Orders of the Day — Food Supplies

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th July 1948.

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Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee 12:00 am, 12th July 1948

The word "de-stocking" means having less stock, taking from stock. It is quite a simple phrase. It might be thought that the stocks of the country have been run down by that amount and so I hasten to say that that is not the case. The stock figures are, if anything, a little higher, and not lower.

The real explanation, as I dare say the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows—but I think it is important to make it clear to the Committee—lies in the Andes Agreement, and the prepayment of £84 million to Argentina. Some of the food paid for last year did arrive during last year, but there is £84 million worth of food paid for in last year's accounts which will arrive in this year. Therefore we have really to add £84 million to this year's figure—to the £302 million—and subtract £84 million from the £459 million. There are other differences, too, but they are very nearly self-balancing. So the Andes Agreement and the prepayment of £84 million really accounts for the whole of the £150 million difference between those two figures.

The Committee would probably like to know, and I think they have a right to know, what may be the position with regard to food subsidies. I cannot pretend that I can give them a firm estimate of what the food subsidies will turn out to be by the end of the year. The Chancellor has always repeated that he cannot, at this stage, give such a firm estimate. But I can say, though this is hypothetical, that if no changes are made on either side of the account, the subsidies are running at the moment at a rate of something like £470 million a year. That is undoubtedly a very high figure, but before the Committee considers that that figure is unduly high they should take very carefully into account what we are getting for that money. I believe that we are getting two things, a most valuable nutritional value, a most valuable effect upon our population, and a most valuable economic effect.

That brings me to the question of the nutritional history of the past year, which was touched on by the right hon. Gentleman. It is perfectly true that last Autumn the nutritional prospect for the first six months of 1948 was a dark one indeed. The Chancellor told the House, perfectly frankly, that we feared that the calorie intake of the population, on average, would drop to below 2,700 during the first six months of 1948. That was because of the balance of payments crisis which struck this country in August and because that meant that we had to stop all purchases of foodstuffs from the United States, saving no less than £12 million worth of dollars a month by that cessation of United States purchases. Added to that was the fact that it was one of the worst potato harvests on record.

Therefore, my nutritional and scientific advisers looked forward to the first six months of this year with the greatest apprehensions. We took some very active measures to try and fill the gap. We were helped, and I say this very readily, by some very favourable factors in the weather, in climatic factors. But it is interesting to note, now we have just finished that first six months, that as a matter of fact the calorie level remained almost exactly 2,800, and not below 2,700 as we had feared. It did not drop by that 200 calories of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke.