual, and as is characteristic of him, indulging in sneers and in jeers all the while, but, when he came to speak, he endeavoured to prove to hon. Members, on both sides presumably, that no increase in food prices had taken place at all, and that all was well in this best of all possible and capitalistic Tory worlds.
But that is not the unanimous view on the Government side. For example, we had a speech delivered last month by the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby). He made a long speech, but I quote him briefly. He said:The housewife is dissatisfied, because, although world prices are falling, retail prices in this country continue to rise.That was a very interesting declaration.
He was, in a measure, supported only last night by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary, who, speaking in the Holborn and St. Pancras by-election, and referring to food prices and the cost of living, said that the Conservatives had steadied and stabilised them, although they will not be satisfied until they have reduced the cost of living. By that reckoning, according to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, prices are obviously too high. That is part of our case, substantiated by an hon. Member 882 on the back benches and a distinguished right hon. and learned Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite.
The intervention by the Leader of the House is, in a way, significant because it indicates that he regards this subject as one of considerable importance, which was also the view of the Minister. He said—I quote him accurately; I took down his words—"This is a matter of immense importance." I agree. So do we on this side of the House. But why was there no reference to this immensely important topic in the Address? If it is so important as to warrant that statement from the Minister and the intervention of the Leader of the House, then clearly, as it is regarded as a matter of substantial importance—of supreme importance, as we regard it on this side of the House—specific reference should have been made to it in the Queen's Speech.
There must be some reason why no such reference was made. I can only assume that it was' deliberate, and that the Government sought to conceal the fact that prices were rising or, at any rate, that they were not being reduced. Perhaps the Government had in mind that there are two by-elections pending and that the less said about food prices the better. Whichever was the reason, no reference was made to this matter.
The Minister made a number of remarkable statements in the course of his speech, and I want to reply to them. I shall show in a moment or two how remarkable they were. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, if he will forgive my saying so, is a master of evasion, and—I hope he will not regard this as offensive—occasionally he mixes it up with mild prevarication. By the way, I wonder what are the politics of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. Is he still a Liberal, or has he transferred himself body and soul to the Tory Party; if so, what is the transfer fee going to be? We have been told that the Ministry of Food is coming to an end, but there is a rumour that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman might take the place of the present Minister of Agriculture. That will not be received with enthusiasm by the farming community, because we have already had enough evasion about agriculture, as was demonstrated in yesterday's debate, and we do not want the right hon. and 883 gallant Gentleman to be allowed to pile it on.
The Minister said that we must strengthen the economy of the country. Of course we must, but there is an answer to that—not at the expense of those with low incomes. If this is the only way the economy of the country can be strengthened, in the long run the economy is weakened because a devastating blow will have been dealt at the social structure, and the whole economy of the country will be affected.
The Minister referred to the economic position of the country when the Tory Party came into power. This is the excuse that they are always making. We heard it from the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer); but then, I do not pay much attention to him. I merely say that in passing. All the same, this is the stock in trade of the Tory Party on the platform and in the course of our frequent debates, that when they came into power the country was on the verge of bankruptcy.
But there is never a word about the economic position of the country when the Labour Government came into office in 1945. The situation then was far worse than in 1950. I could quote from right hon. Gentlemen opposite—some of whom are now outside the House and some in another place—who commented on the adverse economic position that would follow the war. They were accurate in their assessment and in their forecast. The Labour Government had to face a far worse economic position than anything the Tories had to face in 1950. What are they squealing about? They are making this a pretext for their failure to redeem the pledges they made at the last Election.
The Minister said something even more remarkable. He said that he was unable to say what prices would be like next year. If that does not create a situation of uncertainty I do not know what does. We do not know where we shall be next year, neither does the Government. Nobody knows. Does that mean that food prices are going to rise or are going to fall? The Government cannot say. They can say nothing.
884 I ask this question: If they are unable to forecast what is to happen in respect of food prices or the cost of living next year, why did they make promises at the last Election? They said that prices would fall. I know that there have been several quotations on this subject, but for this purpose I think we had better use a quotation from a speech delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at North Berwick in October, 1951. We will leave Lord Woolton out of it for the time being. After all, he did not know what he was talking about anyhow, but we assume that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is, ordinarily, quite rational, knew what he was talking about. He said:In present circumstances, while we fight and strive to reduce the cost of living, we shall maintain the food subsidies.That was a quite definite statement and promise.
Both yesterday and on Friday—I want to refer particularly to yesterday, because I was not present on Friday, but was present yesterday and heard what he said—over and over again the Chancellor referred to the need for the Government to fulfil their obligations and redeem their pledges. He said that that was the constitutional thing for a Government to do. It is about time that this Government sought to redeem their pledges. They have failed to do so.
When the Minister of Food said, "I cannot tell you what will happen next year," it reminded me of what the Chancellor said yesterday when he was asked about marketing and what was to happen as the result. He said, "I do not know how it will work. We shall have to wait and see." What kind of a Government is it that does not know what is going to happen?
The Minister of Food makes great play of the fact, and I admit it is a fact—I am much more honest than some right hon. Gentlemen opposite and I am ready to make admissions when they are necessary—that during the period when the Labour Party were in office prices rose very sharply. Of course they did; for obvious reasons. As hon. Members opposite have said over and over again, there was scarcity during that period. Not only scarcity in this country but scarcity throughout the whole world, with great demands being made on stocks 885 everywhere throughout the world; and as a result there were shortages in this country.
How do I know? I take it out of the mouths of hon. Members opposite. Yesterday, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro)—I am sorry he is not present—who intervenes so frequently even when he is sitting down, said with great gusto and bravado:Tory abundance is replacing Socialist scarcity."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1953; Vol. 520, c. 576.]We then had scarcity. Does anybody pretend that the scarcity, the shortages, were due to any act on the part of the Labour Government? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Hon. Members opposite know that that is just nonsense, that the stuff was not there, that in France, in Belgium, and in many other countries, apart from certain commodities that were available to people who believed in rationing by the purse, who got things because they had the money to pay for them, there was scarcity. There was scarcity in almost every country in Europe, and there was scarcity in Asia and in many other parts of the world.
It is no use coming along and saying prices were rising steeply and sharply when Labour was in office and they have not risen as sharply since this Government came in. Besides, if it is admitted, as apparently it is, that there is now a Tory abundance, plenty of goods in the shops, plenty in the stores, plenty available that we can import out of surpluses and the like, if that be true, what about the law of supply and demand? Surely it is fair enough to ask about this bulwark of capitalist economics. If there is a shortage of any commodity the price is calculated to rise. If, on the other hand, there is abundance, Tory abundance, plenty of goods in the shops and everywhere else, then one would expect, according to this law of capitalist economics, that prices would fall.
Unfortunately, they are not falling. Why are they are not falling? Can the right hon. Gentleman illuminate the minds of hon. Members on this very vexed and thorny subject? Is he sufficiently acquainted with capitalist economics to enlighten us? Does he know why this law of supply and demand is not operating? Is it not because something has 886 gone wrong, that a mistake was made, in deliberately reducing subsidies at a time when the situation could not be adapted to shortages and world prices, and the changes that were about to take place? Is not that it? Is it not realised now that a fatal blunder was made in reducing subsidies at a time when that was done by the Government?
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman went on to say we must not rob the housewife of the elementary right to buy what and where she likes. Very good doctrine. Of course, we accept it. We believe in freedom just as much as hon. Members opposite, [interruption.] We, however, happen to believe in real freedom, not the kind of Tory freedom, pseudo freedom, they have been talking about for a very long time. It is not for a Liberal on the Treasury Bench to smile. After all, he has a different conception of freedom from his associates beside him, who are Tories.
We believe, of course, that the housewife has the elementary right to buy what and where she likes. But is she not also concerned about price? Of what avail is it to be able to buy what you like, to look in a shop window and admire what is there, to look through the doorway and see the white-coated shop assistants and all the goods stocked on the shelves, if there is nothing in one's purse?
Members of the Government know quite well that there is a struggle for existence, the struggle to make both ends meet, in the homes of the majority of the people at the present time, in the homes of the working class. There was in one of the newspapers recently—a newspaper devoted to the Tory Party and all its works—a reference to the serious economic position of what are called the professional classes—the lower paid civil servants, teachers, journalists and the like, who are finding it most difficult to make both ends meet. Everyone knows that is true. Hon. Members opposite know that they have people in their constituencies who are finding the situation very difficult at the present time.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It is very important that we should establish the facts. I ask the Leader of the House: would he be good enough to tell us whether prices have risen in the last 12 months or not? 887 I refer to food prices. If they have not risen at all, how does he account for the statement made by the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire and by the Home Secretary, and how does he account for the statement made in a new periodical, issued by the Conservative Central Office, which is called "Onward"?
I have to be very careful about this, because I find that there is an article in it by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). The title of the article is "Why I'm not a Tory," in which I demonstrated quite conclusively that it is a mistake on the part of any rational being to be associated with the Tory Party. Here they have an investigator, presumably a paid investigator, who probes into the cost of living. This is right out of the horse's mouth. In the course of this investigation, a lady was interrogated in the East End of London. She was asked about prices and shops, and she agreed that there was more in the shops. In particular, she said that there were more sweets in the shops, and that was a very good thing. She offered one to the interrogator. Then the interrogator blundered, and said, "How about food prices. Do you find the cost stops you buying the full ration?" Mrs. Wilson, who was being interviewed, said, "The prices are a bit high." [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] But, she says, "There is much more to buy."
Is it surprising that because there are now surpluses in some parts of the world as, for example, in the United States and, to some extent, in Canada, there is more to buy? The Government cannot take any credit because of these food surpluses in other parts of the world. How can they? In spite of the fact that there is more to buy this lady admitted that prices are high. There may be more things to buy, but if one cannot buy them what advantage is it? [Interruption.] Of course, it is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite who can afford to buy these things. What is more, I challenge them to deny that they were able to buy these things even when there were shortages. Let them deny that if they like.
One has only to examine the list of foodstuffs and the prices, the varying changes in prices since October, 1951, up to October, 1953, to see that there 888 have been price changes. There has been an upward trend. That cannot be disputed, but if the Government say that there have been no increase in the price level so far as foodstuffs are concerned—[HON. MEMBERS: "We never said so.]—if they do not say that, then they admit that prices have gone up. If prices have gone up then the Government have failed to redeem the pledges that they made to the electorate.
The Minister of Food goes even further. He made a speech at Buxton recently in which he referred to butter. He said:There is no reasonable prospect whatever within the foreseeable future of being able to buy much more butter than we are at present eating. This means that we must be ready for some increase in price if we decontrol butter.If we get rid of the control the price goes up. That is the case that we have made against the Government. They have allowed controls to fade away and, as a result, prices are free to rise to the detriment and disadvantage of a large number of consumers.
The right hon. Gentleman asked my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West, several questions. First, he wanted to know whether we, the Labour Party, when we formed a Government after the next Election—the latter is not what he said, but what I say to him—would restore the subsidy. The first reply to that is that the subsidy should never have been removed in the first place. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Hon. Members will have the answer all right. My answer is, and I said this both before and during the war, that subsidies are not inherently unsound.
After all is said and done, the Government have provided subsidies for the agricultural industry so they cannot be regarded as undesirable. It is a question of how subsidies are adapted to meet the exigencies of the national situation. For example, the subsidies that were in operation while Labour were in power, and those still in operation, are not altogether provided for the direct advantage of the recipient. They have an impact on the whole of the national economy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] If we have a subsidy which has the effect of restraining demands for increased wages that is surely an advantage to the national economy. It maintains produc- 889 tion at a high level, it encourages those who are producers and helps us to maintain our export position and, indeed, might help us to improve it.
So my answer is that if and when Labour come in as the Government and we find that the circumstances justify it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Obviously, if they do not justify it then it will not be done. What we say of the present Government is that they have reduced the subsidy without any justification whatever. The next question that we are asked is whether we would restore controls. I will give the answer right away. It is that if prices should rise it may be essential to restore controls, and why not?
I want to ask the Leader of the House two or three questions. First, what is he going to prove by his speech? Is he going to demonstrate that food prices have not risen? That is a fair question. Let him demonstrate that. Is he going to prove that persons with low incomes are better off, as the hon. Member for Croydon, East, said this afternoon and has just emphasised. Will he prove that pensioners are better off? The hon. Baronet endeavoured to prove that also. I want to know whether the Leader of the House supports him.
I want to know whether he is aware of the task with which the Labour Government were faced in 1945 and what he has to say about that. Did he regard it as an easy task and that there were no problems to deal with? I want to know whether the right hon. Gentleman really believes that there is no industrial unrest in the country at present because of the food prices position. I want to know whether he believes that prices will fall.
I want to ask him whether he says, as some of his hon. Friends have said in the course of debate, that the claims of old age pensioners are exaggerated. Does he believe that? If he does believe it he and his hon. Friends ought to go to the old age pensioners in their constituencies and say to them what they are saying in this House.
This is the close of the debate, not only on food prices but on the Address itself. The Government had a frightful hammering in the agricultural debate—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Before very long they will see the consequences of that debate and what they said yesterday in 890 the rural constituencies. We have had a demonstration during the debate on the Address of wide divergences of view on the other side of the House. What about the speeches about scuttling from the Canal Zone? Do the Government pay any attention to views expressed on that issue? What about the blunder over the diplomatic situation in Trieste?
As a matter of fact, during the debate on the Address, it has been clearly and amply demonstrated that the Government have been blundering all the way through. But the most lamentable matter of all is that which concerns, in varying degree, millions of people. To some it is a matter of inconvenience because they can afford to pay, but to many hundred thousands it is a distinct hardship which must be eliminated if we are to avoid the perils which arise from industrial unrest and may shake very harshly the whole of our national economy. The Government have demonstrated that they are no longer fit to govern and the sooner we have a General Election the better.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shin-well) was surprised that I should be winding up this debate, but I can assure him that it is nothing like the surprise we had that he should be winding up for the Opposition. During this Parliament previous debates on the Address have been wound up for the Opposition on the last day by the Leader of the Opposition. If he was unable to speak, most of my hon. Friends thought that perhaps the right hon. Member for Bradford, Central (Mr. Webb) would have taken the position as an ex-Minister of Food on what has been largely, today at any rate, a food debate.
I am quite sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary could have wound up the debate with all his fluency, eloquence, wit and knowledge, but I am equally sure that if he had done so the Opposition would have been furious at the breaking of all precedents by having the final speech on the Address made by a Parliamentary Under-Secretary. They would have complained, and rightly complained, because the tradition of this House has been that the final debate on the Address has always been rather in the nature of a vote of censure.
891 I would say that, as this is the first of what we know will be many Gracious Speeches from the Throne, it is an historic occasion in that it is the first time that it has been given by Her Majesty wearing her Crown. We hope that for many years she will do so, and that was why, in the words of the Speech, we had a reference to her forthcoming tour.
The debate began, may I remind the House, with the two excellent speeches of the mover and seconder of the Address and a great speech by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister; and, of course, the last day has been notable for the announcement of the forthcoming conference, which has really overshadowed the foreign affairs situation.
But what has been interesting, and I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, have observed it, is that although the standard of the speeches and the debate has been very high, what has really been lacking this year has been a sustained attack by the Opposition on Her Majesty's Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—not a sustained attack. Of course there has been the spasmodic speech naturally, but a great many speeches during what is known as the great inquest of the nation have covered every kind of topic. It has been a general ranging debate, and we certainly include in that the strange views of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Norman Smith) about finance and the strange views about agriculture of the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans).
We have debated foreign affairs, economic affairs, colonial affairs. We have had the far-reaching proposals of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government which certainly produced at any rate one very remarkable dictum—that any fool could build 300,000 houses. What we did not learn was what sort of a fool a man might not be who could not.
There was, however, one paragraph of the Speech to which not very much attention has been paid, though I think it is quite possible that as the years pass it may turn out to be one of the most important. It is certainly one which we were very happy to include. That was a reference to legislation dealing with four topics—the safety, health and welfare of 892 the miners, with benefits for further industrial diseases, with food and drugs, and with the restriction of night baking, a great pattern of reform, certainly well in line with Conservative aspirations and past policies.
I was particularly pleased that the hon. Members for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), Ince (Mr. T. Brown) and Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) welcomed the Government's intentions to introduce a Mines and Quarries Bill, which will be an important Measure of consolidation and reform of the legislation dealing with safety in mines.
§ Mr. T. Brown
I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but he ought to be reminded that no improvement in the mining Regulations has been introduced in this House since 1911.
§ Mr. Crookshank
Exactly. That is why I was saying I was welcoming it. I notice that there were six years of Labour Government in the intervening period.
We hope to introduce this Bill fairly soon, and if I may be allowed a personal reference, it will give me great satisfaction because it was on my recommendation that the Royal Commission on safety in mines under the late Lord Rockley was set up when I was Secretary for Mines, and it was reported to me just before the war. We had started work on it when the war intervened. So I look forward to the legislation on that subject.
We have today a specific Amendment, as the House will have realised by now, dealing with food prices. There is the complaint of no reference to or provision for dealing with the high cost of food, which is bearing so heavily on households with small incomes and particularly on old age pensioners. Well, since the war, so far as I can see, no Gracious Speech has referred to food prices, or mentioned old age pensioners either.
But I am not concerned with what happened under the previous Administration. In 1951 measures were outlined includingdrastic action to reduce the growing inflation … which, if unchecked, must cause a continuing rise in the cost of living.There was nothing about food prices in the way of an Amendment from the Opposition.
893 In 1952 the words were:My Government will persevere with measures to curb inflation …And in the Opposition Amendment last year there was reference to alleged "growing unemployment "—remember the million unemployed that were talked about—"short-time and increased cost of living." But nothing about food prices from the Opposition last year. This year—[Interruption.] I hope I may be able to develop my argument tonight. This year they are mentioned with special reference to old-age pensioners. This is in marked contrast to the action of hon. Members opposite when in office. It was only just before they left office that they did anything more for the old age pensioners than had been done in 1948; in spite of the great rise in the cost of living, and particularly in the cost of food. Even then, just before they left office, their plans and schemes did not cover all the old age pensioners, but only some of them.
Let us consider what happened to food prices during the six years this country had a Labour Government. During that time the average prices rise was 40 per cent. and the food prices rise was 60 per cent. That was while they were in office. [HON. MEMBERS: "Untrue."] Yes, it is true. Their last year, from October, 1950, to October, 1951, the all-items retail price index went up 12 per cent. and food went up by 14 per cent. That is the last year for which they were responsible, and it was just that sort of inflationary rise which we had to face when we took office—that was when references were made in what was then the King's Speech of that year—and we dealt with it.
What has happened since? In our first year prices continued to rise, and by June, 1952, the all-items index had gone up by 7 per cent., but food had gone up by 14 per cent., the same as it had done in the previous year.
§ Mr. Crookshank
I shall come to world prices in a minute, but I wish to develop this argument now.
Up to June, 1952, the price rise in all items was 7 per cent., very much less than 894 in the previous year, but in food it was the same. That covered a period when other things happened as well. One of the things was that we found that though right hon. Gentlemen opposite had reduced the food subsidies from £465 million in 1949 to £410 million and pegged them at that figure, they had put off what was the necessary consequence, raising food prices sufficiently to bring the whole subsidy below the ceiling.
The effect was that in our first months of office my right hon. Friend had to see a great rise in food prices in order to bring the ceiling to what it was statutorily—
§ Mr. Crookshank
It is no good saying, "Nonsense." These are the facts of the case. Of the 14 per cent. rise in food prices from the time we came into office until June, 1952, one-third was due to the cause I have given, of putting it right, and that was one of the various messes which we had to clear up.
Another event which happened during that period was that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government as a whole set about improving the lot of those who were at risk as a result of the policy of rising food prices—rising because of our having to fulfil the obligations which we found, plus the new policy. If we take the figures over the last two years applied to the generality of the population—I am not now speaking of the low wage earners—it is a fact that for every £1 of reduced subsidy there are now £2 of their own money left in people's pockets to spend as they like.
Not only that. What happened was that we at once set about to restore to the old age pensioners the purchasing power which they had been given in 1948, but which had dwindled away during the subsequent years of Labour administration. That was the first thing that we did.
I should like to take up a point made by the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), though it is only fair to say that while she was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food food prices rose by 21 per cent. The right hon. Lady made some play about the interim index. She read out the last item which detailed the various 895 miscellaneous and manufactured foods which came under it, but to anyone who was not really up in this matter one might have thought that that was a large proportion of the foods covered in the index. Of course, it is nothing of the sort. It is the miscellaneous group which, so to speak, mops up everything which is left.
Therefore, making fun about the canned beans, the table jellies and all the rest of it was quite irrelevant, because the grand total of that section is only some 50 points out of 400. It is only one-sixth, whereas the body-building foods about which the right hon. Lady was talking—and of which, according to the Food Survey, the take-up by old age pensioners is almost identical with the general take-up—cover about 150 points out of the 400. She was trying to build up a case on what represents at the most 50 points and ignoring the far greater figure.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The right hon. Gentleman says that the old age pensioners are taking up the same amount. Does he recall the recent inquiry of the Ministry of Health by Dr. Bransbury, which revealed that the old age pensioners—rather a large number of them—were taking only 1,000 calories as against 2,500 calories for the rest of the people?
§ Mr. Crookshank
I have not got the document, and I do not know when it was written. I do not know what period was covered. It is easy to make these accusations across the Floor of the House when one has not the full details. I dare say the inquiry was during the period for which the right hon. Lady was responsible.
In the second quarter of this year, according to the National Survey, in all the cases except a very small fraction represented by the difference between 29.2d. and 30d. in meat, which is not very much, the old age pensioners' take-up of rationed goods is slightly higher than the all-class average.
I turn from that to what has happened since June, 1952. I was pointing out that up till June, 1952, the figures had gone up at the same rate as before, for the reasons I have given, but since June, 1952, we have seen the whole economy steadied. That is why it is so mysterious to have this Amendment this year, because since 896 June, 1952, until now the rise in food prices over the whole period is only 2 per cent. compared with the 14 per cent. which we were speaking about just now. If the Opposition had put down an Amendment last year when there was a big rise prior to June they would have had a good debating point, but we should have countered it by referring to the reliefs that we had given to the old-age pensioners and to the need of keeping within the ceiling. But this year that is not the case at all, and it is a strange Amendment to appear on the Order Paper.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about what we said at the General Election and all the rest of it. What the Prime Minister said at the General Election was that we made no promises of easier conditions in the immediate future. That covered the period of which I am speaking. But we also said that we would take steps to enable us to control, and then we were determined to reduce, the cost of living for all. The first thing was to control it and steady it, and that is exactly what has happened, for we have achieved stability.
We hope that the cost of living may go down. As everybody knows, these matters are not entirely in the hands of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, but between June, 1952, and now all items in the index have risen by 1½ per cent. and food by 2 per cent., which represents 5d. in the £. In the last year of the Labour Government food prices rose by 14 per cent., which is 3s. in the £. Who are these people to put down a vote of censure when, in the last year when they were in office, they saw a price rise in food eight times as great as there has been during the last 15 months under this Government?
Something was said about meat and the difficulty people have in buying it now. I have a quotation here which will interest the House. It is from "The Times" of Wednesday last, 4th November. It says:In a case at Lambeth Court yesterday the proprietor of a fish and chip shop said that people did not want fish and chips any more. The Magistrate (Mr. Geoffrey Rose) asked: 'What do they eat instead then?' The proprietor replied: 'Meat, and I'm selling out and going back to butchering.'897 The right hon. Gentleman gave some very equivocal answers just now to questions asked by my right hon. and gallant Friend. Do the Labour Party mean to continue to pay consumer subsidies if food is unrationed and unlimited quantities are consumed? Even in times of rationing, in 1949, Sir Stafford Cripps was saying that it just could not go on. In times when there was no rationing the gap would be tremendous. We should like to know the answer of the Labour Party. If we were to return to the 1951 level of prices, as suggested in another Motion on the Order Paper, which has nothing to do with the Address but which is cognate to the topic, it would require between £500 million and £600 million in addition to the present subsidies.
§ Mr. Crookshank
Yes, between £500 million and £600 million in addition to the present subsidies would amount to that figure. Would the Opposition do that? How would these colossal sums be found. Let them take their choice. Either they can say they will increase taxation, say 3s. in the £ on the Income Tax, double the Purchase Tax, double this and double that or cut down defence, or they could say that they would refuse to pay any higher prices to our farmers or foreign exporters, and end up in chaos.
We know what to expect about old age pensions, because the right hon. Lady said today in her speech that the Margate resolution would be the policy of the Labour Government. No one cheered that at all, except the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer), who cheers everything, including me. That policy, and what the right hon. Lady spoke about at Margate, is in "Challenge to Britain." It says that insurance benefits will be related to the cost of living and that annual provision will be made. The Margate resolution asks for an immediate increase in benefit. This, as I understand it, means that as food prices or the cost of living, or whatever it may be, rise, so there will be a system of automatic increase in benefits. If it does not mean that, it does not make any sense at all. If it means that, I must remind the party opposite of what they did and said when they were in office.
The right hon. Gentleman who nowadays talks about colonial affairs was then 898 the Minister for National Insurance. This point was raised in debate on 6th February, 1946, of a rise in benefits with a rise in costs, especially of food. The right hon. Gentleman replied:We have given the most careful consideration to this question, which is vital and fundamental to the scheme. We are definitely of the view that it is undesirable, as well as impracticable, to have automatic adjustment. This method of pegging benefits to a specific cost of living and adjusting them automatically was tried at the end of the last war in war pensions, and broke down the first time it came to be applied. We are convinced, after examination, that it will break down again."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 1741.]When in office, with all the experience, all the advice and all the knowledge of what happened before, that was the view taken by the right hon. Gentleman. Are we to expect that all that is changed and that all the experience of the right hon. Gentleman has gone? I shall be surprised if in the years to come we hear very much more about that matter.
There is the alleged point that the poor people in this country cannot afford to buy the food that is here. The Food Survey does not show that. That Food Survey was invented by right hon. Gentlemen opposite and so we are entitled to accept its findings. The fact remains that as a nation we are eating a great deal more food. In the first half of this year 4 per cent. more food was eaten than in the year before. In the first 10 months of this year to bring the matter absolutely right up to date, we ate 35 per cent. more carcase meat or, in figures, 400,000 tons, and in bacon and ham 32 per cent. more, or 115,000 tons. Is it suggested that only wealthy people are eating that increase. [HON. GENTLEMEN: "Yes."] If that is the suggestion, quite apart from the question of sweets, which has already been mentioned, it turns out that among the wealthier people with an income of £2,000 a year, every single family is eating 1 cwt. more meat per week, which is absurd.
I now come to world prices. We hear a lot about the fall in world prices. It is quite true that copper, lead, zinc, jute, sisal and a heap of other raw materials have dropped in price, but we do not eat them. Food prices, on the other hand, have dropped by only a very small amount. The drop in the price of food imports has been something like 5 per 899 cent., and more than half of that is in feedingstuffs, and we ordinary humans do not eat them either.
The fact is that the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman, the right hon. Lady and others keep bringing up in this House boil down, if I may use that word, to the ridiculous phrase, the catch phrase, "rationing by the purse." It is not a sensible phrase because everything is rationed by the purse. The right hon. Lady's dress is rationed by the purse; the right hon. Gentleman's clothes are rationed by the purse; the right hon. Gentleman's tobacco is also rationed by the purse. I will not look in the direction of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) when I say that the consumption of beer is rationed by the purse.
§ Mr. Crookshank
The hon. Member does not ration himself on beer by the purse; he rations himself by conscience. Under a system in which money enters into all transactions, rationing by the purse is inevitable, and has been all down the years since the time of barter. Before then presumably the method of rationing was to hit the other fellow over the head with a club and make off with his stuff. It is a ridiculous phrase which hon. Members ought to know better than to use.
We are about to vote on this Amendment. Of course, it is very interesting, in
§ view of the final words of the right hon. Gentleman, that certain words have been omitted on this occasion. It is usual on the Amendment to the Gracious Speech for Oppositions to use words, whatever the topic has been, to the effect "That this House has no confidence in your Majesty's advisers." Those words are not here today.
§ Therefore, I say that by submitting no such conclusion to their Amendment, the Opposition admit either that the Government are doing very well and should be supported by everyone, including themselves, or else that they as an Opposition—and they can take the choice of which it is—are unable, unwilling or unfit to take over because they are not prepared to put the matter to the test.
§ As I say, we have had a long debate, and we now shall proceed to a Division. But the electors will note that the Opposition have not thought fit tonight to make a direct challenge to the country. We for our part will remain, owing to the very absence of this challenge, all the more encouraged in our work. We will continue to do our duty by every section of the community, and not least by the households with small incomes and the old age pensioners. Tonight we shall defeat this unreal Amendment founded on a false premise and leading to no logical conclusions.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes. 278; Noes, 301.903
|Division No. 2.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Davies, Harold (Leek)|
|Adams, Richard||Broughton, Or. A. D. D.||de Freitas, Geoffrey|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Deer, G.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Delargy H. J.|
|Anderson, Alexander (Motherwell)||Burke, W. A.||Dodds, N. N.|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Burton, Miss F. E.||Donnelly, D. L.|
|Attlee Rt. Hon. C. R.||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Driberg, T. E. N.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Callaghan, L. J.||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Carmichael, J.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Baird, J.||Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Edelman, M.|
|Balfour, A.||Champion, A. J.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Chapman, W. D.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)|
|Bartley, P.||Chetwynd, G. R.||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Clunie, J.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)|
|Bence, C. R.||Coldrick, W.||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)|
|Benn, Hon. Wedgwood||Collick, P. H.||Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)|
|Benson, G.||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Fernyhough, E.|
|Beswick, F.||Cove, W. G.||Fienburgh, W|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Craddock, George (Bradford S.)||Finch, H. J.|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Crosland, C. A. R.||Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)|
|Blackburn, F.||Crossman, R. H. S.||Follick, M.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Cullen, Mrs. A.||Foot, M. M.|
|Bryton, W. R.||Daines, P.||Forman, J. C.|
|Bottomley, Rt.3 Hon. A. G.||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)|
|Bowles, F. G.||Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Freeman, John (Watford)|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Freeman, Peter (Newport)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N|
|Gibson, C. W.||McLeavy, F.||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)|
|Glanville, James||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Gooch, E. G||McNeill, Rt. Hon. H.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||Mainwaring, W. H.||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Wakefield)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Slater, J. (Durham, Sedgefield)|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Grey, C. F.||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Manuel, A. C.||Snow, J. W.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Mason, Roy||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Grimond, J.||Mellish, R. J.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Hale, Leslie||Messer, Sir F.||Steele, T.|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Clenvil (Colne Valley)||Mikardo, Ian||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)||Mitchison, G. R.||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R.|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Monslow, W.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Hannan, W.||Moody, A. S.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Hardy, E. A.||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.||Stross, Dr. Barnett|
|Hargreaves, A.||Morley, R.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E|
|Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.)||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Swingler, S. T.|
|Hastings, S.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Hayman, F. H.||Mort, D. L.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Healey, Denis (Leeds S. E.)||Moyle, A.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis)||Mulley, F. W.||Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Murray, J. D||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Hewitson, Capt. M.||Nally, W.||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Hobson, C. R.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Holman, P.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Holmes, Horace (Hamsworth)||O'Brien, T.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Houghton, Douglas||Oldfield, W. H.||Thornton, E|
|Hoy, J. H.||Oliver, G. H.||Timmons, J|
|Hubbard, T. F.||Orbach, M.||Tomney, F.|
|Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Oswald, T.||Turner-Samuels, M|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Padley, W. E.||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lyn. [...]|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Paget, R. T||Usborne, H. C|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Viant, S. P.|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Wade, D. W.|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Palmer, A. M. F.||Wallace, H. W|
|Irvine, W. J (Wood Green)||Pannell, Charles||Warbey, W. N.|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A||Pargiter, G. A.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Janner, B.||Parker, J.||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C)|
|Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Paton, J.||Weitzman, D.|
|Jeger, George (Goole)||Peart, T. F.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Johnson, James (Rugby)||Popplewell, E.||West, D. G.|
|Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Porter, G.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John|
|Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S)||Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton)||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Proctor, W. T.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Pryde, D. J.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Keenan, W.||Pursey, Cmdr. H||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Kenyon, C.||Reeves, J.||Wigg, George|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W||Reid, Thomas (Swindon)||Wilcock, Group Capt. C A B|
|King, Dr. H. M.||Reid, William (Camlachie)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Kinlay, J.||Rhodes, H.||Willey, F. T.|
|Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Richards, R.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)|
|Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Williams, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Don V'll'y)|
|Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Lewis, Arthur||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Lindgren, G. S.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)|
|Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Ross, William||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Logan, D. G.||Royle, C.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|MacColl, J. E.||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley||Wyatt, W. L.|
|McGhee, H. G.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Younger, Rt. Hon K|
|McGovern, J.||Short, E. W.|
|Mclnnes, J.||Shurmer, P. L. E.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|McKay, John (Wallsend)||Mr. Bowden and Mr. Pearson.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Baxter, A. B.||Braine, B. R.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Beach, Maj. Hicks||Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N. W)|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Bromley-Davenport Lt.-Col. W H|
|Amory, Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Brooman-White, R. C.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Browne, Jack (Govan)|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Bennett, William (Woodside)||Bullard, D. G.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Bullus, Wing Commander E. E|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Birch, Nigel||Burden, F. F. A.|
|Baker, P. A. D.||Bishop, F. P.||Butcher, Sir Herbert|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Black, C. W.||Butler, Rt Hon. R. A. (Saffron Walden)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Boothby, Sir R. J. G.||Campbell, Sir David|
|Banks, Col. C.||Bossom, Sir A. C.||Carr, Robert|
|Barber, Anthony||Boyd-Carpenter, J. A||Gary, Sir Robert|
|Barlow, Sir John||Boyle, Sir Edward||Channon, H.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Sir Winston||Hulbert, Wing Cdr. N. J.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Hurd, A. R.||Peyton, J. W. W.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)||Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)||Pickthorn, K. W. M|
|Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. L.||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh, W)||Pilkington, Capt. R. A|
|Cole, Norman||Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Colegate, W. A.||Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Cooper, Son. Ldr. Albert||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Jennings, R.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Profumo, J. D.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Crouch, R. F.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W||Redmayne, M|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Kaberry, D.||Remnant, Hon. P|
|Crowder, Petre (Rulslip—Northwood)||Keeling, Sir Edward||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Kerr, H. W.||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Lambert, Hon. G||Robertson, Sir David|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||Lambton, Viscount||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D||Lancaster, Col. C. G||Robson-Brown, W.|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA||Langford-Holt, J. A||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Donner, Sir P. W.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Leather, E. H. C.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonaro|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Russell, R. S.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T (Richmond)||Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A T||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Lindsay, Martin||Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas|
|Duthie, W. S.||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir D. M.||Llewellyn, D. T.||Scott, R. Donald|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R|
|Erroll, F. J.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Shepherd, William|
|Fell, A.||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Finlay, Graeme||Longden, Gilbert||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Low, A. R. W.||Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)|
|Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Fletcher, Sir Walter (Bury)||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Snadden, W. McN|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Ford, Mrs. Patricia||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Spearman, A C M|
|Fort, R.||McAdden, S. J.||Speir, R. M|
|Foster, John||McCallum, Major D.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S||Stevens, G. P.|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Stewart, Henderson (Fife. E.)|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||McKibbin, A. J.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Gammans, L. D||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Storey, S.|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd||Macleod. Rt. Hon. lain (Enfield, W.)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Godber, J. B.||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)||Studholme, H. G.|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Summers, G. S.|
|Gough, C. F. H||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Gower, H. R.||Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)||Teeling, W.|
|Gridley, Sir Arnold||Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Marples, A. E.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Harden, J. R. E||Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Hare, Hon. J. H.||Maude, Angus||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter (Monmouth)|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Maudling, R.||Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C N|
|Harris, Reader (Heston)||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C||Tilney, John|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Medlicott, Brig. F.||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||Mellor, Sir John||Turner, H. F. L|
|Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Molson, A. H. E.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Monckton, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Hay, John||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir Thomas||Vaughan-Morgan, J K|
|Head, Rt. Hon. A. H||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Vosper, D. F.|
|Heald, Sir Lionel||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, H.)|
|Heath, Edward||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Wakefield Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)|
|Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Neave, A. M. S.||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Higgs, J. M. C.||Nicholls, Harmar||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Nield, Basil (Chester)||Watkinson, H. A|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||Noble, Cmdr, A. H. P||Wellwood, W.|
|Holland-Martin, C. J.||Nugent, G. R. H.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
|Hollis, M. C.||Nutting, Anthony||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Holmes, Sir Stanley (Harwich)||Oakshott, H. D||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Hope, Lord John||Odey, G. W.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry||O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Williams, R Dudley (Exeter)|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.||Wills, G.|
|Horobin, I. M.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Wood, Hon R|
|Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)||York, C.|
|Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Osborne, C.|
|Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Peake, Rt. Hon. O||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hudson, W R. A. (Hull, N.)||Perkins, W R. D||Mr. Buchan-Hepburn and|
|Sir Cedric Drewe.|
Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Mr. Shurmer
On a point of order. Is it in order, Sir, for an hon. Member to throw an egg across the Floor of the House? The egg is now cracked and broken in the centre of the Floor. Should not the hon. Member concerned be made to pick it up?
§ Mr. Speaker
It is quite out of order in this Chamber—which differs from some other Assemblies—to throw eggs. I hope that whoever is responsible for that will see that it is put right.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
In view of what you have said, Mr. Speaker, in acceptance of my hon. Friend's point, would it not be right for the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) to rise and give his explanation, or express his apology to the House?
§ Sir H. Williams
An hon. Member opposite brought this egg into the Chamber as an exhibit many hours ago. It was handed to me by somebody. I did not realise that it was a real egg. I thought it was a crock egg, and I was passing it back across the Chamber.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.