I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Meat (Rationing) (Amendment No. 7) Order, 1952 (S.I., 1952, No. 2039), dated 25th November, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th November, be annulled.
It will be seen that this is Amendment No. 7, which means that we have had seven changes in the meat ration since the principal Order was made, and this rather contradicts what the Minister has repeatedly said about the new Government having stable rations. I do not complain about it but of the Minister pursuing his habit of making misleading statements.
This Order reduces the meat ration as from 30th November from 2s. to 1s. 8d. As the "Meat Trades Journal" said, "few expected that the cut would be as much as 4d." One reason why it is as much as 4d. is that the Minister of Food was stupidly optimistic about the Argentina negotiations, which does not help. Those responsible for the Argentinian side of those negotiations will only take advantage of his stupidity. Figures show that in September and October our consumption of meat was running at a rate less than last year, but in November I estimate—because we have not got the figures yet—we were consuming more. This month, December, we will again be consuming less than we were 12 months ago. In November we were well over the flush, and it is my opinion that the Minister should have reduced the ration then. If he had done so, the reduction would have been so much less.
The Minister is over-optimistic. That has been proved by events. He has been repeating for months how these negotiations were proceeding in a friendly atmosphere and what considerable progress we were making. Now it is interesting to see from the agency reports that it is the Argentinians who are optimistic and the British delegation who are not very optimistic. I hope, and I am sure we all do, that these negotiations will be completed, because they are vitally important. At the same time, I hope that the Argentinians are not being optimistic, because they fully believe that they are going to get a very steep price increase.
The Minister hopes to maintain this ration at 1s. 8d. throughout the winter irrespective of the supplies we may get from the Argentine. I think he said that he hopes to maintain the present ration until April. I hope so, too. This is a lower ration than we had 12 months ago, and a lower ration than we might expect even in the present difficulties about world supplies.
The Parliamentary Secretary will remember that I recently asked the Minister a Question about how our supplies compared with the supplies we had in 1950. The Minister said that he expected to distribute about 1,173,000 tons of beef, veal, mutton, lamb and pork. This compared with 1,404,900 tons in 1950. I asked him, what I thought was a relevant question, when he expected that we should be eating as much meat as we were in 1950. He evaded the question. I expected him to do so, because he generally does. I put it to him that I thought it was a proper question to which I was entitled to a reply. On 1st December the Minister replied that he thought probably we would be doing so in a very short time, judging from the way we were going on now, because there were improvements week by week. I had asked when we would be consuming at an annual rate of 232,000 tons more meat than we were now, and that was his answer.
Today I pursued the matter again, and asked him whether he still stood by his statement. He said "Yes," and that when he was talking about improvements week by week he meant compared with this time last year. If so, why cut the ration? Why cut the ration by more than what the trade expected? It is surely a new theory of distribution, when supplies are increasing week by week and it is hoped we will be getting as much meat as in 1950, to cut the ration so drastically. This would be an entirely new approach. We would then have a Minister who, when supplies increase, cuts the ration. But, of course, it is not so.
The Minister has misled the House. Compared with last year, the supplies of meat are not increasing week by week. This should not surprise anyone, least of all the Minister, because at this time of year we are accustomed to getting fairly heavy imports from Argentina, and we all know that these imports are not being received, and for some time now there has been a falling away of supplies. After the negotiations are completed we can then expect Argentine supplies to be resumed. But when? At what time does the Parliamentary Secretary expect supplies to improve? I should say from experience not within a couple of months after the negotiations are completed. That is taking us well into the New Year.
But let us consider the position generally. The Parliamentary Secretary cannot expect any appreciable increase in home supplies next year. If he can contradict me, let him do so. He is better informed about this than I. But we cannot expect any substantial increase from home production next year, not as far as the livestock figures indicate.
I am including all rationed meat. Pork we also have to consider in terms of the bacon ration.
What are the prospects in imported supplies? On this subject the Minister recently made a statement to the "Star" under the heading "Food—My Hopes." About meat he said:
The increase in world production is not keeping pace with the increase in demand. Population and living standards are rising. Producing countries need more meat for their own people.
I agree with every word of that. It is far more informative than what Lord Woolton and his colleagues said during the General Election. That statement is not holding out any very great hopes for next year.
Let us consider the supplying countries. For all practical purposes there are four—New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, and Uruguay. Mr. Holland no doubt put his estimate at its highest when he said that he hoped New Zealand would send 360,000 tons this coming year. New Zealand sent the same amount in 1950. The chairman of the Australian Meat Board has said that he hopes to send 130,000 tons in the coming year. I think that is far too optimistic. What does the Parliamentary Secretary think? I expect the chairman of the Australian Meat Board to be optimistic because he is getting 60 per cent. more for the meat than he did when we were in office. Of course, in such a context he would be optimistic. Again, what did Australia send, in fact, in 1950? She sent 130,000 tons.
How much does the Parliamentary Secretary expect we will get as a result of the agreement now being negotiated with Argentina? I would like to make a a guess that it will be no more than 200,000 tons. But in 1950 we got 280,000 tons. I again ask the Parliamentary Secretary—because I think it is relevant to what his Minister said—when does he expect this Argentine meat will begin to arrive?
I am talking of 1950. The figures for 1951 are not relevant. I am dealing in calendar years and I am taking 1950 as a base year because the Minister has made a statement about our supplies relating to 1950. If he had made it 1951, I should have dealt with 1951.
We are dealing with the price ration. The point I make to the Parliamentary Secretary is that the way things are going this will become, if we are not careful, a nominal ration. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) asked the Minister a Question today about the take-up of the meat ration. He asked if the Minister would state—
for each of the four-weekly ration periods from October, 1951, until the latest stated date, the declared non-take-up of meat in weight and money value per ration period; and the number of full rations that this represents in each case.
We find something which is really startling and shocking. We find that from 6th October, 1951, to 9th August, 1952, the whole of the ration was taken up by the butchers. But we had the increase in the price of meat in the middle of June and we also had the increase in the ration in August. What happened in the four weeks ending 6th September, 1952? What was the effect of the increased ration on top of the price increase?
For the four weeks ending 6th September, 1952, the under-issue was no less than 859 tons. And what is this in terms of rations? It means that the approximate number of full rations represented by the under-issue during each four-weekly period was 1,848,000. So that during this period the butchers, not the consumers, could not sell rations amounting to the total rations for 1,848,000 people. That is a serious position. It is no good trying to laugh off these figures. Before, until 9th August, the whole of the meat was taken whereas, in the four weeks ending 6th September, 1952, meat amounting to the rations for 1,848,000 people was not taken up.
Later the ration was reduced. The interesting thing is that, in spite of the reduction in ration, the amount taken up fell. And if we take the latest figure, the four weeks ending 29th November, 1952, what do we find? That in that four-weekly period the butchers said they could not sell 1,009 tons of meat. What does this amount to in terms of rations? It means that in that four-weekly period, after a decrease in the ration, the butchers said they could not sell meat which, if distributed on the ration, would have covered 2,318.000 ration books.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman is trying to tell the House that there is difficulty in the consumer taking up the ration at its present price. But surely he will have some difficulty in reconciling that with this Order against which he is praying, which reduces the price?
I will come directly to the point I have in mind. As I have explained, this is a price ration. This does not mean only that on rather more than 2¼ million ration books the rations are not being taken up. We all know that a butcher gives more meat to his customers if he has more on his hands than he requires with which to meet the ration. It is, in any case, very difficult to equate meat exactly to the ration.
The point I am making is this. Here we have a price ration, and I think the time has come for the Minister to review the price of meat, because the price is so high that if events continue like this the ration will be imperilled. Now is the time for him to act, and, however embarrassing it may be for him in his relations with the Treasury, for him to tell the Treasury that their policy is really disastrous. We have the position that a meat ration which was previously fully taken up by the average consumer is now not being taken up even by the butchers.
The Parliamentary Secretary and his colleagues made express promises during the General Election. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] It may embarrass hon. Members opposite, but that is what they did. The fact is that we have now a smaller ration than we had this time last year. But, apart from that, there is now a substantial part of the population who are not even taking up the present reduced ration.
I regard that as a very sad state of affairs, and it is a far cry from Lord Woolton's celebrated broadcast. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to explain what he means by all this. It is no good the Minister telling the "Star" that there are difficulties about meat production. Lord Woolton knew that at the time of the General Election. Neither is it any good the Minister telling us that tonight. He has to tell us why he has fallen down on his job.
I beg to second the Motion.
It does not seem many days ago since we were celebrating in Prayer a previous reduction in the meat ration, and I believe that if the Government continue in their determination to give us less meat for more money we shall before very long be perpetually on our knees, either in Prayer or through sheer weakness from want of meat.
The Government really must face the situation that the country generally and the housewife in particular are regarding them as a very bad Government indeed so far as the question of meat and of food generally is concerned. I would impress upon the Minister and upon hon. Members opposite that during six years of Labour Government they constantly pretended to forget the difficulties facing that Government. Time and time again during those six years they put down Prayers without at any time acknowledging the difficulties of those post-war years.
We on these benches have referred from time to time to the statements made by hon. Members opposite during the General Election. Indeed my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland. North (Mr. F. Willey) did so tonight. But I wish to draw attention to one or two other things that were said on this subject by hon. Members opposite when they were the Opposition prior to the last General Election.
The right hon. Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Crookshank), the present Leader of the House, was always very clever in his supplementary questions to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, Central (Mr. Webb) the then Minister of Food. On 10th July, 1951—and I will quote his exact words—the right hon. Gentleman shot out this very clever supplementary question in his own inimitable way:
Is the answer 'Yes' or 'No' that by the end of August, though it will cost us more money, we shall have less meat in the ration than previously?
I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House would like to ask a similar question now of his own Minister?
I am happy to see the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) in his place because, on the same date, he asked the then Minister of Food:
Will the Minister confirm that the ls. 7d. meat ration, that is, the maximum at the new price, will represent less than 10 ounces of prime beef a week, that is, less than one and a half ounces a day?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th July, 1951; Vol. 490, c. 216–81.]
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will permit me to remind him that the present 1s. 8d. ration is not 10 ounces of prime beef each week, but 8 ounces, and that it costs 4d. a 1b. more than when he asked that supplementary question just over 18 months ago?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will permit me to ask him if he does not know the reason why we are paying more for the meat? It is because the coal and steel, and the petroleum, we are selling to the Argentine is costing that country more money.
I seem to have some hazy recollection that we had a Budget presented in this House last spring, followed by a Finance Bill, and that in that Budget the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us he was reducing the food subsidies and the 4d. a lb. to which I have just referred is a direct result of the reduction of those subsidies. It has nothing whatever to do with steel prices or anything else, and the hon. Member knows that is so.
His right hon. Friend the present Minister of Food reported to the House only about a fortnight ago that:
During the current year we expect to distribute about 1,173,000 tons of ration quality beef, veal, mutton, lamb, and pork. This compares with 1,404,900 tons in 1950, and 1,023,800 tons in 1951."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 1096.]
So, there is a fall of 231,900 tons between the current year and the last full year of a Labour Government. May I remind the House also that the actual meat ration in December, 1950, was 1s. 6d. worth. The meat ration in December of last year was 1s. 5d. worth, and the actual ration this December is 1s. 8d. worth. But, that is after the increase of 4d. a 1b., due to the removal of the subsidy not due to higher prices of steel. I would like to quote the Minister of Food again, when earlier this month he said, in a written answer:
The value of the present meat ration at prices obtaining on 3rd December. 1951, and 3rd December, 1950 is 1s. 4¾d. and 1s. 21d., respectively."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1952; Vol. 508, col. 158.]
I assert that the Government are at this moment relying on high prices of meat to keep down the demand for meat.
I know the hon. Gentleman always wants to be fair. Therefore, if it is the subsidy alteration which has put up the price by 4d. a 1b., then may I ask whether it was not the same Budget which introduced benefits for millions of people in the way of Income Tax reliefs and higher supplementary allowances, which also helped the old age pensioners?
If that argument is going to be allowed. then I would say that the benefits given in those directions by the Budget covered only the increases in the cost of living which occurred before the Budget took effect.
I see no need to withdraw my assertion. Indeed, I go further and point out that there were very many people who now get no advantage at all from the increased pensions and the like; they have had to bear the increase in the cost of living brought about by the reduction in the subsidies. It is my belief that the Government are relying on high prices to keep down the demand for some of these rationed foods.
What about the prolonged Argentine negotiations? I believe the delay in completing them is aiding the import policy of the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards) was criticised by hon. Members opposite when they were in Opposition because of the so-called delay in concluding the Argentine negotiations last year. My hon. Friend was away only two months on those negotiations, whereas the present negotiations have been going on since April. What wonder- ful things we were told would happen if only we would send to the Argentine and other countries people who understood how to buy meat; that they would get all the meat we wanted if it was available. Why have the Government not sent these people to take part in the present Argentine negotiations? [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman wants to interrupt I will gladly give way, but I wish he would not merely keep up a running commentary.
We are tired of that sort of tale. My hon. Friend completed the negotiations last year in two months, yet the present negotiations have been going on nearly nine months without any result. How comes it that these negotiations are so prolonged? When will the Minister get some Argentine meat to enable him to increase the meat ration? According to the Monthly Digest of Statistics the average monthly imports of meat in 1950 were 67,500 tons, in 1951 the monthly average dropped to 53,300 tons, and in the nine months up to September of this year to 48,300 tons. We have a right to criticise the Government for failing to do better than that in meat imports. In September, 1950, we consumed 38,100 tons of meat; in September, 1951, 37,500 tons; and in September, 1952, 36,100 tons. Is this "More red meat"? It is considerably less red meat than we were enjoying under the Labour Government.
What is being done to increase the production of mutton and lamb in this country? I am prepared to grant to the Parliamentary Secretary that we cannot hope to have increased cattle production for the meat ration in a short time. It takes at least two and a half to three years for cattle to come to maturity for slaughter. But I am very concerned about the large tracts of land which appear to me capable of carrying many thousands of sheep and lamb but which are not now used for that purpose. I wonder why the Ministry of Agriculture do not enable us to have much greater production of mutton and lamb for the butcher much more quickly.
The hon. Member for Angus, North and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) asked my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North about pork. Out of my own knowledge and experience I assure the hon. Member and the House that there is a limit to the amount of pork that people can take up. During the war we had a vast amount of pork from America under lease-lend arrangements, and I remember that week after week people went into the butchers' shops and said, "Is it pork again? We are completely fed up with it."
We suggest to the House that it is beef, mutton and lamb that we need most in present circumstances. We have been pressing the Government for some increase in bonuses for Christmas and for increased rations of some of the essential foods. We have been met with a refusal this year, just as we were refused last year. The Parliamentary Secretary perhaps would permit me to paraphrase Marie Antoinette and say, in reply to the complaint that the people have very little meat for Christmas, "Why do they not eat turkeys at 6s. 6d. a lb?"
I suggest very seriously that the Government have failed to carry out their promises and, after all the criticisms that they made of the Labour Government in days gone by, they have failed to meet the bill. There is very severe disappointment in the minds of the people at the lowness of the meat ration. This miserable, battered Government—[Laughter]. That causes amusement, but hon. Members opposite have not had the opportunity that we on this side of the House have of sitting opposite Ministers of the Crown day by day at Question Time and watching their faces. It gives us great joy. I am not exaggerating when I say that the Government are staggering under the blows that they have received and before very long we shall find that the country generally is taking exactly the same line as we are taking in this House on this matter.
Time has proved that the present Government have failed to carry out their promises and to justify their statements. It has proved that the statements of hon. Members opposite last year, and in the years immediately before, were most ungenerous. It has been said that in almost seven years there should have been an improvement and that hon. Members opposite could improve the situation. They have failed and now, just before Christmas, a further decrease in the ration has to be announced.
I hope that the House will reject this Prayer. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) asked why the ration had been cut. He knows perfectly well that it has been cut for two reasons. One is because there is not as much meat in the world for sale; and the second is that Britain is unable to buy even the diminished amount of meat which there is for sale. If he sat on this side of the House he would, with the statistics available to him, give a perfect answer to the very foolish question which underlies this Prayer.
The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) said that the quantity of beef had been reduced because of the Government's Budget proposals, and he used one of my questions of two years ago to support his case. It is true that the price of the beef has been increased because of those proposals, but the fact that the quantity has been reduced has nothing to do with the Budget but because there are not the supplies for us to purchase.
Finally, he asked why the negotiations with the Argentine had taken so long. If he does not know, I suggest that he asks the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, who is well versed in the matter, and who will tell him that in these negotiations in the Argentine questions apart from beef arise; and at present they are as important, or perhaps more important, than the price and the quantity which the Argentine can send. For example, there are questions affecting the price and quantity of the coal we send to the Argentine, and the steel, petroleum, and tinplate which they require, to give four examples only.
The negotiations are not being held up merely on matters concerning meat, but because of our inability to supply at prices they want the quantity of things they require.
I will give one or two sets of figures to support my case. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North knows that they exist, and that they make these continuous Prayers of his appear a farce. It is causing him to rank among the Uriah Heaps in asking for what he knows to be impossible, and pretending that if he had power he could do things which he knows are not possible. I would recommend the hon. Member to read the Commonwealth Economic Committee's report on the matter, issued a month or two ago. In the introductory remarks it is stated,
The quantity of meat entering into international trade declined and was reduced to about four-fifths of the 1938 level.
Since 1938 the world population has grown by 250 million, and we have four-fifths as much meat for sale as there was before the war. The report goes on to say that the consumption of the main producing countries showed a further increase during the year. There is not the meat being produced, and those who are producing it are consuming it. On page 4 of the report, figures arc given of the production of beef and veal in the Argentine for the last two years. In 1950 the production was 2,011,000 tons, and for 1951 it dropped to 1,849,000 tons. There are not the supplies there that there were previously.
The hon. Member has had his say and now perhaps he will listen to me.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North introduced into this Prayer more party matter than was warranted. He told us that we were not buying beef. What were the imports of meat from the Argentine during the years when his party were in power? The Trade and Navigation Accounts give these figures: In 1947 purchases from the Argentine amounted to 10 million cwts.; in 1948, 6,231,000; in 1949, 6,442,000; in 1950, 5,266,000; and in 1951, the last year in which they were in office, 2,317,000, or a quarter of what was purchased in 1947. I am not so unfair as to say that this was all due to bulk purchase, but it is not a very good advertisement for bulk purchase. For the hon. Member to say that it is our fault that we are not buying more meat is wrong, and I throw these figures back at him.
I want to give the House two other figures. It is asked why the meat ration must be cut? In the last six months of 1951 meat imports from Argentine totalled 1,671,000 cwts. and for the first four months of the last six months of this year only 617,000 cwts. were imported. In the last two months of this year, for which we have not received the figures as yet, I understand that the imports are quite negligible. Therefore, for the last six months of this year we have imported from the Argentine just about one-third of what we did in the six months of last year. The supplies are not there and the ration must be cut.
If I may I should like to give the House one concluding set of figures, and these are also from the Trade and Navigation Accounts, and concern Australia. In the first 10 months of 1950 the imports from Australia were 3 million cwts.; in 1951 they were down to 2,400,000 cwts. and for the first ten months of this year 1,890,000. We are not getting the supplies from abroad. We cannot afford to buy it, and hon. Members know is just as well as anyone. For the hon. Member for Sunderland, North to bring these Prayers forward so often is wicked and cruel to the people of this country, for he is pretending that if he were in power he could give them more meat when he knows full well that he could do nothing of the kind. I therefore hope that this Prayer will be rejected.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies, will show that he knows a little more about the subject than the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne).
I will make an admission at once to the Parliamentary Secretary and that is that for the first time since the war there is obviously more meat in the butchers' shops in my constituency. For the first time since the war it is possible to buy a leg of mutton at any butcher's shop almost throughout the length and breadth of Chorlton-on-Medlock and Hulme districts of Manchester. For the first time since the war, also, hundreds of my constituents are not drawing their full meat ration, and, therefore, I find the figures which the Minister gave us today at Question time most extraordinary. Quite frankly, I do not know how the National Food Survey works, and I do not believe the report which the Minister of Food gave to the House.
A week or two ago I had an opportunity of accompanying the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who was in Manchester opening the 10,000th post-war house to be built there. All of them were built before he took office, and I should be glad to see another 10,000 erected; the sooner the better. While the Minister was visiting houses in my constituency I did not enter the houses he did, but spoke to people who were gathered outside. I said to these bystanders, "We have been having an argument in the House of Commons about meat and food rationing. I would like any of the ladies here to tell me whether they, or any of their friends or neighbours, who have four ration books, will be taking up their full meat ration this week." At each place at which I asked that question I received the unanimous reply that they would not. The same is true about bacon.
That is my personal experience in my constituency, and, having that experience, I cannot believe the National Food Survey mentioned by the Minister of Food at Question time today. It is obvious that the Government are pursuing a policy, so far as food is concerned, of pricing a large number of people out of the market, particularly for these two rationed goods. There is nothing new in that. It was the daily position of millions of British people before the war, and we are only returning to it.
In the years before the war, when the Tight hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentle- men opposite held undisputed power and were not faced with the difficulties they are today and which faced my hon. Friends when they were in power, in my constituency, which I know very well, there were people who had to wait until closing-time on Saturdays to buy meat at knock-down prices. The reason they did not buy earlier and go to the pictures was because they had to wait for the price to come down.
If that is the policy of the Government and the Conservative Party I can understand it. I can understand people who honestly believe that the price mechanism should operate so that those who work harder and earn more, or those who have the good fortune, should have access to the best. What I object to is the Government, the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary pretending that they are pursuing a policy which is fair and to pretend that the lower paid workers are getting their fair share. They are not. I admit that better paid workers, and those who are comfortably off can get above their ration at the moment.
When hon. Gentlemen refer to price increases having been compensated by increases in pensions or family allowances I agree. But my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) referred to the great number of people who did not benefit from them. Those who talk about increases in old-age pensions should remember that these price increases in food were timed to come into operation at the same time as the increased pension, but do not hon. Gentlemen know that the vast majority of pensioners are in receipt of supplementary assistance from the National Assistance Board.
National Assistance was reduced by exactly the same amount as the basic rate went up, at the very moment it came into operation. The impact of the price increases was felt at a moment when, due to the adjustment in National Assistance scales, the basic pension did not offset the increases in the cost of living, as the country was led to expect. If it is the policy of the Government to let the price mechanism work to hurt people who cannot look after themselves, let the Government say so and be forthright about it, and not come forward with "phoney" national surveys that will not stand up to analysis.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) stated quite plainly that the value of the meat ration is to be reduced as from 1st December from 2s. to 1s. 8d. and that the level this December is lower than the level last December. In fact, it is lower, if we make the necessary translation to the new prices, by ½d. It is lower than in the previous December when, by the same price translation, it was 2s. 1¼d. He knows perfectly well that this is the time of the year when a cut in the ration is inevitable because the peak of the home kill has come to an end and we are beginning to rely more and more upon imported meat.
The hon. Member knows, too, that the Argentine negotiations have not been completed. If he seeks to make a comparison between this year and the last year when Argentinian negotiations were not complete, that year would be 1950. In December, 1950, the ration stood at 2s. 1¼d., as the hon. Gentleman will recall. On 31st December it went to 1s. 5d. What happened on 4th February? The ration fell to 1s. 2d. In short, hon. Gentlemen opposite boosted the ration in the month of December only to let it fall to an unprecedented low within six weeks of the end of the year.
The hon. Gentleman said that, in 1950, 230,000 tons more meat were issued. He did not say that 160,000 tons of it came from stock. Hon. Gentlemen opposite drew on stock in that year to that extent, leaving stocks at the end of the year so low that six months after the end of 1950 they were perilously small.
The policy of my right hon. and gallant Friend is, in the light of circumstances, to keep the ration at a level, as best he can. The hon. Gentleman said that this Order represented the seventh ration change. He might have said that there have been four this autumn under my right hon. and gallant Friend and seven in the corresponding period under his right hon. Friend. The point I want to make is that the comparison with 1950 reveals the lack of prudence with which his right hon. Friend the former Minister of Food and the Parliamentary Secretary conducted the affairs of the country in this respect. 12 midnight.
The hon. Member asked me to forecast the outcome of the Argentine negotiations. He knows quite well that I am not going to do anything of the sort. Indeed, I shall make no comment whatever on those negotiations. But when his hon. Friends talk about tardiness and delays in these negotiations he might have added that they went on for a year and ten days under a Socialist Administration. I do not make that point rejoicing, but merely as a retort.
Reference has been made to statements about red meat at the last Election. Let it be said that if we compare this year with the last year under the Socialist Administration, 1951, the amount of red meat consumed in this country has gone up by nearly 15 per cent.; the amount of bacon consumed has gone up by more than 15 per cent.; and this is without counting the 2,000 tons of ham which is being consumed each week.
Let me say to the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) that it is not very fair or wise to condemn a statistical investigation, which his hon. Friend used and which his party regarded as statistically valid, merely because it is for the moment inconvenient to his argument. That investigation, which came into being during Coalition days, is based on the budgets of 1,000 families, and was used by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North. I have referred to the shortcomings of that statistical method, but let it be said that it is a statistical method and one used by the party opposite.
What does it show on meat? It is not easy, in this case, to illustrate it because the meat ration is a cash ration. But, to quote the statistical returns, if we attach a figure of 100, for the sake of convenience, to the average purchase per head for all families, we find, as we examine the various groups, that in Class A, the best off of the four groups, the average expenditure is 108. In Class B, it is 101; in Class C, 96; and in Class D, 103, and in the old-age pensioner class, it is 103.
These figures show a slight drop from the highest so-called social group down to Class C, where the proportion of children per family is large, and so the number of half-rations is high. But they also show perfectly well that in this case the take-up of the ration is not mainly or wholly a matter of income. A similar trend has been shown for other commodities, and I believe the figures.
I am glad that the hon. Member raises that point. He knows that it takes some two to three months to obtain the figures. These figures are for July to September this year, and include the period of the high ration—the period which might be supposed to show the difficulty to which the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange has referred.
The fact that this method was used by the hon. Gentleman's predecessors does not convince me at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] There are many things that my colleagues did with which I do not agree. I agree that the hon. Gentleman has to rely on statistical information, but I am sure he will do me the honour of believing what I said tonight, because it was an honest impression drawn from people in my constituency, and it does appear to be at variance with the statistics of the Parliamentary Secretary.
I fully accept what the hon. Member has said, but it is not the first time there has been a conflict between personal testimony and the returns that have been statistically obtained. I have given them frankly and I believe I have drawn the right conclusion from them.
Finally, the hon. Member for Sunderland, North seemed to be searching for gloom in all directions. He did not think there could be much improvement in the position of home-killed meat. In 1951, it was 937,000 tons; in 1952, it was 1,007,000 tons.
I say to the House that it was necessary to make this reduction. It is larger than it would have been had the Argentine negotiations ended. I say to the hon. Gentleman that it is rather absurd for him, knowing the facts as he does, knowing the negotiations as he does, to base his case on a comparison with 1950, which is the year of imprudence, and to deny the comparison with 1951, which shows a fairly good beginning in the improvement to which we are committed and which we shall deliver.
I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary has answered at all satisfactorily the points made by my two hon. Friends on this side of the House, and I hope in a few minutes to deal with some of the points which the Minister has made.
The hon. Member who surprises me most in this House is the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne). I shall not accuse him of saying things during the Election which he had no intention of carrying out. Having known the hon. Member since 1945, and the type of speeches which he makes here, I should not be at all surprised if he were one of the few Tories who really put the facts before his people at the Election. But what we have to take into consideration is not what a mere back-bencher like the hon. Member for Louth, or perhaps myself, says at a General Election, but what is said by those who are now in positions of authority and were in positions of authority in the Tory Party during that Election.
What has surprised us very much indeed is the performance of the present Government, particularly of the Ministry of Food and its Minister, compared with the many promises that were made to our people for six and a half years, and particularly during the Election. The hon. Member for Louth told us tonight that there was a world shortage of food. But we have known that ever since the end of the war, and when we were trying to explain to our people why they could not have extra rations at different times, all that work was ruined by the propaganda of hon. Members on the other side of the House.
The hon. Member has told us that there is an increase in population. I would add to that something which perhaps the hon. Gentleman knows, but one would never have thought his party knew before they came to power, that not only is there an increase of population in the world today but many coloured people are demanding a greater share of the food than they had before the war.
I want to come to the cut from 2s. to 1s. 8d. The hon. Member for Louth, again, was rather annoyed because my hon. Friend said that the cut had something to do with the Budget. The hon. Member for Louth said it had nothing whatever to do with the Budget. In the survey which the Parliamentary Secretary gave us earlier today, and which he has emphasised tonight, he told us that the period in question was from July to September.
The figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) were for the period ending 6th September. He said that at that date the retail butchers refused to take the whole of the meat to which they were entitled, which amounted, in round figures, to over 1,750,000 rations.
The failure to take up amounted to rather less than 1 per cent. That was the answer given by my right hon. and gallant Friend. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) made it look more by giving the numbers for four weeks. He failed to divide by four.
I intended to say that, and I will now give another figure for the four weeks ending 6th September. One per cent. or 1·4 per cent. may not sound a great amount, but we have to consider the people represented by that 1·4 per cent. If we take the four weeks to 29th November, we find that the figure is over 2,250,000.
The point I want to make is that I am convinced from experience in my own constituency that the people who are not taking up their meat ration are the lowest wage earner and the old-age pensioner, and it seems tragic that these are the people who should be suffering because of the fiscal policy of the Government.