I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Fats, Cheese and Tea (Rationing) Order, 1952 (S.I., 1952, No. 977), dated 15th May, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th May, be annulled.
I move this Motion to allow my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) to make what I am sure will be an effective contribution to our discussion on this matter, and also to afford the Parliamentary Secretary an opportunity to make a more adequate explanation of the points that have arisen on this Order.
I think that on reflection the Parliamentary Secretary, having read the OFFICIAL REPORT of our previous debate and studied it, will take this opportunity of informing the House of the position more fully, because I am sure he would concede that this Order reveals a very serious position regarding our food prospects. Here we are, halving our cheese rations, at a time when the consumption of fresh milk is falling, when the butter ration has been reduced, and will inevitably be further reduced, and when meat consumption is below that of pre-war. In those circumstances, I am sure he realises that this is a serious matter.
I do not wish to go over any of the ground I have previously covered. I merely wish to deal with one point which the Parliamentary Secretary raised by way of reply. As I understood his case, it was that last year we imported 47,000 tons of dollar cheese, and the main difficulty that faces us at present is that the Government do not feel they have the dollars to buy that cheese. I would point out that the problem is much more serious than that.
To raise the ration from 1 ounce to 2 ounces we need not 47,000 tons of cheese but 78,000 tons. So he pointed out to the House, for all practical purposes we only receive cheese for the ration from three sources. We receive cheese from North America, from New Zealand and home production. As he told the House —and I am sure he would be right, in view of the more favourable weather prospects this year and in view of the fall in the consumption of fresh milk, we expect to get more home-produced cheese this year.
If that be so, and this is something about which we must all be very concerned, it is clear not only that we have a short-fall of 47,000 tons of cheese from America, but that we expect this year to get at least 31,000 tons of cheese less from New Zealand than last year. This is a very serious matter. I think that he should face up to the problem more adequately than he did when he last dealt with the points which we are raising during this debate.
In fact, the position is far worse, because, when the Parliamentary Secretary talked about a short-fall of 47,000 tons of dollar cheese, be ignored the fact that in 1951, to have a 3 ounce ration during the early months of the year, we used about 12,000 tons of dollar cheese, so that the short-fall of dollar cheese is not 47,000 tons but 35,000 tons. What now becomes of the short-fall of cheese from New Zealand? It is correspondingly increased, and this means that we are facing this year an enormous short-fall of cheese from New Zealand. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to give some really convincing reply to both these points.
So far as dollar cheese is concerned, I do no more than call the Parliamentary Secretary's attention to what was said on the last occasion when we discussed this matter. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South will give some examples of what we are purchasing in dollars. When he gave an interview to the "Evening News," the Parliamentary Secretary said that there was cheap cheese going in Canada. In view of that fact, it seems extraordinary that we should have spent dollars on some of the things which we have spent them on.
What I think is the really serious issue facing this country today is that we are saying to a country like New Zealand, which we had been encouraging every year during the war and since to produce more cheese, "We cannot now afford to buy your cheese." We are buying drastically less cheese now than we have ever bought before, and this year the consumption of cheese in this country is being reduced, for the first time since 1940, to below the pre-war level. That is a very alarming prospect for the farmers in New Zealand.
The Parliamentary Secretary, in an airy fairy sort of way, said on the last occasion, "We cannot stop New Zealand selling her cheese to other markets." I would say to my hon. Friends—and I say no more than this, because I have already addressed the House on this matter—that what the present Government are doing is to place the next Government in a very difficult position. We cannot expect, as we know from our experience of our own farmers, livestock products dramatically to be increased overnight. If we treat New Zealand in this way, as we are apparently doing, we are laying up difficulties for ourselves not only for today but tomorrow. I think that this represents a serious reversal in food policy in this country and is a matter which merits the most serious attention of the Government.
When last year we had a debate on the 3 ounce ration, the present Minister of Education called on her hon. Friends to vote against the Government because I replied to the debate without expressing a sense of regret. The Parliamentary Secretary did not express any sense of regret when he intervened in our recent debate. I have a very real regret about this food business. It is obvious to me —and I say it with real conviction—that the food policy of this country is now being run by the Treasury, and I think that it is time we had our food policy run by people who know something about the food business.
I beg to second the Motion.
Without wishing to detain the House after its recent strenuous exertions, perhaps I may be allowed to explain why we are engaged this evening in debating a matter to which we directed our attention only about a week ago? On that occasion, the Motion was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) and seconded by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey), and the Parliamentary Secretary made a very short reply to the two speeches.
Then the hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), appalled at the lameness and inadequacy of the Government reply, fearful of the effect upon the waning prestige of this Government of any further arguments that might be addressed to the matter from these benches, and appalled at the possibility that the Parliamentary Secretary might again intervene, hastily drew attention to the absence of a quorum so that the House was counted out.
I believe the hon. Member for Croydon, East was heard to mutter in one of his not quite so sotto voce interruptions that his only anxiety was to go home, but if that had been his only motive for what he did, of course he could have gone home with the blessings of us all and have allowed the debate to continue. Not only could the debate have been continued without him, but it would probably have continued much better without him because, on more than one occasion, hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House have found it easier to make their speeches if they are not disturbed by the intermittent interruptions of the subterranean volcano of the hon. Member for Croydon, East.
So we are discussing this matter again, and I am quite sure that the Parliamentary Secretary for one is delighted that we are discussing it again, because he will have had an opportunity to think some more since last week about his failure to deal adequately with the debate. I am sure he welcomes this opportunity of making some effort to retrieve a little of his waning prestige, which waned still further in the early hours of Friday morning last.
On that occasion the Parliamentary Secretary answered only one of the many points which had been put to him from these benches. He failed to answer the remainder, and I hope this evening he will give us some answer to the four points that were put to him and to which he made no reply, or virtually no reply, in the early hours of Friday morning last. I take the liberty of recalling them to his notice, in case he has forgotten his subsequent re-reading of the debate on that occasion.
In the first place he was asked—and would not stay to give an answer—what he was going to do about increasing supplies of cheese from the Southern Dominions. In the light of what was said this evening by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North, that question becomes even more pertinent and subject to rephrasing. The problem of the hon. Gentleman is not what he is going to do to increase supplies of cheese from the Southern Dominions, but what he is going to do to stop the rapid decrease in supplies of cheese from the Southern Dominions. What plans have the Government got? What are they doing? What negotiations are they entering into with the dairy products agencies in New Zealand and with the New Zealand Government?
What encouragement are they giving by way of long-term guarantes or bulk purchase or any of the other modern techniques of buying which they condemned so loudly when they were in Opposition and which they are now hastening so universally to adopt? What are they doing by any of these methods to stop this alarming fall in the supplies of cheese from that part of the world which has traditionally been our greatest supplier of cheese and upon which, on the hon. Gentleman's own showing, the very maintenance of this miserable ration of 1 ounce per week—one mouse-trap full per week—vitally depends?
And the second question to which I invite him to reply this evening, as he did not last week, is what he is doing about getting cheese from other sources of supply? Let him not ask me what those other sources of supply are. He knows what they are, or at least he knew at the time of the General Election, and so did almost every one of his hon. Friends.
At that time there was cheese all over the world available to be bought, as one hon. Gentleman said, by anybody who would go to buy it except a Socialist Food Minister. All that was required was to conjure up from the vasty deep some mythical legion of private enterprise buyers. They would only have to show their faces in Equador or goodness knows where for cheese literally to be thrown at them in vast quantities. Well, where are they? Where are these bright gentlemen who knew where there was plenty of cheese? Why does he not find them? And why does he not send them out on their travels? The sooner the better.
The hon. Gentleman is obviously enjoying himself, but it must be quite clear to him and other hon. Members that had the country got the money which has been spent by the party opposite on tinned oysters we should now have something to buy cheese with.
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman, who did not honour us with his presence on the previous occasion and therefore is apparently a little less familiar with the subject, will contain his soul in patience I am going to come to the question of money, and he may then find that he will get not merely a reply which will satisfy him but one which will send him away with a flea in his ear.
The third question to which I direct the Parliamentary Secretary's attention is: what is happening about stocks of these vital foods in this country? The hon. Gentleman would have the support of most Members of the House if he were halving the cheese ration in order to build up our stocks against some dangerous contingency which he and his right hon. Friends might be foreseeing. But, in fact, the opposite is the case. Our stocks are being run down. We are living on stocks. In the first four months of this year we imported no cheese at all from the United States or Canada. What we are doing, in fact, is to get sustenance out of that cupboard which they told us was bare. When they came into office they said the cupboard was bare. It is a magic cupboard, because out of this cupboard the Government have been able to draw on sufficient stocks to enable them to give us some food, even though a tiny amount, without putting a significant amount more into the cupboard. This is a very important matter.
I should have thought that a Government which concerns itself, and rightly, as we would all agree, with protecting the country against any dangers that may come to us in wartime against an enemy whom we are told has a large fleet of submarines that might cut our supply lines would be concerned to build up the strategic stocks of our basic essential foods against that day. But here we have this profligate Government on the one hand spending enormous amounts of money in order to defend us by arms against a certain danger, and at the same moment reducing to negligible proportions what is virtually our first line of defence.
I turn to my fourth and last point. The only point the Parliamentary Secretary made in reply to the last debate was the one to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred this evening. The only reply which he made was that we cannot get any more North American cheese because we have not got the dollars available. That reply assumes one of two things. It assumes either that we are not spending any dollars on anything at all, or it assumes that we are using our dollars to the best effect. Or, to put the second point another way. [Interruption.]The hon. Gentleman made a fool of himself once this evening. He ought to be quiet. To put the second point in another way, that reply can only mean that there is nothing on which we spend dollars which is less important or from which we would get less value than the dollars spent on cheese to maintain our present pathetic ration.
I would ask the hon. Gentleman to look at this. He himself last week recognised the nutritional value of cheese, which he agreed was an important constituent in our national diet. I would ask him to look at the things on which we are spending dollars, and perhaps he will take his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) with him. He should ask himself in respect of every one of these items, "Is it proper to spend dollars on that item and not on cheese to maintain our ration?"
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North mentioned on the occasion of our last debate that, during the first four months of this year as compared with the same period last year, we imported five or six times as much lard. Lard is a valuable fat and useful for housewives in making up the diet of their families, but would the hon. Gentleman say that it would be better to increase by five or six times our imports of lard than to spend some of these dollars on increasing the supplies of cheese in order to maintain our ration, or, if not enough to increase the ration, at least to build up our stocks?
Then there is this other fact. In the first four months of this year we spent no American or Canadian dollars on dairy produce, but we spend 2 million dollars on the import of raisins. Raisins are very nice things to have. They can be used in cooking and they have a very high nutritive content. However, I wonder what would be heard on this subject of cheese if we went among the working-class housewives who have to send their husbands out with sandwiches for their mid-day meal because the increase in the cost of living will not allow them to buy their lunch in the factory canteen? These women, who have to provide their husbands with sandwiches five days in the week, if they were asked whether they would rather have raisins or cheese would make only one answer, they would like more cheese.
I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to commune with himself on these matters and ask himself—I do not ask him to confess all the sins of his Treasury colleagues or his own Department, because that would be too much— whether this is the best use of dollars, to spend 2 million dollars on raisins and no dollars at all on dairy produce.
Let us now pass for a moment from the expenditure of dollars on food to other products. I know that this does not directly concern the hon. Gentleman, but his whole case rests upon the fact that we have no more dollars to spend on cheese, and that the Treasury will not let him buy this cheese. I ask him to go to the Treasury—because it is not the Minister of Food or the Parliamentary Secretary, or even the Food Overlord, who are responsible for the food of this country, but the Treasury—and argue this thing out. I hope he and his right hon. Friend and also the Food Overlord, all three of whom are weighty chaps, will debate with the Treasury whether it is right, for instance, to spend 7½million dollars in Canada on articles wholly or mainly manufactured there, of which, just to take one example, £50,000 represents purchase of textile manufactures, at a time when we spent no dollars at all on dairy produce. How can the hon. Gentleman justify——
Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting far from the confines of the Order before the House. On the way he is proceeding, it would be possible to contrast the whole of the imports from any of the countries with the imports of cheese, and that would be going far beyond the bounds of the discussion.
You know, Mr. Speaker, that I would be the last to stray beyond the bounds of order, and I was endeavouring to confine myself entirely to the speech made by the Parliamentary Secretary on the last occasion. I will content myself by asking him to have a look at all sources of dollar expenditure on food, and, without quoting any more examples, ask him to look at all the things on which we have spent dollars—comics and cosmetics and all the rest—and whether it would not be better to get a bit more money to get more cheese in order to maintain the ration. I hope we shall have a better reply to these four. points from the hon. Gentleman than we had on the last occasion.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman a question? As he is associated with the National Joint Council for the Aircraft Industry, does he consider that Comets and cosmetics are of equal value?
I am not sure whether the Parliamentary Secretary will welcome that assistance. The right hon. Gentleman may know that we do not import Comets from America, but that we do import comics, which have been condemned by many teachers and child welfare organisations.
On the last occasion, the Parliamentary Secretary gave us a very defeatist and very dispirited answer to the debate. His change of tone now from the militancy and belligerency which he used to show in the days before he held office is most remarkable. When he wound up the last debate he was, not literally but metaphorically, a highly deflated gentleman. I hope we shall have from him, in replying to this debate, some more of the old spirit, and some more of the roaring lion that he was when in Opposition and not the "baa-lamb" he has been ever since. Let us have a real reply, something like his old broadcasts, and not like his performance on the last occasion, which would not have got any time on the air unless it had been very heavily sponsored.
I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman. He not only has a Minister sitting on his neck, but an overlord sitting on his Minister's neck, but, between the three of them, they ought to do better with the Treasury than they do, and get some more money for cheese, and not send the hon. Gentleman, with the Minister and the overlord carefully absent, to try to justify what he knows cannot be justified —the halving of our ration of a most important food at this time.
I intervene in this debate to put a point of view which, in the opinion of the Government, may not be a very important one, but which, I am certain, in the opinion of the people in my constituency and others like it, is very important.
I had the temerity to intervene with an interjection in the last debate to ask how the so-and-so the hon. Gentleman intended to keep the miners of this country alive. I now go a step further and ask him how he intends to keep most of the workers of this country alive, along with their wives and families. I represent a constituency in which there are industries where the hardest work of all types is performed, that of making steel and mining coal. The men are working 21 shifts a week, 68 hours out of 168.
My comments about cheese and mice had a peculiar sequel last Saturday, when I went to a gala and sports day of the United Steel Corporation in Rotherham, an indication of the continuation of the good spirit in industry, which is answer to those who said social welfare would die. There was a dog and rabbit show, and among other things there was a mouse show. I have a catalogue here—"Open and members' mouse show of 34 classes." I went round the show, and I was conducted around by some of the highest specialists on mice in this country. I started to ask some questions. I could not understand why there was such a plaintive look in the eyes of these mice.
I had received complaints from the men about the lack of food, including cheese, which is one of the staple diets of these men. For the information of the Parliamentary Secretary, they carry cheese sandwiches to work to help them to get the strength to get the steel and coal we need to help Britain to keep its place in the world. If those mice could have spoken they would have asked the hon. Member for Rotherham to have represented their interests in the House.
I asked some of the men's representatives why the men were not looking as well as they used to when I was among them, and they replied "Heavens, Jack, don't you know? We have a Tory Government". Some of them had been silly enough to listen to the Parliamentary Secretary who had promised blood red meat and plenty of cheese. This is a serious matter and, to turn to its serious aspect and leave the jocular side, I want to tell the Government that the people who are going to be called upon to make up the leeway in the loss we have experienced in textile exports cannot do it because the food is not there.
These men go into the canteens and find that there is less meat. Tea is going up in price. The men get up after a restless night—their wives have probably kept them awake asking for more money—they get on a bus and find the fares have gone up. They go to the canteens and find the price has gone up, the quality and quantity have gone down. Yet these are the men who are being asked to make up the leeway in export losses. These are the very men who are being expected to see that the rearmament programme is kept up to scratch.
I tell the Government that the time has come when they must face this problem of finding food for our people, so that they can be fed as they ought to be fed. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary will get up and say that there are no dollars. I can tell him where we can get dollars. He should tell the Prime Minister, that archdeacon against bulk buying, that instead of going to America and signing on the dotted line for one million tons of steel at £60 and £70 a ton, he should have spent one-third of that amount in obtaining the raw material in food which would have enabled our men to have produced the steel to earn those dollars.
I thought the hon. Gentleman was going to say at the end of his sentence that instead of buying steel we should have bought cheese. But that was not the conclusion of his sentence, and I must ask him to keep to the subject of cheese.
If the hon. Gentleman had waited a minute I was going to say that instead of spending money on finished steel it should have been spent on getting food, particularly cheese and other commodities. I suggest to the Government, and to the Parliamentary Secretary, that when he comes to reply he must give the men in these industries much more satisfaction than they have had. If he cannot, will he please go back to where he picked up the microphone, turn his face to the wall, and humbly apologise for having said the things he said, and making the promises that he made, which he knew at the time could not be fulfilled.
Let us have the facts. This Motion with regard to the cheese ration has been tabled, I think, six times; this is the sixth. On four occasions the hon. Member and his friends decided not to move it. The other night, however, they did so, and——
On a point of order. The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) really must be clear on his facts. This Motion was tabled once. I moved it. It was discussed on the first possible occasion. It dealt with an Order made only a few days before. It is absolute nonsense to say that it had been tabled before.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) is not very well informed—[An HON. MEMBER: "He never is."]—because this Order is a consolidating Order, and replaces the original Order which reduced the cheese ration. Naturally, I was discussing the earlier Order; that was wiped out.
The hon. Member refers to intelligence. Surely he knows that one cannot table a Motion against an Order that has been repealed. In fact, the Order was repealed by his hon. Friends, and we could not, therefore, continue discussions against it.
What I am getting at is this. An Order was made, which we all regretted, reducing the cheese ration. On four occasions, I think, a Prayer was put down about the original Order, and on all those occasions the hon. Members concerned decided not to move it. Then, they could no longer pray against that Order, because it was wiped out by this one, and they decided on two occasions to have Prayers about this; and so my statement, in substance, was true, and the hon. Member for Oldham, West, knows perfectly well that it was true.
The other night, having in despair, because they could not get anybody to support them, decided that they must pray against it sometime, they started about 4 o'clock in the morning. I was present for the whole debate, because I had decided to take part in it if I could. I listened to the hon. Member for Oldham, West, and the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey), and when they had finished, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food made, I thought, a very adequate reply.
At that moment there were five Members of the party opposite in the Chamber. Including myself, there were six on this side. I was rather tired at 4.30 in the morning, so I drew attention to the fact that there was no quorum present. Despite all the enthusiasm of hon. Members opposite who are now present for the cheese ration, despite all the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) about steel, they could mobilise only seven. That was the interest of the Labour Party in cheese. Out of nearly 300 Members, only seven were prepared to stay up at 4.30 in the morning. After that deplorable state of affairs, they have made special efforts tonight, and 17 are present; they are three times as numerous as the other night, but, we on this side are more interested in cheese than is the hon. Member for Oldham, West.
The hon. Member makes the statement that his party are interested in cheese. Certainly, they are. We are interested in cheese, but they can get plenty at 7s. 6d. and 8s. per 1b.
That is a diversion from the argument about the Whips. The hon. Member for Rotherham now mentions cheese at 7s. 6d. or 8s. per 1b. When I get home tonight, providing my wife has not gone to bed, I will ask her when she last paid the Rotherham price for cheese. We in Westminster are much more intelligent than the people in Rotherham. I live in Westminster, but I represent East Croydon. I remember about once a fortnight I read one paragraph in my Election Address, and it is the same paragraph in which I said:"We are having an election now because the Labour Party are frightened to go through the winter". The party opposite had landed us in a most awful mess. They did not want to remain in office; they were absolutely terrified at the thought.
On a point of order. May I remind you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that both my hon. Friends said that they might speak about nylons, about party political pamphleteering, about policy at the last election, about private enterprise and about the distribution of industry. We have not yet reached Central African Federation in which I am vitally interested; and the Leader of the House has not given us a chance to speak on these extended matters——
The hon. Member for Oldham, West mentioned six subjects that I did not refer to at all.
We all deplore this Order. We are Short of cheese because we have not the wherewithal to buy it, because the party opposite dissipated our resources. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Members opposite were so enthusiastic about cheese the other night that only seven of them—and two of them were listening to one another—would sit up as long as I sat up to plead the cause of cheese and mice and mice and men. I am quite disgusted about the way the party opposite behaved in this matter, and I think the Parliamentary Secretary gave a complete reply the other night. I only joined in tonight because of the provocative speech of the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo).
Though there have been invitations inducing me to belligerency in my reply, I want to reply seriously to what is a serious problem. I cannot hope to imitate the virtue of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) who at 4.30 a.m. delivered a rollicking speech worthy of a fuller House than he enjoyed then. If my response was brief, it did state quite frankly that the cheese ration had fallen by half an ounce because of our inability to purchase 47,000 tons of dollar cheese which was purchased last year.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) was, I think, fair in drawing attention to one or two of his observations of last week, and these were reinforced by the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo). One was that we have bought this year lard from North America and have spent dollars on it. His argument is that we should have spent those dollars on cheese. The purchase of lard from North America ceased on 1st November last year, within a day or two of this Government entering upon office. The whole of that lard imported in 1952 was purchased by the Government of which he was a member and the subsequent delivery to which he referred was made in fulfilment of contracts entered into before 1st November last year.
I do not give way; I want to deal fully and fairly with the points raised.
The hon. Gentleman returned again tonight to the New Zealand question. I dealt with that in my reply last time, but I would add this. We receive practically all the exportable surplus from New Zealand. It caused me some misgiving last time, as it did tonight, when I heard observations which might have the effect of suggesting that New Zealand is not doing its utmost for this country in cheese as in meat. I do not think either hon. Gentleman intended that. We now get just under 90 per cent. of the exportable surplus of New Zealand cheese. We did get 97 per cent., but New Zealand has decided—and she is entitled to make that decision—that in order to retain or recapture certain markets in Europe and America which she enjoyed before the war, she will divert a small percentage of the exportable surplus of her cheese to those countries.
It does not include Eastern Europe to my knowledge. New Zealand is still sending us almost 90 per cent. of her exports—and this will be a record year for New Zealand cheese production. If she decides to divert small quantities of cheese to old markets, she is fully entitled to take that course.
The hon. Member for Reading, South put four questions to me which I shall be glad to answer. I have in part answered the first—about supplies of rationed cheese. Our sources are the Southern Dominions—mainly New Zealand—home production and, until the beginning of this year, the North American Continent. I want to avoid forecasting this year's home production of cheese. I think the hon. Member for Sunderland, North was nearly 20,000 tons out in his forecast last year. He was venturesome. This year we are not diverting milk to cream as was done last year; we are diverting such milk as we can, after the first priority of dried milk for infants' food has been met, to cheese. All I can say is that, subject to what I have just said about New Zealand, we are securing all the cheese that is available in the absence of imports from the North American Continent.
The second question that he put to me referred to other sources of cheese. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is difficult to administer a rationing system without a common type of cheese. As an experiment, some Edam type cheese was included in the ration. This led to considerable complaint and my right hon. Friend's predecessor withdrew the arrangement.
I am not going to give the stock figures. The hon. Gentleman did not expect me to give them. But stocks are better than they were at the beginning of the year. The imports of cheese in the first four months of this year were some 63,000 tons, rather more than was used. But it is better to examine a full period of one year than a four months' sample.
Fourthly, we come to the most important question that the hon. Gentleman put. I am only going to deal with the possibilities within the food field. Are we spending such dollars as we are spending to the best possible advantage? We are spending dollars on wheat and flour. No one would criticise such expenditure if they knew the need in making bread for the hard dry wheat of Canada. After importing all the sugar we possibly can from Commonwealth countries, we import also some from dollar countries. Much of the dollar sugar we import is refined and subsequently exported for dollars.
We spend dollars on feedingstuffs, but I do not think the hon. Gentleman would like me to draw feedingstuffs into any comparison. We import animal fats in some quantity from the United States in order to meet the balance of our requirements for the ration and for trade needs here. We import some dried fruit from the North American Continent. It is cheaper than dried fruit from the Levant, and in any case, as matters stand today, the import of dried fruit from the Levant costs us, for the most part, gold, within our E.P.U. arrangements. The whole of the dried fruit that we import, raisins and other types, costs one-sixth of the amount saved by cutting out cheese imports from the North American Continent.
I have a measure of sympathy with this point, however, because in scientific terms, cheese is immensely superior to dried fruit as an item of diet. But we need a mixed diet, one which is not only scientifically satisfactory but contains elements which will make for palatability as well. We imported canned salmon and apples last year. So far none have been imported this year.
I have recited the main food imports for dollars and I have said enough to meet the suggestion that we are failing properly to scrutinise the various dollar expenditures on food, and that we have got out of balance in food imports in terms of dollars. Now the position remains, whether we like it or not, that we lose half an ounce off the ration because we cannot do what we did last year— import 47,000 tons of cheese from North America. That is the only other source of rationed cheese and it represents the difference between the 1½ ounces and the 1 ounce. It is because we lack the dollars, and because of the position this country finds itself in today, that we are reluctantly compelled to make this cut.
Let nothing that I have said be interpreted as in any way depreciating the value of cheese as an item of diet. It is a building food of immense importance and it is to the great regret of my right hon. Friend that this step was necessary. But such cuts are necessary and will be necessary until we can, by a restoration of our balance of payments in international trade, buy the food which is there for the buying.
I have not made myself clear, and I apologise because I was anxious not to detain the House. This is the position about cheese. We only import dollar cheese in the winter. The effect of this Order is that we are on a one ounce ration—or less, because the Minister doubts whether it can be continued throughout the year. But we do not obtain dollar cheese until September. Until then we must rely upon home production and New Zealand, so if we are reducing to a one ounce ration there must be a serious short-fall from New Zealand. On lard the position is that lard was shipped to the first four months of the year. Last year, when we were in difficulties about the meat ration, as indeed we are this year, we persuaded the Americans to ship 25,000 tons of cheese.
I did not raise the lard issue, but when it is thrown at me that we are profligate enough to waste dollars by spending them on lard, it is surely sufficient to reply that that expenditure was entered upon by the Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a Member. On the issue of cheese, of course cheese must be examined as an annual import. There are times of the year when we are importing the bulk of the New Zealand cheese and it needs to be distributed throughout the year by stocking. But the plain position is that the reason for the cut in the ration is the reason I have given.
I think it will be the wish of the House, after our long and arduous night, if I seek to terminate the discussion in a few words. I do it for more than one reason. Firstly because I feel that any further criticism of the Parliamentary Secretary in his vulnerable position would be unchivalrous to a sitting bird. And, after all, a bird that has whistled cheerily in a most distressing situation; even cockily throughout these two debates. Secondly, because I feel that everything has been said that could be said. The Parliamentary Secretary has made the situation crystal clear. He said that we are not buying cheese because of a Treasury decision. This is the explanation which has been given to us in every debate over the last few weeks for every subject under the sun. The Treasury say we cannot have it, so we do not. And Parliament has to accept the situation.
We have diminished our imports from Europe by 25 per cent., again under a Treasury decision. The hon. Gentleman said that so far as New Zealand is concerned there is a 6 per cent. diminution because of her desire to expand her sales over a large area. He knows perfectly well that New Zealand could produce much more cheese if she had a long-term, bulk-buying contract at a fair price, and he could do it at any moment but for the fact that his hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) will not permit him to embark upon bulk buying.
Those are the fundamental facts of the situation. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will forgive me for saying that he used to tower over the wireless a few years ago, and the sight of his miserable figure with his coat flapping around him like a bell tent fills me, quite frankly, with a genuine feeling of deep sympathy.
In conclusion, may I say this about the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), who has left us after his few observations. I am sorry that we have lost him at this early stage because he made so many inaccurate observations that I thought one ought to reply to some of them. I am particularly sorry because I was going to pay a tribute to him. I thought his interruption at 4.30 the other morning—when we had had a tiring and depressing session and, in view of what the Parliamentary Secretary said, the debate may not have gone as well as one would have hoped—was a most generous act. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) there. I thought it was generous of the hon. Member for Croydon, East to say, "No. We will allow the whole thing to start again. We will get the Parliamentary Secretary to look up the figures again to see if there is a single explanation he can give to justify his attitude. "But in all the circumstances——
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. A certain moral degradation has arisen in this country on the issue of cheese, the like of which I have never seen before, because of the cynical promises made by hon. Gentlemen opposite during the General Election. As my hon. Friend is specifically interested in these psychological factors, I would like to point out to him that one of the most tragic things I have seen happening to the youth of Britain is due to this lack of cheese. I heard a parody in a minor key of one of our most beautiful hymns:
We have ham, spam, lovely legs of lamb
In our stores, in our stores,
In the Tory Party Stores.
But my eyes are dim, I cannot see
The lovely things the Tories promised me.
There is a typical example of the moral degradation and cynicism brought into the democracy of Britain by the base promises of a party with its eyes on power.
As this is a general rationing Order and I think that we have had a satisfactory debate on the difficulties about cheese, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.