HL Deb 22 January 1947 vol 145 cc60-104

3.30 p.m.

LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY rose to call attention to the food situation; and to move for Papers: The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have put down a Motion on the Order Paper to-day calling attention to the food situation. Perhaps I should start by explaining that I propose to deal with the food situation as it affects this country. I believe it to be the duty of Parliament constantly to review the administration of our food supplies, and to see what can be done both to maintain and to improve those supplies. And I think our deliberations have a second function, or should have, and that is to keep the public informed upon the situation. There has been, so far as I know, no general debate upon this question in either House of Parliament since the beginning of this session—indeed I think there has not been one since Parliament reassembled after the Summer recess. That is even more remarkable when we recall that, on December 6, in another place, the Minister of Food felt impelled to say that he was not certain that we should not have to cut the bread ration again.

Parliamentary statements without debate, answers to Parliamentary questions and interviews given to the Press, on the whole seem to me to serve rather to confuse than to enlighten the public mind. Few people have the will or the application to collect and correlate the disconnected and isolated pieces of information with which the public is served. Small wonder then that on the whole the general mood of the public is one of cynical pessimism. I think it is a great pity that His Majesty's Government did not think fit to follow the suggestion made on more than one occasion—notably by Sir Arthur Salter in another place—that a periodical White Paper setting out as fully as possible all the facts should be published. But it is undoubtedly true that the Government do not much like all the facts to be published, and the more they are taking part actively in affairs such as the buying and selling of food, the less willing are they that all the facts should be published. The task of gathering and collating information, as I know to my cost, is rather like that of sitting down to do a jigsaw puzzle in which pieces are concealed in a bran tub and the final picture can only be guessed at, and at any rate a proportion of the pieces are missing altogether.

Never was there a time when this country stood in greater need of both physical and mental stimulus. Now is the time when, by general agreement, our country must take advantage of the respite the brief respite, that has been given us by reason of the existence of a world sellers' market and by the United States and Canadian credits; because we must—and His Majesty's Government have reinforced this very urgently lately—re-establish ourselves economically if we are to maintain ourselves as a Great Power. The inventor of the slogan: "Greater efforts now mean better living sooner" has, I think, failed to grasp the fact that we cannot live on slogans. A slogan that we ought to have, I suggest, is: "More food now would mean better production." We want food in greater quantity and greater variety as a "pump-primer" for our energies. So I suggest it would be better if a truce were called to exhortations and the energies of the Administration were concentrated on securing us the food which we so badly need.

If anyone doubts that our diet is inadequate, I would like to show at the start that I am at one with His Majesty's Government, so I will quote from a Press announcement issued in Washington on May 12 last year, on the occasion of a visit of the Lord President of the Council to America. I will not deal with the results of his negotiations there, although I think that some of us are probably suffering from them now. Dealing with the position in the United Kingdom, the Press announcement stated: Consumer rationing has been continued, and in the case of fats, bacon, dried eggs, meat and preserves, rations have been reduced below the austere low war-time levels. Rations of the British Forces in the United Kingdom have twice been cut since V.E. Day. The announcement went on to enumerate the various measures that were taken during 1946. They included the raising of the extraction rate of flour, the reduction in the quantity of grain for distilling, the reduction in the size of the standard loaf, the reduction in biscuits and the reduction in cakes and flour confectionery, and, finally, the reduction in the barrelage of beer brewed.

This is a formidable list, and it becomes more formidable when we recall that only two months after this announcement, bread rationing was introduced into this country for the first time in our history. I do not intend to traverse the discussions which took place in another place on this topic, but I may remind the House that the Minister of Food said at that time that he thought it wrong to risk our supplies by allowing our stocks to fall below 800,000 tons. He said that the greatest risk would be in September, before the North American harvests were garnered and made available. He went on to express the hope that if the prospects of the harvests continued to improve, it might be possible to remove bread rationing at an early date. In fact, there were excellent if not record harvests on the North American Continent, but we still have bread rationing.

The Minister announced in another place on December 6 that our position was so precarious that it was not beyond the bounds of possibility—to put it no more firmly than that—that the ration might be cut. How comes it that although bread rationing was introduced in July, avowedly to tide us over a temporary period of shortage, we are still in the throes of it and our situation is possibly more precarious now than it was then? I know that in his most recent Press interview the Minister was perhaps a little more cheerful, though it was hard to gather from his statement exactly on what grounds his hopes were based. But there is no doubt—there can be no doubt at all in the minds of noble Lords who have any critical faculty—that our stocks now must be well below the figure of 800,000 tons at which they stood at the end of August last year. It must be perfectly obvious to the world at large that we are desperately short of wheat and flour. I cannot see what possible harm can be done—indeed, I think it might do a great deal of good—if the public were taken into the Minister's confidence. I ask, therefore, this direct question of the noble Viscount who is going to reply: What were our stocks of wheat and flour at December 31, 1945, and December 31, 1946?

The Minister, on December 6, offered to the members of another place his reasons why shipments of wheat and flour into this country had fallen so short of expectations, and he particularly stressed the labour disputes which had taken place in the United States. On that occasion, in reply to a question, the Minister said: "The grain from the United States is only the balance of our requirements. We are importing large quantities from Canada, though that has been delayed but not diminished by transport difficulties." It is precisely because Canada is the main source of our supplies that we should examine very carefully the progress of imports from that Dominion since the harvest. For my part, I find it difficult to understand how supplies can be delayed without our stocks being diminished, at any rate for the time being, and that at a time which is, by general agreement, most critical in the food situation.

May I remind your Lordships that there was arranged last July between this country and Canada a long team contract for the purchase by the United Kingdom of wheat and flour for four years as from August 1, last year. It should last, I understand, from August, 1946, to August, 1950. Briefly, the terms of that contract are: Canada will send to us during 1946–47 and 1947–48 160,000,000 bushels of wheat and flour during this year at a price of $1.55 a bushel—that is about 30 per cent. below the U.S. price. Further, Canada will sell us during the last two years of the agreement 140 million bushels of wheat and flour, and the price is to be a minimum of $1.25 for 1948–49 and for the last year a minimum of $1.00.

I would say here that I am a firm upholder of the right of all countries in the British Commonwealth and Empire to negotiate mutually advantageous trade agreements, and, in particular, I believe it to be supremely important that we should reserve the right to give each other tariff preferences. Furthermore, I recognize the generous spirit with which Canada has acted on this as on previous occasions: nevertheless, this recognition should not absolve us from the duty of looking at the terms of the contract, and its result, with great care. It is one thing to be assured of supplies in the long term, but with the prospects of a record harvest and large surpluses in the United States the wheat position looks as if it will improve. What we want to take care of most urgently are our short term needs. I can see nothing within the contract to specify the quantities of monthly deliveries in order to make certain that we had a supply of wheat when we wanted it at the end of the year, to replenish our depleted stock. There is nothing, so far as I can see, about the provision of shipping so that we could make the maximum use of the St. Lawrence before the principal wheat ports froze. There is nothing about shipping in the contract, or about transport facilities in Canada itself. It seems to me that the contract as it stands is not only deficient in contractual obligations to deliver the wheat when we want it most urgently, but is deficient in economic incentive.

The Government by-passed the normal trade channels, and the economic incentives, as they exist, tend to work the other way, because the autumn price of wheat was higher than the future price, and there would be every inducement to Canada to sell the surplus at the highest price she could get. By failing to make detailed arrangements about shipping on the Great Lakes, we find that the food ships which carry the grain were employed carrying iron ore and coal and other things. Surely it should have been the duty of our representatives to make absolutely certain that the wheat could be delivered when we wanted it, so that we should not have to live hand to mouth, as we are now. A further result of the fact that shipping was short on the Great Lakes was that wheat had to be sent from Pacific ports instead of Atlantic ports. I should like to ask the noble Lord if he could tell us when he replies the proportions of wheat, both before and after the St. Lawrence froze, which have been sent from eastern and western seaports. I should also like to ask him to let us know, if he can, the extra cost, both in money and in tonnage, by reason of freight being consigned from Pacific instead of Atlantic ports.

I have tried to ascertain what have been the shipments of wheat and flour from Canada during those vital four months from August to November last year, both to the United Kingdom and to other destinations. I hope the noble Lord will be in a position to give us the official figures, but I think the figures which I have been able to gather are approximately correct. I understand that during the four months August to November last year, the total export clearances of Canadian wheat were some 49,000,000 bushels, of which some 32,000,000 have come to this country. If we take 160,000,000 bushels as our minimum share of the Canadian crop, it will be seen that a proportionate share would give us something like 53,000,000 bushels. In those four months we in fact received about three-fifths of that quantity.

If we look back to the previous year, we find that during the same period the total exports of Canadian wheat overseas were something like 127,000,000 bushels during the corresponding four months. I am aware that at the end of the 1946 season the Canadian elevators were very low indeed, and the reason they were low reflects great credit upon the Canadian Government; but if we take the last two months, October and November, of the season 1945–1946, we shall find that in November 30,000,000 bushels, and in October 40,000,000 bushels, were shipped, making 70,000,000 bushels in that time. Therefore there was the capacity, if it had been used, to ship a very considerable quantity of wheat overseas. I know that the blame cannot rest upon any one Government or upon any one organization, but the fact remains that the normal trade channels were by-passed. I cannot help wondering what criticism would have been levelled by the Government and its supporters had such a contract been made by a private concern and produced such an unfortunate result, and we had found ourselves, as we do now, living hand to mouth for wheat.

The real reason for the serious depletion of our stocks lies not so much in the disturbance caused by strikes in the United States as in the failure to see that the wheat came here from Canada at the right time. It is perfectly true it has made us much more dependent upon United States supplies. That is the more unfortunate because the United States has an open dislike to bulk buying arrangements, and I can hardly think she would be at her keenest to make up the deficiencies of our contract by shipping us supplies in very large quantities. She has, no doubt, done her best; but the fact I have mentioned could hardly have made our position better. We must rejoice, however, in the prospect of getting an additional 34,000 tons of flour in our January allocation, but it is a sobering reflection that something like four days' supply should make such a difference to our position.

Before I leave the Canadian Wheat Agreement, there is one question which I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. In 1938 we imported from Canada 1,443,600 tons, and from Australia 1,549,800 tons. Is it probable, in the opinion of the Government, that Australia will have exportable surpluses during the currency of this agreement, and, if so, how much room have we above our contract to buy this surplus? It is surely a very important point in inter-Imperial trade. I have dealt at some length with the question of wheat supplies because this is our most urgent and most pressing problem, but there are other matters which I think should be considered. One of them is the fats position. Apart from its nutritional aspects, nothing would be of greater alleviation to the harassed housewife than another ounce of fat. One ounce of fat on the ration amounts, according to my calculation, to something like 68,000,000 tons a year. Is it beyond the capacity of this country to find that extra amount somewhere in the world?

Before the war we imported 160,000,000 tons of copra from the Straits Settlements. During 1946 our imports were 70,000,000 tons. We have fixed the maximum price at £31 10s, a ton whereas the world price is something of the order of £50 a ton. Is it likely that we shall induce the Straits Settlements suppliers to let us have our supplies at so much below the world price? If anyone believes this, let him look at the production of copra in the Philippines, which were also occupied by the Japanese. Their production has been restored to approximately what it was before the war. Their crop is being sold at a world price of something like $205 a ton. If we are to get oil and fats, which we most desperately need, it is no good our cherishing the illusion that supplies will be forthcoming if, in certain circumstances, we use our bargaining position to offer less than the world price.

Vis-à-vis the Argentine, our position is much less strong, and the Argentine, moreover, is not in the sterling area. May I remind your Lordships of the events which took place on the arrival of the International Food Mission in the Argentine last year? Just before the arrival of the Mission the Argentine Government cancelled all export licences for oils and fats issued to private traders. As a result they bought up the stocks and sold them to the International Food Mission at an estimated profit of something like £12,760,000 sterling. Consequently, shortly afterwards in this country the price of linseed oil rose at one swoop from £65 to £135 a ton. It seems to me that our attitude to the Straits Settlements and to the Argentine illustrates very effectively two defects of State trading and bulk purchase. On the one hand, by offering below the market price we do not get the full production which we should, and on the other we force the selling country into bulk State selling, and buy well above the world price. In times of scarcity, such as the present, prices will rise whether we like it or not, and if we want the food we must be prepared to pay them. But we wish neither to exploit the seller when we are in a strong position nor to encourage the countries which have the goods to exploit their position by bulk selling instead of allowing the ordinary market channels to buy continuously in relatively small quantities.

Oils and fats are one of the commodities which are allocated by the International Emergency Food Council. There seems to be rather a paucity of information about the deliberations of this body. It would be of the greatest value to this House if the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, could tell us what were the allocations to this country of edible fats and oils by the International Emergency Food Council during the last six months of 1946. It would be interesting to see whether those allocations gave us any room for manoeuvre to increase our domestic fat ration. I should also like to ask the noble Lord a similar question regarding meat. Can he tell us what the allocations of refrigerated meat by the International Emergency Food Council have been? Can he also tell us, by way of comparison, what the total monthly exportable tonnage of refrigerated meat has been from the exporting countries, or the tonnage available during the same period?

Finally, I come to sugar. According to a recent announcement, the United States Secretary of Agriculture has said that he hopes to increase the United States sugar ration by, I think, 5 lb. or 6 lb. annually, and to allow an additional 10 per cent to commercial users. On the other hand, Mr. Strachey has recently stated that there has been no allocation for 1947 under the International Control procedure, but under the working agreement between ourselves and the United States it has been undertaken, as I understand, that the per capita consumption of sugar should remain the same in both countries. It would be of the greatest value to the consuming public if some authoritative statement, setting out the position, could be made upon this question of sugar.

I have detained your Lordships long enough. I will end as I began, by reemphasizing the vital necessity of an improvement in food supplies in this country now. It is not merely a question of comfort and convenience; it is a matter of reviving the energies of a weary, underfed and long-suffering people, in order that we can, as a nation, put forth the efforts which we must make now if we are to survive. I must admit that I am not satisfied that the administration of our country's food supplies is as good as it could be, and I lack confidence in the methods of State trading and bulk purchase which the Government seem bent upon pursuing. It is for those reasons that I thought it right to put down this Motion for a debate in this House to-day. I beg to move for Papers.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I am quite sure that we all welcome the debate which has been initiated by the noble Lord, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, this afternoon on this most important food problem. During my remarks I think I shall perhaps answer some of the points which the noble Lord raised during his speech, and later on I propose, with his approval and with the approval of the House, to deal specifically with some of the questions which he put to me. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking him for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of his question, because it enables me to give him a little more information than obviously would otherwise have been possible.

First of all, I think it might be to the satisfaction of the House if I were to give some idea of the 1947 food outlook. During 1946 the world food situation deteriorated still further. Minor crises were caused by the maritime and coal strikes in the U.S.A., which seriously impeded the steady flow of certain staple foodstuffs to this country. Bread rationing had to be imposed to safeguard our depleted wheat stocks, but still we passed through the year without any reduction taking place in the standard of our national diet. Our overall average calory intake continues to stand at only 5 per cent, less than it was before the war, a record which is equalled only by the great food-producing countries themselves. The acute shortage in the world's supply of major foodstuffs will persist throughout the crop year 1946–47, and despite great improvements in expected harvests the quantities available for international allocation fall far short of the claims made on them. Last year, the gap was partly bridged by the utilization of stocks accumulated before the liberation of Europe.

Of bread grains, for example, more than half the shipments were made by reducing world stocks to a point rather below the pre-war average. These reserves are not available this year, and therefore, although the wheat harvests of the four major producing countries are estimated to be 7,000,000 tons higher than last year, the quantity available for export will be some 6,000,000 tons less. The outlook for meat threatens a deterioration on last year, mainly because of a decline in production in North America. This region, which was a negligible net exporter before the war, provided one-third of the international trade in 1946. The United States may export only small quantities in 1947, unless consumer demand there falls off, and Canada's exports will also show a serious decline.

Some improvement is expected in oils and fats supplies, due to the revival of Argentine, the Philippines and Netherlands East Indies trade, and an increase of 50 per cent, in whale oil production. Nevertheless, expected supplies will still be one-half of the pre-war trade, and the requirements of the deficit countries can be met only to this extent. Unfortunately, a fall in United States production may make her a net exporter this year, in which case exports to other deficit countries are unlikely to be as high as in 1946. Production of sugar has advanced substantially, though pre-war output has not yet been restored. The quantities available to deficit countries, however, depend upon whether sugar control is maintained in the United States. If it is not, the increased imports of that country will absorb almost all the Cuban surplus.

In Europe, domestic food production is showing marked improvement over last year, particularly in Western Europe and the Mediterranean countries. Nevertheless, over the Continent as a whole, production of grains, potatoes and sugar is still only 70 to 75 per cent, of pre-war, of fats 60 per cent, and of meat 55 per cent. The livestock population was only 65 per cent, of pre-war at the end of 1945, since the process of livestock rehabilitation is inevitably slow and is dependent on the supply of feeding stuffs. In short, therefore, despite the strides which have been made towards agricultural revival, no easing of the world food shortage can be anticipated during the remainder of the 1946–47 crop year. For the second half of 1947 we may hope to see a continuation of the improvement in crop yields, which should begin to meet the world's requirements, though meat and fats must depend on the slower process of rebuilding the cattle herds of the world. This unfavourable outlook is further aggravated by the expected deterioration in the machinery of international food allocation as a consequence of the decontrol policy of the United States and by the rise in food prices which is taking place in that country. Food levels in almost all countries except the major producers will thus continue to be restricted, in many cases to a very low level. In this country we should maintain our high level on consumption, as we did in 1946, despite the international difficulties, but for the first half of the year, at any rate, we cannot expect to do more than that.

Taking a broad view across home food production as a whole, no startling changes in output are likely in the coming year as compared with the recent past. Changes can, however, be looked for in production conditions, which will show themselves in changes in output at a later date. Acreage targets for crops of the 1947 harvest, with the exception of wheat, differ comparatively little from the 1946 actual areas. Early in 1946 bread grain supply prospects looked sc grave that the 1947 wheat acreage target was raised to 2,500,000 acres, and farmers were urged to exceed even this area. Unfortunately the rain of the summer and autumn of 1946 interrupted farming operations at a time when the wheat was being sown, with the result that the target may not be reached. The actual production of food from these acreages will, of course, depend on the crop yields in 1947.

Livestock production is still suffering from the effects in the cut in feedstuffs in 1946. Egg and pig-meat production were probably the most seriously affected, and it is' not yet clear whether the decline has ceased. Breeding would be greatly stimulated if substantial increases in imported feeding stuffs became available in 1947, and there is some prospect that world cereal supplies will in fact become easier in the second half of the year. Such expansion in breeding would not, however, bring about much increase in the output of livestock products until after mid-1948; that is, the 1948–49 year.

I now come to the position with regard to one or two of the principal commodities. I will take wheat first. United Kingdom requirements, as originally submitted to the International Emergency Food Council, for the year 1946–47 comprised 5,300,000 tons of wheat and flour and 456,000 tons of maize and oats, wholly for human consumption. Additionally, the United Kingdom is responsible for the procurement of the cereals required by most of the British Colonies, and the need of these territories for the year was originally estimated at 1.7 million tons (wheat equivalent). Of this total 550,000 tons were required in the form of flour to make good the estimated shortfall in rice. Exports from the four major wheat exporting countries through the period July-December, 1946, have fallen short of expectations. This has been due to a variety of causes, but primarily to a shortage of inland transport in North America, and the extended strike of the maritime workers in the U.S.A. The effect of this has been that stocks, particularly in the U.S.A., are much larger than had been expected at this time, whereas stocks in this country and in the Colonies as at the end of December were consequently at uncomfortably low levels.

I might say at this point, in reply to the noble Lord, that the stocks of wheat and flour on December 31 are below the 800,000 tons to which he referred. In certain of the Colonies serious inconveniences and hardships have been occasioned, while the continuation of bread rationing in the United Kingdom has been inevitable and a reduction of the ration may yet be inescapable. Shipments from Canada during the same period fell short of expectations and movement is now restricted, as has been stated, owing to the freezing of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence. This, together with the fact that such quantities of wheat as may become available from the new crops in Australia and Argentina cannot be shipped until the early months of 1947, means that through the first six months the determining factor will be transport and not supply.

For the period January-June, 1947, the adjusted requirements of the United Kingdom and the Colonies total 4.4 million tons, while assured and reasonably probable supplies are estimated at 3.9 million tons, leaving an apparent deficit on shipments of about 500,000 tons. It is impossible at this stage to say to what extent the apparent deficit will be made good, but it is clear that for the greater part of it we shall have to look to the United States. The United States Government have authorized the export of 102,000 tons of wheat, 65,000 tons of flour and a small quantity of coarse grains to the United Kingdom and the Colonies for January and February. We are hoping that the United States Government will authorize the allocation to this country of supplies sufficient to meet the deficit to which I have referred.

I now come to the position of carcass meat. Our pre-war carcass meat requirements were supplied in about equal proportions by home production and imports. Last year there was a substantial gap between total supplies and our average pre-war supplies. The main shortage was due to reduced home production, which was brought about by war concentration on arable farming, with the shortage of feeding stuffs and the need to give priority to milk production as important contributors. During the autumn of 1946 substantially greater quantities of home livestock were killed than had been foreseen. This was due to poor prospects of winter feed and was at the expense of killing during the first half of 1947. The prospect, therefore, is that home production during 1947 will be less than it was during 1946. Our total of carcass meat imports has continued at a level about equal to pre-war quantities though supplies from particular sources show considerable variations. Efforts are being made to augment the supplies from overseas. So far as total supplies for 1947 are concerned, it seems likely that they will be no better than they were in 1946, and that on the average we shall be no more than able to maintain the same ration that was issued last year.

With regard to eggs, there is a good chance that we shall not distribute this year fewer eggs than we did in 1946. Dried egg supplies will almost certainly be maintained at 1946 levels. With regard to fish, trawlers are steadily coining back into fishing, and in the spring we expect that landings will be something of an embarrassment. We are pushing forward as rapidly as possible with quick-freeze plans, and with plans for exporting fish to Germany to take up any surplus. The shortage of fat, of course, hampers us in obtaining an increase in fish consumption in this country.

Regarding bacon, there is practically no hope of restoring during 1947 the 3 oz. ration; indeed we may have difficulty in maintaining the 2 oz. ration. We have just made an agreement with the Canadian Government under which we Shall pay an increased price for Canadian bacon, and the Canadian Government will take measures to encourage hog production and the export of bacon during the next two years. So far as world supplies of sugar are concerned, there is a reasonable prospect of from 7 to 10 per cent, more sugar being available in 1947 than in 1946. The allocation of sugar will be made by the International Emergency Food Council and the United Kingdom have submitted their claim for their share of any increase. It is too early yet to state what allocation will be made by the International Emergency Food Council or what period it will cover. The Minister of Food will see to it that any increased quantities of sugar available to the United Kingdom will be passed on to the consumer. As regards butter, there will be a small increase in the total supply in 1947 compared with 1946, but we are still a very long way from having anything like pre-war quantities. While supply conditions during 1947 will remain difficult, we now hope that no further cuts either in the soap ration or in the edible fats ration will be necessary.

I have endeavoured to give your Lordships a brief survey of the international food position, the home production position, and the position with regard to certain important food commodities. I now come to the series of important questions which the noble Lord, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, addressed to me. I must ask the indulgence of the House in giving some of the answers because they are necessarily of a somewhat statistical character. I was asked about the export of Canadian wheat during the six months period from July to December, 1946. They were 1,400,900 tons of wheat equivalent to the United Kingdom, 385,700 tons to areas of United Kingdom procurement responsibility, and 863,400 tons to other destinations. With regard to the shipments before and after the freezing of the St. Lawrence, during the period of open navigation (that is, the period July-November, 1946) 676,700 tons of wheat and 117,200 tons of flour were shipped from. Atlantic (including U.S.) ports to the United Kingdom, and 308,200 tons of wheat from Pacific ports. In the period of closed navigation, only the figures for December are available. For that month the figures are 75,800 tons of wheat and 8,600 tons of flour from Atlantic ports, and 169,200 tons of wheat from Pacific ports.

The noble Lord then asked me what was the estimated cost, in terms of money and in terms of tonnage involved, in these transactions. On the basis of British-controlled tonnage it costs about 22s, a ton more to ship from Pacific ports, and related to the figures which I have just given this represents an extra cost of approximately £526,000. The average time of a voyage from the Pacific seaboard is forty-two days, and theoretically, therefore, over a given period it requires two and a half times the number of vessels to bring the same quantity of wheat to the United Kingdom as could be brought from Atlantic ports. The cost in terms of tonnage is therefore approximately 288,000 tons. I ought to add that it has become necessary to make use of the Pacific ports to an increasing extent, as the United States is making exceptionally heavy demands on the resources of her Atlantic ports to maintain her own export programme. In previous years these United States ports have been freely available for the transit of Canadian wheat, and no extensive use of Pacific ports was then necessary.

I was asked to give the estimate of total monthly tonnages of refrigerated meat available from exporting countries during the last six months of 1946. These figures could be only largely guesswork, and what I propose to give, with the approval of the noble Lord, is the total imports—that is to say, the arrivals and not shipments of carcass meat during this period into this country. The amount was 451,900 tons. I have already spoken about the sugar position, but I would like to add something in reply to the noble Lord's reference to the Anglo-American sugar agreement. The agreement to which he referred is, I think, the Tri-partite Agreement between the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Canada. This was agreed in 1945, and it came into effect on April of that year, and was to operate only for that year. Under this agreement, after the minimum requirements of the sugar-importing countries had been met, the three countries agreed to share the remaining available surplus on an equal per capita basis. This agreement was continued through 1946, and what we are seeking to do is to obtain agreement from the Americans for a similar continuation during 1947.

I was asked also about the International Emergency Food Council's allocations of edible oils and fats to the United Kingdom for the last half-year of 1946. The allocations were in fact made by the Combined Food Board and not by the I.E.F.C., and were for the whole year. No separate allocations were made for the last six months. The total of edible oils and fats allocated to the United Kingdom for 1946 amounted to 668,900 tons. With regard to allocations to the United Kingdom of refrigerated meat, here again the allocation was made by the Combined Food Board and was for the whole year. The allocation was made in the equivalent of bone-in full carcass weight, and no distinction was drawn between what might be imported—refrigerated, canned or otherwise. The total meat allocation to the United Kingdom in terms of equivalent full carcass weight was 1,730,000 tons.

The noble Lord made a reference to the Canadian Wheat Contract, but I would point out that the arrangements for the internal transport of wheat in Canada are matters for the Canadian Wheat Board in competition with other commodities. If purchase had been left to the ordinary trade channels we should have paid much more, with either increased cost of bread or increased subsidies as the result. It was the bad weather in Canada which held up movements to the ports. I think I have covered most of the questions which the noble Lord put to me, and in the light of what I have said I hope your Lordships will agree that His Majesty's Government are maintaining the standard of the food of the people at a good level, despite the difficulties of the world food shortage, which I think everyone recognizes to be a very disagreeable reality.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I recently saw in an American paper a film reviewed in the following words: It has absolutely nothing to recommend it, but the enumeration of its faults would be out of keeping with the holiday spirit. This seems so apt a comment on the Government's handling of the nation's food that I cannot but regret in some ways being called upon so early after the festive season to discuss this particular phase of our rulers' activities. We have just heard an extremely grave statement from the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. Some of his figures, so far as I could follow them, seem to me a little difficult to understand. For instance, he said our stocks at the end of December were below 800,000 tons. We had harvests of the order of two million tons, and it does seem rather remarkable that our stocks should be below the figure at which they stood in August. It is extremely difficult to follow these figures across the table, however, and I would rather wait until I have been able to read them in the Official Report before trying to comment on them at all seriously. What I must say is that we are faced with the stark incontrovertible fact that in the first year of peace we had less to eat than in the last year of war, and now, half-way through the second year of peace, despite bumper harvests in practically all export countries, it is hard that one has to put up with even more meagre rations than during last year. It does seem to me that this is rather a glaring record of failure.

There are only three possible explanations for this state of affairs. The first and most respectable, in my view, is that the Government will not buy food because they are short of dollars and other foreign exchange, but they do not choose to tell us so. The second is that the quantity of food that we are allowed to import is decided for us by an external body—the International Emergency Food Council, or whatever it is called—which refuses to allocate to us sufficient even to maintain our low war-time standards. The third explanation is brute ineptitude and incompetence. I am not sure which of these three explanations the Government have adopted. Perhaps the House will bear with me for a few minutes while I justify what I have said. First, as to the facts, I pointed out in a letter to the Daily Telegraph last October that if we take roughly the first year of peace, July 1, 1945, to July 1,1946, and compare it with the last year of war, July 1, 1944, to July 1, 1945, our consumption of meat was down by 15 per cent., our consumption of bacon was down by something like 33 per cent., while our consumption of fats, margarine and cooking fat was down by 8 per cent. Since then not even the Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Food has denied this, and I think we can take it as true. I think I should mention that the consumption of jam and marmalade is down by 16 per cent. and of dried fruits by 15 per cent. "By their fruits ye shall know them."

In the first year of peace, at any rate, our bread was not cut. But in the second year of peace, as we all know, we have had bread rationing; and if the Minister's forecasts area borne out, it will imply a further reduction in our ration of 100 calories or so a day. Although conditions are improving in nearly every other country, the Lord President told us: "The famine aspect may well dominate 1947 as badly as, or perhaps even worse than, 1946." The speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down has done nothing to alleviate the gloom inspired by the Lord President's speech. I really am amazed that there has not been a greater outcry about such a confession of failure.

During the war, of course, there were terrific demands on shipping for transporting and supplying our armies all over the world. Owing to war conditions the importing efficiency of tonnage was considerably reduced. Most ships had to sail in convoy at the pace of the slowest vessel, and routes very often had to be lengthened by from 20 to 30 per cent. in order to avoid U-boats. At that time we might have expected serious difficulties in supplying the country, but under the guidance of the noble Lords, Lord Woolton and Lord Llewellin, we managed to maintain a standard of life, reduced, of course, as against pre-war peace-time, but not reduced to the extent it is to-day.

I am glad that so far, at any rate, we have been spared by the noble Lord the extremely irritating statement which has disfigured so many speeches on various platforms recently, that, thanks to the rationing system, the people of this country as a whole are better fed than ever before, and that it is only the rich who are living in reduced circumstances. This, of course, is sheer nonsense, as every housewife of every class knows. It can be demonstrated arithmetically. I do not suppose you would call anyone with less than £1,000 a year very rich. In 1938 there were only 230,000 people with more than £1,000 a yea—less than ½per cent. of the population. If you assume that each of them had a family of three and that each of these families ate twice as much as the average, this would mean that they consumed 4 per cent. of the total food available, whereas if shares had been equal they would have had only 2 percent. In other words, supposing it were true that every member of every family earning £1,000 a year or more really ate twice as much as he or she would have had if shares had been equal, 98 per cent. of the population with less than £1,000 a year had only 96 per cent. to share out instead of 98 per cent. In other words, 2 per cent. of the food over and above equal shares was eaten by the bloated capitalists with £ 1,000, and lack of rationing depressed the poorer people's standard by 2 per cent. To-day the Ministry of Food have given us a standard down by something over 15 per cent., or one sixth.

The truth is this. The vast majority of the population had a great deal more to eat before the war than they get now. On the other hand, there was a certain proportion of unemployed who actually could not afford to buy even the meagre rations we are allowed today. I admit that. This was not because the rich were gobbling up the food; it was because some of the unemployed were too poor to buy it. Of course we all rejoice that to-day the number of unemployed is about one-third of what it was in 1939; that in addition the amount of real poverty is reduced in proportion, and that the number of people who actually cannot afford to buy their rations is correspondingly diminished. But this has nothing whatever to do with the fact of rationing. It happens simply because there are one-third as many people unemployed now as there were then. To say that, thanks to our marvellous rationing system, the population is better fed than ever before, is, to put it mildly, a terminological inexactitude.

A NOBLE LORD: Who would get the food if there were no rationing?


That is my point. I am endeavouring to disprove the Ministry's statement that because of rationing the people are better fed than ever before. The great majority of the population are worse fed than they have ever been in living memory. The only ones who may be better off, even with our meagre rations, are a small proportion who used to be on the poverty line and who are now drawing wages which enable them to buy such food as the Ministry allows us to have. Another claim which I am glad to say has not been put forward to-day, and which the Leader of the House as a medical man himself would not put forward, is equally devoid of foundation. It is the claim that the public health has never been better. There is every reason to doubt that assertion. I have figures up to 1945 for absenteeism due to minor non-notifiable diseases. That absenteeism was constantly increasing, and I very much doubt whether matters have improved since the war ended.

What other figures are available? Mortality statistics are kept, of course, but they prove only that our diet is not lethal. What evidence is there that it is not unhealthy? No morbidity statistics are kept, so far as I know, except of a few notifiable illnesses. And nobody, I trust, will claim that the fact that we have so far mercifully been spared a major epidemic is due to our present diet. I understand that gastric ulcers, and other gastric troubles are on the increase, as well as diseases of the nerves and of the cardio-vascular system. And the rising incidence of tuberculosis since our food has been reduced has been quite unmistakable. I admit that these diseases appear to attack more the brain workers, the intellectual classes, than the people who are doing hard physical work. Perhaps if the intelligentsia are cut down a bit, it may ease the position in another place with regard to foreign affairs and so on; but it is not for that reason that I am taking an interest in this matter. I am glad that there has been no loose talk to-day about public health being better.

Now we come to the old story of the world food shortage. Everywhere, we know, there have been bumper harvests. In many countries farmers are even beginning to prepare for a glut. If the tale of the world food shortage is maintained, I think the least that we can demand is that it should be supported with proper facts and figures. It is no use saying that the exportable surplus is so and so, and the requirements are very much greater. Anyone can see that that is so. What we are entitled to know is how are the so-called requirements made up? In 1938 about 9.4 million tons of wheat were imported into Europe, of which 5.5 million tons—about 60 per cent.—went to Britain. The other countries were content with 3.9 million tons. More than twice this amount is available for export this Year. Now that we have had nearly two years of peace, there is no reason why other importing countries should not have tilled their soil, planted their crops and made themselves practically as self-supporting as they were before. With more than their 1938 imports available, therefore, they should be content. If they ask for more in the future their demands should be most carefully scrutinized.

One hears all sorts of figures about crops abroad. What evidence have we as to whether they are right or not? Only the other day I was informed that they were 90 per cent. of the pre-war figures. Now, the noble Lord opposite tells us they amounted to 75 per cent. I think that these matters ought to be most carefully examined. Unless a country has a provable claim to much more than it had before, there can be no meaning in the saying that there is a world food shortage. Of course there never has been, and there never will be, in any foreseeable future, sufficient food in the world to bring the diet of the Chinese and the Indian peoples up to the European standard. Even to give them an extra 1,000 calories in the cheapest form—that is in the form of grain—would require about 100,000,000 tons of grain costing something like £2,000,000,000 a year. All the exporting countries in the world, put together, could never grow such a surplus of grain. Nor could China and India possibly pay for it, even if it were available. And supposing it were provided, the only result would be that the populations in question would increase pro tanto, leaving the individual as badly off as he is now. I maintain that in any reasonable connotation the words "world food shortage" must mean that there is not enough to give people something like what they had before the war—not that they cannot have some arbitrary much higher standard of nutrition. Therefore I assert that if anyone says that our troubles are due to a world food shortage, unless his figures are very much more detailed than those we have been given, the phrase is meaningless.

The noble Lord pointed, with some relief, shall we say, if not with glee, to the difficulties of transport in the United States owing to strikes. I admit that this appears, at first sight, to be what our American friends call an "alibi." But if we look at it at all closely we shall see that it is a somewhat fly-blown alibi. Indeed, it recoils upon itself—if an alibi can perform such an evolution. The reason is clear. It was precisely to guard against unforeseen contingencies of this sort that Lord Woolton and Lord Llewellin insisted on maintaining a distributional minimum of wheat in this country of 1,250,000 tons or so. Why have we not got this necessary distributional minimum here to-day? Simply because various Socialist Ministers on their various visits to the United States enjoyed the kudos of making great generous gestures, and sacrificed, on two or even three occasions, 200,000 or 250,000 tons of our claims to wheat which was absolutely necessary to safeguard the food of the British people.

Anybody with any knowledge of statistics would have known, or could have foreseen, what would happen—indeed what has happened. The slightest impediment or hold-up in shipments would mean, with such reduced stocks as we have now, that the supply of bread might fail over wide areas, and the Government, of course, rather than risk this, has clamped bread rationing upon us, apparently for an indefinite period. It is just the same blunder as they have made about coal. Six months or, in- deed, eight months ago, it was obvious that our stocks would fall below the distributional minimum in January. Yet the Government let the so-called coal crisis develop and burst upon the country, apparently without any foresight or preparations, and they are now hastily improvising, robbing Peter to pay Paul, and putting industries right and left on half time or even closing them down, simply because they had not foreseen what was coming. Is it that they do not trust figures, or that they do not understand them? If this is their idea of planning, I must say that our prospects are gloomy indeed.

The fact remains that although there is, broadly, enough food in the world, on any proper calculations we are worse fed in peace time than we were in war time, and, apparently, with very little prospect of improvement. It may be that the Government do not buy the food because they are anxious to conserve their dollar resources. This would be an intelligible explanation of the situation. We all know that unless we can increase our exports to nearly twice the pre-war volume we shall have to cut our standard of life below even the present deplorable level, as soon as the American loan is exhausted. And it is common knowledge that the loan looks like running out a year or two earlier than was expected, partly owing to the rise in American prices and partly owing to the continued extravagant expenditure of the Government all over the world. Our chance of making exports balance imports as quickly as that is not very good, partly owing to the shortage of coal, but more generally to the fact that you cannot expect the working man to put his back into it when the Labour Party have preached, in season and out of season, that every extra effort only goes to swell the profits of the bosses.

Clearly, if the American loan runs out before our exports can pay for our imports, there will be a period of austerity far worse even than that in which we are now landed. Anyone can see why the Government should be anxious that this should not happen before the next election. A year of super-austerity just before going to the polls would not be very apt to attract votes. Even the personal charm of Ministers, which we in this House find so hard to resist, might not suffice to offset such an electoral handicap. Therefore, it is quite intelligible that the Government should now be making desperate efforts to eke out the American loan, at any rate until the next elections. If they come back, well and good from their point of view; if they do not, then let the Tories face the music and try to retrieve the position.

If it is really a shortage of dollars that accounts for the shortage of food, surely it is foolish not to tell the country so frankly. Nothing could be more calculated to encourage people to work hard and to assist the production drive than a clear exposition of the fact that without exports we shall go hungry, especially if it is brought home to the people that our present shortages are directly due to this. If the Government made it plain that the reason, and the only reason, we cannot have more to eat is that we are not producing enough saleable goods to pay for our needs, there might be quite a spurt in production. If this is the true reason let the Government say so.

But is it the true reason? I wonder whether it is compatible with some of the other things that happen. We are spending 70,000,000 dollars on American films and over 200,000,000 dollars on American tobacco every year—enough to buy 4,000,000 tons of wheat or 750,000 tons of meat. Only last week I saw a report that we are spending some 400,000 dollars on grapefruit from Texas, when plenty of citrus fruit is grown in the sterling area. In view of facts of this sort, it is difficult to believe that our shortage of food is due to a shortage of dollars. If it is, I think the people ought to be told and allowed some say in determining whether they would rather have more films or more food.

I am not sure, however, that the difficulties are not due perhaps rather more to this violent change in the machinery for obtaining our food. This suspicion is very much fortified by what we have heard to-day about the allocation being fixed at the International Food Council. Only last week we were told that our allocation of wheat and flour from America for February had been set at 74,000 tons, as against our requirements of 150,000 tons. This seems a very small proportion of the 823,000 tons which are to be exported by the U.S.A.—only 9 per cent. We used to get 60 per cent, of all imports of wheat to Europe in 1938. Meanwhile, Italy, which used to be 80 per cent, self-supporting, is to get 135,000 tons. But of course they fought on the other side.

If this allocation machinery is really standing in the way of obtaining what we need, surely we should be told how this has come about, and exactly what is happening. These things used to be settled by the Combined Food Board, which consisted of representatives of the U.S.A., the U.K., and Canada, and we could always be assured of a sympathetic hearing. Who settles the matters now? Who is represented on this International Food Committee? Why is it that we are getting less than before? How is the body composed that determines the various allocations? Does it proceed by vote and, if so, how are the votes weighted? If we have accepted some arrangement by which the food of Britain is at the mercy of a number of foreign countries, the Government surely bear a heavy responsibility. I think that in such an important affair, if it is really a case of our getting less food than we used to get in the war, the country deserves full elucidation of its procedure and how it is all worked.

It is on this point that we border on the third explanation for our hardships which, I fear, is unhappily the true reason, or at any rate the most important contributory reason. That is sheer ineptitude in handling our affairs. Frankly I have very little confidence in the comprehension, the persistence and the vigour with which our case for more food has been put before the Combined Food Board, the International Emergency Food Committee, or whatever body settles what we are to have. Your Lordships will remember the appalling muddle concerning all these questions which was revealed in our debates last summer. Again and again I asked for exact facts and figures of the amount of wheat available, the amount demanded, and the final allocations. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House himself admitted that the demands put forward by a number of different countries were most probably grossly exaggerated. Indeed they must have been, for we were told a few months before the harvest that there was a gap between absolute minimum requirements and supplies of 5,000,000 tons, yet when the 5,000,000 tons were not forthcoming nobody seemed any the worse. Yet on the strength of vague demands like this, which a glance at the figures ought to have shown were absurd, and which it has since been proved were absurd, the Lord President and the Minister of Food sacrificed many hundred thousands of tons of our claims and thus produced the unhappy situation we are discussing to-day.

I cannot help feeling that the noble Lord who has just spoken was rather falling into the same error. He was taking the statements regarding the minimum requirements for the deficit countries as gospel, and when you add them together you get a figure in excess of what is available. Surely as regards the principal food stuffs we are entitled to be told how much was available, where it went, and who decided where it should go? Why should there be any mystery about this? The only possible answer is that if they really knew what had happened the public would be so furious that the Government would have to do something about it.

Where the figures are available it seems plain that the United Kingdom has been very ill served. Consider for instance our animal feeding stuff. Milling offals used to average 45,000 tons a week; from June to November, 1945, they averaged 22,000 tons. In the same period in 1946 it was 10,000 tons, less than a quarter of the pre-war figure. Or take maize: pre-war, the weekly amount fed to animals in this country averaged 57,400 tons. Last year from June to November it was 5,500 tons; this year, 115 tons. Yet our February allocation of maize is only 17,000 tons, as against 85,000 tons to Italy who gets five times as much. Why in the first eleven months of 1946, when there was this savage cut in wheat offals, did we import only 79,000 tons of maize out of the millions available, as against 525,000 tons in 1945, and a pre-war average of 2,350,000 tons?

Why cannot we have an itemized account, for instance, of what has happened to all the vast quantities of money we, amongst others, have subscribed to U.N.R.R.A.? Over £900,000,000 have been put up—over £150,000,000 by this country and over £650,000,000 by the U.S.A. Where 'has it all gone? Apparently a great part of it has gone to Yugoslavia which, but for U.N.R.R.A. supplies, would have had to demobilize its army and send the men home to till the soil, instead of keeping all her anti- aircraft guns and planes ready to shoot down any American aircraft which happened to stray across her borders. A great deal of the grain seems to have gone to various eastern countries from which we have been importing poultry and turkeys. Here in England we have had to cut down our poultry because the Government, whether for lack of money or out of feebleness on the Allocation Board, reduced our demands. Our money has apparently gone to buy food for the poultry flocks in eastern Europe in such good measure that the turkeys, so we are told, arrive here with their crops still stuffed with maize.

Surely this country, which has not only borne the burden of the day but which emerged from the war saddled with debts greater than any country in the world, is entitled to be told what has been done with the £150,000,000 subscribed to feed these starving countries, whose athletes, we are glad to find, appear to be quite fit enough to beat ours in the field, and whose horses are certainly able to defeat ours on the race course? It is not only on the broad issue that the handling of our food affairs has been incompetent; in small matters administration seems to be equally inept. Take, for instance, the vexed question of eggs. Apparently we have imported 45,000,000 tons of dried eggs in the past year at a cost of over 120,000,000 dollars. If we had spent even half this sum on maize we could have produced vastly greater quantities of fresh eggs in this country, not to speak of the chickens Which would have been available for consumption by the carnivorous members of the community when they had fulfilled their biological destiny.

In wartime, of course, when shipping was short, it was quite right to switch from feeding stuffs to dried eggs. Tonnage was what counted then; not dollars. But now, when there is more shipping in the world than there has ever been in history, and we are short of foreign exchange, this argument goes by the board. Surely if we are short of dollars it is quite fantastic to buy dried eggs at 2,800 dollars a ton instead of maize at forty dollars a ton? Even if we had to feed 5 lb. of maize to our hens to get 1 lb. of eggs, we should save between 60,000,000 and 80,000,000 dollars a year. And who does not prefer fresh eggs to dried eggs? The Chancellor of the Exchequer says it is not so simple as that. I do not quite know what "that" is, but I should have thought it was well worth taking a good deal of trouble to save 80,000,000 dollars, even if it is not quite so simple. After all, it is only a matter of a few hundred thousand tons. Why, Italy is getting 85,000 tons from America in the month of February alone.

There is one other point on which I might get a little information, and that is the question of bread. I am a little surprised that the Ministry of Food, which is normally so ready to react with voluminous explanations, should not have made any statement concerning the very disquieting paper published in the British Medical Journal by the Secretary of the Medical Research Council. Apparently 90 per cent, of our flour is bleached with nitrogen-trichloride. An examination of hysteria in dogs seems to have proved conclusively that this is caused by bread bleached by this process. Whether or not human beings are affected in the same way as dogs are affected by flour bleached in this manner has not yet been ascertained, but it is by no means unlikely. In the first stages, before hysteria supervenes, the dog only gets listless and apathetic and averse to exercise. If it has the same effect on human beings, this particular form of diet would certainly not be conducive to increased production. On the other hand, of course, it might make people fed in this manner more ready to put up with the shortcomings of the Government. So that perhaps after all, there is method in the Minister's madness.

As I have said, these two last points are matters of administration. There may or may not be answers to them. But nothing can palliate, in my view, the brute fact that the people of this country are receiving dull, dreary food and too little of it. We were told that our calory intake has gone down by only 5 per cent. I really do not know where these figures come from. In one of the most widely read, though possibly not the most accurate, newspapers in the country—the Daily Herald—I read the other day that our rations yield 1,670 calories a day. Can anyone pretend that this is what the British people deserve for having emerged victorious after six years of strenuous war?

I say without hesitation that that is not good enough. Only this month an article appeared in the Bulletin of the Oxford University Institute of Statistics—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay of Birker, will admit that that is a good recommendation—and it closed with these words: The most important point, however, which accidentally emerges from this survey, is that the present rations for adults are insufficient for their proper maintenance. I hope that the Ministry of Food will take these words to heart and that instead of the defeatist attitude they have adopted in the last eighteen months they will fight our battles vigorously and get food into the country. Let them remember, when they are chaffering for food amidst the flesh-pots of Washington, that they are trustees for this nation's well-being, and even—if this does not seem too shocking—let them recall occasionally the old adage that charity begins at home.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, in an extremely depressing atmosphere I am sure we are all very grateful to the noble Lord who has just sat down for having given us such a learned speech and one lightened by humour. In these days we need very badly something at which we can laugh. I do not propose to comment to-day on the speech that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, made. The figures that he produced do indeed need careful digestion and scrutiny. I have a grave suspicion of these international statistics, because I have never been satisfied, either in office or out of it, that they really represented the whole truth; or, shall I say, that they represented a great deal more than the truth? And when other nations find it necessary to go round the conference table presenting their demands, is it not reasonable that there should be a margin of safety in the figures that they put forward, and in some instances that that margin should indeed be very considerable? That fact alone makes one want to look very carefully at the figures that the noble Lord was advised to put before us to-day before one expresses any conclusion on them. One cannot help the observation that the speech that he has made to-day will have a very depressing effect throughout the country. Indeed I think it reasonable that we might have hoped for some brighter prospects for the people of this country during this year.

This is the second depressing story that we have had this week from the Government. Yesterday, with great wisdom as well as with courage, it I may say so, they issued a White Paper outlining the views of industrialists—both employers of labour and trade unionists—on our present economic situation. The position that they outlined was one that, to my mind, was of such gravity and such national importance that it must override those normal differences of doctrine that separate us in this House. I believe that the substance of to-day's debate, for which I am sure all your Lordships would agree we are very greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, is closely connected with the observations that were made in the White Paper that was published yesterday, and I should be greatly obliged if His Majesty's Government would be good enough to allow me to put some views before them on the relation of the subjects.

In case they have not noticed it, I would remind them that I have studiously refrained from public criticism of the administration of the Ministry of Food since I left office. I think that on only two occasions have I made speeches on the subject. One was in this House and the other was to plead for consideration for a new Minister and not to condemn him before he had had a chance of showing whether he could do the job or not. Indeed I am too well aware of the extent of the burdens and difficulties of the office to indulge in easy criticism. Among the staff of the Ministry of Food who are still serving the Minister there are many gentlemen to whose competence the nation was very greatly indebted during the war, and who were good enough to serve me as a Minister with great faithfulness. I am, therefore, always hesitant to make any criticism of that Ministry.

However, I intervene to-day to ask the House and the Government to consider whether the time has not comp when there should be some alteration in the wartime practices regarding the obtaining of food and its distribution. Plans that were necessary under the stringency of international trading during the war are not necessarily best for a country that is at peace. I think we might clearly say, after the speech the noble Lord made to-day, that it does not look as though those plans were being very successful.

I revert to the White Paper. What did it say? In short, it was a plea for increased production, and it was a plea for the most effective use of the manpower of the nation. There are two aspects of this problem that I consider have some relation to the substance of the debate to-day. First, I am quite convinced, and I should think His Majesty's Ministers are by now, that it is no use even the most eloquent and most eminent of them making orations about increased production. People want inducements, not exhortations to work harder. Except for the privileged few of us whose work is our pleasure and a source of recreation most people work in order that they may obtain some comforts in life. I think that even the most prejudiced observer will admit that there is precious little comfort to be found from the food situation in this victorious country. Many of His Majesty's Ministers when they have the time and the opportunity for recreation go abroad to get it. I do not blame them, especially if they can go to America. I believe the question of increased production is closely associated with an improvement in the amount and the variety of our food supplies. I believe that an extra pound of meat a week would give a great deal more stimulus to the miners, except the most acutely politically-minded of them, than the contemplation that the public now own the coal mines. This continued stringency of food, in my view, is hindering production, and it is causing a harassing unhappiness to the housewives of the nation.

There is another factor that arises from this report of our economic position. A survey of the figures shows that we have too many people engaged in controlling and recording the activities of others. We cannot afford this luxury of over-government. I submit the advice to the Minister of Food that he might do something to lighten the burden of his office on the nation, and to lighten the burden of the housewives, by reducing the extent of his control, and by abandoning now some of the practices of rationing and some of the control on some of the commodities that are now on points.

But I want to be very practical, for I am speaking on a subject of which I have had some administrative experience. I want to ask Mr. Strachey whether there is in fact any justification for continuing the rationing of tea. Before the war the consumption of tea was 3.2 oz. per person per week; to-day it is 3 oz. It never was necessary to ration tea because of a shortage in world supplies. I very reluctantly took that most unpopular step because I had every reason to fear that shipping shortages due to military demands might make the shipment of tea erratic, as indeed did happen for some weeks on end. But surely these conditions no longer obtain? Neither is tea drawn from the areas of hard currency. And let us recognize this. We never have made any profit out of the bulk buying of tea. I did not buy it any cheaper because I was a large buyer than the trader who bought it before.

I know that many members of His Majesty's Government, in their considered judgment of economic conditions, have adopted as an article of faith that bulk buying means economic buying. I ask them to consider, from the experience that they have had now of this subject, whether the time has not come for them to confess their disillusionment. We have all of us in our time had economic theories, but when we tried to put them into practice we found that there was a missing link somewhere in our judgment, and that in fact we were wrong. It is my belief that bulk buying by a Government is not economic. I ask the Government to consider this tea position quite closely. The tea producers are a very highly organized body; without intending to give offence, I might call them a defensive cartel. I know that many members of His Majesty's Government are very suspicious indeed of people who run cartels. I think they might be very suspicious here, but I would advise them to leave this particular association of tea traders to those people who, by long experience and sometimes bitter experience, have learnt the lessons of buying tea. They are, indeed, much more competent to deal with the organizations of tea producers than any Government can be, especially any Government whose decisions are influenced—and I think they must always be influenced—by the political considerations that are in the background when Government negotiates with Government.

There is a current rumour in the City that the Ministry of Food is offering 3d. per lb. increase in the price of tea to the Ceylon producers, and 5d. per lb. to the Indian producers, if they will agree to the continuance of bulk purchase; and, in addition to this, that the British Government will be called upon to pay 2¼d per lb export duty from India, making an increase of 7¼d. per lb. The rumour is that the Association of Tea Producers are not satisfied with these prices but are demanding 9d. in order that the native producers may be protected. I do not ask the noble Viscount who is to reply to tell us whether those figures are true or not, but they do indicate, I think, where bulk buying by Governments leads us. Bulk buying by Governments, like Government control of prices, always leads to the protection of the inefficient producer at the expense of either the taxpayer or the consumer.

I do not want to say anything more about these current rumours, but perhaps I may, most respectfully, offer His Majesty's Government a word of advice. Before they pay these high prices in order to protect the native producers, I hope they will allow their researchers to go into the balance sheets of some of the efficient companies which are trading in tea, and then consider whether they would not be wise, in the interests of the hard-pressed taxpayers of this country, to cut themselves right out of these negotiations and to allow the tea traders of this country to buy and sell tea in a free market. An increase of 9d. per lb. on tea would be an intolerable and unjustifiable burden on the people of this country.

I have dealt with the subject of tea at some length because I believe it illustrates the case I want to put to the Government. It shows that bulk buying by Governments is not likely to cheapen prices because factors other than competitive values must necessarily enter into Government transactions. It illustrates, I think, the opportunity which lies in the hands of the Minister of Food to bring about a reduction of Government staffs. When we talk of those employed in the Ministry of Food, do not let us think in terms only of those in London—they have now moved from Portman Court—or those who are reluctantly at Colwyn Bay; let us think in terms of the enormous number of people who are engaged by the Ministry of Food, through the local authorities, in dealing with rationing. It is clear to my mind that the availability of supplies of tea gives the Minister of Food the opportunity, if he desires to take it, of relieving the public of one of the wartime controls, and indeed of one which I think we must all admit was most unpopular, especially with the women of the country.

I ask the Goverment, if and when they review the wisdom of continuing bulk purchase, to consider what happened in the Argentine when, Government dealing with Government, the Argentine Government were able to make an extortionate profit—why should I mince my words?—out of their operations in linseed oil. In view of the gravity of our home affairs, I ask the Government seriously to ponder the question of whether in fact the people of this' country were not better provided for when they trusted to the free enterprise of our traders to secure the supplies of food which were needed to maintain their physical fitness than when, as now, they have to depend on the planned efforts of Government servants who, in my opinion, are being called upon to shoulder an almost intolerable amount of responsibility for the affairs of this country. This nation, after all, built up its economic prosperity on the skill and the enterprise of its traders. We are a nation of traders, and Government regulation and proscription bears very heavily indeed upon our shoulders. It hinders our native talent, which is the greatest of our national assets.

Our affairs in this country—let us face up to it—are indeed in bad shape. That was why I said at the beginning of my speech that I thought the Government had shown great courage, as well as great wisdom, in their publication two days ago of that White Paper. Surely it is obvious to His Majesty's Ministers that the time has come to think more of recovery than of doctrine? All the troubles of to-day are not their fault, but I appeal to them to try to lighten our burden, to free the channels of trade (which they can do, if they will) and to trust the people of this country.

When I prepared my speech, I intended to say that the Minister of Food was shouldering a great burden, but, having heard the brief he gave to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, I want to say that he is bearing a colossal responsibility. He has in the past shown great courage in altering his directions when his convictions dictated that some alteration was necessary, and I appeal to him to give a lead to us to-day. He must at present retain rationing, but I beg him to confine his operations—with proper safeguards regarding currency, but with full encouragement from hirn—to those foods which the traders of the country cannot supply in adequate quantities. Because I think the people of this country are being unduly depressed, I beg him, where he can, to give the housewife freedom to buy what she can get where she likes. It is high time that we had some break in this debilitating austerity. We want more meat, and we want the fats that go with it; we want some jam to-day and not a promise of jam to-morrow—although, to be quite fair, I must say that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, did not promise us jam even to-morrow!

I conclude, as I began, with a remark on the gravity of our economic position. If we are to recover, we must have increased production of goods in this country for the people of this country as well as for the purposes of export. I consider that if His Majesty's Government take those steps, which I believe to be within their power, to give us more food and more freedom, they will be able to trust the people of this country to produce more goods and to achieve their own recovery. I think it is true to say that the recovery of this country will not come from this Government or from any other Government, but from the people themselves.

5.30 pm.


My Lords, I should like to pay tribute to the noble Lord who initiated this discussion. He has been responsible for providing us with some very illuminating, instructive and perhaps depressing speeches. May I first say, however, that I give thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, who has just spoken, for the entirely fair-minded way in which he dealt with the problems confronting the Minister of Food. Amongst other things he exhorted the Government to trust the people; in that we are at one with him. I think the fact that we have, shall I say, had the courage to publish this White Paper, the fact that my noble friend beside me stood up and faced the grim facts, so far as he was informed of them, for 1947, showed that we have no lack of trust in the people. We have not been afraid to tell them the truth so far as We know it; and that is a manifestation of trust. I myself share with the noble Lord my complete confidence in the British people. I am quite sure that the more they realize these grim facts, the more their splendid staying power will be manifested, and I have not myself the faintest doubt that we shall come through this trial as triumphantly as we have come through many others. Therefore, whilst recognizing the difficulties of the months immediately in front of us, I have complete faith in our triumphant emergence, in due time, from our difficulties.

I will pass on to my right honourable friend the suggestions which the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, made with regard to possible reductions of staff, and I am sure he will pay great attention to them. Of course, the more we could have people employed on productive effort and the less on non-productive effort, the better for the whole nation, and we are as fully alive to that fact as anybody, for we are anxious to do all we can to divert or induce labour to productive work. The noble Lord said, in one of his asides, that he thought if the people had better food or more of it—or words to that effect—it would be a great encouragement to production. I agree with him, and the sooner we can get it the better. I would point out to the noble Lord, however, that notwithstanding our difficulties we have given a substantial increase in the meat ration to miners for that very reason—an increase which was not given during the war—and I hope that it will be attended with good results.

Before I come to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and some of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, with regard to bulk purchase-comments in which I do not quite share the same faith as the noble Lord—


I was trying to convince you.


I will be quite frank about it, and tell him one or two of the reasons why I do not share his faith. I would like to refer to the extraordinarily entertaining speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell. I remember at one time last year he addressed us with great attractiveness on a demonstration as to the valuelessness of figures. He told us that he had no faith in the calculations of economists, or whoever they were, as to the calorific values of the diets of different people in different parts of Europe. In fact, he threw cold water on the whole business of figures. He did it to our great entertainment and perhaps to our instruction, but at all events we enjoyed it. To-day, however—I do not know whether he is exercising the manoeuvre of the alibi to which he referred—he is doing exactly the opposite.


I was casting doubts only upon the accuracy of the figures, and not on the value of using accurate figures.


A thought comes into my mind which it might be improper to use, but a certain person is alleged to quote Scripture for his own purposes, although I would like to add that it has never occurred to me to accuse the noble Lord of using figures in that way. Nevertheless, I was extremely interested in the way in which he used figures to-day to prove his case, whereas in one of the last speeches he 'made here he used figures to show they were of but little value.

The first question he asked is one to which it is quite easy to reply and one for which I do not think any one of his three explanations are sufficient. He wanted to know why, in the first year of peace, we have not had more to eat than we had in the last year of war; or words to that effect. He suggested that there were three possible explanations. The first was that we are not willing to buy because of shortage of dollars; secondly that the allocations of the International Emergency Food Council are unfair; and thirdly that we are simply guilty of complete incompetence. I would suggest to him that they are none of them quite appropriate, and they none of them fit the facts. I am not going to speak about our incompetence because, of course, on that there would be a difference of opinion, but it certainly is not due to any unwillingness to find dollars so far as they are required. As to the International Emergency Food Council, they have scarcely been in existence long enough to attribute all our troubles to them.

Surely the fact is just this: that during the war such supplies as the noble Lord opposite could obtain, and such shipping as he could obtain, were diverted in the main, so tar as they could escape submarines, through a narrow channel to this country. Now they have to supply people all over the world who were short of food before and still are.


What happened to those people during the war when we were getting all the food?


A large number of them went without, but I cannot answer that question with regard to the 400,000,000 in India, where they have had exceptionally bad seasons, where there was a great shortage—I am putting it moderately—of rice and other cereals. We have had to divert to India, Malaya, Singapore, Ceylon and those places practically the whole of the Australian wheat supplies because of the shortage of their borne-grown food.


Surely not 10 per cent. of the total exportable wheat supplies went to India?


I am telling the noble Lord why we have not had coming to this country during the first year of peace things that came during the war. The demand of these countries has been loosed upon the world supplies, and the same applies to the whole of Europe. You could not divert the food to large areas of Asia and the Near East because you could not get it there. How the poor people were enduring their sufferings I do not know, but a lot of them were starving. The plain fact is that during the first year of peace you have opened out to all the world supplies the immense needs of multitudes of people of many nations which were not there before, and you have no means of calculating their requirements. To the call of humanity, we agreed with America and the supplying countries on an International Allocation Board, so that these people would get something to eat, and the reason why we have not had as much as we should otherwise have been able to obtain on the free market is that we have only had certain supplies allotted to us. An international organization was then brought into being in order to allot to the wanting world what supplies there were, and we could not have more than they allotted to us. So long as we are willing to maintain that system, in order to secure that a vast number of hungry people get something who would otherwise have gone without, we must play fairly and squarely with that organization.


I do not want to interrupt, but this is a very alarming statement that has been made, because the population of the world will go on. The population of the people we did not supply during the war is in fact growing. Must we look forward to a continuance of this restriction for all times now, or can the noble Viscount see an end?


I can see an end to some. I cannot pretend to say now how long certain emergencies will continue, but the noble Lord is well aware that what I am saying now is absolutely true. The needs of these vast populations have been focussed for the first time in history on an International Food Allocation Board. It has never been done before. The result has been that we have gone on lines other than we should have taken if we could have bought as freely as we would have liked without restriction. That is the solid fact, and that is the real reason, in the first instance, why restrictions have been continued into the post-war period and are inevitable. The only alternative is that hundreds of millions of people in the world would have gone without.

Now I come to the quaint doctrine of the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell. He says that as a matter of fact, people were better fed before the war. I am not a scientist or a statistician, but I do know something about physiology and medicine. I think Sir John Orr was perfectly right when, as a result of most careful and minute work, he said that before the war there were something like 10,000,000 people in this country who did not get enough to eat, of the right kind of food. And that is the simple truth. It is largely due to the noble Lord's colleague on his right, Lord Woolton, that a lot of them do get enough now and that they are very much better fed. This is due to the scientific rationing largely instituted by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude, and to the dissemination of knowledge. Take the case of milk. I notice that the noble Lord said nothing about this, although it is the most valuable food in the world. I want to mention it. Notwithstanding the difficulties of winter, there is more milk being produced in the winter months this year than ever before, and a much larger quantity is being consumed as liquid milk. It is the best food in the world.


It is saving the situation.


Yes, and do not let us forget it. The point I am making is that after two hours' debate, milk is now being mentioned for the first time. And I have not finished with milk yet. What are the facts so far as consumption of this most valuable of foods is concerned? Before the war the average consumption per head per adult was 3¼ pints; at the present moment it is 4½ pints. That is something like an increase of 30 per cent, in the consumption of liquid milk. That is for ordinary adults. Now take mothers and children. We have a substantial increase on what they consumed before the war. There is no complete basis of calculation, but such figures as we have show that before the war they got round about half a pint. At the present time the priority allowance of mothers and children is 7 pints a week. What is the noble Lord asking me to believe—that the children of this country, not his and mine—


I have not got any.


I did not know the noble Lord was so bereft! At any rate, I am not. I mean, I am not speaking of the children of the comparatively well-to-do and educated people in those days. But Sir John Orr was perfectly right when he said that millions of children in this country before the war were insufficiently fed, and very largely because they did not get enough milk. There is no doubt at all about that. I pay a great tribute to the noble Lord opposite, to whom the women and children of this country owe a great debt, because of his initiation of the scheme for supplying fresh milk. In spite of the noble Lord's remarks, I am quite sure that people are better fed.

Now the noble Lord goes further than that. What he really wants to do is to go back to the pre-war feeding of the world, and he said that a result of feeding the people of India better would be that they would multiply faster. Well, they multiply at a good rate as it is. But surely, is the noble Lord really going to adopt that as his political thesis—that millions of hungry people are not to have enough to eat, because if they do they would have more children? That appears to be his thesis.


You cannot give them enough to eat because—


I hope the noble Lord some day will take his courage in both hands and go out and tell the people of India his objection to their having more food—that if they had it they would have more babies. If that is the noble Lord's political doctrine, then all I can say is that we do not share his views on this side of the House.


Are you going to pay for the food?


If the people were under better economic conditions they would be able to buy food, but the solid fact is, and it is at last being revealed by the International Allocation machinery, that millions and millions of people all over the world do not get enough food, and so long as this is the case there will be a great demand upon supplies. Now I come back to the question which the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, quite properly raised, and I do not make any comment about it. He said we ought to try and save our supplies as much as we can, and then he raised the question of bulk purchase. I quite agree with him that in every trade, in every industry, the sensible thing to do is to make use of people who understand the business. Of course it is. But it does not necessarily follow that it is not wise to take exceptional measures. I myself believe that there are great advantages to be derived from bulk purchases.

The noble Lord, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, has spoken of our long-term wheat contract with Canada. If he refers to his own figures he will see that, so far as this year and next year are concerned, we shall be buying the wheat at 35 cents a bushel cheaper than the world price. I think that is the figure. That seems to me, on the whole, not an unbusinesslike arrangement. Indeed, I would call it a very good arrangement. This scheme was challenged, and it was found on investigation that it was justified on purely business principles. I may say that this long-term wheat contract does not stand alone. There are other long-term contracts. For instance, we have negotiated a four-year contract with the Argentine to take 83 per cent. of their exportable surplus of meat, and I should think, from what I have heard about it, that that will prove to be a very wise contract to have made.

Then we have contracts with Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands—long-term contracts for their sugar and many other commodities, including butter. I think that there are great advantages to them as well as to us in such long-term contracts. These contracts give not only surety of supply, but also what I think is vital to him—surety of market to the producer. We are operating that system in agriculture in our own country. It is the very basis of our policy—surety or reliability of price to the producer. The long-term contract machine is a very potent instrument in securing long-term contract reliability.

I have here some figures relating to tea. I do not think that the facts quite support the case which was put by the noble Lord, and I hope that he will discuss these statements with his friends afterwards. Personally, like him, I should be glad to see tea freed from rationing, if that were possible. I am sure that the Minister would be only too glad to take the necessary steps if he could. But, at all events, we bought last year Ceylon tea, by bulk purchase, at 1s. 10d. a pound. That was the price we gave. There has been a reaction against these bulk purchases, and the same tea—I have been assured that it is the same brand of tea—was sold by auction the other day in Ceylon at 4s. 6d. per pound. In other words, the tea that we have obtained by long-term contract at is 1s 10d. a pound is now being sold by auction, under a system which the noble Lord would like to be re-established, at 4s. 6d.


It is extraordinarily philanthropic on the part of these people only to ask for these small prices that they are asking from us now!


I am not inquiring into their motives; I am stating the fact. The fact is that our contract is at the rate of 1s, 10d. a pound, and that the same brand of tea has recently fetched 4s, 4d a pound when sold by public auction. I think that in this there is an excellent testimonial to our contract. But, as I said, I am not concerned with anybody's motives; there is the fact, and I think it is a comforting one. Whilst I quite agree with the noble Lord that there is a lot to be said, pro and con, on this method of purchasing (it depends on the commodity, on the circumstances, and on lots of other things); I think it can fairly be said that it has abundantly justified itself so far. Quite frankly, I am in favour of long-term bulk contracts because I think they give an element of security to the producer which cannot otherwise be obtained.

There are one or two other facts that I can mention which do give us a scrap of comfort. I have said that we have entered into a contract with the Argentine for large-scale purchase of their meat for four years. We have also very favourable king-term contracts with Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies for other products. I am glad to say, also, that we are now embarking on what I hope will prove to be a very promising enterprise for supplying this country with more fats in time to come. As the noble Lord quite rightly said, shortage of fats is one of the biggest difficulties confronting us. I am pleased to say that we have arranged considerable increases in the purchases of animal foodstuffs which we hope will be made available in the autumn, and which, I hope, will make possible an increase in our pig and poultry population. The increases in these commodities will, I think be deemed to be very substantial when they get here.

There is one other product which I should like to mention. We are taking measures to increase our supplies of groundnuts. In times past, we have been far too dependent on dollar areas for many of these commodities—these fat materials. But there is that great continent of Africa which has not perhaps hitherto made the contribution which it might have made. Therefore, we have had a survey made of great tracts of country in Tanganyika, Northern Rhodesia and other districts, and machinery is already in action for the cultivation of groundnuts in extensive areas in Tanganyika and other territories by exceedingly competent people, who are thoroughly accustomed to the work. If this project succeeds anything like as well as it promises, we shall receive from the African continent, in three or four years' time, an amount of groundnuts which will relieve us from our risks and anxieties with regard to many of these fat supplies. It is a courageous undertaking. As I say, it will take three or four years to carry it through, but it will mean, I hope, at the end of that time, or a little earlier perhaps, the supply to this country of immense quantities of groundnuts from districts which have hitherto supplied us with practically nothing of that kind. It is surely right to develop our territories in that way.

I have done my best to reply to many of the points which have been raised this afternoon. We shall not forget the many engaging aphorisms (if I may use that phrase) to which we have listened from Lord Cherwell. They will sink into our minds and sustain us in our endeavours to bear the hardships of the coming year. Whey will refresh us, and perhaps they will make up to a certain extent for lack of vitamins which we should, in other circumstances, have been able to enjoy. I hope that I have been able to give some little measure of comfort to the noble Lord. I do not think that the prospect is quite as gloomy as he would make out. We retain our faith in the courage and the resilience of the British people.

6 p.m.


My Lords, it would be tempting indeed to follow the noble Viscount who has just spoken into some of the fields into which he strayed, but at this hour I will certainly resist the temptation. There were, however, two things which struck me. One was that the British people look like going on short rations until the controversy is settled between the noble Viscount and the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, as to whether the population of India would increase more rapidly than the food supplies or the food supplies than the population. But, taking it seriously, I think that he made a very serious statement. Secondly, we look forward to an indefinite continuation of what he called "scientific rationing" in this country. It seems to me that the prospects for this country at the moment, if the philosophy followed by the present Government is pursued indefinitely, are that we cannot expect a substantial increase in the ration for a very long time, and that rationing is with us almost to stay. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.