Food Supplies

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st July 1947.

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3.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

This Debate must come under the shadow of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement yesterday. That statement certainly leads to a very grim outlook in its effects on the daily lives of our people. It appears to me to be the gravest step which has yet been taken by this Government. We shall obviously have to suffer more deprivations. In the circumstances it is, I think, inevitable, but the people deserve that at least we should be given the full facts of the situation without reserve or equivocation. We were promised the figures and we accept that promise. Before we can express any final conclusion, we must have these facts before us and an opportunity to study their implications. I am glad that we are having this Debate today, because the effect of the Government's new policy is felt most immediately by the ordinary man in regard to food. I hope that today the Minister will be able to give us full information before any misapprehensions about the situation get abroad.

I pass now to the questions which I wish to ask with regard to that statement, and arising out of it. My first question is this: why have tens of millions of dollars been squandered within recent months on unnecessary and expensive products which come within the sphere of the Ministry of Food? I thought it well, in the light of the statement, to look again at the Trade and Navigation Accounts, and I find that for the first five months of this year, we have bought from the United States fresh fruits and vegetables to the tune of £2½ million, miscellaneous foods excluding meat fats to the tune of £16 million, and dried eggs to the tune of some £16 million. I am very far from saying that none of that expenditure is justified—a considerable part of it was plainly necessary— but I do say that we could very well have done without a great part of these products, and that if we had, we should have had more dollars today which could now be spent more advantageously.

I am not being wise after the event, because it has been obvious for a long time that the loan has been running out more speedily than was at first expected. The Government have been pressed from all quarters in the House to refrain from that type of expenditure. I refer, as an example, to the Question asked by the hon. Member for Oxbridge (Mr. Beswick) on 10th March. It is true that the Question was addressed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it arises out of the right hon. Gentleman's responsibilities. He asked whether, with regard to the purchase of luxury fruits, foreign exchange would be refused in future, and got the plain and unadorned answer of "No, Sir." That is only three months ago. Do crises always catch this Government unawares? Is there no foresight among right hon. Gentlemen opposite? I should have thought this was one of the most obvious faults which the Minister has committed, and my first charge against him is mismanagement of the country's affairs.

I pass now to the second question I wish to ask. How does yesterday's statement affect our purchases from the sterling area or from soft currency countries? The last statement of which I have a note is one made by Lord Henderson in another place, in regard to criticisms about the expenditure of foreign exchange on expensive fruits and the like. He said: This criticism is misconceived. By far the greater proportion of this fruit comes from countries with which our balance of trade is favourable, countries which are having the utmost difficulty in many cases in finding goods they can send us in payment for our exports. In such cases, there is everything to be gained by taking from them even less essential goods. That seems to me to be good sense. I want to know how far, if at all, that policy has been modified by yesterday's statement. Does it still hold good? Does it mean that we still have some chance to get variety in our diet, if we can pick up goods of this sort in countries where we have a favourable balance of trade? I ask for a definite assurance on this point. I ask for an assurance that there is no question of the Government being under any obligation to restrict purchases of any kind of food from any other country because they cut off imports of that kind of food from America. I hope and believe that the Minister can give that assurance. If he can, it will go so far to relieve our apprehensions; but if he cannot, the situation becomes even graver than I had thought.

I am puzzled by the attitude of the Minister over purchases from various parts of the world. He told us, quite unequivocally, in February that we were not going to refuse any offer of Canadian food, and that we are to take all we can get. It follows that that policy has been radically altered. The first sign of an alteration, so far as the right hon. Gentleman is concerned, appeared to be in an answer he gave to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Squadron-Leader Donner) on 18th June. As it is so curious, I venture to ask the right hon. Gentleman to clear it up. He was asked why the Government had refused to buy certain breakfast foods, macaroni, wheatmeal, plum puddings, semolina, tomato sauce, fruit cake, custard powder and ice-cream powder from Australia. He said in reply: Our balance of payments position does not permit us to buy these comparatively expensive foods in Australia."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th June, 1947; Vol. 438, c. 2024.] How does it come about that this applies within the sterling area? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will clear up the policy which lies behind that answer. Next, in answer to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) on 25th June, about the possible import of potatoes from French territory, the Minister said: …I did not, however, see my way to permit the importation of potatoes at prices beyond the reach of most housewives."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th June, 1947; Vol. 439, c. 53.] This question of potatoes has created difficulty in London, the Home Counties, and elsewhere. There is no doubt that there were lots of potatoes in Scotland at that time, and that the Ministry had been warned, long before the crisis, of what would happen, but they just sat back and took no action. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will hear more about this matter from some of my hon. Friends if they are fortunate enough to cacth your eye, Mr. Beaumont. I, personally, feel that in this case the Ministry have been guilty of failing to take steps which might have been taken to help the housewives of London.

To return to my main point, namely, the reason which was given by the Minister, that he was not going to buy, even from a soft currency country, food which was beyond the reach of the ordinary housewife. Is that to be the general principle in future, or not? We ought to have a definite answer to that question. I am not saying that I object to that. If we are to live in siege conditions that might be a good thing—I do not know— but I prefer to suspend judgment until we have had more facts and figures. We ought to know whether this is to be the new policy, or what was the reason for that being an exceptional case, if it was an exceptional case. If it is to be the new policy, is it intended to reconcile it with the policy laid down by Lord Henderson in another place on 7th May? I find some difficulty in seeing how the two rules can be administered together.

What is the position with regard to hard currency countries? The statement seems plainly to mean that food, available and otherwise suitable for purchase, will not be purchased because of financial stringency. It may well be that that is inevitable in the circumstances; it may be that we shall have to criticise the Government for getting us into this mess, but, being in a mess it may be that that is necessary as protection of our financial stability. Again, I do not express any view until I have heard more about it. But does the statement mean that in future we are going to refuse all offers from hard currency countries of foods which are neither staple foods nor raw materials for agriculture, such as feedingstuffs? I do not know, but I think we ought to be told whether that is the meaning, and whether we are to curtail our imports to such a great extent as that. I ask that particularly, because I notice that in a newspaper, usually well-informed on food matters, a despatch from Washington, dated 20th June, stated: The British Food Mission is negotiating a new contract with the United States Government for dried eggs and canned frozen shell eggs. The Agricultural Department has 36 million dried eggs, and 58½ million canned frozen eggs, available. Is that a true statement? Were there negotiations? If so, have they been broken off as a result of that statement, or is the continuance of those negotiations and the making of a bargain in this matter consistent with that statement? We ought to know.

I wish to pass to the question of feeding-stuffs. I think it is plain that in any event, apart altogether from financial stringency, it would have been a major task of this Government to assist to the utmost of their power to restore the fertility of our land and the balance of our farming. The Ministry of Food can, and would need to, play their part in that restoration. In view of the likelihood of financial stringency, it was the duty of the right hon. Gentleman, from an early date, to do everything in his power to facilitate the maximum production of food from our land, and the maximum extraction of fish from the sea by British fishermen. I leave the details of this matter to others; I merely state what seems to be an inescapable fact. It seems that the Ministry of Food have been so preoccupied in the task of finding food for the months ahead that they have not been so energetic as they might have been in pursuing a long-term programme.

I refer in particular to maize. This has been discussed on a number of occasions in this House, and I am not going back on previous Debates. I am content to start in March of this year, when the right hon. Gentleman as good as told us that he was no longer to be bound by the old rule under which maize must be treated as a substance for human consumption only, because other people were not obeying that rule. I think he might have found that out a little earlier, but I do not press that at the moment. On 12th March, the Prime Minister stated in the House that, so far as the Argentine were concerned, we were getting what we could. The Committee may remember some dispute about the amount which the Argentine Government were prepared to sell to us. On 16th March, Senor Miranda was reported in the Press as having said this: The Argentine will be prepared to meet a request for 500,000 to 700,000 tons, and can supply a greater quantity to Britain if requested. Were the Argentine requested? Whatever has happened, I think we ought to know a little about this matter. So lately as 24th June, the Minister, at a Press conference, was not able to be very specific. All he could then say was that the Ministry hoped to find further substantial quantities and that the trend was definitely upward. Another report of that same conference stated: Feedingstuffs for pigs are coming from the Argentine slowly, and it is hoped to purchase substantial quantities elsewhere. We ought to have a full statement, at long last, about the position with regard to Argentine maize. We are entitled to that, and this Debate would, I think, be a suitable opportunity.

Yesterday, it was said in the Chancellor's statement that we could count on increased feedingstuffs. I welcome that very much, but I would ask one question: When the Chancellor referred to a slight increase in the total amount of food, did he mean food by itself, or was he taking feedingstuffs into account? I hope that he meant food by itself. Surely, it is late in the day merely to predict an upward trend. Prewar, we were importing something like five million tons of feedingstuffs a year—rather more than half of it maize. In the last five months, we have imported less than 500,000 tons—that is to say, about one quarter of the prewar rate. I think that is the most disappointing of all the imports of essential goods and commodities to this country. Something better is wanted now than mere vague statements such as we have been getting.

If we were to go to the United States and explain to them how absolutely vital it is for the re-establishment of this country that we should get large quantities of feedingstuffs from them, I cannot believe that we should be refused permission to buy it. The United States have always tried to do their best to help us and others to get back to some form of prosperity. I cannot believe that if the matter were put strongly and energetically to them that they would do nothing. Neither do I believe that transport is so desperately bad that we could not bring it in, if we really tried. It is only a matter of some hundreds of thousands of tons. Surely, we could get something substantial. I would ask for some explanation why we are not getting it? These are the main questions which occurred to me immediately on hearing and studying the Chancellor's statement. I have no doubt that others will occur to other hon. Members. I want to pass now to another topic.

I asked the Government in another -connection to let us have the plain facts. I ask them now to recognise the plain facts, because there are too many controversialists going about who are still insisting that this is a well-fed nation. A realisation and statement of the true facts might not only assist the Government in their action, but might also help others who desire to help us. Therefore, it may not be impertinent if I spend a few moments dealing with this topic. The first thing I would say is this. The standby of these same controversialists is, "Oh, now there is equality in this country" No claim could be less true. The right hon. Gentleman has conducted a number of - surveys. I have yet to see one which shows that the majority of the people of the country, who do not have access to canteens and restaurants, are brought out as consuming more than 2,400 calories a day. The figure is appreciably lower. We are told that a canteen meal may represent anything from 600 to 1;000 calories. We have, therefore, the disparity between those who can only eat at home and those who can attend these institutions—a disparity of something like 600 to 1,000 calories a day. What was the prewar disparity between Sir John Orr's top and bottom class? It was only about 1,000 calories a day. Therefore, I think that I am right in saying that, so far as equality is concerned, there is little difference in the disparity of calories today from what there was prewar.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

Look at the bonny babies we have today. The Tories never produced anything like them.

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

I am not saying that there are not a considerable number of people who are better off today than they were prewar.

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

These are people who are able to attend canteens and restaurants, and the children who get free milk. But the great majority of people who were not in the lowest income class before the war— and the lowest income class was a small one relatively—[Interruption.]I am talking about Sir John Orr's classification; and I say that the great majority of people Who were not in that class and who do not now attend canteens, restaurants and the like, are very much worse off than they were prewar. I have tried to be fair, and I challenge contradiction on any of the points that I have put forward.

As to the diet of these persons who do not visit canteens and are not among special classes of infants and the like, is it adequate and satisfactory today? It seems to me that calories tell only half the story. Otherwise, it might be that unlimited bread and water would be a good diet. I think that we all agree about that being untrue. I think that calories perhaps receive undue prominence because scientists always like dealing with things that they can measure numerically, and one cannot measure quality numerically. I do not want to elaborate what I have said before in this House about the falling off in the quality of our diet compared with what it was prewar. I stand by what I have said about that on previous occasions. Calories lead one to the most astonishing results. It will be found that, weight for weight, there are more calories in bread than in stewing steak; twice as many calories in sausages as there are in chicken, weight for weight. I do not think that most people would voluntarily make that exchange. Perhaps there will not be the same unanimity when I say that stout has more calories, weight for weight, than smoked haddock. Some people would make that exchange, but they would not do it on the grounds of the feeding value of the stout, even taking calories as a standard, and if we take the other standard, the matter is still worse. I have yet to find any authority who will recognise a calorie intake of less than 2,500 as satisfactory. Yet the average of the majority of our people falls from that by 150.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee

The Minister of Food (Mr. Strachey) indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Does he not believe his own surveys?

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee

I deny the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement that the average intake of the population is daily 2,500 calories; it is above that.

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

That is not what I said. I said the average intake of the people who have to feed at home. That is the class I am dealing with. If I did not make that plain, I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for correcting me. I thought it was clear that that was the class of people of whom I was speaking. Therefore, those people fall below the lowest standard that any expert would regard as reasonably satisfactory.

What about prewar? Here I think I can call the people themselves as evidence and I need not trouble about figures, because one of the most significant things in the official documents is with regard to the cost-of-living index. We find in 1904 that the average working family spent no less than 60 per cent. of their wages on food, and that proportion had fallen by 1937 to 40 per cent. That was a survey of all sections of workers who were earning less than £5 a week at that time. It is inconceivable to me that there would be this big shift from food to other things by people who did not think they were well enough fed. What happened was that there was a large increase in purchasing power by the wage-earner in this country between 1904 and 1937. Some of it went on food, but the greater part of it went on other goods. That could not have happened unless they thought they were reasonably well fed. I do not care what the experts think, because in this matter the consumer must have the last word. Therefore, I do not go into figures on this question. I only say that even the lowest paid class investigated by that Ministry of Labour investigation in 1937 spent only 48 per cent. of their income on food instead of 60 per cent.

Photo of Mrs Leah Manning Mrs Leah Manning , Epping

What about rents?

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

The proportion paid in rent fell from 16 per cent. to 12.7 per cent.

Photo of Mrs Leah Manning Mrs Leah Manning , Epping

May I point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he has forgotten that the sums were being cleared away, and new housing estates were being built for the working classes, who spent a great deal of their money on moving into these places.

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

I am glad of the hon. Lady's testimonial to the work of the Tory Government.

Photo of Mrs Leah Manning Mrs Leah Manning , Epping

It was largely being done by the London County Council.

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

The hon. Lady will remember that those houses were subsidised and in spite of that move, which I agree was a large movement, I take the figures which I find in the official record in regard to rents.

Photo of Mr Hubert Beaumont Mr Hubert Beaumont , Batley and Morley

Today we are not debating the question of housing.

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

I was merely replying to the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning).

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

I agree that we do not want to have a Debate on housing now, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that in the period which he quoted the proportion of wages spent in rent had fallen from 16 per cent. in the first year to 12½ per cent. in the last year. How does he reconcile that with the fact that the evidence given before the Departmental Committee of this House concerning rent controls was that in the case of the working class—

Photo of Mr Hubert Beaumont Mr Hubert Beaumont , Batley and Morley

I cannot allow a Debate on housing. It is completely out of Order.

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

Perhaps I may be allowed to say without being out of Order, that all the expenditure by members of the working class increased considerably during that period, but the purchasing power increased even more and that is the explanation of the fall.

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

I shall be very glad to take this matter up with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) on a suitable occasion, because I am sure that I have the right answer.

The last topic with which I have time to deal is that of stocks. I do not want to take up an unduly long time on it, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman can see his way to discard some of the secrecy which has surrounded this matter in the past. All it has actually done has been to prevent the British public realising the seriousness of the position, and it has not prevented those with whom we are negotiating, making a shrewd guess at what the real position is. In the "Economist," which is a well-informed paper, there appeared recently a list showing precisely what the stocks were, and those details as far as I know have not been contradicted. I only want to read this one sentence: It will be seen that the position at the end of March was far from satisfactory. There was less than a month's supply of butter, bacon and hams, flour, carcase meat and margarine; less than two month's stock of cheese and cooking fat, and three or more month's supply of tea, sugar and tinned meat. In one case butter was down to a fortnight's supply. I was very glad to hear the statement that we are going to build up stocks, because I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether that is a contradiction of the policy of the Government as set out in the memorandum attached to the Civil Estimates. In that memorandum, at paragraph 308, I find, after mention of a cash deficiency of £313 million, that it goes on to say: This cash deficiency is related to an estimated deficiency on trading accounts of £365,000,000, after allowing for a net reduction of stocks during the war, notional charges not paid for in cash, interest, overheads, et cetera. I do not know what part of that difference of £52 million is accounted for by the net reduction of stocks anticipated during the year, but it must have been considerable. At that time our stocks were very low, and I hope that this statement means that the right hon. Gentleman has departed from what he said on the Civil Estimates and is now following the opposite course. If it means that, of course, it means large Supplementary Estimates, but no doubt he will tell us what he is going to do about it. In view of the publicity which this matter of stocks has received, it would be well if he gave us the necessary information. In conclusion, it would obviously be wrong for me to take up time dealing with individual commodities. We welcome the anticipated increase in the sugar ration; we deplore the reduction in meat announced yesterday. I have no doubt some of my hon. Friends, will want to probe that.

Summing up the matter, I would put it in this way—my charge against the right hon. Gentleman is a charge of bad housekeeping, lack of foresight and a failure to face the facts. I believe from such investigations as I have been able to make without access to official figures, that if we had had a better administration we should not only be better off today, but the prospects for the future would have been less grim than in fact they are. I do not deny that in any event the prospects would have been grim, but not so grave as they appear to be today, and it seems to me that the country is right in blaming the right hon. Gentleman, as undoubtedly it does, for a year's bad administration.

4.9 p.m.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has asked me several questions and I hope to deal with them in the course of my remarks, as well as with other questions which have been asked in public controversy and in this House and no doubt will be asked again tonight. One question I should like to deal with right away. The right hon. and learned Gentleman in his opening remarks asked whether there was no foresight and whether crises always come on this Government unaware. When he said that I could not help my mind going back to the Debates exactly a year ago when we faced each other across this Committee, and the subject was the rationing of bread. I can assure right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that if we had not rationed bread at that time, the condition of this country during last winter would indeed have been as grave as they—not without satisfaction—periodically predict.

I should like to pass straight from that to a subject which the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not mention, but which has often been mentioned in the polemical attacks which have been made on my administration and our general food policy and which, no doubt, will continue to be made during this Debate, although I am far from complaining about such attacks since they are the salt of public life. The subject to which I refer is the policy by which we acquire a major part of our foodstuffs by bulk buying. That is a system which His Majesty's Government inherited and which had been built up during the war. It is, I submit to the House, an integral part of our general system for the procurement and distribution of foodstuffs in this time of world shortage, and it is that system and that corner stone of our general food policy which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to tear down today in order to return to private trade.

Photo of Sir Walter Fletcher Sir Walter Fletcher , Bury

It might help the Committee if the Minister would explain at this stage exactly what he means by bulk buying, which is a deceptive phrase. Does he mean the size of the purchase or the fact that it is a Government transaction?

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee

I shall spend quite a few minutes explaining that and everything else which I can put into the time on bulk buying. Why is it a cardinal principle of His Majesty's Government's food policy today that we should maintain this system of bulk buying? It is, first of all, because it is an integral and, I believe, indispensable part of the general policy by which, in the world conditions of today, we secure the available foodstuffs and distribute them equitably to the people of this country. I believe, for example, that it would be exceedingly difficult to maintain the whole rationing system which is, I think, universally agreed to be absolutely indispensable while foodstuffs are scarce, if at one point in their procurement they did not come into Government ownership. Further than that, it would be still more difficult to maintain the policy of price stabilisation by which prices of staple foodstuffs, at any rate, are brought within the reach of all the housewives of this country. I will have more to say about that in a moment.

Again, it would be particularly difficult to play our part in those systems of international allocation which, although they are sometimes irksome to us, as I would not deny for a moment, are on balance something which has been of considerable benefit to us and of untold benefit to the world as a whole during the past two years. Also it would be almost impossible to do that under a system of unrestricted private trade. Finally—and this is a subject on which the right hon. and learned Gentleman touched—while certain currencies are what is called "hard"—and I take it that a hard currency is one which is hard to come by—it would be almost impossible to allow the importation of foodstuffs into this country to be carried out in the prewar way under private trade.

Those reasons are saying no more than that, as the hon. Member reminds us quite rightly, bulk purchase has many forms and is a very flexible instrument. It may be a direct Government to Government deal or, as it more frequently is, an overall agreement within which the actual procurement of the food can very often be left to existing firms who work as agents of the Ministry of Food or, indeed, as free agents within a given quantity. It can be of any degree of organisation, and I think that I would carry with me a great many of the food traders themselves, who very naturally wish to return to the prewar system, when I say they would agree that so long as world shortages exist in their present form, some system of bulk buying in that sense is indispensible.

I do not, however, rest my case for bulk buying and its continuance today on that. I believe that the real case for bulk buying is that it enables us to use the instrument of the long-term contract which is far the best instrument at our disposal for increasing the amount of food which we can find to buy in the world, and it must be agreed that the long-term contract, running into hundreds of millions of pounds over the years in the larger cases, is something which can be done only by bulk buying on behalf of His Majesty's Government. I think, therefore, that we come to the centre of the question at issue when we consider the long-term contract, and I should like to address myself to one or two of the major examples of that because we have been told very freely by hon. Members opposite, the noble Lady the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Viscountess Davidson) among them, of the disastrous thing which these long-term contracts are and how they are negotiated by the most amateurish civil servants. I confess that I have never met these amateurish civil servants—they appear to me to be thoroughly efficient professional people—but it is said that they are persons without the slightest knowledge of the food trade, who are sent to foreign countries where they fall victim to the wiles of the traders in those lands and do no more than dissipate the taxpayers' money.

Let us see what actually happens in these long-term contracts. First, I should like to take the biggest of them, the Anglo-Canadian wheat agreement. That is an agreement for the negotiation of which I was directly responsible just a year ago, and I think, therefore, that the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) very likely had that agreement in his mind when he wrote of long-term contracts in the "Evening Standard": It is bad enough when men gamble away their own money. Bulk buying is largely gambling with other people's money—ours— and, on the whole, not being very good at it. Some of Mr. Strachey's recent ventures into a field of action about which he obviously knows nothing would label him on the racecourse as a veritable Bookie's Delight. Far be it from me to say that we have struck a hard bargain with those great and faithful suppliers to this country, the Canadian grain farmers. I do not think that we have, and I believe that after the four years of the Canadian wheat agreement have expired the Canadian farmers and ourselves will find that the prices negotiated and to be negotiated under that contract will prove immensely beneficial to both parties. Since I have been called a Bookie's Delight I would ask the Committee to look for a moment at the actual prices which have so far been paid in the first year of the contract. We have purchased 160 million bushels of wheat from Canada under that agreement, and for each of these bushels we have paid one dollar 55 cents. During the same year the quotations for wheat on the Chicago market have run between these two limits—a low, only the other day, of 2 dollars 12 cents., and a high, last March, of 2 dollars 96— cents.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee

I thank the hon. Member for that expression of what hon. Members on this side think. I wish very much when I hear those statements that hon. Members opposite read the Canadian Press and followed the Canadian Debates, because when I had the great pleasure of being in Canada last spring, I found that not the Canadian farmers but the Canadian grain trade and the Conservative Opposition in the Canadian Parliament criticised me, perhaps quite as severely as hon. Members opposite do, but for exactly opposite reasons. They considered that I was a wily Britisher playing them for a sucker, and that I must be very carefully watched. I hasten to say that those accusations have as little foundation as these, and if the Committee will bear with me a moment I would like to read a few words from a speech I made to the Canadian farmers and their representatives in Winnipeg on 25th February last. I said in part: I have had one experience during this visit to Canada which has particularly interested me. I listened to much of last Friday's Debate in the Dominion Parliament on the Anglo-Canadian Wheat Agreement. I was particularly interested by the speeches of those members who opposed the Agreement. As I sat there in the Gallery I wished that I could have brought my Conservative opponents in the British House of Commons along with me to hear what was being said in Ottawa. In London I often have to meet strong criticism of the Canadian Wheat Agreement. Our British Conservatives tell me that I have made a very poor bargain. They tell me that the result of the Agreement will be that the British people will in the end have to pay millions of pounds more for their wheat than if no Agreement had been made. So I rather wish that I could have had them with me in Ottawa last Friday to listen to the Canadian Opposition speakers alleging that I had made far too good a bargain, that under the Agreement the Canadian farmers would sell their wheat to us for much less than if there had been no Agreement. Of course, both Oppositions cannot be right. Perhaps neither of them are right. As a matter of fact, in my humble opinion we shall find at the end of the day that the Agreement will work out fairly for both parties. But all that depends on the course of world prices of wheat over the next three years. I particularly emphasise that last statement—that whether this agreement works out depends on the course of world wheat prices over the next three years. It would be quite wrong to judge on the results of the Agreement for the first year of which I have just spoken. I am glad to say for our own sake and for every one's sake, that the course of wheat prices today is very sharply down. The quotations in Chicago on 17th March last were within a few cents of three dollars and today they are two dollars 18 cents., a very large drop in those months. Our agreement with Canada has still three years to run and I put it to the Canadian farmers—not that I thought they are unaware of this for one moment—that long before that agreement ends, they will be very glad of the agreement on their side because of its advantages which give them security against the ruinous wheat prices they experienced between the wars. I was very glad to see, in spite of very strong propaganda against it, that in a recent poll taken by Canadian radio among Canadian farmers, a very large majority of them were found to be in support of the agreement.

Before I leave the question of cereals I would like to say one more thing and to quote one more opinion on our arrangements about cereals in our national housekeeping, to use the phrase which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Billhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) threw across the Floor of the House at me just now. He says that I am a most improvident housekeeper. He has every right to that opinion, but I would just call the attention of hon. Members to a different opinion, and I suggest a slightly more impartial one and not an unimportant one; that is, the opinion of Mr. Clinton Anderson, the American Secretary for Agriculture. Mr. Anderson wrote a letter on 26th May to the International Emergency Food Council. This is what he said to them: The essential thing is to get better food management in other lands. I would not hesitate to send a whole year's supply of grain to Britain in three months because I know it would not be frittered away. The British would take it, hold on to it, and ration it, just as carefully as if they did not know where the next bushel was coming from. Some other countries could well follow their example. Hon. Members opposite must forgive me if I say that just at the moment I attach rather more importance to that objective opinion than I do to some of the things which have been said in this House.

I would like to go on for a moment to the next and in many ways, equally important long-term contract which has also come under very heavy fire—our. contract by which we buy in bulk no less than 83 per cent. of the entire exportable surplus of Argentine meat. The noble Lady the Member for Hemel Hempstead, who has just returned from the Argentine, said that it was disastrous. The hon. and gallant Member for Stockport (Wing-Commander Hulbert) sent round a number of letters to the provincial Press. It was the same letter which appeared in different provincial newspapers. In it he told us that this bulk buying is an absolute disaster. The view, put by the hon. and gallant Member for Stockport to those newspapers and to me in a supplementary question in this House, was that the bulk contracts and this particular bulk contract with the Argentine were of a disastrous character. His actual words were that he was ''flabbergasted at it.'' Under this bulk contract—these are his own figures, not mine—we pay the Argentine 7d. a lb. for the meat and in the United States, where we cannot make a long-term contract, we pay 2s. a lb. I told the hon. and gallant Member that his figures are somewhat exaggerated, but still he is not far out. I wish he was in his place to explain it to us because I simply cannot understand it. He uses these figures as if he has made some point against bulk buying. He leaves me in complete bewilder ment.

Photo of Mr Henry McGhee Mr Henry McGhee , Penistone

And are you flabbergasted?

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee

Let me say at once that it would be equally wrong to suggest that the price at which we are buying our Argentine meat is unduly low. On the contrary, compared with the best meat prices, compared, I am quite sure, with future prices and compared with the prices at which we are able to buy our meat in Australia and New Zealand, the Argentine price is a reasonable one and not a stiff one. What has happened is that the Argentine are taking what I am sure is in their view the best course they can take purely and simply for Argentine interests, as they are right to do. Taking a long view and a wise view of Argentine interests, they are selling us this meat at reasonable prices because we take 83 per cent. of their entire exportable surplus and they know that we are their long-term market.

Photo of Mr George Drayson Mr George Drayson , Skipton

Can the Minister say what price the Argentine Government gives to the Argentine farmer for this meat?

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee

That is a matter for the Argentine Government. The accusation apparently was—well I really do not know what the hon. Member's accusation was, but those are the facts at any rate.

Those are our two biggest long-term contracts. We have many others. We have a series of medium and long-term contracts with our valued suppliers in Australia and New Zealand covering meat, butter and cheese. Again, how can we expect those consumers to sell us their staple products unless we gave them the assurance of a continuing market? After all, the history of our treatment of them is a not too happy one. It has been ruined more than once by the absence of any such assurance and, remember, we are asking them now not only to sell us these staple commodities of vital importance to their economy at reasonable prices, but they are actually rationing their own people in order to maximise those exportable surpluses to us. How can we, and how can the Australian and New Zealand Governments, ask their people to submit to rationing unless they know that everything which they have abstained from consuming themselves comes to us under a bulk buying contract? There is a series of other contracts, not with Dominion or foreign Governments, but with Colonial Governments—for example, our contracts for vital oil seeds with West Africa; contracts in which we ourselves have deliberately raised the prices in recent months because we wished to offer added inducement to the producers.

All this shows, I submit to the Committee, that today bulk buying is an absolutely indispensable means, using the instrument of the long-term contract, for mobilising the buying and consuming power of this great market to obtain the maximum quantities of food at the most reasonable prices. I have said that the techniques of buying are flexible and various, but how about the overall agreements, I may be asked fairly, how is the action of procurement done? How are these negotiated? Who is it who negotiates? The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead said that they were inexperienced civil servants and that they could be heard coming along like a herd of elephants. Let me go through one or two of the commodities and the actual names of the men who do the buying. The cereals of this country are bought under the directorship of the Commodity Director concerned, Mr. J. V. Rank, a man not wholly unaccustomed to buying wheat; as a matter of fact, a name to conjure with in every grain market in the world. And this is the man who, for eight years, without any remuneration to himself whatsoever, has devoted his time and energies, sometimes day and night, to buying our daily bread for us. I submit to the Committee, no man on earth could have done it better.

Take the case of sugar. The sugar deal which made possible the recent increase in the sugar ration was put through in a series of agreements negotiated by Sir William Rook. He is no civil servant in Whitehall who has been doing something quite different up to a year ago. On the contrary, he is the greatest sugar dealer in the world, a man who seems to know instinctively where every ounce of sugar is in the whole world. He also has been working for eight years now, to the entire neglect of his private interests, devoting himself because he really cares whether the people of this country have an adequate supply of sugar. In oils and fats, there is Mr. Jasper Knight, who also eight years ago was accustomed to work for that firm of Unilevers which, whatever we may say about it, is neither small nor unsuccessful. He knows a little about buying oils and fats. Or take meat. There is Sir Henry Turner who, eight years ago, came to work at the Ministry of Food and, before that, represented the New Zealand meat exporters. He negotiated those contracts with the Argentine of which I have just spoken. Of course I am only mentioning the top man who is doing his utmost to mitigate the serious shortfall in home supplies of meat which has necessitated the recent cut in the meat ration by opening up new supplies.

In that connection let me give an example of the enterprise of the Meat Division. When I was in the United States in February it came to my notice that the United States would not, in the future months and very likely years, purchase its accustomed quantities of Mexican meat, and it struck me that this might be an opportunity for us. I sent a cable to Sir Henry Turner at the Meat Division and within a short time Mr. Eastwood—again a man very experienced in the meat trade—had flown out to Mexico. He was not content with being flown out there. He flew all about Mexico in a two-seater aircraft which he got hold of. He toured all the Northern Provinces of Mexico where meat is produced, he made a survey very rapidly by air, landing at the main haciendas,and it may well be that in the coming months, and years too, we may open up an appreciable and entirely new source of meat for this country.

I would say a word about these men. I have mentioned only five of them, but there are many others. In fact, if hon. Members would turn to the Estimates on page 42 they will see that the last line but one of the page reads "Commodity Directors (16 unpaid)." These 16 men and their staffs for the most part for eight years past have been doing this absolutely vital job of procurement on our behalf. The truth is that the scales of pay which we offer to our long-suffering public servants would mean very little to most of these men but, nevertheless, they have been doing this job for us for nothing, and it seems a little hard to me that their only reward should be sneers and jeers.

Now I turn to the long-term contracts as a method of opening up new sources of supply. I have spoken of it so far as a way of getting the maximum amount of food at reasonable prices from our great staple suppliers, but I believe it is a tremendous power in opening up new sources and reconstructing old sources shattered by the war, and we are not inactive in this field. Here I will give one or two examples. In July last, just a year ago, we entered into long-term contracts with Denmark. We used to take the bulk of the Danish exportable surplus of butter, bacon and eggs. In addition to our traditional imports from Denmark, we opened up a quite new trade in a small but valuable quantity of Danish beef.

What is Denmark willing to do in return for that assurance of the British market again? She has been willing to subsidise her own producers and, more, to ration her own population again. She has reimposed rationing of oils and fats in Denmark in order to maximise her exportable surplus. How could we possibly have hoped the Danes would do that unless an overall agreement of this sort could be brought about? It is true that Danish costs are very high today. It is no cause for blame but a reflection of the world-wide feedingstuffs position. There are many difficulties in meeting these prices without getting out of line with our other food suppliers in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere. But there are these passing difficulties. As feedingstuffs reappear, I am quite sure we are going to put Anglo-Danish trade on a sound basis. Last March we made a similar agreement with Holland. Holland has suffered incomparably more during the war, and quite a small trickle of exports seems to be all we can hope for in the immediate future. But, there again, by means of these overriding agree- ments' trade has begun. A few weeks ago a similar agreement was signed with Poland. There again, the results must be quite small in the immediate future, but in eggs, sugar, bacon and other commodities which we need very much, they might well be quite considerable in a year or so's time. Those three agreements are actually signed.

Now I come to agreements which are in course of negotiation. The most advanced of these is with Hungary. We have had a Ministry of Food Mission in Budapest in the last few weeks, and they have secured the approval in principle of the Hungarian Supreme Economic Council, and the Hungarian Cabinet, to a three years' contract for trade between the two countries, by which very appreciable quantities of eggs, bacon, poultry, lard, and vegetable oils may be purchased by this country from Hungary and, of course, characteristic British exports may be purchased by Hungary. I hope to welcome a Hungarian delegation this month in London. They wisely said that they could not fill in the quantities until they are sure of their own harvest, but they told me in the last few days that the harvest is practically assured, and they should be able to come in the next few days and conclude the actual terms. In Yugoslavia similar negotiations are in a less advanced stage. A representative of my Ministry has just come back from there. There it seems that the harvest prospects are excellent, and that we shall be able in the next few months to conclude an agreement highly beneficial to both States.

I would like to say a word about the whole area of the Danube Basin, which is an area of very great importance to this country. It is not one from which we used to draw much food before the war, but an area which, I believe, can become one of the important suppliers of this country. Food used to go North, to Germany, and no doubt some will go there again in due course, but some, at any rate, should come West in future to Britain in exchange for British industrial goods. I include Rumania, although up to now she has had no food surplus at all, but there again the prospect is better. We are very anxious to conclude these agreements.

It may be asked, "How do these agreements fit in with the Marshall Plan, which is being negotiated in Paris today?" I would say these agreements fit in admirably with any such plan. It is the essence, as I understand it, of the initiative of Mr. Secretary Marshall that Europe should help itself as a condition of any American assistance. These agreements, by which characteristic products of agricultural Europe are exchanged for characteristic products of industrial Europe, such as those of this country, are expressions of European self-help, and they should fit in as the very groundwork of any overall plan which, I hope, will be arrived at. The negotiations which are going on at this moment should fit in with a more important series of negotiations which my hon. Friend the Secretary for Overseas Trade is conducting in Moscow at the moment.

I believe that if moderation and toleration are shown on both sides, something of very great value to the economy of both countries may emerge. They start from the solid basis that we need, and make no secret of it, some of the characteristic products of the Soviet Union here, such as cereals, canned fish, and timber, and she needs, at least equally, many of the industrial exports of this country. If I may paraphrase our national poet, I would say: Let us not to this marriage of true needs. Admit impediments —even highly ideological impediments. I come lastly to a small country, very much nearer to us, Eire. There, irksome political difficulties have stood in the way of obvious economic advantages, but I believe those political difficulties can be smoothed away. Up to now the opportunity has been limited. It has been limited by the fact, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, of the shortage of feedingstuffs in Eire. Until Eire obtained considerable quantities of feedingstuffs, it was of little use our asking for a considerable surplus of butter, eggs, and so on, but I am glad to say we have been able to procure, on her behalf, a considerable quantity of feedingstuffs, and her feeding-stuff position, in common with our own, is improving. As soon as that situation arose, I sent two agricultural experts to Eire. They have just returned with a very important report, which is being carefully studied in my Ministry, by which I believe negotiations will, in weeks rather than months, be initiated. Out of those negotiations may well come a restoration of prewar agricultural imports into this country from Eire. That will take a little time, but in the long run I see no reason why a very much larger trade should not be done. It may well be that Eire will want as a condition of that trade an assurance of long-term contracts. I think it very likely that she will want that, and, on principle, we shall be willing to give it.

I hope the Committee will not think that these negotiations can suddenly bring us great quantities of butter, eggs and other foodstuffs. Nearly all the countries I have mentioned have acute problems of their own. They are struggling out of the difficulties of the times, just as we are, and therefore, the benefits can only come gradually—

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee

—I think I know the hon. Member's point—and that makes it the more necessary to start on the basis of renewed trade in good time, because in the nature of things it must take some time.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lindsay Mr Kenneth Lindsay , Combined English Universities

May I see whether the right hon. Gentleman is on the same point? I was very much impressed by the trade treaties he mentioned with Hungary and Yugoslavia. Could he say whether there is any chance of freeing trade between Central European countries in order to save transport and to save us from helping to feed those countries?

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee

The hon. Member is on a point of very great importance, but there is not necessarily any contradiction between Central European countries importing food, even across the oceans, if they are feedingstuffs like maize, barley and the like, and exporting other kinds of food, such as bacon, eggs, poultry and things of that sort. At first sight it may seem contradictory to import one food and to export another, but it is not necessarily a contradiction to do so.

Finally, home agriculture in this country has nothing to fear from any addition of feedingstuffs from overseas, which I hope we shall achieve in the end. British farmers may be quite sure that they have in the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as well as in my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, a firm friend today. The Chancellor has to look after every penny under the balance of payments, and, therefore he, like all of us, is determined that we shall grow every ton of food—above all the more expensive foods—which we can in this country. In this connection it is interesting to note that we give British agriculture the firmest long-term contract of all. It is a long-term contract, a form of bulk buying, which it should be noted, is universally approved on every side of this Committee.

I have left myself little time to describe our efforts outside Europe, because I think they are rather better known to the Committee, but they are not inconsiderable. There again they will take time to bear fruit. The Committee will have gathered from the statement of my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary recently that the corporation—of which I announced the names of the members some time ago—for the culture of groundnuts in East Africa is now being expanded into one of two corporations which are to be set up in a most comprehensive scheme of Colonial development. The corporation which will be responsible to my Ministry will be called the Overseas Food Corporation, and it will be concerned with the production, on large scale mechanised lines comparable to the groundnut scheme, of foodstuffs which we believe can only be brought into plentiful supply by our actually going out and producing them. Though this corporation is not established, I am glad to say that work is already going on in East Africa under the managing agency of the United Africa Company. It provides tremendous opportunities for permanent employment for young men who are seeking really great opportunities overseas. They will be taken on by the managing agency and will pass into the employment of the corporation.

The last country overseas I would like to mention is Indonesia, and I would not say much about it because the situation is so critical. I think that everyone in the Committee who knows the subject will agree that those two great storehouses of Java and Sumatra hold the key to the world situation in several important foodstuffs—sugar, tea, oils and fats. One can hardly breathe while the matter is in the balance between the Dutch and Indonesian authorities, but I would appeal to both to prevent, at all costs, a new outbreak of warfare in those Islands. I would appeal primarily perhaps to our great friends and allies, the Dutch, not because they are to blame as against the Indonesians—that is certainly not for us to assess—but because they are incomparably the more experienced Government. We ask them, in the interests of the world, to exhibit the utmost patience in this matter, because if they launched an armed attack today the one thing which we could claim as certain, whatever the fortunes of war might be, would be that we should say farewell to foodstuffs which are vastly important for the whole world.

I turn to the other side of the subject which is before the Committee today, and which has been touched upon a good deal by the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead, that is the distribution side and the difficulties of the housewives. Many people like to speak as if we at the Ministry of Food were unaware of the trials and difficulties of the housewife. I put it to the Committee that, of all people, we, from the necessities of the case, know more about the difficulties and trials of housewives than almost anyone else in the country, for, naturally and rightly, they bring them to us in large numbers. The difficulties of the housewives are better met by the efforts of which I have endeavoured to give some description in the first part of my speech than by any words of sympathy, however eloquent, on my part. I believe that it is actually by the efforts we make to get more food that we shall be judged, not by what we say or by what is said about us.

Of these difficulties themselves, I would only say that today the housewives of this country, in all their difficulties, have at any rate not only the assurance of finding in the shops the staple articles of food; all housewives have the assurance of being able to take those articles out of the shops, and for the poorer housewives that is a new assurance. But it is perfectly true that all the housewives in the country are suffering new kinds of trials, the trials of the irksomeness of shortages, rationing systems and the like. These are great trials for middle-class housewives, who are unaccustomed to having any of those trials, and to whom it comes as a new and very hard experience indeed. I admit at once that it is most hard that two years after the war these difficulties still go on for women who were quite unaccustomed to them before the war, and that it has not been possible to remove those difficulties from all the housewives of the country, because we are determined not to remove them from a few housewives. We shall only remove them when we can remove them from all housewives.

I have a word to say on the nutritional level of this country, which has been dealt with at some length. The point is really not very complex. The fact is that the average number of calories consumed per head per day at the moment by the people of this country is between 2,880, and 2,890. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) believes that he secures some political advantage by alleging that the figure is 2,325. That is what that figure would be if no one in the whole of the country consumed any food in catering establishments—canteens, restaurants, school meals—and, as a matter of fact, some types of rationed foods such as those under the personal points scheme. Using this completely false figure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman alleges that we are gravely under-nourished, and less cautious supporters allege that we are starving to death. I will only say that if the figure was 2,325 we should not be starving to death but we should be much worse nourished than we are. The Committee may be interested to know that this figure of 2,325 came from the National Food Survey, who by testing samples of food eaten in the home, and with the exclusions I have just mentioned, arrive at that figure for the first quarter of 1947. But this National Food Survey has been in operation since long before my period in office. It was in operation under my predecessors, and figures were got out for previous years. The exactly comparable figure in 1941 was 2,360, compared with the present figure of 2,325, in 1942 it was 2,253 and in 1943 it was 2,315. So we reach the inescapable conclusion that if we are slowly starving to death today we were starving to death a little more quickly in the period of office of Lord Woolton.

I would only add one or two further comparisons with prewar figures. The subject was dealt with fully in the correspondence in "The Times" of the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities and Professor Marrack, a very distinguished nutritionist, who compared present conditions with those which Sir John Orr studied. I have had calculated from the Orr Report exactly comparable figures of the daily calorie intake of the various income groups. In 1937 this was 1,925 calories for the poorest income group, and 2,106 calories for the next poorest income group. The average level for the whole population upon an exactly comparable basis of calculation was 2,275 calories.

I would be the first to agree with the right hon. Gentleman that calorie-mongering is in many ways a very barren business but we did not start it. We were asked to give figures, and we must, of course, give them, any they are interesting and valuable as long as they are not disputable. I am not for one moment suggesting that 2,890 is a highly satisfactory level, but it is a good level by comparison with previous periods. Certainly we aim to put the whole population of this country upon a higher level than that. We do not believe in a dead level of food intake for all individuals. Nothing could be worse than that; but, at any rate, the difference in intake among individuals today is very largely according to need instead of according to class. A miner gets more food than a sedentary worker. There is comparatively little difference in the intake of the different income groups.

I have been asked to say something about distribution. The present system by which we distribute our foodstuffs in this country is by control of the private trader. I would like to pay a very great tribute to that system, as it has been built up, not by me, in the war years, and to the partnership which has existed between the Ministry and the private trading organisations. Under very strict forms of Ministry control those organisations have distributed the foodstuffs in the country. If I am asked, either by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite or by my hon. Friends, whether I think that that system is permanently satisfactory I would say that I do not think so. I do not believe that permanently and for ever the present system of controls, built up in wartime conditions, is finally satisfactory I am aware that this task will have to be tackled but I could not give it the same order of priority and urgency which I give to the procurement of food. However urgent it is, it will not produce many tons of food which will be available for consumption by the people of this country.

That is not to say that price is unimportant. Price is of the utmost importance. There, we come actually to incomparably the larger part of the Estimates. If hon. Members will turn to page 39 they will see the item: "Trading Services (net)." The item involves an expenditure of £313 million, out of our total estimate of £333 million. They will see, therefore, that this one item is of overwhelming importance in the affairs of the Ministry. If they turn to page 50 of the Estimates they will see what this item of £313 million for trading services really is. It is actually the difference between the cost of the food which we have bought at home and abroad and the price at which we have sold that food to the public. We bought the food for £1,440 million and sold it to the people of this country at £1,127 million. It is quite open to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that the £313 million is the loss suffered by the Ministry of Food in its trading organisation. The figure of £313 million is the difference between the two amounts. It is also in fact the subsidy we pay on food. Nothing would be easier for the Ministry of Food, as a trading operation—it would involve the scrapping of rationing—than to sell that food at a profit of £313 million instead of at a loss of that figure. It would be a most disastrous thing to do, but it would be perfectly easy. Therefore, it is better for us to see where almost all the money for which we are asking this afternoon goes.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite made the point, a perfectly legitimate one, "Why does this figure of £313 million differ from the budgetary figure of £392 million, which the Chancellor said was the figure which food subsidies would cost?"

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

My right hon. and learned Friend did not mention the figure.

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

The point I was making was in relation to the Memorandum of the Civil Estimates, about the cutting down of stocks. That was the only reason why I raised it.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee

I am coming to that point, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me. The difference is partly accounted for by the difference in stock levels. The budgetary figure of £392 million which the Chancellor announced as the true cost of food subsidies is the amount which it will cost the Government to keep prices down at the levels which I will quote in a moment. The difference between that figure and the £313 million, which is the exact amount of cash which the Ministry of Food require is accounted for by two factors. One is the difference in stock levels and the other is the fact that some of the food subsidies, quite an appreciable part of them, are borne on other Votes, on the Board of Trade Vote, for example. Some are upon the Agricultural Departments' Votes. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is correct in saying that if we succeeded in increasing our stocks—in some cases we shall certainly attempt to do so—it might mean an increase in the amount of money needed, possibly by means of a Supplementary Estimate. I do not think that the Chancellor or the Committee would grudge a Supplementary Estimate for such a purpose as acquiring a greater quantity of feedingstuffs.

Photo of Mrs Leah Manning Mrs Leah Manning , Epping

When my right hon. Friend says that the £313 million is the difference between the price at which the Ministry buys food and the price at which it is sold to the public, I take it that he means the cost to the wholesalers?

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee

Yes, of course. Allowing for the margins beyond that price, and the selling and buying price, my hon. Friend's point is perfectly correct.

Let us see what this large sum of money has actually bought us and whether it has been worth expending. It has been done as a deliberate act of Government policy in order to keep food prices down. It has brought us the avoidance of the rocketing of food prices which usually occurs after a great war and which occurred after the previous great war. I would like to give the prices on three particular dates, 1st November, 1920, just after the previous great war; 1st November, 1938, just before the recent war, and 1st June, 1947, two years after the end of the recent war.

Photo of Sir Walter Fletcher Sir Walter Fletcher , Bury

Has the Minister got the figures for 1923 or 1924?

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee

I have not got them with me now but I could give them. They dropped slowly but steadily during the prewar years.

Photo of Sir Walter Fletcher Sir Walter Fletcher , Bury

The 1920 figure is the peak price.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee

This is the peak. That is exactly the point I was making. I am indebted to the hon. Member. By these food subsidies we are avoiding the rushing up to a peak price. For these primary commodities the prices are as follow:

1 St November, 1920.1 St November, 1938.1 St June, 1947.
s.d.s.d.s.d.
Beef: British Ribs, per lb.211
Bread, per 3½ lb.129
Sugar123
Milk, per quart79
Potatoes, per 7 lb.11½
Margarine, per 1 lb.1Standard5
I could give a long list of prices of that kind. They show where the £313 million have gone and what we have got for them.

I would only say one word more about the future of distribution which I know many of my hon. Friends behind me have very much at heart and upon which many of them have expert knowledge. I have said that I believe that controls are not a permanent solution. I cannot say, and I do not pretend to be able to say this afternoon, what I or His Majesty's Government regard as a permanent solution. We know that it is a very big job which cannot be done in a day. I think we may legitimately be asked from any side of the Committee, "What are your short-term plans? Do you say that nothing shall be done when the present situation, after all, is unsatisfactory?" It is unsatisfactory in the respect that the system of control, remarkably well as it has been worked, is liable to abuse by the creation of a ring or cartel of traders more or less protected by the State from competition and the effects of competition and, perhaps, with not very much to hope for by increasing their own efficiency. That is a serious defect as a permanent solution of the present situation. I believe that in a long-term solution, those responsible will have to give very careful consideration to those facts.

I think that, at any rate in certain foodstuffs, there are things which can be done today, and done reasonably quickly. There are not many foodstuffs, alas, but there are some where supply is becoming reasonably plentiful. Supply and demand are coming into balance at about a reasonable price level—at about the present price level, for example. In those cases we should quite unhesitatingly and steadily apply a policy of decontrol and de-licensing so mat the winds of free competition may blow through those areas. I believe they would be refreshing winds. It would be a mistake of hon. Members opposite to think that the removal of controls is always a popular policy with the traders from whom the controls are being removed. They find the sheltering hand of the Ministry of Food very comforting in many respects. I recently had the remarkable experience for a Labour Minister of having—I can only use the word "impose"—to impose delicensing on the fish distributive trade, both wholesale and retail. We have de-licensed completely now. Subject to a very small and necessary limitation, we allow anyone to set up business as a fish wholesaler. I found that that was by no means a popular move in the view of the trade. Unfortunately, that kind of action cannot be applied universally so long as shortages exist.

There is one field which in recent months has been one of most acute shortage. I refer to the field of fresh fruit and vegetables. If and when—as I believe will be the case in weeks rather than months—the main crops of vegetables come in—then, as I have already informed the trade, I believe that an advance to de-license the retail and the wholesale sections of that trade is probably the thing which can bring benefit most quickly to the housewife. It would correct some of the abuses though not all of them by any means, to which, very rightly, attention has been called in recent weeks. It is a semi-monopolistic position which, whether they like it or not, many traders are placed in today. It is the breeding ground of these abuses which I do not say for one moment have been indulged in by the majority of traders but which, undoubtedly, have existed in the markets.

Whilst on this subject, I wish to say a few words, especially to my hon. Friends, about the place of the great Co-operative movement in all this. Unless we free the distributive trades to new entry, not only on the retail but on the wholesale side, we continue to hamstring the advance of the Co-operative movement. I am sure that the Co-operative movement is in a position to advance steadily without any trace of Government favour, but simply if the shackles—and inevitably they are shackles—of licensing and control of the distribution of foodstuffs according to prewar figures, could be removed. I was very interested to notice that when we came to the de-licensing of fish wholesalers, my sole supporter was a representative of the Co-operative movement. Meanwhile, of course, in those areas where control is to be maintained, and unfortunately they are large areas, we shall not rely merely on the forces of competition. We shall use our instruments of enforcement to the very utmost degree to check abuses.

Finally, I come to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's questions about supplies and dollars. It is perfectly true that over the coming year we are going to be faced with a double problem. We have been faced with the problem of obtaining supplies of foodstuffs which were in desperately short supply. Many of them are still in desperately short supply. Do not let us doubt that. Reference has been made to certain commodities. I would not call them luxuries myself, though the right hon. and learned Gentleman applied that phrase to them. Fresh fruit and canned fruit are very modest luxuries. The limiting factor may be the amount of hard currency, dollars in particular, which we can command for their purchase.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman raised the old hare, and it is a familiar one, about these luxury fruits. May I say there has been no subject upon which wilder allegations have been made. I do not say that he made the wilder ones but some have been made. We have been told repeatedly that we are squandering our money on pineapples and luxury fruits instead of buying feedingstuffs and the like. What are the facts? The simple facts are that these fruits, pineapples, for example, or the peaches or grapes we imported last autumn and which I hope we shall import again this autumn from France, come from countries which certainly have no feedingstuffs to send to us and which have nothing else to send. They are countries which owe us money, and we get these very acceptable fruits or we get nothing else. By taking these fruits, we aid considerably the reconstruction of those countries.

As to feedingstuffs, let me say at once that there is no charge which I feel so completely able to rebut as the charge of the lack of care in getting feedingstuffs. We have fought an international battle on this front. Since feedingstuffs have become available, we have gone into the market, and we have been criticised for paying too high prices for them. We have paid high prices, but we have been so anxious to get them in order to start the reconstruction of the livestock industry of this country, and at long last these efforts are bearing fruit. We have a considerable amount of feedingstuffs— well over 750,000 tons—which have been bought in Argentina and are ready for shipment. That is a larger amount, almost double, than the amount of feedingstuffs which we obtained in the last calendar year, but that is not, of course, our only source of supply. We have got feedingstuffs from the United States.

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

Do I take it that the 750,000 tons are extra to the amount offered by Senor Miranda which has not materialised?

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee

It is a figure in excess of 750,000 tons. We have bought more since then, and, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of feedingstuffs from the United States, as I announced at the time when I visited the U.S. in the spring, we discussed this matter with Mr. Anderson, who was able to assure me that he would make supplies available to us, something of the order of several hundred thousand tons, so that we shall have feedingstuffs from the United States as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said we ought to have.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

Does that include the luxury fruits? Is it not possible for the Minister to arrange that, when these fruits come in, they could be distributed, by some means, to hospitals and other institutions, and not sent to the luxury fruit stores, where they are an eyesore to everyone who sees them?

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee

I cannot really agree with the hon. Member. Unfortunately, I have to tell the Committee that we may not see so many of one of them next season, which has been much in the public eye—pineapples—because the Chancellor has had to tell me, quite rightly, no doubt, from his point of view, which would carry weight in this Committee, that he cannot spare the Portuguese currency with which the pineapples are bought, and so we may have many less of them. I think it is a great pity, but an unavoidable one. The right hon. and learned Gentleman challenges me to say what the balance of advantage or disadvantage will be, and, of course, it is quite impossible to say until, at any rate, we see the result of the harvest in the Northern hemisphere, which will be the deciding factor, amongst many others. It is the biggest single factor.

I would say this in answering the challenge which the right hon. and learned Gentleman made. I would ask the Committee to remember the statement made by hon. Members opposite three months ago, when, with grave and gloomy satisfaction, they foretold that, after our fuel difficulties in the spring, there was a food crisis coming this summer, and that, before the harvest was in, we should have run out of our stocks of food, and that by our improvidence we should be landed in a fuel crisis. One thing I am perfectly willing to say. There is no food crisis, and there will be no food crisis between now and the next harvest. We have stocks of supplies perfectly sufficient in the major foodstuffs to see us through until the fruits of the 1947 Northern hemisphere harvest are gathered. We have done that—not myself particularly, but the Ministry of Food— and I suggest to the Committee that we have done it not without a certain measure of forethought and a certain degree of wisdom. It has not been easy to avoid a crisis. We have had to make very great efforts, but we can say that, while unfortunately many countries in Western Europe will suffer, our people will reap this year's harvest without any food crisis coming upon them.

If I look further ahead, as I am challenged to do, I would say this. There is no need whatever for the housewives or the people of this country to feel that they will find it difficult or impossible, as is sometimes suggested, to obtain, partly from at home and partly from abroad, the food which they need. Nothing has been more encouraging and heartening to me in the negotiations which have been conducted on my behalf with these various countries than to find that, keen as we are, and we do not deny it, to buy their foodstuffs, they are at least as keen to buy our manufactured exports. They need our pottery, our textiles and all our various products which our people are making just as much as we need their bacon, ham, cereals and eggs. This trade can be rebuilt and is being rebuilt, and I am perfectly sure that this country need have no doubt whatever of its ability to obtain an ample food supply in the coming years.

5.26 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel John White Lieut-Colonel John White , Canterbury

I want to make reference to one class of food supplies which have been mentioned by the Minister—fruit and vegetables—which are an important part of our daily calorie intake, and which are likely to be affected particularly by the import restrictions announced yesterday by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On the question of the calorie intake, I would point out that 84 per cent. of the meals eaten in this country are eaten in the homes, and that only 13 per cent. are eaten in catering establishments of all kinds. Our national supplies of fruit, including tomatoes, and pulses, are more than 20 per cent. below pre-war. Our supplies of vegetables are about 10 per cent. above prewar, but it is important to remember that, in 1946, they were four per cent. less than in 1945. Potato supplies have also shown a remarkable increase to about 64 per cent. above prewar level.

We must consider where these supplies come from and what are our prospects for the future. Over £100 million worth of fruit and vegetables were produced in these islands last year, not including the value of potato production. Last year, we imported over 17 million cwts. of fruit and vegetables, which were valued at over £52 million. In the first five months of this year we imported 14,734,000 cwt., valued at £36,656,000. The total value of our consumption of fruit, vegetables and potatoes, including what was grown in private gardens and allotments, was in the neighbourhood of £200 million per annum. This represents a very substantial part of our diet. It is most important to consider what supplies we may expect with which to maintain our diet in the coming months.

I will deal first with potatoes. I want to say that I regard the outlook regarding potatoes as extremely serious. I know that the Minister of Food has shown himself rather allergic to advice about potato shortages, but that is not going to stop me saying that I consider that the Minister must face up to the real possibility of an acute shortage of potatoes in the autumn. I will explain why I believe this to be the case. We lost three weeks' supply in the floods and frosts of last winter. A considerable part of the best potato land in the country in the Fenland was flooded and has since suffered a severe drought. The yield will be well below the average. The West Country crop of early potatoes is light. Imports may have to be curtailed owing to the high price and the Colorado beetle on the Continent. There is also a very real danger of a Colorado beetle outbreak in this country. That danger has by no means passed. I hope that the Minister will urge the Channel Islands to put as many potatoes as possible into cans so that we shall have a stock in hand.

To turn to fruit, the gooseberry crop was fairly good, and the strawberry crop good. I am sure that the Minister must feel satisfaction about the result of his decision to leave strawberries free of preempting up to 28th June. The public have had an adequate supply of strawberries and housewives have some home-made strawberry jam for the first time since 1939. Some people are blaming the growers for the fact that strawberries have disappeared since Monday. That is due to their being pre-empted to the jam factories. The cherry crop is excellent. Cherries are selling in the Midlands today at the retail price of 6d. a lb. The plum crop will be moderate. Given fair weather and no gales in the late summer, the apple and pear crops will be outstandingly good.

From the point of view of the Ministry of Food, that is very important, because it is obvious that in the coming months, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday, we shall have to revise our imports of fruits and vegetables. During the past 17 months we have spent £4,210,000 on buying fruit and vegetables from the United States of America. I do not expect that that is going to be continued. We also spent nearly £18 million on fruit and vegetables from Italy. In the same period, we have spent over £8 million on grapes, nearly. £3 million on peaches and nectarines, nearly £6 million on pears, over £7 million on nuts, over £500,000 on pineapples, over £1 million on lettuces, nearly £1,500,000 on broccoli and £262,000 on carrots. I think the Minister has got to decide to import as many oranges and citrus fruits as he can get from Palestine and South Africa, and as few as possible from the United States.

I would like to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the question of dates. In the last 12 months we have been importing large quantities of dates from Iraq and we have also been importing Algerian dates. There is a considerable difference between the two. The sugar content of the Persian Gulf date is over 50 per cent., whereas the sugar content of the North African date is not much more than 20 per cent. Therefore, I hope that he will cut his imports from North Africa, and increase those from the Persian Gulf.

The great difficulty facing the British producers today is to discover what is the policy of the Ministry of Food regarding the fruit and vegetable crops. They go along quite nicely for a time, and then, suddenly, the Minister turns round and gives them a terrific clout on the jaw. During the war home growers were encouraged to increase their production of gherkins and cucumbers for pickling, which they did very satisfactorily. A lot of them went in for this specialised production. But now the Ministry are buying large quantities from Holland and elsewhere, and the British growers cannot sell their products. With ample supplies of home-grown soft fruits available, the shops in London and other cities are full of Italian plums. Last week and this week saw the height of the home-grown lettuce crop. Several of my neighbours in Kent sent loads of lettuces to Covent Garden, and the whole lot came back unsold, because Covent Garden was flooded with Dutch lettuces in non-returnable containers at 2s. 6d. for two dozen lettuces. It is thoroughly bad management by the Ministry of Food to allow big consignments of Dutch lettuces to come in during the peak period of our own lettuce crop.

Another example is that of cherries. According to figures given by the Minister yesterday, we imported 2,700 tons of cherries between 1st and 19th June, mainly, I think, from Italy. In the period from 7th June onwards, the cream of the Kent cherry crop was coming into the market. The Italians sent late season varieties which were sold at higher prices than our own, thus spoiling the market for our growers. Worse still, transport was diverted from carrying Kent fruit to London to Tilbury to carry Italian cherries. I suggest that that is thoroughly bad management. It is a waste of shipping, a waste of transport, and a waste of currency to import foreign fruit and vegetables when there are ample supplies of home-produced products. It is a policy which discourages home production—a policy of giving the cream to the foreigner, and leaving the skimmed milk for our own people.

Photo of Mrs Jean Mann Mrs Jean Mann , Coatbridge

Does not the hon. Gentleman think it is a good thing that the housewives should get the benefit of such competition? They have been waiting on prices coming down.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel John White Lieut-Colonel John White , Canterbury

In the case of cherries and plums, the prices of the foreign fruit were higher. If the Ministry's excuse is that they cannot estimate when the home crops are coming in, why do they not use some of their many regional officials to find out? Have they not discovered, after nearly eight years of existence, that, regardless of the season, the period between the blooming of cherries and the picking is always the same within a very few days—an average of 59 days. If they took the trouble to ring up their officials to find out when the cherries bloomed, they would know almost to the day when the crop was due to come in.

In the future we have got to use our own resources of fruit and vegetables to the utmost. One of the prerequisites of achieving that end is a great development of quick-freezing and canning. In London and other great cities it has been possible to buy a big variety of high-quality quick-frozen products, fruit and vegetables, all through the late winter and spring, but every single one of those products was Dutch. I understand that the Ministry of Food have issued licences for the erection of 11 quick-freezing plants. I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary, when she replies, if she can give us any progress report on the position today as distinct from six months ago. What priorities are those plants being given in respect of cement, bricks, timber and steel? Are they being given any priority at all? What plans are on foot for the extension of canning plants? What is our present output of quick-frozen fruit and vegetables, and what is it likely to be this time next year, when we shall have had to cut our fruit and vegetable imports to the bone? Canning and quick-freezing have two great virtues. They diminish the danger of gluts and consequent waste, and they stimulate quality production. They can be of great importance in our future food economy, not only for fruit and vegetables, but also for fish.

Given a fair deal, the fruit and vegetable growers of Britain will do their utmost to increase production, and thus make greater supplies available to the Ministry of Food. But there must be a greater understanding and much better planning by the Ministry. It is said by some that fruit and vegetable growers are doing pretty well. Some people say that they are doing too well. But let us remember these facts. Most of the growers, 60,000 of them, are small men with a small capital, working on a small margin of profit, and they have to take the rough with the smooth. They have to take the profitable crop with the crop which shows no profit at all. Also, today labour and materials are very scarce and dear. I can illustrate with my own case.

Recently I sold some cabbages for 7d. a lb. wholesale—it was a top price. I make no complaint about that at all, but my people at home today are putting a magnificent crop of lettuce into the bottom of celery trenches as green manure, and they are writing off that crop as a dead loss. I ask the Minister to realise that our own growers consider that they have a duty to the nation. They think not only of making profits for themselves, but of producing as much food as they can. The fields and farms in this country may look lovely in the sunshine today. They do not look like a battlefield, but a battlefield they are, in which the farmers and farmworkers are fighting a battle for the nation's food.

5.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Plymouth, Devonport

The Committee must have considerable sympathy for the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) who had to sit throughout the speech of the Minister, while he and his companions were getting more and more sullen at every announcement the Minister made, and every agreement to which he referred. It was unfortunate for the hon. Member that he had to rise in such a solemn atmosphere in order to make the charges against my right hon. Friend, which we have heard throughout the country in the last few weeks. I think the whole House will have sympathy for him in that respect. Indeed, it was interesting to discover which of the particular agreements with foreign nations which the Minister described caused the greatest amount of gloom among hon. Members opposite. They were gloomy when the Minister described the agreement with Canada. They were even more gloomy when he described the agreement with Hungary. They became positively inspissated in their gloom when he described the possibilities of an agreement with Yugoslavia; and when he spoke of the possibility of agreements with the Soviet Union they were absolutely downcast.

It was most noticeable that their gloom started when the Minister described the Anglo-Canadian wheat agreement. There is nothing which makes' modern Tories more gloomy than an announcement of the conditions of a trade agreement between two great parts of this Commonwealth, which also brings great benefits to the housewives of this country. It was an astonishing spectacle, in view of the fact that the Tory Party at one time was such a strong supporter of the Empire. I would say to hon. Members opposite that they had better look out; Lord Beaverbrook will soon be after them again. If they believe in this great institution of the British Commonwealth, it will be much wiser for them to accept with a good grace these profitable arrangements between British and Canadian citizens.

It was also remarkable to see the reception which was given by hon. Members opposite to the account which the Minister gave of the persons who were in charge of the bulk purchase agreements which have been concluded. As the Minister said, there have been many wild statements on this subject throughout the country. When he recited the names of the men who have been in charge of these responsibilities, some hon. Members opposite—most of them did not stay the course; they went out, overcome by their gloom—protested that it was wrong for the Minister to recite these names, and that that was not the charge that has been made. But it is precisely the charge that is made. It is the charge made, for instance, by Lord Woolton in an article in the "Daily Graphic." In that article he said: Governments and Ministers are trained and skilled in their own particular job. Only in very exceptional circumstances do they know anything about this work of buying commodities. The result of their amateurish attempts is well known. Lord Woolton must know as well as anybody in this country, precisely who are the people in charge of these buying agreements, and it is monstrous that a man like Lord Woolton, who knows the facts, should spread such statements as that which can only be described as a complete falsification and an attempt to mislead the housewives of this country. That, of course, is a common feature of hon. Members opposite. I hope that before this Debate is over, there will be, at least, one hon. Member opposite who will dare to repeat inside this House the kind of statements which they have been making outside.

The right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) had a few questions to ask. He made none of those charges which have been made outside the House. He was sent here to prove that he could roar as gently as a sucking dove. He came along in his dove-like manner, but he repeated none of those charges which have been made outside this House. That is precisely the experience we have had from hon. Gentlemen opposite on other occasions. The Leader of the Opposition is prepared to make the wildest accusations outside this House about housing, but not once has he come to a housing Debate in order to debate the matter. It is the same with all hon. Members opposite. They are afraid to come here and repeat the accusations which they are making outside. Of course, the housewives are going through hard times. Many housewives all their lives have known nothing but hard times. But what is the charge that is made by hon. Members outside this House? The charge is that there has been a disastrous fall in the standard of life of the people of this country. That is the charge of the Housewives' League. That is the charge of Dr. Franklin Bicknell, who has been quoted so often by Tory speakers, and who, for this purpose, must be reckoned as a kind of honorary member of the Housewives' League. He says that we are dying of starvation.

Those are serious charges which have been used to support the campaign of the Tory Party, and they are charges which no prominent Member of the Conservative Party has ever repudiated. Several hon. Members opposite, who have so little interest in food that they do not even come here to discuss it, have been speaking on Housewives' League platforms and they have never repudiated this charge which is made by the Housewives' League. It has been repudiated by the Minister who spoke on the subject of calories. I agree that is not a very good and final test, but there are many other tests which can be applied. There is the test given in the National Income White Paper which discloses the expenditure by the population on consumers' goods, comparing the years 1938 and 1946. It shows that, making full allowance for the rise in prices, almost the same amount was spent on food in the last year available in the White Paper as was being spent in 1938. That merely confirms the claim that was made by the Minister on the subject of calories. But there is even a better test than any of these calculations. There is the test which was accepted as valid for indicating the general nutrition of the country, long before this controversy arose at the end of the war, and that is the test of infantile and maternal mortality. So much was that regarded as a test by previous persons who were inquiring into matters of nutrition standards, that infants, expectant and nursing mothers were described as the susceptible or vulnerable groups in the population. Therefore, if, as the Housewives' League says, there has been a disastrous collapse in the standard of life of the people of this country, or if, as Dr. Bicknell, with the support of Lord Woolton, says, we are dying of starvation, surely the vulnerable and susceptible part of the population would be the first affected.

What are the facts? Not only is that the conclusion of commonsense, but it is the conclusion of the experts who have long agreed that one of the best tests of the standard of nutrition in a country is the rate of infantile and maternal mortality. That is the case in countries like New Zealand and Australia, which are generally regarded as having the best nutritional standards in the world, and where the infantile mortality rate and the maternal mortality rate are the lowest in the world. The infantile mortality rate is less than 40 per 1,000, whereas in countries like Italy, Spain, Japan, which are regarded as countries with some of the worst nutritional standards, the infantile mortality rate goes up to 100 or 150 per 1,000, and in many cases even higher. Tests applied by experts in particular parts of this country and in other countries prove that the infantile mortality rate and the maternal mortality rate do give a proper indication of nutritional standards. These are the facts, and these are facts put forward by experts long before this controversy began. In New Zealand and Australia the infantile mortality rate is 40 per 1,000, and in countries like Italy and Spain it goes up to 100 per 1,000 and more.

What about England? In the good old days of Tory England—shall we take the year 1936?—the rate was 62 per 1,000, and in the days of the Strachey famine the figure is 46 per 1,000. It is still going down. These are the figures. It is not only the figure for the infantile mortality rate. The same is true of the maternal mortality rate. The figure is the lowest on record. The same is true in all the tests applied in this country since the war, bearing out that by comparison with prewar days, the height and strength of the children of this country are greater. That is something of which this country should be proud. That is something we should be shouting about. If hon. Gentlemen opposite were better patriots they would be shouting it, too.

I went on Saturday to my constituency to an athletic sports in Plymouth attended by children from Plymouth primary schools. Those children are the children of the blitz, those are the children—some of them born during the blitz—brought up in the blitz; those were the children who had to endure more, than other generations of children in the last 30 years in this country; children who were harried from their homes; children who for six or seven years had to live in the most appalling, over-crowded conditions; many of them having had to sleep in their mothers' arms in ditches and hedges outside Plymouth; children who, by the tests applied by the experts, are healthier, tougher, stronger, better than any breed of children we have ever bred in this country before. This is a fact of which we ought to be proud, and are proud. But hon. Gentlemen opposite are so eager to conduct their political campaign that they are not prepared to join in the rejoicing about these facts.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

Does the hon. Gentleman know anybody who does not rejoice, or who does not join in the rejoicing, at the success of Lord Woolton in feeding those children during the war?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Plymouth, Devonport

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is, I hope, going to speak later in this Debate. I challenge him to produce when he speaks one statement made in the Housewives League's campaign stating these facts or one part of their normal campaign that was repudiated by anyone of the Opposition Front Bench; and if he does not produce one, surely he will apologise for his interruption? How have these things been achieved? They have been achieved by sharing better the amount of food that is available. This process has been decried from the platforms of the Housewives League. It has been decried by many hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the Committee. It was decried in a speech by the same Lord Woolton, strangely enough, at Exeter re-recently. He said that no great claims could be made on that account. It is even decried by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I think it was decried by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead when speaking earlier today. But this is the statement of an expert on the subject: Lots of us had too much before the war, but an awful lot of people got too little. But the fact that the nation is now maintaining its health is, I think, due to the fact that so many people who were underfed—or who were on the verge of being underfed—all their lives are now getting enough. That is the claim made by the Minister of Food. He has not said that we are all better fed than ever before, or anything so foolish as that, as people so often say he has. That was the claim made by Lord Woolton himself during the war when he was Minister of Food. I give him full credit for what he did during the war when he was Minister of Food. All the more pity that he has decided to turn himself into a third rate political charlatan peddling his quack remedies.

Photo of Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge , Bedford

Will my hon. Friend also bring out the point that Lord Woolton had the advantage of Lend-Lease when he was Minister of Food?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Plymouth, Devonport

I am leaving that point to my hon. Friend to make, when he makes what, I am sure, will be an excellent speech. But that is the contrast, and I do not think people can understand what has been done by hon. Gentlemen opposite in this matter during the past few months and years. I regard it as the most disgraceful and most dishonourable campaign of any in which any political party has ever engaged. Consider what would have been the situation if, in 1942 and 1943, when the submarine campaign was at its height, some people had started a campaign at that time and said, "There has been a disastrous collapse in our standard of life. We are dying of starvation;" and if in that same campaign they had said, "We have got to have more fats," without saying where we could get them; or if in that same campaign they had shaid, "We have got to have more meat," without saying where it would come from; and if in that same campaign they had produced distorted statistics to prove we were far worse off than we were before. If they had done that in 1942 and 1943 what would people have said? There is a plain word—but I need not use it—that would have been used. They would have been locked up for alarm and despondency if for no worse crime; and the worse would have been treachery. It would have been called treachery during the war.

What is the situation today? The nation is still engaged in a battle for its life; and at the same time as we are engaged in this battle for our life, millions and millions of people in this world are very much worse off than we are in this country. There has been a vast famine sweeping across Russia. We do not know how many people have suffered in that famine. There was a famine over Asia. Any hon. Member who has been to Germany knows the appalling conditions in Germany. Any hon. Member who has been in India has seen what the situation is there—and in Norway, in Italy, in Austria, in Hungary, and in Greece and in one country after another there are millions of poor people who have suffered agonies which, thank God, the people of this country have been spared, partly because of the fair systems of distribution introduced during the war and maintained since the war.

What has been the contribution of the party opposite to this situation? Their contribution has been to spread from end to end of this kingdom a lie—a lie preached from the Housewives League's platforms, preached from their own platforms, and preached occasionally by them in collaboration. And if they dispute that, I challenge the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), when he speaks, to produce one speech made in any of these campaigns to state these true facts and the true facts of the health situation. Therefore, I say that this campaign of the party opposite is just the equivalent of the kind of campaign that I have suggested might have been carried on by treacherous persons during the war.

I believe that the situation is really more serious by reason of the fact that we shall have to face some serious difficulties with regard to our food situation in the future, and it is essential that the facts should be properly understood when we enter upon that situation. I believe that anyone who studies the dollar imports of this country and imports from the other countries must come to the conclusion that, although we may cut films and cut petrol and cut other imports and—because I hope the Government will include this in their review of cutting—cut the vast expenditure on our Armed Forces abroad, that even when all these reductions are made, when all the difficulties are added I believe it is inevitable that, if we are to close the gap between imports and exports, we have to make a cut in food to close the gap.

I think the Government are absolutely right to continue now to import as much food as is possible, because I believe that a cut in food imports would have dangerous effects upon production and upon the general welfare of the nation. But I do not think it is any good blinking the fact that the gap in our balance of payments cannot be closed merely by adding up cuts in films, petrol and tobacco, and even a cut in our Armed Forces, because overwhelmingly the biggest sum this country spends abroad is on buying food. Therefore, we may be faced with a serious situation, and for that reason I disagree with some of the remarks made by the Minister of Food at the conclusion of his speech.

If we are to enter that more dangerous situation, then the Ministry of Food will have to consider new plans for the fairer sharing of the food which we have. Because although it is perfectly true that food is better shared in this country than in any other country in the world, and although it is true that there is less difference between the rich man's table and the poor man's table than in any other country in the world, or at any other time in our long history, it remains true that a rich person can still feed much better than a poor person. Therefore, if we are to enter this dangerous situation—I hope we shall be able to avoid it; and I do not know whether the Government can attempt to do anything until the full dollar crisis comes upon us, which we may be able to escape by means which are not to be discussed in this Debate—I hope the Ministry of Food will also prepare plans in case the worst does happen and, a year or a year and a half hence, we have to impose cuts, which every one in this House would deplore. Although that would involve fresh controls of some kind, it will be necessary, if big new cuts are to be made, to have an even fairer distribution than we have at the present time, which would remove some of the resentment against the present scheme which is not working quite as fairly as we should like; there is resentment against the amount going to restaurants and canteens, compared with the amount which goes to the homes. But that refers to the future.

As for the past and the present, I believe this country can hold its head high throughout the world; and because of what has been achieved in regard to food, not merely during the war but since the war, we have maintained the standards of this country. Indeed, we have done what is just as important; we have played our honourable part in international arrangements. We were prepared, during a time of crisis for ourselves, and when we were attacked by hon. Members opposite, to agree that a certain amount of food should go to Germany. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who makes such eloquent speeches all over the world about the United States of Europe, spends his time in this House denouncing the Government, who have been prepared to enter into common arrangements to supply bread for the people of Germany. I say this party and this Government have nothing to be ashamed of in their food record, and the party opposite, despite all their cheap electioneering and manoeuvring at the present time, will find that that campaign, like others they have run during the past two years, will be entered up by the British people as a black mark against them.

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

Before the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) sits down, may I put a question to him?

6.4 p.m.

Photo of Mr Wilfrid Roberts Mr Wilfrid Roberts , Cumberland Northern

I agree with what the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) said at the end of his speech. I agree, particularly, that it was unfortunate that the Minister of Food ended such an able speech with a sunshine peroration, which may be justified on the supply position in the world, but may be completely vitiated by the dollar position and our dollar resources. We should warn this country that unless something is done to replace the loan when it runs out, our food position will be far worse than it is at the present time. It may be that that unfortunate situation will not arise, but it is clearly time that our people should understand it; and in my opinion it is the best answer to the propaganda of the Conservative Party at the present time.

We are not as well fed as we should like to be, but we are being fed out of loans, and the Ministry of Food ought to use that money cautiously and wisely. I do not know that it is very useful to enter into the argument whether or not we are fed as well as we were before the war. I think that in the past the present Govern- ment have taken more credit than they deserve for the position as it exists today. I have heard a Labour Member say that we were never so well fed as at the present time, which perhaps compares with Opposition speakers who have been saying something very different. The position is very clear to those who like to look into it, that on the average we are fed about as well as we were before the war. There is one other indication of that which has not been mentioned, and was not mentioned by the hon. Member for Devonport, namely, that housewives and the population generally are not only demanding more food, but are also demanding more of other consumer goods. The fact of the matter is that, because we have full employment, there is a potential demand which is much greater than can be supplied, either in food or other consumer goods, at the present time. The people have more money in their pockets, and almost all of them can supplement their rations by meals in restaurants and canteens.

I do not think we are starving to death; I have not noticed that as I have gone about, and I do not think that is the opinion of the general public. In view of this Debate, I obtained the interesting article by Dr. Bicknell entitled "Dying England." It is a very remarkable production. It is absolutely first-class political propaganda. When I got it I expected to find a reasoned, careful, scientific statement from a famous nutritionist. I find it is very lively and very good journalism. Dr. Bicknell has opinions on statistics, political economy, and agriculture—though on that last point, my faith in Dr. Bicknell was slightly shaken, because the great authorities he quoted have always seemed to me bigger "quacks" in the agricultural world than anybody would wish to find. He also quotes the greatest faddists, with approval. It is very good political propaganda, but whether it is desirable or not to have that political propaganda at the present time is a matter of opinion.

To the hon. Member for Devonport, I would say that I have sat in this place through three Governments, and when, before the war, the Conservative Government at that time found it exceedingly difficult to draw the distinction between the interests of the country and the interests of the Government, the Opposition at that time used sometimes to find it rather irksome. I do not know that I was greatly impressed by the hon. Member's denunciation of the un-patriotism of anybody who failed to notice that the death rate had gone down, or that the maternal mortality rate had gone down. There is, I think, a danger that even the Labour Party may be too sensitive to criticism. If the Government have such a good case on food, they ought to welcome the Opposition trailing their coat. It is very easy for Governments to mistake their interests for the interests of the country. It does not do much harm to have a full, open and democratic discussion on how we are fed at the present time. Therefore, I am not very much impressed by that argument.

We have to recognise that we must aim at getting much better food than we are getting at present. We may not be able to achieve that at the moment, but if we take a reasonable view of this controversy, and if we try to take the political advantages or disadvantages out of it, we may well come to the conclusion that we have a sort of basic diet which we must improve upon as soon as possible. In passing, I wish to say that I do not aim at that in the same way as Dr. Bicknell. Another thing which took me by surprise was his statement towards the end of his polemics, as a possible explanation of why the countries in Europe seem to be managing better than ourselves—with which I do not agree—that: Possibly the explanation of this is that these countries are not under such a uniform iron control as we are, and have recovered from the war because it is healthier for two-thirds of the nation to eat well and be fit and for one-third to starve. I hope that we shall not try to recover on that basis, because that is exactly the way we did it after the first world war. I live in the North of England, and I saw the effects of it. I remember only too well, when the 1920 prices the Minister quoted were in operation, the hardship which existed then and into the slump of 1930. The unemployed in the North, and many other workers near to the level of the unemployed, were fed abominably. I hope that we shall never take that easy way to improve the diet of some people at the expense of others. We have to aim at improving our diet, and not be satisfied with what we have at the present time, which I regard as nothing more than meeting our basic needs.

I am not very clear whether the criticism made by the Opposition in regard to bulk buying is that we get our food too cheap or too dear. It is not clear to me to what they are objecting. I think we can buy food too cheap, if we are to have continuity. I am sorry that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) has left the Committee, because I remember, in the old days before the war, he made eloquent speeches to the effect that we could buy food too cheaply and spoke of the kindness we were doing to foreigners by introducing quotas which would arrange that we should pay more for food. It was a peculiar argument, and he achieved his end. I am not sure, taking the broad view, that the powers of a British Government to drive prices too low may not some day be used to the disadvantage of the food producers of the Empire and elsewhere. I believe that the basic interchange to which the Minister referred, in regard to industrial and agricultural workers is something upon which we in this country depend fundamentally. I want to see the producers of food, in the Dominions, in this country and in foreign countries, having a proportionately higher share compared with industrial workers than they had before the war. That is the way to prevent fluctuations and slumps.

I ask whether, in some of these agreements with other countries, we are not getting food because our prices are too low. I have heard it said that in the case of the Argentine we pay too little for maize. It may be that the Argentine Government are paying their farmers too little, but whoever is paying the Argentine farmer the maize is not being produced because he considers the price too low. If there is a difficulty about getting maize from the Argentine, is it the difficulty of shipping supplies? Are we getting the full quantities which were expected, on the basis of which the Minister of Agriculture promised a considerably higher ration for poultry and pigs during the coming winter? It has been alleged that we are not getting the wheat we expected from Canada because the price is too low. I ask whether there is any evidence that the question of prices is preventing delivery? I have also heard it said that we are not getting as much as we could from Denmark because we drove too hard a bargain with them. I should like to have an answer on all these points.

The only suggestion I wish to make is in connection with British agriculture. The shortage of meat is a world shortage, and we have to produce meat as cheaply as possible in this country, and as much of it as possible. During the war, we tried to get from the British farmer a fairly level supply of meat all the year round, so as to have a level contribution of British meat to the rations. Prices had to be a good deal higher in late winter and early summer to make it possible for the British farmer to produce finished beasts. That now seems to be a mistaken policy. Surely, it would be better to encourage the British farmer to produce meat off grass of which we have more than we know what to do with, to encourage the production of autumn cattle, which would enable us to use the feedingstuffs to rear more cattle. It is, surely, a mistake to use imported feedingstuffs to fatten cattle? Surely, we should fatten cattle on gress, for which we do not have to use any dollars? That is the suggestion put to me by several people in the industry.

6.20 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Gould Mrs Barbara Gould , Hendon North

I do not propose to enter into competition with the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) about cattle, because I confess complete ignorance on that subject; nor do I propose to get involved in calories. I read the Debate which took place in another place on food calories, and I found that the experts seem to differ about everything on earth, and do not seem to know much about food from the housewife's point of view. My view is that calories cause confusion to the average housewife. Although she knows a great deal about food, she would not know a calorie if she met one in the street, and, therefore, I do not propose to get involved in the subject, I want to join issue with the hon. Member for North Cumberland, who said that we were fed about as well as we were before the war. The truth of the matter is that a number of people, whom I am not worried about, are not fed quite as well, and a very large number of people, whom I am worried about, are being fed a great deal better.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devon-port (Mr. Foot) has referred to certain facts and statistics, which show something about the health of the nation. Dr. Bicknell has been quoted as a good political propagandist, but the only thing I remember him saying was that the unemployed were better fed before the war than most of the nation today. All I can say is that he knows nothing about the unemployed, and nothing about food. Does he realise that if the unemployed got any meat at all, it was only the scragends left on Saturday night, which they waited to pick up when everyone else had bought what they could afford? Does he realise, too, that their Sunday dinner consisted of this meat stewed with a pennyworth of potherbs, and that the rest of the week they had to live on bread and margarine? In view of that, does he really contend that the nation is no better fed today?

Let us take the actual facts. I am going to quote from "Food, Health and Income," which was published by Sir John Boyd Orr in 1936. I do not think anyone will question his figures. I cannot go into the various categories which which he deals, because it would take too long, but I will deal with the first three categories, comprising the lowest income groups, which represented 50 per cent. of the population in 1936. These categories consist of those who spent from 4s. to 8s. per week on food, which, as I have said, represented half the population of Britain. He states that the average of milk consumed was 2½ pints per week, which is just what we are getting today, and that was without any of the welfare services which today are giving much more milk to those people who most need it. We must not forget that a very considerable number of the lowest income groups consist of old age pensioners, unemployed and so on, who were not able to buy any butter. The grease they had to buy was margarine and dripping. In spite of this 50 per cent. of the population had an average of 2½ozs. a week, whereas we are now getting 3 ozs. a week, and everyone is able to buy it. These 50 per cent. had 3 ozs. of margarine a week, which is the same as our present ration.

The meat position is perhaps the most striking of all. Ninety-eight per cent. of the amount of meat eaten before the war is being eaten today, whereas many middle and upper class people are con- tinually grambling because they cannot get enough meat and thus they cannot make it do. The real trouble is that the 1s. 2d. worth of meat we are now buying is far above the amount the average person could afford to buy before the war. The ordinary family comprises a man, a wife and two children. How many of these ordinary working-class families could spend out of their small income 4s. 8d. a week before the war, which they would be entitled to spend, and can spend, today? The answer is that very few of them could buy meat, and the consequence was that there was plenty of meat for the people who wanted it twice a day, and possibly had bacon and eggs for breakfast as well. They could get it.

The consumption of milk is particularly interesting. A great many people grumble because they get an allocation of only 2½pints of milk a week. The consumption of milk today is 5c per cent. more than it was before the war. Where does it go? It goes in the welfare services. It goes to the people who need it most. All the ordinary housewives are able to buy their 2½pints a week, and expectant and nursing mothers and young children can get liquid milk at 1½d. a pint. There is also school feeding and school milk. That is why, as I will show from the Ministry of Health figures later, the health of the population has very much improved. Before the war there was practically no school feeding and no school milk. That which was available was only for necessitous children, and there was very little of it.

I well know that fact because I was one of the people who worked for 15 years to get free and cheap milk for school children and expectant and nursing mothers. We were not able to do that until the war, when Labour entered the Government, and insisted upon it being given to secure the wellbeing of the nation. We have now established permanently under this Government not only free and cheap milk for babies school children and expectant mothers, but orange juice, vitamin tablets, god liver oil, and so on.

Compare that with the position before the war, and what do we find? I have looked up the Ministry of Health figures for 1935 and 1945. In 1935, the maternal mortality was 3.41 per thousand births and in 1945 it was 1.47; that is, halt as many mothers died according to the latest figures issued by the Ministry of Health, as 10 years ago, in what the Opposition would have it were the good old days when everyone was well fed. Infant mortality has gone down in those 10 years from 57 to 46 per thousand live births. Perhaps the most striking figure of all is that relating to tuberculosis. Everyone knows that tuberculosis is largely a mal-nutritional disease. In 1935, the tuberculosis deaths in England and Wales were 29,201. The population has increased in those 10 years. The figures in 1945 were 23,955. I think that is one of the most striking comparisons to bring out the increased health and wellbeing of the people of this country.

When people talk about the nation being ill fed and say that we are a starving people, they are talking absolute nonsense. The Housewives League, which I firmly believe has been formed for political purposes, consists of three kinds of people. First, there are the ladies who have no politics. I have always found that the people who have no politics are the bluest of blue Conservatives, because they want to keep things in the bad old way that was giving them a good time. Then there are the middle-classes to whom the Minister referred as not getting as much as they got before and not getting it as easily. Then there are the working-class housewives who belong to the Housewives League, and they are, in my experience—

Photo of Mr Hubert Beaumont Mr Hubert Beaumont , Batley and Morley

I think it would be unfortunate if this Debate developed into a prolonged discussion of the Housewives' League.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Gould Mrs Barbara Gould , Hendon North

I am sorry, Mr. Beaumont, but there has been so much talk about it.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Gould Mrs Barbara Gould , Hendon North

From the figures issued by the Ministry of Health, which no one will question, there is no doubt that the people of Britain are far healthier than they were before the war, or 10 years ago. The Chief Medical Officer of Health has pointed out that in 1945 the physique of children, and their general condition was better than it was in 1940, or before the war. This is not the story of a starving or ill-fed people; it is the story of people who are being well fed, although, I admit, monotonously fed. We all know that our food is monotonous. My right hon. Friend has not suggested that he is satisfied with our diet, but what he is satisfied with—and I am thankful for it—is the fairer distribution of available foodstuffs.

In conclusion, there is one point I want to put to the Minister. I want him to see that when a foodstuff is in large enough supply to be taken off points the price is controlled; and not allowed to run up because it is suggested that it is a luxury food. I am thinking at the moment of herring roes and inshore fish, British products, which are cheap, economic, and very pleasant to eat. These are not luxury foods. I would remind my right hon. Friend that many working-class families do not use all their points, and if it were more convenient for the purpose of control, it would be causing no hardship to put such foods as these on one point. Whenever there is a pleasant and nourishing foodstuff in good supply, its price should be kept as low as possible so that people in the lower income groups can secure good supplies. I do not believe one word of the propaganda which is being put about by the Opposition to suggest that our people are starving. It cuts no ice at all. Our people know perfectly that they are not starving, and although they do not like the monotony of their diet, they can get sufficient food to keep themselves and their families adequately fed. Thank God that many can do that as they never could before, before the war.

6.37 p.m.

Lady Grant:

I feel that the time has come to put forward a point of view in this vital Debate which is widely held throughout the country. It is that despite the vital statistics, which have been quoted by the hon. Lady the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) and the hon. Member for Devon-port (Mr. Foot), people are less well fed now than they were before the war. These opinions based on fact are held by a great number of people who do not have the benefit of extra resources in rations either from under the counter or through mysterious friends in the countryside. It is the view of the average housewife, who is not able to take meals either in a canteen or a restaurant.

The hon. Member for North Hendon quoted the vital statistics, and we are all glad that they should be so favourable. But with the increase in education, food management, medical supervision in schools, and social services, it would indeed be surprising if the figures today were not better than they have ever been. I will not go into the controversial subject of calories, but I would like to quote what was said in another place by Viscount Addison, who gave figures to prove that we are now consuming a lesser quantity of vital foods than we were before the war. He said we are consuming 9 per cent. less meat; 26 per cent. less fat; 26 per cent. less sugar; and 14 per cent. fewer eggs. We are consuming 28 per cent. more fish; 10 percent. more bread, and 64 per cent. more potatoes. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about milk?"] I was just about to take up the point put by the hon. Member for North Hendon about milk. Our liquid milk consumption has increased by 30 per cent., but surely this is largely due to the free milk scheme which was mainly instigated by one of the greatest Food Ministers of our time. This increased consumption has been at the expense of butter, cheese, and processed milk. The production of processed milk has fallen very considerably—

Photo of Mrs Muriel Nichol Mrs Muriel Nichol , Bradford North

Is the hon. Lady prepared to reduce or eliminate the supply of milk in schools in order to make a quite problematical and slight increase in butter?

Lady Grant:

No, that was not the point I was endeavouring to make.

Lady Grant:

No, the point I put forward was that we are consuming 30 per cent. more milk at the expense of butter and cheese and processed milk, and I asked the Minister of Food whether it is a fact that there has been a fall in processed milk from 36 million gallons to six million gallons, and whether everything is being done to increase that as an extra vital item in our diet. It is also said that food is better distributed. That again is due largely to the management of that very fine Food Minister, Lord Woolton. It is always being said that large sections of the population in this country were unable through lack of wages to buy sufficient food prewar. I should like to quote the following figures which have been taken from a review in 1937 by Sir William Crawford. They concern the income group below 48s. a week. In 1937 they consumed 26.8 ozs. of meat, while now we consume 16.2. They consumed then 3.6 ozs. of bacon, and now our ration is 2. In fats they consumed in 1937, 10.2, while now the ration is 7. Tea amounted to 3.4 in 1937, and the ration is now 2.5. The only thing that has increased today is bread, which in 1937 was 62.4 ozs., while today it is 63 ozs. I should also like, if I am not out of Order, to take up, in passing, some remarks by hon. Members opposite regarding certain organisations which are growing in strength throughout the country.

Photo of Miss Jennie Lee Miss Jennie Lee , Cannock

And in wisdom after today.

Lady Grant:

Those organisations have been criticised in this House and throughout the country by right hon. and hon. Members opposite, but the fact remains that they include people from every walk of life. The fact is borne out by no less a person than the chairman of the Municipal and General Workers Union speaking in Aberdeen a short time ago.

Photo of Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge , Bedford

On a point of Order. If it is out of Order for us on this side of the House to discuss the Housewives' League, surely it is out of Order for it to be discussed by the other side.

Photo of Mr Hubert Beaumont Mr Hubert Beaumont , Batley and Morley

I would ask the hon. Member to leave the deciding of that to me.

Lady Grant:

I know that the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge) takes a great personal interest in the Housewives' League.

Photo of Mr Hubert Beaumont Mr Hubert Beaumont , Batley and Morley

The hon. Lady is now committing the offence.

Lady Grant:

I accept your Ruling, Mr. Beaumont. I should like to ask the critics of these organisations since when has it been considered wrong for men and women in this country to put forward their views, however unpopular. It is held by a large section of the people in this country that not only are our food resources being mismanaged, but that our people are being misled by statements that are contrary to the fact. I appreciate perfectly the difficulties that con- fronted the Minister of Food after the war, but there are a great number of people in this country who cannot understand why the standard of our living is falling now in the open seas of peace. We know perfectly well that since 1945 there have been cuts in several of our vital rations, bacon, fats, cheese and bread and a deterioration in the quality of meat, while more goods have been based on points and others higher pointed, so that it means now that we have to have 48 points to buy the equivalent of 24 points in 1945.

When one looks at facts like these we see that, while we may not be dying of starvation, we are undergoing a famine in quality. That is shown by the statistics I have quoted. We are, in fact, consuming a great many more starchy products, and who will say that any number of these products are in any way a good substitute for fats or proteins? I am not often in agreement with the hon. Lady for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann), but I happen to agree with what she said the other day in Committee when she remarked that her children got one and a half times as much as a man. I also have children about the age which she mentioned, in their teens, and perhaps the hon. Lady, in her own words, "as woman to woman," will agree with me that it is very difficult indeed to satisfy such growing appetites today.

The question which comes before us now is to find out from the Minister of Food what are the real prospects ahead of increasing the quality of our food through increased fats and increased production of our own milk products. I will leave more skilled hon. Members to go into the detailed subject of feedingstuffs, but I should like to inquire how it is that countries like Denmark and Poland, which were overrun by the enemy, have been able to export eggs and milk products to this country, and how is it that they have been able to get the feedingstuffs if we cannot. I would like to add what Lord Woolton said in regard to imports into this country. He pointed out that 70,000 tons of dried milk had been imported from the United States, and that for the same amount of dollars we could have procured sufficient maize from the Argentine to produce 66 million gallons of fresh milk in this country, or twice the amount of dried milk imported over here. Again, he stated that £30 million worth of dried eggs had been imported, and if £17 million had been spent on procuring feedingstuffs for our own cattle, we would have been able to produce sufficient eggs for our people and also have a reserve for the small backyard poultry keeper.

I will not go into the question of bulk purchase, but I wish to put forward the view held by many who are not specialists, but who regard this question from a commonsense point of view, that our standard of living is gradually declining. It is true to say that the result of this lack of quality in our diet is having a grave effect upon our people's will to work. Every day we are finding that it brings chronic fatigue, which in its train brings many minor ailments which are not notifiable and therefore less noticeable, such as general debility and gastritis.

Lady Grant:

Those things in turn lead on to voluntary absenteeism and "Go slow" movements, and an instinct to conserve strength.

Photo of Mrs Bessie Braddock Mrs Bessie Braddock , Liverpool Exchange

The hon. Lady has a "cheek," asking the workers to go on producing, and speaking of them that way.

Lady Grant:

Is that not Nature's way of adaptation to circumstances?

Lastly, I would ask the Minister what he is going to do about the person who more than any other is affected by the deterioration of nutrition in diet—the woman who is keeping house today? She does not go slow, or go absent, and she gives her bacon and her cheese to her husband and her fats and her sweets and sugar to her children. She is always working to the last limit of her capacity, and I would say that she ranks amongst the privileged section of the community, like the miners and other priority classes and she should come under the Schedule of Manual Workers.

I will end by putting to the Minister the point that a very great number of the people of this country consider not only that we are worse fed than before the war, but that our standard of living is declining and, therefore, that they lack confidence in Ministerial statements and in the present administration. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if as a first priority, he will ensure that there is the greatest co-operation between the Ministries of Food and Agriculture in order, that by means of the importation of food and feeding stuffs, he can produce the greatest quantity and quality of food here in this country. Surely it is salutary for us to remember that whatever the devices of science, we are, in the last resort, utterly dependent on the earth and those who till it. If this Government gamble with our resources they weaken and, perhaps, damage irreparably the people's capital—their health and their energy to work with head or hand. I would, therefore, ask the Minister, in this great responsibility that is his, if he will tell the people the facts courageously, because surely, if I may say so with respect, the strong leaders of the past have never balked at truth.

6.52 p.m.

Photo of Dr Leslie Haden-Guest Dr Leslie Haden-Guest , Islington North

I have come to the conclusion that hon. Members opposite do not believe a fact unless it is an unpleasant one, and that they have been thoroughly depressed by the Minister's reassuring statement. I trust that I shall depress them somewhat more by the suggestions which I am now about to make, but I warn the hon. Lady the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant) and others that I am not going to enter into details on the matter of calories simply because I am a doctor. I believe that in this matter the questions of general policy are those which are most important, and I want to ask the Minister one or two questions about the near future, because everything does not depend upon food alone.

Supposing that next winter is as bad as the last and that there is only an average amount of coal—I presume that we shall have the average amount—it will not be very warm and I would ask how we are to fortify the health of the people and to inject into them something which will give them an extra resistance? One of the principal difficulties at the present time is not due to food, which I consider to be very good, but to the fact that two years after the end of the war all of us are suffering from the results of war strain. I think we ought to look forward a little, especially with regard to the health of the nation and in particular so far as concerns the children. I want to ask the Minister to define more clearly than he has done —and perhaps to extend in a way I shall suggest—the policy with regard to food for children. I think that there should also be an extension of food for certain classes of heavy workers, including miners. And I believe that we need to know quite certainly, as a matter of general policy, that we are to have security of world food supplies.

With regard to the children I think we should arrange well in advance of the winter for improved supplies of food. Of course the normal ration at present is essential as is the priority for milk for the classes obtaining it. But I think that a good deal could be done by seeing that in fact all the children who are entitled to priority milk do actually receive it. I believe that they do so in the towns, but I am not quite sure that they do so everywhere else, and I hope the Minister can reassure me on that point. One of the things which struck me more than anything else when visiting blitzed houses in a very poor area of my own constituency was that although I saw very badly damaged houses with inadequate accommodation, I also found any amount of milk bottles outside and any amount of food in the larders for the people to live on. If we had not had that good food during the war, and if we were not still receiving it, people could never have stood the strain.

Dr. Guest:

Certainly, and I am glad to pay tribute to Lord Woolton for his great work during the war. I am only sorry that he has now become a second-rate Tory propagandist instead of a really good administrator. He was not trained as a politician and he does not know that part of the job, which he is doing very badly. There is a further point with regard to eggs for children. I want to ask the Minister whether he would consider increasing the supply. I put a Question to him yesterday concerning the fact that children up to the age of two years receive priority supplies of eggs, and I hope that that can be extended, because eggs are one of the best foods for grown-ups and, especially valuable for children. I do not know Whether it would be possible to extend the priority until the age of five, six or seven years, which would cover the growing period, but I hope that something can be done, at any rate to extend it beyond the two years.

I feel that at this stage, with war fatigue showing itself in many spheres of activity, an extra amount of proteins for heavy workers, particularly miners, would be a very good thing. This could take the form of meat, cheese, fish or something else of that kind, but above all we need more fat, and I shall return to that in a moment or two. I think that we have enough bread grains, but I want to make one point with regard to the rice situation in the East as it affects food supplies as a whole. This is not because the supply of rice affects us directly in this country but because it affects us very much indirectly, since, if it is in inadequate supply in the East, we have to send wheat and other food to take its place from the West. I believe that there is a very considerable amount of rice available in the East, especially in Siam, which provided 20 per cent. of the total amount exported in the world market before the war. I believe also that at the present time the rice is being hoarded by the farmers in Siam. Their farms are very small—not more than an acre or two—and the rice keeps there quite well for three or four years. They are not selling it because they cannot buy consumer goods. They dispose of it over the frontier of Malaya and the black market price there is very little more than the controlled price, as the Minister was able to tell me in reply to a Question recently.

Photo of Sir Walter Fletcher Sir Walter Fletcher , Bury

The hon. Gentleman says that the black market price is very little more, but in a reply given to me the Colonial Minister last week stated the actual figure as about £90 a ton compared with a controlled price of £35 or £36, which is the official price in Siam. The black market price is, therefore, nearly three times as much, which is a good deal more.

Dr. Guest:

The price given to me some time ago showed very little difference, but no doubt it varies. I suggest that the best way to deal with this situation is, if possible, to send a supply of consumer goods into that part of the world so that the farmers will be willing to bring out their rice. I also think that the Government should be willing to pay a bigger price. Then there is the question of an increase of animal feedingstuffs, and I welcome the announcement of the Minister that there is to be such an increase, particularly with regard to poultry, because I believe that we in this country could produce a great many more eggs—which would be of the greatest possible value—and, of course, more pigs.

For a long time it has been the policy of the Government to increase our stocks of poultry, pigs and cattle, which means an increase of feedingstuffs, and I hope that policy will be followed up. The reassuring information the Minister gave us about conditions in various European countries indicated that it may be possible to get these feedingstuffs, and I sincerely trust that will be possible at a very early date. But most important is the supply of fats. Will the Minister give us information about that, and does he consider that the supplies of fats will be adequate in the future?

I mention this subject particularly because there have been very disturbing reports lately with regard to the supply of whale oil from the Antarctic. Last year a Japanese expedition was licensed by General MacArthur, the American General commanding in Japan, and authorised to go down to the antarctic. The excuse—and a good excuse—was that there were not enough Allied ships in the 1946–47 whaling season to deal with the quota of whales which are allowed to be killed each year. The difficulty with the Japanese is that they were not adherents to the international whaling convention, their method of processing whales is extremely wasteful and very inefficient, they have usually disregarded whaling regulations, and last year they conducted an indiscriminate slaughter of whales, which they regard not particularly as a source of fat but as a source of whale meat for home consumption. One can quite understand that, but it is a very serious situation when such a large proportion of the world's fat supply comes from the Antarctic.

This year General MacArthur has again authorised a Japanese expedition to the Antarctic. This year that expedition is not needed because there are enough Allied ships in the Antarctic without Japanese participation to deal with the maximum quota of whales allowed to be taken in one year, and to ensure that every country will get its allocation of fats through the proper channels. Australia has protested very strongly about this because they were not consulted, as they were entitled to be. I put a ques- tion to the Foreign Office, and was told that the Foreign Office had made representations to Washington, where in this matter representation has to be made. The House is entitled to protest strongly at this waste of the fat supply and the threat of the destruction of a valuable source of food needed in all parts of the world by the inefficient methods of the Japanese whalers. The Japanese whale factory ships are not equipped to deal efficiently with their catch. If the Japanese take part in whaling this year they will have to share in the quota of 16,000 blue whale units, and their inefficent processing methods will obtain less whale oil from their share than would result from its processing by Allied ships. Therefore, the world supply of whale oil will be diminished accordingly. The output of oil from a blue whale unit in the 1946–47 Japanese expedition was 78½ barrels compared with the average Norwegian output of 116½ barrels. We know from reports of the 1946–47 expedition that the Japanese are more interested in the acquisition of whale meat for home consumption than of whale oil. I put this matter to the Minister of Food because it is most important that strong action should be taken to prevent the destruction of a valuable source of fat supply not only for the Japanese, but for the world as a whole. If the whales are exterminated, as they might be, that supply will go permanently. I do not want to comment further on that, as it involves our relations with the United States, but it is very unfortunate that this action should be taken at the present time by authorities representing the United States of America in Japan.

I said that I would not say anything about calories, but there is a word I must say. I do not practise now and I do not pretend to be an expert on these things, but I know enough to recognise the enormous improvement there has been in health at the present time compared with the condition of things after the 1914–18 war. I wonder how many hon. Members remember having seen or read of the appalling conditions of children on the Continent of Europe in 1919—the deformed, the miserable, the tubercular and the rachitic children. A good many hon. Members must have seen the pictures. The children of this country were also in a very damaged condition as the result of that war. At that time the general knowledge of hygiene, of dietetics and of how to keep well was much less everywhere in the world than it is now. As a result of good administration during the war we have come through with the advantages which we all recognise. One other reason for considering that, not only this country, but in the world as a whole we are in a better state than at the end of the 1914–18 war is that there has not been anywhere in the world any large-scale postwar epidemic. That is a most remarkable difference between the two wars.

I have recently had the experience, while on official duty, of visiting Germany, Austria, Italy, Egypt, Palestine, Greece, all the commands of India, Burma, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong and Ceylon. In none of those places is the condition of the ordinary man as good as it is in this country. In Cairo the military authorities accommodated me at Shepheard's Hotel, where there was most luxurious and expensive food—bought, I am glad to say, by the authorities and not by myself—and by the way, enough to give me rather a bad "gippy" tummy; but that is by the way. Yet, when one goes from Shepheard's Hotel into the side streets one sees the most abysmal poverty. It is the same thing when one goes to the big club in Calcutta. One has the most magnificent food there, but round the corner one sees the most damnable poverty—I must use that word. It is the worst kind of poverty I have seen anywhere in the world.

I spoke to an important medical officer in Calcutta and said that I supposed that he had now got rid of the difficulty about famine there and did not find people dead in the streets. He said, "Oh, no," and then corrected himself, and said, "Except, of course, the occasional individual who has absolutely no means at all. His body is found in the street."

We do not have that in this country. In fact anyone who has travelled extensively—and I have travelled very extensively recently—can say that with the exception of the United States of America and Canada—which I visited last year for a very short time—every single country of those I have mentioned has a lower standard of food than we have at the present moment. I should say that the general condition of the people, too, was not as good as it is here. It is not a question only of Germany or Austria, but everywhere I have been in Europe, and it applies also to the East. Everywhere in those countries there is a luxury standard for those who have plenty of money to go to expensive hotels, but the vast mass of the population have not enough. Here we have a different situation in which people are much more on a level and where the general level of food is a very good one.

Do not take too much notice of Dr. Bicknell, who says that England is dying. If England is dying at the present moment, it will be a very happy home because it is a very nice way of dying. We are doing a lot of things in this country and passing a lot of Bills in this House during our dying moments. From that kind of thing I expect Dr. Bicknell to appear as a candidate for some Tory constituency at an early date, but I do not take it seriously from the medical and scientific point of view. I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite will not be misled by the idea that there is any truth in his suggestion, which is only a suggestion, that this country is badly fed. It is nothing of the sort. Child health statistics, maternal health statistics, and the general health and vigour of the country show that we are now probably better fed than we were in the inter-war period, much better fed than we were at the end of the first war, and that we shall be still better fed owing to the excellent policy of the Minister of Food.

7.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Woodbridge

I think hon. Members on this side of the Committee will appreciate the speech made by the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest), which was the first attempt at an honest speech from the other side of the Chamber. He started by saying that the people of this country are suffering from strain, and then went on to suggest to the Minister of Food that it would be a good thing if we could get a little more rice. He went on to say that he was alarmed at the rumours about the allocation of whale oil. At any rate, he broke the chain of speeches to which we have listened today from the opposite benches where hon. Members got up one after another saying how excellent is the state of our food. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Who said that?"] The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) and the hon. Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) spent their time saying that we are better fed than we were between the two wars, and that we are better fed than we could have expected to be fed if any other Government had been in power. The only point of making speeches on those lines, I suggest, is that hon. Members opposite must be followers of M. Coué or Mr. Goebbels. If one says something often enough, one kids oneself it is true and one gets others to believe it.

Photo of Mrs Leah Manning Mrs Leah Manning , Epping

Is that why hon. Gentlemen opposite keep saying we are all starving, so that people will believe that they are starving?

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Woodbridge

I am sorry but I have not gathered the point of the hon. Lady's interruption.

Photo of Mrs Leah Manning Mrs Leah Manning , Epping

The hon. Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare) said that if we say a thing often enough, people will believe it. I am asking if that is why the Opposition say we are all starving, because they think people will believe it if they say it often enough?

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Woodbridge

I do not think the hon. Lady can have listened to the speeches from this side of the Committee—[An HON. MEMBER: "Yes, she did."]—or she would know that we have not said that they are starving. I would call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to one section of the population in this country which, in my opinion, is not getting a fair share of the ration. I listened with great interest to what the right hon. Gentleman had to say. The thesis of his speech was that although things might be difficult, he was convinced that, as far as it was humanly possible, the available food was being shared out equally. I do not know if there are any hon. Members opposite who represent, as I do, an agricultural constituency? I see the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) is in his seat. I am willing to guarantee that the hon. Member for Taunton will agree with me when I say that the agricultural worker and those connected with the agricultural industry, are not getting as fair a share of the ration as the average townsman.

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Taunton

I disagree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. The agricultural worker is getting extra bread and 10 ozs. extra cheese every week. He has the opportunity of getting additional foodstuffs, and it is false to suggest that the agricultural worker is not having a far better standard of living than he had before the war.

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Woodbridge

I am sorry if the hon. Member for Taunton does not agree with me. I do not think he can have visited his constituency very much lately.

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Taunton

I live in my constituency and have never been out of it for one weekend since I became a Member of Parliament.

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Woodbridge

I would suggest that the hon. Member for Taunton should go round his constituency a little more, and find out the amount of food which the agricultural worker is allowed to eat today compared with what he was allowed to eat before the war, although his wages were lower. I admit that, as far as the agricultural worker is concerned, he gets extra cheese and bread and I am glad to know that the Minister has extended that privilege to those operatives engaged on building in rural areas. It was high time that was done.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

Tell us something about the landlords.

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Woodbridge

Some pressure was put on the Minister last year, and I am glad that from 20th July that concession will be given. However, there is still a vast class of people connected with that industry who do not get extra bread or cheese, and that is the self-employed farmer, the man who runs a small farm or agricultural holding with his sons or brothers. He gets no extra food, and I feel that that is not fair, because the majority of people who live in these country areas do not have the facilities that the townsmen have of the works canteen, the British Restaurant, the cafe and so on. I do not think it is unfair or exaggerated to say that the average townsman gets his midday meal off the ration in the canteen or British Restaurant. He does not get it off the home ration.

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Woodbridge

Did the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) wish to say something? He does not? My point is that if you can get, as the average towns-worker, does, six mid-day meals a week, good filling meals apart from your wife's meagre domestic family allowance, you are getting far more in food value than the extra ounces of cheese and bread which the agricultural worker gets. There can be no question about that Unlike the case of the hon. Member for Taunton, people come to me and say, "Can you give me any advice as to how I am to go on?" One was a man who had been working in a factory during the war, who had been used to getting his midday meals in his factory canteen. He has now started a business as an agricultural engineer repairing farm implements and so on. He has a wife and five children, and last week he said to me, "My business is going fine. I have more than I can possibly cope with, but I am working 60 or 65 hours a week. I get no extra rations. My wife is desperate. She cannot keep me or my family going."

That is a true story. I know there are a lot of small people connected directly with the agricultural industry who do not get extra rations, in areas far away from towns and the restaurant facilities which the townsman enjoys. I hope the Minister will consider carefully whether he cannot include more of these people—because they are part and parcel of agriculture—in what I was going to call the rather niggardly extra allowance of bread and cheese. I suggested to the Minister a year ago that somehow he should start up a system of mobile canteens in these rural areas. He did it in the war. They went out to the "ack-ack" sites, searchlight units, etc.

If my contention is correct that the agricultural community—even the agricultural worker with his extra bread and cheese—is not getting as fair a share of the total ration allotment as the townsman, surely, the Government should be responsible for 'working out some scheme to get a mobile canteen system going throughout the villages of our countryside. I believe the vehicles are largely there. They can be provided from Service vehicles which, I hope, will become increasingly surplus in large numbers. I believe we could get both a voluntary and professional team of drivers to run such a service. I am sorry the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary is not in the Chamber, but I hope she will give consideration to that point when she comes to answer the Debate.

The Minister quoted in justification of the extra ration for miners that they are not in a sedentary occupation. I believe our agricultural workers are also going to be largely responsible for whether or not this country will ride the coming economic crisis. Unless we can give these men extra food, we are not going to get that increase of home food production on which the Minister has set his heart. I hope the Minister will consider what I have said, and give more to these men, who are only too willing to respond to the Government's call for extra productivity in the industry. I hope they will be given a bit of extra food.' In many cases they work 60 hours a week, and in harvest time they have to do a lot of overtime. I hope that in an industry where such long hours are worked, and where the manual work is so hard, the Government will think again, and try to increase the existing ration.

7.21 p.m.

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Taunton

The hon. Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare) made comparison between the lot of the agricultural worker today and what it was before the war. I do not want to labour this point, because far too much time has been taken up in saying how little we have, and far too little time has been devoted to seeing how we could get more. In 1930, in a village in Norfolk not far from the hon. Member's constituency, two agricultural workers starved to death rather than take Poor Law relief. Before the war, a farm workers' skittles team would go to a village inn taking a poached rabbit, or hare, to pay for cider if they lost the match. I want to see these men get more food, and I support what the hon. Member said in that regard, but there is no question whatever that the farmworker and his family today are far better off than they have been in living memory. It is equally certain that there are no stauncher supporters anywhere of the Government and of their policy than the people in rural areas.

The Minister has made a most comprehensive and convincing report on our present situation. I was only sorry that at no time during his long speech were there more than 30 hon. Members of the Tory Party on the benches opposite. It would have been most valuable if they could have conveyed the information he gave so convincingly to the many people who are obviously labouring under delusions. A great deal of this Debate has been taken up by non-productive arguments as to the exact amount of calories, and whether we are getting more than last week, last year, or before the war, whereas the essence of the matter is that we are all agreed that the share-out is as fair as possible. I think most people are convinced that whatever the supply of food in the world, and the share of this country, the party opposite could not have increased it. Many people are convinced that if bulk buying had been abandoned, and if the many devices for increasing our share of the food of the world, which the Minister put so convincingly, had not been adopted, people would have been very much worse off.

There was, however, a major deficiency in the speech of my right hon. Friend. Convincingly as he showed us how everything possible was being done to secure supplies of food from other countries, and as important as was his obvious belief that this harvest is possibly the most vital in the history of the world, he did not indicate sufficiently the reliance which he places and must place on the output of this country. What this country produces is bound to be the determining factor, not only in improving the standard of living of our people, but in ensuring that one day—and I hope in the comparatively near future—we can stand on our own feet.

Another deficiency, a very natural one, was how the account will be met as the continuance of the satisfactory state of affairs he outlined depends on borrowed money, and it will collapse when our borrowed dollars come to an end unless some other Loan arrangement is made. It is the universal desire in this country that our people should be able to stand on their own feet and no stone should be left unturned which would increase the production of homegrown food and improve the distribution of food. There is no section of our home production where there could be more valuable and speedy increase than in horticulture, and no section of our production where there is more deliberate and colossal waste of foodstuffs. That is entirely due to the completely unsatisfactory state of out distributive system.

I would like to say something about the present shortage of potatoes and the methods of distribution, but I think it would be of interest if I give some account of what goes on in wholesale vegetable and fruit markets. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning), who visited Spitalfields Market last week, fell somewhat into the error of other hon. Members who go abroad for a week and come back and make dogmatic statements on rather insecure grounds.

Photo of Mrs Leah Manning Mrs Leah Manning , Epping

I must interrupt my hon. Friend to say that the result of my visit, and what I said in the House, were not based on that one morning's visit, but on a long period of trying to investigate what was happening there.

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Taunton

I am very glad to hear that, because the hon. Lady said in the House that it was almost impossible to gain any information, yet at the same time made several very firm statements. I am glad to hear that they were based on previous information, and not on that one visit.

Photo of Mrs Leah Manning Mrs Leah Manning , Epping

Mrs. Manning rose

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Taunton

Perhaps the hon. Lady will forgive me if I carry on, because she had a good innings on Friday, and I hope she will have the lady's privilege of the last word after I have sat down.

Photo of Mrs Leah Manning Mrs Leah Manning , Epping

Thank you very much.

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Taunton

Such statements can be very harmful, not because they are in themselves quite inaccurate, but because they give a false balance to the picture, to a great extent are sensationalised in the Press, and cause a great deal of concern to hon. Members who know that in the main the industry has done well. For 18 months in this House I have been drawing attention to the evils which have arisen in the distributive industries through the continuance into the postwar period of arrangements which were introduced as a temporary wartime measure. A number of changes are under review, but they can only be made with full knowledge of the facts, and careful consideration of the effects on the producer and consumer, who are the two sets of people with whom this House should be mainly concerned when those changes are made.

Reference was made to the chaotic conditions which operated in Spitalfields market, and I would remind the House that this market happens to be the largest fruit and vegetable market in the world, and handles about one million packages a day. Most of them are disposed of in a few hectic early morning hours. The work is done by experts in a highly efficient manner, and although there is terrific activity, there is no more chaos than is observable when a swarm of ants removes an obstruction. Last Friday, I was told, was a perfectly normal day, except for some excitement about potatoes. On other days there might be excitement about cherries, apples or some other commodity which is in short supply and keen demand. In this hive of bees—and "B" in its various forms is frequently used as a term of endearment in the market—the people are hardworking and friendly, and not over given to niceties of expression or conduct, but they have a ready sympathy and a firm belief in rough justice.

In a community of this kind there are obviously some abuses, but the charges that have been made are in the main inaccurate and unjustified as far as 95 per cent. of wholesalers are concerned. A constant watch is kept on the others and there have been a number of successful prosecutions. This number could be increased and the trouble stamped out completely if enforcement officers would seek the full co-operation of the wholesalers. Statements have been made about conditions of sale, the charging of exorbitant prices for half-rotten cabbages and bags of rotten peas. On Friday morning the market price per half bag of 32–36 lbs. of cabbage varied from 7s. to 14s. according to quality, that is, from 2½d. to 5d. per lb. In retail shops the price was 8d. a lb. that day, so that if any went rotten it was the retailers fault for charging too much and not selling. In any case it is nonsense to talk about a condition of sale in connection with a commodity of which there was no real surplus.

There has been some shortage of potatoes ever since March, and wholesalers have instituted a rough form of rationing so as to see that their customers receive a reasonable share. That is not a condition of sale. In the last few weeks during which the position has become really acute the possession of potatoes for sale has become a menace to wholesalers. Some have actually cancelled consignments of other goods if they have known that they were to receive potatoes, in order that there should not be any possibility of condition of sale, and knowing that they could not do any other business while they had potatoes to sell. Others have divided their consignments, and one part, say two truck loads, has gone direct by lorry in small lots to regular customers, which has involved the wholesaler in quite a loss. The rest has come on the market. With a shortage of this kind, everybody had to go short, and it is possible that some people have had to go without altogether. But if any bribery and corruption is alleged, evidence should be brought forward, and those who make the allegations should be asked why complaints were not made in the proper quarter. The Superintendents office is quite accessible in the centre of the market.

If any hon. Member wants to see how these things go on and to have access to the utmost possible information at any time they like, I am sure it could be arranged, and that the wholesalers would be very glad indeed. The real trouble arises out of the system of distribution. People who are not perhaps really in the industry on the distributive side come into it, attracted by various shortages—one day it is potatoes, another day fruit, perhaps the next week it is razor blades— and they make it extremely difficult for ordinary people—regular store-holders or shopkeepers who make regular purchases in season—to carry on their business. The wholesalers regard the retailers as their customers, and therefore they try to look after them, as any sensible business man looks after his customers. The suggestion has been made that bona fideretailers should be identified by a badge. That system would collapse in two or three days, so soon would it be abused.

If the Minister wants a scheme for the distribution of potatoes which is foolproof and fair, all he has to do is to use the tomato allocation scheme which has been operating for six years, and which has been found by everybody to be perfectly satisfactory, and could be operated tomorrow for potatoes in exactly the same way. That is a scheme in which every retailer has a card varying according to the size of the allocation.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Lichfield

Does that mean that in the Midlands, where we can get no tomatoes, we should be without potatoes also?

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Taunton

It is rather surprising to learn that my hon. and gallant Friend cannot get any tomatoes today. I imagine the position is a very temporary one, as supplies of tomatoes are very large. People in the Midlands would be sure of getting potatoes if the allocation was done in this way. The only difficulty is that the present trouble should be overcome within 10 to 14 days. Even so, it might be well worth trying out now in case experience shows it to be necessary later. Had this course been adopted in March, when it became apparent that there might be some shortage, we should now have no trouble at all

On the whole, however, the handling of potatoes this year not only illustrates the value of efficient marketing but reflects credit on the Minister. Such shortages as we have had—and they have been very uncomfortable—are attributable first, to a 20 per cent. increase in consumption, and, second, to the unprecedented frosts and floods, and now to the lack of rain, which has delayed the new crop these last two weeks. I agree that there is a danger that in the coming season there will be a shortage of potatoes considerably greater than any present shortage. The Minister should keep a very close watch upon that possibility. As has been pointed out, we have lost acreage, and some of the land is not really suitable and is not providing anything like the yield it should—and yields in this matter are very important. But I do think that my right hon. Friend is to be strongly supported in the action he took in excluding new potatoes from North Africa, a matter which was mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J S. C. Reid), unless they came in below a certain price. If they had come in above that price, it is no use pretending that they would have relieved the potato shortage for the vast majority of housewives, the people with whom we are principally concerned The only thing I cannot understand is why he is not consistent about it and why he does not take the same line with other imported fruit and vegetables, the price of which is too high. I hope that will be closely watched. Above all, it is important to watch this potato position. Over-optimism now might prove disastrous later.

Quite apart from shortages, the present high cost of fruit and vegetables is a matter of deep concern to the housewife. A great deal of the trouble is due to the exceptionally severe winter, but that is not the whole story. With an efficient system of distribution retail prices could be considerably reduced, and the producers would secure a better return Like most hon. Members, I receive many letters on this subject. I wish to quote one which puts the viewpoint of the housewife fairly and clearly. It reads: As a young housewife I am appalled at the amount of money I spend weekly, on vegetables, lettuce, etc. If the advance in prices were proportionate to that of other commodities I would understand, but I cannot honestly see why, in the middle of June, I should be obliged to spend 8d. on lettuce or 1s. 6d. on cabbage for two when I am told that farmers are ploughing lettuce back into the ground because of the glut.I now pay 10d. per lb. for rhubarb which a few years ago was so cheap it was almost despised. Sixpence would buy an armful Last week I bought new potatoes—I was allowed one pound—and when I mentioned mint I was asked 6d. for two small sprigs. Although I have no garden I refused to be penalised and told the shopkeeper so. The time is too fresh in my memory when a bunch of mint was 1d or was thrown in with other purchases. It is a pity there are not many more like this housewife. Her letter concludes: I live in a top flat but when I get my 'shack' and my bit of ground, I'll work it to the best of my ability and struggle to be independent of the grasping hands of the growers'. In my experience this is unfair to the majority of growers, who more often than not are the victims of the present system. I doubt very much, and I have some experience in this matter, if, throughout the year, they get more than a third of the price the housewife pays, and sometimes less than that. Let me quote just a few examples. Spring onions have been plentiful this year. The growers have received 2d. or 3d. a lb. Recently the market collapsed, and they got nothing. More onions have been thrown away this year than ever before. The retailers continued to charge the permitted maximum price of 10d. per lb. for most of the season and therefore the increased supplies did not meet the increased demand which the lowering of the price would have created.

Photo of Mrs Leah Manning Mrs Leah Manning , Epping

Does my hon. Friend know that if he went to the market now he would smell tons of rotting onions and that they are rotting because the retailers will not buy them at the price which the wholesaler asks?

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Taunton

My hon. Friend shows by her observation that she has entirely misconceived the position of the wholesaler and the retailer. The wholesaler is the agent for the grower. He gets a commission of from 7½per cent. to 10 per cent., and it is in his interest to sell quantities of the produce as quickly, as fresh and for as much as possible. If there is a glut and the retailer will not purchase, the price naturally falls until the produce is almost given away. It may even be thrown away When the price was only 1s. for 28 lb. of onions, the price in the shops was still 10d. a lb. The situation in regard to greenstuff is the same. An hon. Member opposite mentioned 7d. per lb. for cabbages. In one week, a fortnight ago, on three successive days the prices were 3d., 5d., and 7d.,per lb., but the retailers were charging 8d. all the week and 10d. on Saturday. That is why cabbage for two costs 1s. 6d. or 1s. 7d in the shops. If only 3d. of that goes to the grower, he naturally ploughs them in again.

It is not a question of a glut of imports. In any case, advice on imports is tendered by a member of the National Farmers' Union who is an expert. The whole reason is that retail prices are too high. The present system does not allow retailers to drop their prices quickly to take advantage of increased supplies. Last year, Dutch lettuces were coming over here, although English lettuces were rotting There were mountains of Dutch lettuces also rotting in Holland. The reason was that the growers could not get their price here. It is an old story of bad distribution caused by the fact that the retailers price did not drop enough when the wholesalers' price fell.

Photo of Miss Jennie Lee Miss Jennie Lee , Cannock

Do I understand from my hon. Friend that the wholesaler has an agreed percentage when selling to the retailers, and that the real difficulty is that the retailers, instead of having another agreed percentage which would keep prices regular, can ask practically what he wants?

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Taunton

That is exactly the position, except in cases where there is a maximum retail price. The maximum retail price for green onions was 10d., therefore the retailer could ask any price up to 10d., irrespective of what they cost. In the main, the wholesaler gets a percentage on what he sells.

Mrs. Manning: Will my hon. Friend say what the position is when there is not a maximum price or a controlled price?:

Mrs. Manning: Will my hon. Friend say what the position is when there is not a maximum price or a controlled price?

Photo of Mr Victor Collins Mr Victor Collins , Taunton

Obviously, when there is not a maximum price or a controlled price—I apologise to the Committee for taking so long with my speech, but there have been many interruptions—the position is somewhat different. The general public often regard the maximum price as the statutory price and the maximum becomes the minimum. When there is a surplus, the maximum price has the effect of keeping the price up instead of letting it fall and holding it down. I can give the Committee the example of cucumbers last year. They were controlled at 10½d. per lb. A large cucumber weighs about a lb. The result was that we did not see any of them in the shops. They were sold in the black market for about 2s. each. This year there was no control, and most of the cucumbers were sold at 3s. 6d. each wholesale and up to 5s. or 6s. in the shops. That shows that the conscience of the black marketeer is something like 100 per cent. on the controlled market price.

As was indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), the one sure way of controlling this position is not by a maximum fixed price, but by a maximum rate of profit. When the glut comes and the market drops, the retailer is compelled to buy more and to sell more in order to cover his overheads. The public benefit. I hope that my right hon. Friend will see the advantages in this proposal. He may say that there are difficulties of enforcement, but they are not insuperable. With the removal of some of the controls there should be an increase in the number of producers. It is necessary to insist upon there being more producers and not more distributors. We must have more people growing things and making things and not just selling them or moving things about. One of the factors which adds greatly to the cost is that there are different grades of wholesaler, all adding to the selling price. There should be one wholesale function and one commission, whether it is earned by a marketing board or a private firm.

A system of pooled distribution was initiated by Lord Woolton in many foodstuffs, and it dispensed with a multiplicity of wholesalers of varying grades. Unfortunately, whilst he fossilised their functions, he grossly expanded their profit margins. For seven years we have kept thousands of food dealers in compulsory retirement and have paid many millions of pounds for the privilege. This must stop. An efficient system has been built up at a fraction of the former cost. It must be retained. There should be no question of goodwill. By paying seven years' full earnings we have surely bought the goodwill of the business.

The Minister spoke about the sweeping away of controls. I hope that the pooling system will not be swept away or that we shall go back to the old anarchy. We have built up something which is valuable and efficient. It will be stupid and suicidal to go back to the private chaos we had. It will be far better to further develop this simpler system. The other day, in reply to a Question that I put to him, the Minister of Food indicated that he was introducing new regulations for the sale of imported tomatoes. I hope that these regulations will bring to an end the system by which three profit margins go to one firm. I hope also that they will bring to an end that legendary and functionless figure, the first-hand salesman. He cannot be tolerated any longer.

I hope too, that strong action will be taken with regard to the prices of foreign food imports. It is absurd that a gullible and long suffering public should pay 4s. 6d. per lb. for Italian cherries and, next day, when we get a far better quality of English cherries coming on to the market, the price should drop to 2s. or 1s. 6d. per lb. It is also absurd that French blackcurrants should be sold at from 5s. to 6s. per lb. up to Saturday and that on Monday home grown currants should be in the shops at 1s. 3d—if one could find them.

I do not subscribe to the view that we should net import those fruits. We want to give our people all the fruit and vegetables and variety of food that we can. But we do not charge France and Italy double the ordinary price for our exports to them. Even though they owe us money and even though these are the only things they can export in any quantity, there is no reason why they should charge double the price and that that price should be passed on to the public. On the question of potatoes, I think the Minister took the right course in declining to budge when asked to raise the market price of African potatoes. Let him take the same course now in regard to foreign fruits. They are good business people on the Continent and when they know that we mean business they will carry out transactions with us on reasonable terms so that we will not have these fantastic prices which so exasperate the housewife.

Mention has been made of luxury fruits. In my view that is an indication of the extraordinary change which has taken place in the standard of living of the people. Most of these fruits, pineapples, peaches, and South African plums and grapes, were not even thought of in out of season periods by the great majority of the working classes before the war. Now they not only think of them but they are having them There could be no clearer indication of the vast difference which has come about in the standard of living of our people.

In suggesting controlled retail profit margins and the regularising of wholesale functions, with a close watch on the prices of foreign imports, I would point out that they are only short-term proposals which I hope the Minister will consider as ways for dealing with our present difficulties. It is obvious, however, that the marketing of horticultural produce, if it is to be a success, must be considered commodity by commodity; and, in addition, there must be an overall scheme for all commodities. The National Farmers' Union have produced schemes for an apple board, and a marketing board for cucumbers and tomatoes. These are wholly admirable as far as they go, but they do not go far enough. They expressly exclude any control over price or sale once the produce is in the hands of the wholesaler. It is after the produce is in the hands of the wholesaler and not before this stage that most of this trouble starts. Therefore, it seems to me that however efficiently these boards are run—and they are very slow in making up their minds to start—a great deal of their value may be lost. I assume that basic agricultural commodities like wheat, meat, and eggs, will be marketed by the equivalent of public corporations and that they will take over at the point where the guaranteed price is paid.

The position in regard to horticultural produce is not quite the same. Undoubtedly it cannot be efficiently marketed unless a substantial proportion of wholesale selling is in the hands of the marketing organisation. Private firms of wholesalers, perhaps acting as agents, could also be employed and would provide a very desirable competitive check. The expansion and efficient development of our horticultural industry will be a vital factor in our national recovery. Our growers have the necessary skill, initiative, and enthusiasm, but they are greatly handicapped by this antiquated and costly system of distribution. I hope the Minister, in answering the points which I have raised, will also give an indication that the necessary steps for long-term reorganisation will be implemented as quickly as possible. It cannot be too soon. In no other direction can he make such a speedy and substantial improvement in food supplies, or a greater contribution to the prosperity of the nation and the health and happiness of our people.

7.54 p.m.

Photo of Sir John Barlow Sir John Barlow , Eddisbury

The scarcity of potatoes was attributed by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) largely to the fact that we were handicapped by bad weather early this year. I would remind him that the Minister of Food at a Press conference recently said that the scarcity of potatoes was an annual event. It had occurred before he came into office and it was occurring again now. If that be the case, it is hardly to be expected that people should believe that it was entirely due to the bad weather this year. I do not think that the scarcity was largely due to the weather. It was due to a variety of reasons. I wish to quote an extract from a report of a meeting of the National Farmers' Union at Glasgow which appeared in the "Aberdeen Press and Journal" on 25th June. At that meeting, an Aberdeenshire farmer said: It is scarcely believable that such a scarcity is existing in the South, and yet there is a glut in the North of Scotland. It would appear from that report that there were ample supplies of potatoes in the North of Scotland and that the question of adequate transport in order to get them to London was involved. The important but humble potato has played a very large part in our diet during and since the war. The Ministers responsible for food during the war realised the importance of potatoes. The acreage of potatoes was practically doubled between 1939 and 1946 and the crop of some five million tons was practically doubled.

For various reasons it is becoming increasingly difficult to induce farmers to grow potatoes. Contrary to the opinion of some people, the potato requires very careful, expert cultivation. It requires some 240 man-hours per acre to raise a satisfactory crop. That is more than is required by any other farm food crop. Owing to the scarcity of labour on the farms it is becoming more and more difficult to persuade farmers to plant this crop. For some years past, they have been directed to do so on pains of penalties, but when they have grown the potatoes, the farmers have found that it is not always easy to sell them when and where they wish. The position is that England and Wales is divided into five districts with various counties in each district, according to the locality, the soil and the weather. In each district the potatoes command different prices. Each series of varieties of potatoes also have a different price.

Therefore, a complicated procedure is involved, and sometimes the system works very unfairly. For example, in Cheshire we grow a fair number of potatoes. We are in No. 2 district and we get 5s. a ton less than is received in the surrounding district. Eighty per cent. of the potatoes grown in our county go into the industrial towns and into the more expensive districts, and the dealer who buys them finds that automatically they are worth 5s. a ton more to him. That is not very satisfactory from the point of view of the grower, though it is particularly satisfactory to the middlemen who are already very well paid.

One of the contributory causes of the scarcity of potatoes was the rationing of bread. There is no doubt that a substantial amount of bread was used for poultry by small poultry keepers in particular and, to a lesser extent, by the pig keepers. That bread has been replaced by the use of a larger quantity of potatoes. It is practically impossible to stop this. In a number of cases potatoes are fed to cattle. Sometimes it is illegal to do that. The rule is changed periodically from month to month, according to the scarcity or glut of potatoes and it is very difficult to follow when it is legal to feed potatoes to cattle and when it is not.

There is one difficulty about it. In the autumn potatoes are usually valued at about £5 10s. per ton, whereas the value of mangolds, which are used for cattle feed, is perhaps from £3 to £4 per ton. There is a great temptation for farmers to use potatoes for their cattle and so avoid the high cost for clamping, weighing and putting up which would be involved in sending them to market. I suggest to the Minister that the values of potatoes and mangolds are too close together to be beneficial. Obviously, a large amount of potatoes are required and must be grown, but it is part of the great difficulty of agriculture at the present time that we need more houses, more food and better transport conditions in the rural areas. That is a part of the trouble which undoubtedly affects the Ministry of Food very substantially, although I know that to pursue it would be outside the scope of this Debate.

I would like to turn to one other rather small but important matter. Owing to the weather we are all only too familiar with the great losses in farming stock, especially sheep. I believe that, before the bad weather, there were some 12 million sheep in the country, and the loss has been something in the neighbourhood of four million, according to the statistics given by the Ministry of Agriculture. That is a very great loss of sheep in this country, and I would suggest to the Minister of Food that he should consider the advisability of not purchasing any ewe lambs for slaughter this autumn; otherwise it would be a very long time before we can re-establish our sheep flocks in this country, and I suggest that it is of the utmost importance to build up these flocks quickly. I ask the Minister seriously to consider avoiding the killing of new lambs, hogs and gimmurs during the next 12 months, which, I think, would be a valuable contribution to farmers in restoring their flocks to eat off the new leys which have been sown in many parts of the country.

I would like also to mention the tea market, as it affects the people of this country so vitally. The Government have continued the bulk purchase of tea from the principle sources of production—India and Ceylon. It is a rather long story and time is short, so I will not deal with it in any extensive way. The pre-war world production of tea was something like 960 million pounds, of which this country used about half. The Ministry have received a promise of about 200 million pounds from India and about 94 million pounds from Ceylon, with another 18 million pounds of African tea, making a total of 312 million pounds in all. That is all we have so far in order to maintain the present tea ration, which requires 415 million pounds a year. I believe that the Ministry are negotiating for a further 90 million pounds of Indian tea, but whether they have purchased it or not at the present time I am not certain. I suggest to the Minister that it might be advisable to consider re-opening the London tea market, if, in fact, it is not already too late to do so. Both the Indian and Ceylon Governments were very anxious that we should, and, pre-war, London was the world market and distributing centre for tea. Tea came here and went through auction sales and was dispersed to the ends of the earth. Calcutta is now intent upon making that city the tea centre of the world, and, if they achieve their object, it is almost certain that they will demand taxes on all the profits made on tea by the companies selling it in Calcutta instead of paying it in London. The tea industry has contributed very substantially in taxation to the British Treasury, and it will be a very serious loss to the British Government, and also a serious loss to British international trade if we were to lose the trade in tea just as we have lost the international trade in cotton.

I happen to be interested, as the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary knows, in Malaya, which produces a certain amount of very valuable fats—copra and paim oil in particular. It is most annoying and galling to see factories out there held up for comparatively small amounts of spare parts for machinery. I have known cases where spare parts costing £1,500 were unobtainable for 15 months, thereby causing a large factory to be closed. People out there and in London do their utmost to keep these factories going, but when they are held up by other priorities and are prevented from picking and crushing the nuts which are ripe in the fields and rotting on the ground, there does seem to be something wrong with the system of priorities, especially when they see new machinery going to other parts of the world to start entirely new ventures. This is one of the great difficulties of priorities, and I urge the Minister to help these people who are trying to get a comparatively small amount of machinery in order to reestablish an industry which is well on its feet and which will show results far more quickly than the African groundnuts scheme, which, I agree, is a most valuable new venture I suggest to the Minister that an industry which has been established in the past is much more easily re-established today than starting some new enterprise.

8.8 p.m.

Photo of Sir Barnett Stross Sir Barnett Stross , Stoke-on-Trent Hanley

I have been very interested in listening to the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Sir J. Barlow) who was speaking about tea, and I noticed that he was a little afraid that we might have some difficulty in keeping up the supply. I wonder if he would feel beter about it if I told him that we are at present consuming, in our national consumption of tea, three times the maximum dose of caffeine, and that a little diminution, by way of drinking more water or even beer, would not do us any harm?

Photo of Sir John Barlow Sir John Barlow , Eddisbury

Would the hon. Member suggest that the Minister should reduce the tea ration?

Photo of Sir Barnett Stross Sir Barnett Stross , Stoke-on-Trent Hanley

No, I am not suggesting it, but, if he was compelled to reduce it, none of us might suffer too severely. This apart, however, this Debate has been something other than most of us have expected. Having read the Debates recently in another place, we had expected something lively perhaps. Frankly, I personally am grateful for the commonsense of the Commitee, and particularly because hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite showed greater restraint, more commonsense and better taste. I note that there was some absenteeism on their part, but that is no doubt due to the fact that, since the attack came with some sincerity, though much weakness, the colleagues of the right hon. and learned Gentleman are no longer interested. There was another occasion when this subject was debated. It was on 8th July, 1936, when, as hon. Members who were in the House then will remember, a Motion was moved in the Debate on the Address and the whole question of Sir John Boyd Orr's Report was discussed on the Floor of the House. At that time, the whole position seemed to be exactly reversed for then the Govern- ment in power pointed out that Sir John, although an eminent scientist, was not the only scientist in the world. There was disagreement, and it was pointed out that it was the ignorance of the housewife which was at fault, and that, in any event, it was bad taste to say that malnutrition was widespread, and that there was any hunger in the country, and so on. Today, the position is exactly the opposite. The Government are defending themselves on the Orr Report, and the Opposition prefer a protagonist of another name, who will not be heard of much longer. He is Dr. Franklin Bicknell who has been quoted in another place, and whose statements have not been quoted in the Committee today except by the noble Lady the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant), who is not in her place at the moment. She is the only hon. Member who appears to have been a little misled by a circular and by a statement which many of us in the medical profession who are interested in this subject, consider contentious, malicious, and completely unfounded in fact. Where facts are used at all, they are used in a partisan and, I think, disgusting fashion.

A fortnight ago I was in Prague. The first person who spoke to me there, a person who knew me in this country during the war, said, "Things are very bad in England, are they not?" I said, "No, I do not think so." "But are you not very hungry?" he asked. "Has not your food position deteriorated? We hear that you have nothing to eat." If hon. Members opposite feel that it is desirable that the world should think that about us, I must say that their propaganda has undoubtedly succeeded.

I think that everybody realises that this is a world problem, and that our problem is only part of it. I hope I shall be forgiven if I quote very quickly the figures offered on 27th May, I think, by Mr. D. A. Fitzgerald, when making a report as Secretary-General of the International Emergency Food Council. He said that the world today is short of one million tons of grain, that we have 10 per cent. less sugar than before the war, that Europe is short of meat by 40 per cent., and the rest of the world by some 10 per cent. It is worth remembering that the world population has increased since 1938 by 5 to 10 per cent. If, as was stated by hon. Members opposite, our diminution in meat supplies is 9 per cent., and if Europe is short by 40 per cent., then we ourselves have not done very badly.

I will say no more about the controversy on calories except that I wholeheartedly agree with all speakers on both sides of the Committee who refuse to be misled by the importance of calories alone. Obviously, it is quality that counts, and I would like to say a few words about quality.

My hon. Friends the Members for Devonport (Mr. Foot) and North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) spoke about vital statistics, and what they said was entirely and absolutely true. There are other ways in which we can gauge what is happening to us. There are experimental ways, too. We all know that between 1913 and 1934, in a period of 21 years, the health of our people improved very dramatically, in association with an increase in leafy green vegetables and fruit by 75 per cent., and dairy produce—particularly milk and margarine—by 50 per cent. The improvement was that our expectation of life increased by seven years, the death rate of our babies, which was 100, dropped to 57, our tubercular rate was halved, and our children were obviously taller, healthier and stronger. The same situation has continued ever since, throughout the war and is occurring today The reason is that we have been compelled to eat less animal protein and, therefore, we are eating much more summer fruit and leafy green vegetables, although everyone must deplore the ridiculous and outrageously excessive price of horticultural produce. I must say, in passing, that I do not entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) in all that he said. Reports come to me, as they go to other Members, to the effect that conditions of sale are frequently imposed on retailers by wholesalers, and, although they are ashamed of it, they have to put up with it.

Recently, as the result of our experiences throughout the war and afterwards, and as a result of world shortages, we have been consuming more liquid milk, and the quality of our fats is very much better because the vitaminisation of margarine gives very great protective value, and is better than normal butter today. [Interruption.] One of my hon. Friends apparently would rather have the butter, so would I, but the tyranny of the palate is something that we do not easily overcome. The use of wholemeal grain, the better quality of bread, the fact that we are eating more potatoes which contain a certain amount of ascorbic acid, means that today, whether or not we are prepared to admit it—and hon. Members opposite do not seem to be prepared to admit it—that our diet is healthier. Even if it is not fuller and is obviously more monotonous, more like a peasant diet, it is a healthier diet. If Sir John Boyd Orr were present he would say so, and as he is not, it is incumbent upon somebody else to say so.

In the old days which have been referred to by some hon. Members opposite, even in the years between the two wars, when calories were cheap and easily obtainable and when it is suggested that the 4½ million of the poorest of our people had a better ration from a calorie point of view than the average ration which is consumed today, it is well known that on the diet that was then eaten—lots of white sticky bread, cheap refined sugar in the typical blue bag, synthetic jam, un-vitaminised margarine and a fair amount of cheap, nasty meat at the week-end—rats fed on a similar diet become cannibals within 30 days, become murderous and destroy each other, and suffer from every conceivable disease which we used to see in the out-patients' department in every great industrial centre. The days when Hogarth showed the rich man carrying his abdomen on a wheel-barrow, and the poor serving man starving, following and carrying half a gallon of gin on his shoulder, are gone. There is a very great future for this country so long as we look after the nutrition of our people. I want to say that the present Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary are doing a jolly good job of work.

8.20 p.m.

Photo of Sir Frank Sanderson Sir Frank Sanderson , Ealing East

When the Minister gave a general review of the food situation today he prefaced his speech with a reference to bulk purchasing, and he said that the purchasing of the primary food supplies Was in the hands of eminent men who knew their business through and through. He made reference to Mr. J. V. Rank, and the fact that he had during the past seven years devoted gratuitously the whole of his time to the purchasing of wheat. He made reference, too, to Mr. Jasper Knight who purchased, and continues, I believe, to purchase, oil seeds and all oils and fats. I wish to pause on what the Minister said, that we should pay a tribute to the great work which these men are doing. I happen to know those I have made reference to, and I can speak with knowledge when I say that the purchases of these commodities could not be in better hands, and the thanks of both Parliament and the country are due to them. But I should like to ask the Minister—I do not know the answer, and would like to receive it, as will the Committee, too—this question: Can the Minister say that these eminent men who are conducting the work of purchasing these commodities are, in fact, in favour of the principle of bulk purchasing? Or is it that they are carrying out their work in accordance with the policy laid down by the Government? But can the Minister say whether they subscribe to that policy of bulk purchasing?

Reference has also been made today on both sides of the Committee to the Government's contract for the purchase of wheat from Canada. I know something of the details of the contract, and I want to say, quite frankly, that I think that the Government made a very satisfactory bargain. It is true that in the later years the price of wheat will, in all probability, be somewhat less than the price we shall be paying, but the fact remains that, during the early years of that contract, we shall save a considerable amount of money; and I believe that the average price which will have been paid over the whole period will prove to be not more—possibly, slightly less—than the average world price during that time.

I should like to say a few words in regard to our expenditure of American dollars. I was opposed to the loan when it was effected, and I still remain against the policy of borrowing money from the United States of America for the purchase of foodstuffs and other commodities. I remember the Foreign Secretary during the course of his speech only the other day, saying, in effect: "Look at my position. I have nothing to bargain with. I have no coal; I have no raw materials." We realised that that was true. But, surely, in borrowing dollars from America we are accentuating that difficulty, because instead of paying for our indebtedness as we go along, we are creating an indebtedness to America which will not be easy to repay.

References have been made today to the purchase of fruit from America and from other countries. During the past five months—that is, from 1st January to the end of May—we have purchased £350,000 worth of grapefruit from the United States of America. Surely, that grapefruit could have been purchased equally as well from Palestine, which is perhaps one of the greatest grower? of grapefruit today? Then, we have expended £1,100,000 on pears from the United States of America. Was if not possible to purchase those pears from South Africa, which was our usual market before the war? I do not say that it is possible but I do say that if it is not possible to purchase pears from South Africa we are not justified, at the present time, in purchasing pears and paying American dollars for them. Again, during the past five months we have paid America no less than £1,200,000 for citrus fruits, which would normally be purchased from Greece and Turkey. Under present conditions we cannot afford to purchase these luxuries.

There is the important item of cheese, which we have purchased from America, and for which we have paid them an average of just over £1 million a month. In fact, we have paid them £5,400,000 during the last five months. I fully appreciate that the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary has to buy cheese; it is, indeed, very essential that cheese should be imported to this country. But hitherto we have purchased our bulk requirements from Australia, New Zealand, Denmark and the Netherlands. Is the Minister satisfied that he is purchasing from these countries the maximum amount which they can supply? I wish to make one reference to the Argentine. The Government have recently purchased and shipped to the United Kingdom considerable quantities of maize. They have imported into the United Kingdom 1,164,151 cwts. from the Argentine during the first five months of last year. During the first five months of this year, they have imported just about double, namely 2,540,157 cwts. If we look at the figures before the war, we find, during the five months in 1938 that we imported no less than 7,373,575 cwts., and that the average amount of maize which we imported into the United Kingdom was no less than 860,000 tons a year. It is very gratifying to see that the amount of our imports is now being materially increased. I am sure the Minister will agree that it is far more economic to import feedingstuffs, namely, maize, and to produce our own bacon and eggs, than it is to import shell eggs from abroad and a vast quantity of egg powder from America, which, again, has to be paid for by a substantial number of dollars.

I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary one or two questions about oil seed imports. First, to prevent any misunderstanding, may I tell the Committee that although I have had a considerable interest in oil seeds for many years and a life long experience in the crushing of seeds for the purpose of extracting edible oils, I have recently dissociated myself from those interests in order that I may speak more frankly and freely on the Floor of this House? I would like to ask the hon. Lady for some information about the prospects of the importation of linseed from the Argentine. I am aware that during the war the Argentine put down a large quantity of seed crushing plant, and they are now crushing a considerable quantity of linseed, and that some part of the linseed oil is finding its way to Britain. But at what price? Over £300 per ton This has been paid by the Government, although I agree that they have had to pay that price to get the linseed oil. But the average price of this oil, before the war, for many years, was not more than 10 per cent. of that sum, less than £30 per ton. I would like to see the Government do everything possible to purchase, not the manufactured oil, but the seed itself. This would give work to our men at home, besides producing the oil at a lower price.

But for the time, I should have liked to refer to seed from India and other countres, but I would like to pass on to the question of groundnuts. Can the hon. Lady give us any information about the quantity of groundnuts which it is expected will be able to be imported into the United Kingdom during the next six months from British India? During the first five months of 1946, 120,000 tons were imported from British India to this country. So far this year, no groundnuts have been imported from this source. No doubt, this is due to the shortage of oil seeds and feedingstuffs in British India itself, but it would be helpful if we could have that categorical information from the Government. Before the war, soya beans were one of our most important imports. Today we are getting a few thousand tons, but they are not being used for the manufacture of vegetable oils and margarine, they are used for making some types of biscuits and some special sorts of bread.

What is the prospect of future supplies? We have had no imports of Egyptian cotton seed this year, whereas before the war we averaged something like 300,00 to 350,000 tons a year. I returned recently from Egypt, and I appreciate that while they had a poor crop last year, primarily due to the fact that during the war they were unable to export their cotton and cotton seed, they grew more cereals. That position does not now arise. Today, they are going back to the growing of cotton. I would like to feel that steps are being taken or, at any rate, that the position is constantly under review to determine whether or not we can purchase any seed from Egypt during the coming season. Can the Minister state what are the prospects? I do not expect that it will be possible for the Minister to give a reply today to all the questions I have asked, but since my interest is a real and genuine one, and anything I have said is to help, if the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary can give the Committee information on these points I shall greatly welcome them.

8.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Coldrick Mr William Coldrick , Bristol North

I have listened with a great deal of interest to the Debate. Most of the points which I would like to cover have already been taken up by various hon. Members. I watched with great interest the unrelieved gloom on the faces of the Opposition when the Minister was unfolding a masterly tale of Ministerial success. I have no doubt the Opposition would have been much more cheerful if the tale which he had to tell had been less cheerful. I think that there was a disposition on this side of the Committee for some hon. Members to become so concerned in explaining what progress had been made as almost to create the impression that we were as well fed as we would like to be. The Minister has sought to convince us that we are in a much better position than we would have been in had we pursued the policy which the Opposition wanted to impose upon us, but, that on the other hand, we are not nearly as well off as we would like to be. I thank him for paying tribute to the movement with which I am associated—the Co-operative movement—and I can assure him that so long as he pursues a policy in the public interest, he can depend on the full backing of the millions of members of that organisation. We are aware inside the Co-operative movement that the position confronting us today is not the kind of position we want for the future. Therefore, I would disillusion anyone who acted on the assumption that he felt satisfied with the present position.

Before I deal with one or two matters specifically from the Co-operative movement point of view, I must say that I am touched by the tender solicitude displayed by the Opposition for the feeding of the people of this country. When one casts one's mind back to prewar days, one recalls that they were wedded to the policy that some people were entitled to a far greater quantity and a wider variety of goods than others, and in order to support that policy they concentrated on producing those things which would yield the maximum profit for the food producers. They did that deliberately by excluding imports of cheap foods. We know perfectly well from experience of our great consumers' movement that we were obliged to close down our own bacon curing factory in Denmark in order to comply with the restrictions imposed upon us by prewar Governments. The net effect was that we were paying to the Danes precisely the same amount of money as before, but for half the quantity of bacon. The result was that bacon disappeared from the breakfast menu of the working class before the war. If we had been half as vociferous in our complaints as some people who are now experiencing shortages for the first time, we should have had a Labour Government in this country long before we did.

It appeared to me that some of the statements of the Minister were completely misunderstood, notably by the hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant) and one or two of her hon. Friends. The right hon. Gentleman made it abundantly clear that he is as deeply conscious as anyone that it is far more profitable to import feedingstuffs than livestock products, and that if it were possible to obtain the feedingstuffs he would purchase them in order to increase our own population of poultry, pigs and so on. But no one ventured to indicate to him how it would be possible for him to import those feedingstuffs at the present time. The hon. Lady missed one important point when she spoke about the credit which was due to the Conservative Party for having introduced cheap milk in the schools. Let me say, speaking on behalf of the city with which I am associated and which I have the honour to represent, that the Co-operative Society there provided cheap milk in the schools long before the Government contemplated doing anything of the kind. The Marketing Boards established in this country sought to provide cheap milk in the schools, not because they believed that it would be beneficial to the children, but because they recognised that if more liquid milk could be consumed the higher price would yield them a larger profit than otherwise would be the case. Therefore, as far as the milk scheme was concerned, the welfare of the children is a, by-product of the primary purpose of making a larger profit.

For these reasons it is rather strange that hon. Members opposite should now display their concern for the well-being of the people. I would remind them, as they have already been reminded from this side, that it must have come as a great surprise to the Milk Marketing Board that in the prewar days the well-to-do section of the community consumed 5½ pints of milk per head per week, whereas in poorer sections of the community the quantity consumed was 1.1 pints per week. Ten per cent. of the whole working-class population consumed no milk at all, but it may have been a consolation to the Milk Marketing Board to know that the pooler section did at least consume twice as much sweetened condensed milk and three times the quantity of margarine consumed by the other section of the community. In view of all this, we lend our wholehearted support to the Minister because we believe that he is at least endeavouring to supply fair shares for all, despite the general shortage that prevails.

I am prepared to back my right hon. Friend to the utmost in most of these things. There are two criticisms that are generally launched. There is the criticism from the Opposition that controls are responsible for most of our shortages, but it has already been indicated that, as many of us know, they have no objection at all to the control of new entrants into trade. That is why, very frequently, we in the Co-operative movement are denied even the opportunity of satisfying the requirements of our own members because it is impossible to open the branches we desire to open for that purpose. I am particularly pleased to know that my right hon. Friend has given an indication that as soon as conditions are auspicious, he will make it possible for us to cater for our own members in accordance with the schemes that we have already established. Naturally, hon. Members opposite would like to control new entrants to trade, but at the same time they would like to have prices uncontrolled in order to provide a paradise for profiteers. On the other hand, there is the demand for control by a large number of people with whom we sympathise. They are the people who are asking that there should be more control exercised on green vegetables and luxury fruits. I believe that the Ministry would be well advised to purchase luxury fruits in the same way as they purchase other things for general consumption. Let there be no illusion about this; it is very disheartening for people to find, after they have worked hard and embodied their precious labour in commodities, that these commodities should be sold to other countries in exchange for these luxury articles the consumption of which is denied to working class people. For this reason I would suggest that instead of having fewer controls, we should have more.

In conclusion, I would mention one point to which I should like the Minister to address his attention. For a long period we have pressed that allocations of points goods should be linked to registration. We recognise that there are certain difficulties, but the plain fact of the matter is that at the present moment great quantities of these goods are allocated to certain firms, whose names I will not mention now, but who have no registrations or, at least, very few. The result is that large numbers of our own people queue in order to obtain the products. This is most marked in the case of blitzed cities. If you grant the allocation of points goods on the basis of a prewar figure, it stands to reason that in blitzed cities, where so many traders were completely knocked out, the quantity coming in is bound to be smaller. That is causing queues, and queues are not very encouraging when we are appealing to people—particularly married women—to go back into industry. The woman with a family or the woman in industry is at a considerable disadvantage compared with the other woman who is free to join the queues and to secure a share of those things. I sincerely hope that the Minister will take counsel with those who are actually experiencing these things, and will try to see that points goods, particularly those with the greatest nutritive value and those for which there is the greatest demand, will be allocated much more fairly than at present. I am confident from my own experience in this country that there are still some places receiving terrific advantages over others.

8.49 p.m.

Photo of Major Henry Spence Major Henry Spence , Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Central

I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words in this Debate because I have listened throughout the afternoon to the various speeches and was disappointed that one or two points which were put to the Minister by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hill-head (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) were not dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech. A specific question was put to him as to whether he thought the purchase of luxury fruits from America was really necessary. In his reply he referred to the general aspect of luxury fruits from other countries which actually owed us money; but is the Minister aware that at the time he spent £3 million in the United States buying pears and grapes, meat offals of all kinds—livers, kidneys and tongues and much variety of tinned meats—were available in quantity and still are. Although his Department may run very smoothly, I suggest that in that case money was wasted when it could have brought into this country goods which would have made a welcome addition to our diet.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee

On this question of fruit imports from the United States, by far the greater part of the expenditure was on oranges, and I cannot agree that that is a luxury. On the question whether the other foodstuffs which the hon. Gentleman mentioned were available, we got the very maximum we could, but even if they were, I would say that a certain quantity of oranges was well worth getting even as an alternative—if they were an alternative—to other foods.

Photo of Major Henry Spence Major Henry Spence , Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Central

While thanking the Minister for his reply, I would point out that the Board of Trade returns indicate that most of the money was spent on grapes and pears.

Photo of Major Henry Spence Major Henry Spence , Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Central

The Minister has been telling us about the agreements he has made with various European countries. We welcome all sources of additional food, but I hope he will keep as priority No. I the raising of the production of food within this country. That has been referred to by hon. Members on both sides and it is tremendously important. The keystone to food production in this country is animal feedingstuffs.

I want to ask a question about the Canadian wheat agreement. Under that agreement we have agreed to take from Canada during the year 1946–47, 500,000 tons of flour; in the next year we take 400,000 tons of flour; and each year after that, 300,000 tons. This flour is milled from the wheat we have bought. It is not additional. My argument is that if the wheat belongs to us and if we are going to buy the flour, surely we should have the first call on the wheat offals. According to the Board of Trade returns, that has not been happening. So far, this year we have received from Canada about 244,000 tons of flour and we have had only a little over 40,000 tons of wheat offals. The extraction rate of the Canadian flour is around 73 per cent., so we should normally have expected nearly 80,000 tons of wheat offals this year to balance the flour that has been delivered. I hope the Minister will see that a tie-up is made so that we shall get from Canada the maximum quantity of offals, at any rate, of the offals from the flour coming to us under the terms of the contract.

I have a question for the Parliamentary Secretary. We heard about the cut in the meat ration yesterday. It has been stated in the newspapers today that we have gone back to 1s. 2d. The position is not quite that. We have gone back to 1s. 2d. in the domestic meat ration, but there is a cut equivalent to 10,000 tons a month in manufacturing meats. The cut of 20 per cent. to the meat producing firms was equivalent to 2,250 tons, and the 5½ per cent. allocation to the butchers for cutting was equivalent to 7,500 tons. The loss we have suffered is really 10,000 tons of meat which used to go for manufacturing purposes. Would the Parliamentary Secretary say whether a similar reduction has been made to catering establishments? Is this reduction in meat purely and simply for the domestic ration, or is there a meat reduction for catering establishments as well?

Photo of Mr Stanley Tiffany Mr Stanley Tiffany , Peterborough

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, I am seeking your guidance. Would it be in Order to congratulate the Tory Party now that their numbers have increased from three to 15?

Photo of Mr Hubert Beaumont Mr Hubert Beaumont , Batley and Morley

No, it is certainly not in Order.

9.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

We have heard today a very long statement from the Minister of which we do not complain because we desire to have as much information on these important matters as we can. Before I turn to the right hon. Gentleman I will mention one or two of the interesting points made by hon. Members opposite, and, more particularly the hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Coldrick). His speech showed an astonishing lack of understanding of the situation when he suggested that the milk in schools scheme was not a thing of which we on this side could be proud, and that it had been inaugurated by the Milk Marketing Board for the purpose presumably of getting rid of milk with the welfare of the children as a by-product. That is, of course, absolutely unfounded, or else why did the Government support that scheme? We raised milk in schools from one million children to three million and it has been admitted on all sides of the House and throughout the country that it was one of the most beneficent steps taken towards public health and, particularly, dental health amongst our social services.

Photo of Mr William Coldrick Mr William Coldrick , Bristol North

Is it not a fact that in the prewar days to which I was referring milk was being sold to manufacturers at a very cheap rate in order to produce umbrella handles, and so forth, and that consequently it was much more profitable to supply it in liquid form to the schools for the benefit of the producer?

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

No, the hon. Member has it quite wrong. I happen to know about this. I was the Minister at the time, I introduced the scheme. Really, hon. Members must not argue that the whole of history began after they got on to that side of the Committee.

Photo of Mrs Jean Mann Mrs Jean Mann , Coatbridge

Is it not the case that the experiment started in Lanarkshire under the aegis of Tom Johnston?

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

No, the hon. Lady is wrong there, too. A mass experiment was certainly conducted in Lanarkshire under Tom Johnston but the experiments before that were conducted under Sir John Boyd Orr and myself in five or six representative cities of England and Scotland. As the hon. Lady will know very well, before our milk in schools scheme, no milk was being supplied in the schools of Glasgow and, after it was brought in, 50,000 children were getting milk in those schools. That certainly was not done by way of a byproduct.

Photo of Mrs Muriel Nichol Mrs Muriel Nichol , Bradford North

Is it not a fact that this started in Bradford?

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

I think the hon. Lady well knows that the milk in schools scheme was being carried on in certain places on a full payment basis before we introduced the half-price milk in schools. That was our cheap milk scheme that brought it up from one million to three million children. It is true that many public-spirited cities started that scheme before we took it up and developed it, and it certainly was not with them a means of getting rid of the surplus milk of the Milk Marketing Board. It was a great social advance.

The hon. Member for North Bristol was again a little at sea when he suggested that we were to be censured because of the alteration which we brought about in bacon supplies. It is perfectly true that we transferred a great part of our bacon curing potential from Denmark, lying between the jaws of the wolf, to Canada in order to have a source of bacon which would be outside the grasp of the Nazi machine. If it had not been for that, neither the hon. Member nor any hon. Member would have had bacon for their breakfast during the war, because these areas were over-run, as it was perfectly clear they would be over-run, as soon as the Nazi machine got going. I was deeply concerned in deliberately transferring the potential from where shortsighted people like himself had placed it in the jaws of the wolf, to the democracy of Canada where it was safe.

The Minister made a speech of great interest, and, if I may say so, of a certain amount of irrelevance. I listened to his speech with great interest, because it reminded me so much of his broadcasts during the war—that highly skilled technique with which we were all so familiar when we were in a bad patch. The public relations officer of the Royal Air Force was skilled even then at drawing a picture which would divert attention from the critical nature of our affairs at certain times. As his speech went on, it was clear that it was what he was doing, and when it finished with the characteristic sunshine passage I was sure. The Committee were anxious to know the answer to certain questions put at the beginning of the Debate, but the Minister did not face those questions and, apprehensive as the Committee were at the beginning, its apprehension was greater at the end. As a rule we are accustomed to a Minister saying, "There has been no crisis, there is no crisis and there will be no crisis," and we know what happens then. But as a rule the sunshine talk comes shortly before the crash.

In this case the announcement of the disaster came before the sunshine talk, and that is what upset the Committee. Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered, admittedly, one of the gravest warnings the House of Commons has had, a warning which has been breaking through speeches on the other side of the Committee as well as on this. The hon. Member for Davenport (Mr. Foot) specifically called attention to the fact that, willy nilly, cuts were coming, he was afraid, in food rationing, and he warned the Minister to prepare the country for them. The Paymaster-General has gone about the country saying that in certain circumstances rations will need to be halved. The hon. Member for Devon-port went on to say of those who spoke apprehensively about the prospects of this country that if they had done so during the war they would have been called traitors. If any Minister had gone about during the war drawing a picture such as the Paymaster-General has drawn, the country would have been well authorised to comment on it, and I know that the hon. Member for Devonport, who was then in a period of greater freedom and less responsibility, would not have pulled his punches in the articles which we read with great enjoyment in whatever paper they were published.

The difficulty of the Committee is that the Minister has been explaining his bulk purchase schemes, his trade agreements, and all those matters of machinery, but at the back of everyone's mind is the haunting fear, how far will these things be financed? How far will the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has already, as the right hon. Gentleman said, come down on him on certain things—small things undoubtedly—come down on him with others? All through the Debate the Committee has been listening, uneasily waiting for an answer to questions which we know will have to be answered at sometime or other, the questions put by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid), which will have to be answered, if not in this Debate, at some later time.

He asked why the Government had expended its dollars as they have done during the past few months, when we are faced, as we are now told, with this appalling prospect, which the Chancellor has just explained to the country at large—a gap of hundreds of millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of pounds which, so far, no adequate steps to fill have yet, been announced? Secondly, can we still buy as before in the sterling and soft currency areas? Thirdly, what is the extent of the cut in imports, now or prospective, in the hard currency areas? These are questions which my right hon. and learned Friend put. These questions have not been answered. Sooner or later they will have to be answered.

The Committee knows that the Debates upon which our rations depend are not taking place here but in Paris, where the three Foreign Ministers are sitting together, and in Washington, where arguments are going on in and around Con- gress. That is what makes the Committee uneasy and distraitin the whole of today's Debate. I felt an increasing sense of gloom as the Minister's speech and the Debate went on; it seemed to me so clear that that was the position, and that the Minister was not going to inform us further upon it. Sooner or later we shall have to be informed about it. Until the Minister is in a position to speak freely on these matters, these food Debates are a mere rehearsal of machinery. The Minister spoke of the steps to organise food supply that he was taking. He went so far afield even as to bring in the proposals for producing groundnuts in tropical countries—when the bush has been cleared, and the ground has been surveyed, and bulldozers have gone out and the labour has been trained, then at last something would come for the good of the people in this country. But the dollars will run out by Christmas. That is what people fear. It is that gap we want to know about. That gap will certainly not be filled by that time by steps which are being taken, or are about to be taken, to develop tropical countries.

The fear of everyone in the Committee is, I think, that the standard of living in this country is in jeopardy There have been many arguments tonight about our present standard of living, and it would be unwise to go too deep into it, with so short a time as the Debate has to run. It is however true to say that the salient fact is that the Food Ministry has carried on into the peace years the strict rationing of war. It may or may not be necessary, but it is certainly in striking contrast to the policy of the Government, and to the announced intentions of the White Paper, Cmd. 7072, which as we well remember was published jointly by the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food as recently as March, 1947, though it was the republication of a survey made in the winter of 1944–45. It said that after the war: a substantial increase in food consumption over prewar and present levels may be expected unless steps are taken to restrict it. As the Ministers pointed out, the policy of full employment would require not merely the maintenance but the improvement of the food level in this country if men were to do the work which the Government are calling upon them to do. They went on to say: The continuance of rationing on its present scale for another five or six years could not in practice be contemplated. That was a publication of the Government in March of this year. That was this survey of the Government in 1944–45—that this rationing could not be contemplated up to 1950. All we can hope from the Minister's statement tonight is that we will be very lucky if we can manage to maintain the present rations until those times. The maintenance of the present ration undoubtedly is, as in the case of so many other departments of Government activity, running upon a bare margin, where the slightest error may bring it to disaster. Full employment has already brought the consumption of this country above the point at which full activity can be maintained.

The Minister, greatly daring, ventured into the field of nutrition. Still more greatly daring, he ventured to quote Professor Marrack. The Minister ought to acquaint himself with all the documents of the case, and more particularly with all the writings of Professor Marrack, before he ventures to quote him on the Floor of the House. He attacked my contention that the average actual intake of this country is not 2,900 calories or anything like it. He assured us that it was. Would the right hon. Gentleman like to hear what Professor Marrack, the famous physiologist—I think I use the Minister's own phrase—said on the subject? He said: The claims that we are seriously short of calories are, at least, exaggerated, but it is unfortunate that Government spokesmen should continue to claim that the average calories per head per day are in the neighbourhood of 2,900. It is fully explained, in 'Food Consumption Levels in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom'"— I have the document here if the Minister wishes to see it— that these figures are derived from estimates of the amounts of food imported and produced in the country. The surveys of the Ministry of Food are made on representative families. They show that the average per head ranges from 2,300 to 2,400. Meals taken outside cannot raise the the total to more than 2,650. The gap"— says Professor Marrack, a very famous physiologist— between the amount that we can get and the 2,900 is only too obvious. The Minister has appealed unto Caesar, and unto Caeser he must go.

It is perfectly true that Professor Marrack had a controversy with myself in "The Times," whether certain figures quoted from Sir John Orr's book were only based on or, actually taken from dietetic surveys. That is a point which I am perfectly willing to go into with him. On the main figure of 2,900, however, I hope the Minister is satisfied with the quotation from the authority to whom the Minister himself appealed as arbiter.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman really asking the Minister to believe in a quotation from a well-known Communist physiologist?

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

I hope the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) will not feel aggrieved at this attack upon Communist science. I have always taken the view that science is international. I am always perfectly willing to take a statistical survey even by a well known Communist. I do not deny Professor J. B. S. Haldane's conclusions about respiration, although I deeply disagree with his politics. When the Minister has appealed to an authority, I am content to take that authority on his scientific basis, whatever his political views may be.

The Minister, or the Minister's brief, went further in "The Times," and suggested that sufficient account had not been taken of special provisions. I am willing to meet the Minister on that point also. That subject is one with which I have been not unacquainted for a considerable number of years. I had the honour of reading the proofs of Sir John Orr's book, and I worked with him many years before that.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

A study of the work of Sir John Orr is a claim which I hope can be made with becoming modesty. This point has been examined by prominent officials of the Ministry of Health, by Doctors Bramsby and Magee, for instance. They pointed out that active workers within reach of canteen facilities would require 1,500 calories a day at the canteen. Certain other classes, however, they pointed out, such as farm-workers, quarry-men and lumber- men, who could not get access to canteens, would require in addition to their special allowances to eat up to 14 lb. of potatoes per week. Fourteen pounds of potatoes a week is a quantity of potatoes which require a good deal of trouble to eat and digest, let alone the amount of trouble necessary at the present moment to get hold of them. The calorie intake of the average worker would be greatly increased by the necessary efforts to collect such a quantity of potatoes, let alone digest them.

Miners not in receipt of canteen facilities would require to eat 10½ lbs. of potatoes per week. The alternative given by the authors of the paper is what is called "drawing on the family pool"—that is to say, consuming other people's rations which are considered as being spare. They particularly point out that the group of "adolescents" would have the utmost difficulty in filling these requirements. If not in receipt of special facilities, they should consume a weekly intake of 10½ lbs. of potatoes per week. Again, the problem of obtaining 10½ lbs. of potatoes for an adolescent, and still more cooking and dressing them in a way sufficiently attractive to get the adolescent to consume them, is a problem which might well make any housewife in the country feel that her standard of living had collapsed.

The fact is, as is shown in "Food Consumption Levels," that an overall level of about 2,800 calories per head is necessary for the United Kingdom if we are to have the intake "off the plate," that is to say, actually eaten of 2,500 calories per day. The document goes on further to say that under 2,800 calories— 2,700—the diet will be too low. That shows the narrowness of the margin which we have left in this country, even assuming the most favourable interpretation of the Minister's figures. Two thousand eight hundred is sufficient; 2,700 is too low. Two thousand seven hundred, when reached in the war, began to produce a loss of body weight. That is the balance upon which the whole physical health of the people, the power of continuing active work in this country, is to hang. That is running down the stocks in a way which makes us await with the greatest apprehension what may happen if, for any reason, any interruption takes place in the supply.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman give the standard suggested by the well-known physiologist who is employed by the Ministry of Health?

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

Really, I am doing my best not to weary the Committee by undue insistence upon calories but, the matter having been raised, I think it is desirable that it should be brought out. The hon. Member knows very well that the figures for active workers are far above the figures which I have been quoting. In a case of the miner, Bransby and Magee point out that the whole of his special allowances would bring him only to 3,000 calories. To fill the 500, if he cannot gain access to a canteen, he would require to eat 1½ pounds of potatoes a day, and that only brings him to 3,500 calories. The Soviet Union boasts today that its rationed foods for miners amount to 5,000 calories a day. That is the order of food that they think it is necessary for an active man to have who is in full employment. When we are faced with these pictures from our own food authorities, we are entitled to say that we are living on a very narrow margin indeed. Yet it is true to say, as some hon. Members have said that, in the main, our health records have been excellent. Many of them, though not all, have been so. Let us take figures which have been quoted. Infantile mortality is down, and maternal mortality is down. I will take also another figure, that of the dental condition of the country, and that has also greatly improved. Let us all take pride in the fact, and let us put forward these figures, but let us remember that these figures are not the energy output figures, but those of the physical condition of the people. The energy output figures make a different picture. They seem to indicate, and I put it no higher than that, that we are on so harrow a level that, even at the present time, full employment is not practicable in the condition of nutrition of the people of this country, and any reduction in their intake will undoubtedly lead us into very great danger indeed.

I have quoted with the greatest approval the vital statistics, but I said there was one figure which did not give us so much confidence. I think one of the hon. Ladies who spoke earlier mentioned with favour the tuberculosis figures, but they do not bear that favourable interpretation from every angle. The death rate per million in England and Wales was 463 in 1939, 538 in 1940, 571 in 1941, 524 in 1942, 549 in 1943, 528 in 1944. and 515 in 1945, in no case as low as prewar. The notifications are still less favourable. They have gone up from 37,000 in 1938 to 39,000 in 1941, 40,000 in 1942, 42,000 in 1943, 43,000 in 1944 and 42,000 again in 1945.

Photo of Mrs Leah Manning Mrs Leah Manning , Epping

Would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say how many of these cases were ex-Service men?

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

But that is the result of the war.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

Mo. The hon. Lady was quoting the tuberculosis figures as having gone down, as against prewar, and I am saying that that is not so, neither in the deaths nor the notifications, and I would reinforce those figures with the figures for Scotland. In Scotland, the figures were 520 per million in 1938, 540 in 1939, 620 in 1942, 600 in 1945 and 640 in 1946. The Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland will be well acquainted with these figures, and must have scrutinised them with apprehension from time to time.

Several Hon. Members:

Several Hon. Members rose

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

No, I must give time for the Minister to speak. These are the figures of the Registrar-General, though they may bear more than one interpretation.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

The hon. Member will have his own opportunity of putting the figures. Regarding the figures of the notifications of tuberculosis in Scotland, I will give the two figures at the beginning and the end, which were 4,790 in 1938 and 7,500 in 1946.

Photo of Mr Stephen Taylor Mr Stephen Taylor , Barnet

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the notification figures. It is important that we should get this right. The fact is that, during the war, mass radiology was introduced, and though there was an increase in the notifications, it did not affect the death rate.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

I am aware of the introduction of mass radiology. I was one of those who pressed that it should be done and urged the Minister to introduce it, but I do say that we cannot dismiss the convergence of these four lines of figures. The fact remains that these notification figures have moved from 4,700 to 7,500. Hon. Members opposite who have appealed for statistics must consider the evidence of statistics when they are brought before them. It is quite impossible—

Photo of Mrs Leah Manning Mrs Leah Manning , Epping

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is giving them a wrong interpretation.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

The hon. Lady may well say that. All these figures can stand a great deal of interpretation, one side or another. When other interpretations have been given, it is only right that we should bring before the Committee proof, not merely as a party point, but from the point of view that we are on a narrow margin. The whole nation is working on a too narrow surplus of energy intake over energy output, and the danger is that we may not recognise that fact, and that some breakdown may take place owing to a miscalculation, which has not infrequently taken place in other walks of life, even during the lifetime of the present Government.

The picture is undoubtedly that of a nation whose central health is good, but which finds itself in difficulty in putting out a long and sustained effort, and it is for a long and sustained effort which it is called upon by the Government to give at the present moment. It is the very picture of the vigorous reaction by the miners to propaganda and the institution of the five-day week, followed by the falling away of that effort. This is an argument which should appeal to hon. and right hon. Members opposite, especially if it can bear the interpretation that failures are due to lack of sufficient energy intake to carry on over long period of months, or even years, that sustained effort which is now demanded by the Government. No more important conclusion could be advanced by this or any other Committee of the House, because it is on that effort that the Government are pinning the whole of their hopes. On such effort a great deal of the immediate future of this country actually depends.

The time goes on, and I am under contract with the hon. Lady to leave her enough time in which to reply. Therefore, I must cut short what I was about to say, but I would say that, in the circumstances, I think the Minister has devoted too short a portion of his remarks to the stimulation of production at home. Stimulation of effort in this country, where the roads are made, and where cultivation is in progress would do more to produce food in the coming year the vital year of shortage and scarcity than many of the long-term developments of which the Minister has been speaking.

The position in regard to many of our food sources is imperilled. Fish, for instance, upon which so much emphasis has been laid, is an example. Already the trawler men are warning us that the near banks are beginning to be fished out, that the yield of fish is beginning to fall off, and that there is the danger of a great diminution of fish stocks owing, not only to the activities of our fleets, but of every other fleet in Western Europe coming now to fish these banks. That danger is increasing. The falling off in the fish producing capacity of the great North Sea banks happened after the last war. It is beginning to happen again.

All these things would seem to require much less complacency than the Minister has shown today, and a much greater note of urgency than his speech contained It is for that reason that we on this side of the Committee feel so extremely dissatisfied with the progress of the Debate this afternoon, and it is for that reason that I have much pleasure in moving to reduce the Vote.

I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.

9.35 P.m.

Photo of Dr Edith Summerskill Dr Edith Summerskill , Fulham West

As I listened to the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), my mind was taken back a number of years to the time when he was Minister of Health, and when I sat on the back benches opposite and we used to skirmish together. In fact, he devoted so much of his time tonight to the subject of health, that I wondered whether this was a Debate on the Health Estimates rather than the Food Estimates. But I think it has been quite clear tonight that many Members on both sides of the Committee appreciate the close relationship between health and an adequate food supply. I hope, before we divide, to challenge the right hon. and gallant Gentleman on the figures which he has just given to the Committee, but, first, I wish to devote my remarks to some of the questions which have been raised by hon. Members on the distribution and supply of foodstuffs.

I think what has emerged clearly from this Debate is that all those criticisms which have been directed to my Department can be traced to one thing only, and that is the world shortage of food. The difficulties of housewives, queueing, rationing, the problems of distribution, are surely the symptoms of a malady which is not endemic to this country. My hon. Friends the Members for North Islington (Dr. Guest) and Hanley (Dr. Stross), who have both just returned from abroad, told the Committee that, in their opinion, our standards compare favourably with those of most European countries. I agree that some hon. Members, on their return from their journeys abroad, have told me of the full shop windows. But a full shop window is no real indication of the standard of living of the masses. The only method of arriving at any valid conclusion is to examine the rationing system for priority and non-priority consumers, to ascertain whether it is functioning effectively, and also to discover the extent of the operations of the black marketeers. All of us on both sides of the Committee should be proud that these things in Britain can stand inspection. We do not claim that our methods are perfect. Many of the problems which are presented to us are problems of which we have very little warning.

Many Members have mentioned potatoes, and have asked why this crisis should suddenly face the country. I would remind hon. Members that six months ago we warned the country that this might happen, that after bread rationing the consumption of potatoes increased by 20 per cent. But even the Ministry of Food could not anticipate the floods, frosts and the appalling climatic conditions which faced the farmers, and even the fact that the new potato crop would be a week late. The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Sir J. Barlow) asked me why we did not bring potatoes from Scotland down to London, and the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) asked the same thing. If they had made more careful inquiries they would have found that most of those potatoes were not fit for transport, and that is why the Ministry were unable to bring them to London.

Photo of Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan , Perth

If I may interrupt the hon. Lady, her right hon. Friend the Minister said that they had not been offered to the Ministry and, therefore, he could not take them.

Photo of Dr Edith Summerskill Dr Edith Summerskill , Fulham West

My time is very short and I want to deal with the whole question of the control of prices. I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) for his constructive suggestions which we shall very carefully examine. But I do want to remind hon. Members that price control does not necessarily guarantee a share to everybody. It too often only guarantees a share to a few privileged customers. Members have asked why we did not restore price control to green vegetables. I have said before in the House, but I must remind hon. Members, that last autumn we believed that there was going to be a glut of leafy vegetables. As my right hon. Friend has said, in the event of a glut it is not in the interests of the consumer to impose control. We, therefore, took the controlled price off green vegetables.

Later on, the weather, as we all know, deteriorated, and we were faced with the dilemma, whether we should reimpose control or whether we should leave vegetables free of control. Indeed, it was a dilemma, because vegetables were not coming into the markets, and we were assured that if we imposed control the limited supplies would go to a few privileged customers. For that reason we left off control, and I think that any hon. Member in the Committee, if faced with the same problem, would have done the same thing. Later on, we gave open general licences hoping more vegetables would come in. Unfortunately, on 1st May these had to be cancelled, because we were told that the Colorado beetle was infesting the crops of Europe. This series of misfortunes, of course, is something which nobody could have predicted, but which does have an effect upon the supply of food for this country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton asked us why, in order to increase supplies, we did not control the prices of fruits—and he quoted cherries—as we have controlled new potatoes. Surely, he would agree with me that there have been hon. Members of this Committee who have said that potatoes have not come in because we controlled the price. If, therefore, we controlled cherries in the same way we should again have had complaints in the Committee that cherries were not coming in. The hon. Member said that we ought to be firm with the importers Let me remind him that last year we were firm with importers over cucumbers. We wanted cucumbers to come in, and so we controlled the price. What happened? Cucumbers went under the counter and the workers did not enjoy them. We have learned by trial and error—every Minister of Food has learned by trial and error—and this year we decided, therefore, to leave cucumbers outside control; and he, as an experienced wholesaler, knows perfectly well that there are, at least, a few cucumbers on the market—at a fairly high price: but, at least, they are available.

Let me come to the question of distribution. This was raised also by my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton, and I know after the Adjournment Debate on Friday that many hon. Members feel very strongly about the present system of distribution in this country. We have made it quite clear to the Committee that we are using the same machinery that operated successfully during the war years. That machinery operated successfully while there were shortages, and we feel that while shortages exist we should not, at least for the moment, reorganise the system. My right hon. Friend has reminded the Committee that we have at the Ministry of Food some of the most astute business men in the country. The hon. Member of East Ealing (Sir F. Sanderson) asked me just now to answer one specific question, at least, He asked if I was quite sure that those business men whom my right hon. Friend quoted were happy in their work—or words to that effect—believed in the principle of bulk buying? Well, none of these men is a poor man. All of them could retire, probably, tomorrow if they so desired. I ask the hon. Gentleman who asked me this question, does he suggest that they are operating a principle in which they have no faith?

If that is so, of course, perhaps our opinion about buyers is not as high as it was. But I do not believe that is so. I know many of them personally, and I am quite sure they have faith in this method of purchase.

Photo of Sir Frank Sanderson Sir Frank Sanderson , Ealing East

Is the hon. Lady in a position to say, in terms, that these great businessmen who are purchasing the commodities for the Ministry of Food are, in fact, in favour of the principle of bulk purchase ?

Photo of Dr Edith Summerskill Dr Edith Summerskill , Fulham West

When I discuss matters with these businessmen, I discuss meat, or fish, or sugar, and not politics. We have heard mentioned very often the function of the primary wholesaler, the secondary wholesaler, and other links in our chain of distribution. I think that is quite clear to all of us. The wholesaler has his place in the scheme of things; he has a function. To the hon. Member for Taunton, who raised this question, I say that the wholesaler certainly has his place in the scheme of things, but I think that there are too many wholesalers. We shall certainly bear that in mind when reorganisation comes about. As I said on Friday, fresh fruit and vegetables will be the first question which will be discussed by the Committee which is to be set up by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food.

Now we come to the great calorie controversy. I think the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities knows that I have never admired his politics, but I have considered him always scientifically honest. I was a little shocked tonight to find that he came here once more to juggle with calories. I mention this question, because I was very surprised tonight to find at least six hon. Members discussing it. I thank the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) for raising the whole question of nutrition. He was followed by the hon. Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould), the hon. Member for North Islington and the hon. Member for Hanley. Most of them said very seriously that they would not discuss this question of calories, of which they were getting a little tired. [HON. MEMBERS: "Very wise."] Certainly. These figures have been bandied about by the Press, in this House, and in other places. Equally well qualified people have stated positively, on the one hand, that the nation is starving, and, on the other hand, that the nation's diet is adequate. My contribution is to state the facts as they are. I should like to emphasise that while I maintain that the nation is adequately fed, I am well aware that the present diet leaves much to be desired in variety. The hon. Lady the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant) emphasised quality. I should say more variety is needed. The hon. Member for Hanley pointed out that the quality of the food which we eat is very high today.

I shall not go into the question of calories. I want to meet the right hon. and gallant Gentleman on his own ground—on our ground—and to quote statistics. The man I shall quote is a man whom I know, for whom I have the greatest respect; a man of the highest integrity; Generally, we know, civil servants remain anonymous, but I think Sir Wilson Jameson is known nationally. He is Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health; he worked under my right hon. Friend; he is a Scotsman, and, therefore, never guilty of overstatement. To clinch the whole argument—and, I hope to kill the calorie controversy once and for all— I shall now quote the latest report, which was published seven weeks ago. This is what was said by Sir Wilson Jameson, who has no axe to grind, who has no political affiliation, who has been known never to pull his punches, and never to play up to any Minister. This is the Ministry of Health Report for the year ended 31st March, 1946. [HON. MEMBERS: "1946?"] Certainly. This is the latest Report available. I thought that we were not discussing the conditions which have arisen during the last few months, but, as I have heard hon. Members say, the conditions which have arisen during the period of the Labour Government. With regard to last year as a result of the review made by the Ministry of Health, Sir Wilson Jameson, under "Food and Nutrition," on page 7, says this: As far as clinical surveys of the state of nutrition of various groups of the population and the heights and weights of children are to be regarded as reliable indices, the nutrition of the population generally remains good. The improvement in the rate of growth of schoolchildren suggests that the children of 1945 were of better physique than corresponding children in 1940 or before the war. The right hon. Gentleman has suggested, quite rightly, that we should be concerned with the diet of this nation, because it is closely related to resistance to diseases. He knows perfectly well, as a medical man, that it is impossible to diagnose malnutrition objectively. He knows that this is the right reflection of the condition of the health and well being of our people.

Now let us look at some figures. I telephoned the Scottish Office this morning, to get the figures for Scotland, because I felt that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would be particularly interested in them. In Scotland, we are told, the weather is bad, and I recall the number of Debates which have been initiated by Scottish Members on Ministry of Food Orders, when I have been told the Scots did not fare as well as English people. I was amazed at the figures I got this morning, showing spectacular decreases. In 1938, infant mortality in Scotland was 70 per 1,000; in 1944, it was 65; and in 1946 it was 53.8. The figures for neo-natal mortality were: 35 in 1938; 32.8 in 1944; 29.9 in 1946. The figures for still-born children were: 42 in 1938; 32 in 1944; 32 in 1946. The maternal death rate figures were: 4.9 in 1938; 3 in 1944; 2.2 in 1946. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman was not quite honest when he emphasised the importance of nutrition in regard to the tuberculosis mortality rate. It is, of course, important to be well fed in order to resist the disease, but he cannot ignore the housing and sanitoria shortage. We have not yet been able to overcome these shortages.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that one person with tuberculosis in a family can infect the whole family. The results are reflected in the certifications which he quoted. Whereas there might be a tubercular family which was well fed, if they were subject to mass in-

fection the morbidity rate would be very high. I telephoned my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland this morning to ask for the figures for tuberculosis deaths in Scotland, and I was given this information: In 1938 there were 69 per 100,000 population; in 1944 there were 82; and in 1946 there were 79. How does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman reconcile these figures with those he gave?

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Combined Scottish Universities

I was, as I said, quoting figures for respiratory deaths.

Photo of Dr Edith Summerskill Dr Edith Summerskill , Fulham West

It is not fair of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to deceive innocent people in that way. Both he and I know that figures can be "wangled," but we are not here to "wangle." We are here to tell the truth. As a doctor, he knows full well that pulmonary and non-pulmonary tuberculosis are feared, or should be feared, equally. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman reminded the Committee that the expectation of life and resistance to disease are closely related to nutrition. I will give the Committee these further figures. In New Zealand the expectation of life is 68 years; in India it is 27 years. There we get the relationship between disease and food. The Ministry of Food is a consumers' Ministry. We recognise that there are certain vulnerable groups which need special rations. We have done our best to distribute those rations as fairly as possible among those sections of the community which we think need them most, and I can assure the Committee that in future equity will dictate our policy, and not means.

Question put, "That a reduced sum not exceeding £173,424,116, be granted for the services."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 113: Noes, 278.

Division No. 290.]AYES.[9.59 p.m
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.Buchan-Hepburn, P. G TDugdale, Maj. Sir T (Richmond)
Amory, D. HeathcoalButcher, H. WEden, Rt. Hon. A.
Astor, Hon. M.Challen, C.Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walte[...]
Barlow, Sir J.Clarke, Col R. S.Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L
Beamish, Maj. T. V HCooper-Key, E. M.Foster, J. G (Northwich)
Beechman, N. ACrosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. EFraser, H. C. P. (Stone)
Bennett, Sir PCrowder, Capt. John EFraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)
Birch, NigelDarling, Sir W. Y.Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P M
Bossom, A. CDavidson, ViscountesGalbraith, Cmdr T D
Bowen, R.Digby, S. WGeorge, Maj. Rt. Hn G Lloyd (P'ke)
Bower, N.Dodds-Parker, A. D.Glyn Sir R.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Dower, Lt.-Col. A V G. (Penrith)Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.
Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. GDower, E. L. G. (Caithness)Grant, Lady
Bromley-Davenport. Lt.-Col. W.Drayson, G. B.Hare, Hon. J H (Woodbridge)
Harvey, Air-Cmdre. A. V.Maclay, Hon J. S.Ropner, Col. L.
Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir CMacpherson, N (Dumfries)floss Sir R; D. (Londonderry)
Henderson, John (Catheart)Manningham-Buller, R. ESanderson, Sir F.
Hinchingbrooke, ViscountMarlowe, A. A. H.Scott, Lord W.
Hogg, Hon. Q.Marples, A EShepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
Hollis, M. C.Marshall, D. (Bodmin)Spearman, A. C. M
Howard, Hon. A.Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)Spence, H. R.
Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.Maude, J. C.Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.
Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)Molson, A H. E.Stoddart-Scott, Col. M
Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)Morris-Jones, Sir H.Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)
Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.Mott-Radclyffe, C. ESutcliffe, H.
Keeling, E. HNeven-Spence, Sir BTaylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Kerr, Sir J. GrahamNicholson GTaylor, Vice-Adm E A. (P'dd't'n, S.)
Lambert, Hon, G.Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. HO'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir HThornton-Kemsley, C. N
Lennox-Boyd, A. T.Orr-Ewing, I. L.Touche, G. C.
Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)Peto, Brig. C. H. M.Walker-Smith, D.
Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)Pitman, I. JWheatley, Colonel M J
Low, Brig A. R. WPonsonby, Col. C. EWhite, J. B. (Canterbury)
Lucas-Tooth, Sir HPrescott, StanleyWilliams, C. (Torquay)
McCallum, Maj. D.Raikes, H. V.Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
MacDonald, Sir M. (Inverness)Rayner, Brig. R
Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Mackeson, Brig. H. R.Robertson, Sir D, (Streatham)Mr. Studholme and
McKie, J. H. (Galloway)Robinson, Wing-Comdr RolandLieut.-Colonel Thorp.
NOES
Adams, W T. (Hammersmith, South)Dodds, N. N.Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)Donovan, T.Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Driberg, T. E. N.Irving, W. J.
Anderson, A. (Motherwell)Dugdale J. (W. B[...]omwich)Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)Dumploton, C. W.Jay, D P. T.
Attewell, H. CDurbin, E. F. MJeger, G. (Winchester)
Awbery, S. S.Ede, Rt. Hon. J. CJeger, Dr S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.)
Ayles, W. H.Edwards, W. [...]. (Whitechapel)Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. BEvans, John (Ogmore)Jones, J. H (Bolton)
Bacon, Miss AEvans, S. N (Wednesbury)Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)
Baird, J.Ewart, R.Keenan, W.
Balfour, A.Fairhurst, F.Kenyon, C.
Barstow, P. GFarthing, W JKey, C. W.
Battley, J. R.Fernyhough, EKing, E. M.
Bechervaise, A EField Capt W. JKinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E
Belcher, J. WFollick, M.Kinley, J.
Benson, G.Foot, M. MKirby, B V.
Berry, H.Forman, J. C.Lang, G.
Beswick, F.Foster, W. (Wigan)Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J
Bing, G. H. CFraser, T. (Hamilton)Lee, F. (Hulme)
Binns, J.Gaitskell, H. T. NLee, Miss J (Cannock)
Blackburn, A. RGallacher, WLeonard, W
Braddock, Mrs E M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)Ganley, Mrs. C SLeslie, J. R.
Brook, D (Halifax)Cibbins, J.Lewis, A. W J. (Upton)
Brooks, T J (Rothwell)Gibson, C. WLipson, D L.
Brown, T. J (Ince)Goodrich, H. E.Lipton, Lt.-Col. M
Buchanan, G.Gordon-Walker, P. C.Longden, F.
Burden, T. WGreenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)McAdam, W.
Burke, W. A.Grenfell, D. R.McGhee, H. G.
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Grey, C. F.Mack, J. D.
Callaghan, JamesGrierson, E.McKay, J (Wallsend)
Castle, Mrs. B. A.Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)McKinlay, A S.
Chamberlain, R. AGriffiths, Rt Hon. J (Llanelly)Maclean, N. (Govan)
Champion, A. JGriffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)McLeavy, F
Chetwynd, G. RGuest, Dr. L HadenMacMillan, M. K (Western Isles)
Cobb, F. A.Guy, W H.Mallalieu, J. P. W.
Cocks, F. SHaire, John E (Wycombe)Mann, Mrs. J.
Coldrick, WHale, LeslieManning, Mrs L. (Epping)
Collindridge, F.Hall, W. GMarshall, F. (Brightside)
Collins, V. J.Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.Mathers, G
Colman, Miss G. MHannan, W. (Maryhill)Messer, F.
Comyns, Dr. L.Hardy, E. AMiddleton, Mrs. L
Cooper, Wing-Comdr. GHarrison, J.Mikardo, Ian
Corbet, Mrs. F K. (Camb'well, N. W.)Hastings, Dr SomervilleMillington, Wing-Comdr. E. R
Corlett, Dr. J.Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)Mitchison, G. R.
Corvedale, ViscountHenderson, Joseph (Ardwick)Monslow, W.
Crawley, A.Herbison, Miss M.Moody, A. S
Crossman, R. H S.Hewitson, Capt. MMorgan, Dr H B
Daines, PHobson, C. R.Morley, R.
Davies, Edward (Burslem)Holman, P.Morris, P (Swansea, W.)
Davies, Harold (Leek)Holmes, H E (Hemsworth)Mort, D. L
Davies, Hadyn (St. Pancras, S.W.)Hoy, J.Moyle, A.
Davies, S O (Merthyr)Hubbard, TMurray, J. C
Delargy, H. JHidson, J. H. (Ealing W.)Nally, W.
Diamond, JHughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Naylor, T. E.
Dobbie, WHughes, H D. (Wolverhampton, W.)Neal, H. (Claycross)
Nichol, Mrs M E. (Bradford, N.)Sargood, RTitterington, M. F
Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)Scollan, T.Tolley, L.
Noel-Baker, Capt F E (Brentford)Scott-Elliot, WTomlinson, Rt. Hon G
Oldfield, W. HSegal, Dr. S.Turner-Samuels, M.
Oliver, G. HShackleton, E. A. AUngoed-Thomas, L
Orbach, M.Sharp, GranvilleUsborne, Henry
Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)Vernon, Maj W. F.
Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)Shawcross, Rt. H Sir H. (St Helens)Viant, S. P.
Pargiter, G AShurmer, P.Walker, G. H
Parker, J.Silverman, J. (Erdington)Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Parkin, B. TSimmons, C J.Wallace, H W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Paton, J. (Norwich)Skeffington, A. MWatson, W. M.
Peart, Thomas FSkeffington-Lodge, T CWebb, M. (Bradford C.)
Piratin, PSkinnard, F. W.Weitzman, D.
Platts-Mills, J F F.Smith, C. (Colchester)Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Poole, Major Cecil (Lichfield)Smith, S H. (Hull. S.W.)West, D. G.
Porter, E (Warrington)Solley, L. JWhite, H. (Derbyshire N.E.)
Porter, G. (Leeds)Sorensen, R. WWhiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Price, M. PhilipsSparks, J. A.Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B
Proctor, W. TStamford, WWilkes, L.
Pryde. D. J.Steele, T.Wilkins, W. A.
Pursey, Cmdr. H.Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Randall, H EStokes, R. RWilley, O. G. (Cleveland)
Ranger, JStrachey, J.Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Rankin, J.Stross, Dr. B,Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Rees-Williams, D. RSummerskill, Dr EdithWilliams, W. R. (Heston)
Reid T (Swindon)Swingler, S.Willis, E.
Rhodes, HSylvester, G O.Wills, Mrs. E. A
Richards, R.Symonds, A. L.Woodburn, A
Ridealgh, Mrs. MTaylor, H. B. (Mansfield)Woods, G. S.
Robens, A.Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)Wyatt, W.
Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)Yates, V. F.
Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)Thomas, D. E. (Aberdara)Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)Zilliacus, K
Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)Thomson, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Ed'b'gh, E.)
Rogers, G. H. R.Thorneycroft, Harrv (Clayton)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Ross, William (Kilmarnock)Tiffany, S.Mr. Pearson and Mr. Snow.
Royle, CTimmons. J

Resolution agreed to.

Original Question again proposed.

It being after Ten o'Clock, and objection taken to further Proceeding,The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.