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Food (Control And Prices) Orders

Volume 436: debated on Thursday 24 April 1947

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The following Motions stood upon the Order Paper:

"That the Cheese (Control and Maximum Prices) (Amendment No. 2) Order, 1947 (S.R. & 0., 1947, No. 428), dated 11th March, 1947, a copy of which was presented on 14th March, be annulled."
"That the Butter (Control and Maximum Prices) Order, 1947 (S.R. & O., 1947, No. 551), dated 28th March, 1947, a copy of which was presented on 1st April, be annulled."
"That the Sugar (Control and Maximum Prices) (Amendment No. 2) Order, 1947 (S.R. & 0., 1947, No. 442), dated 12th March, 1947, a copy of which was presented on 13th March, be annulled."
"That the Eggs (Control and Prices) (Great Britain) (Amendment No. 4) Order, 1947 (S.R. & 0., 1947, No. 525), dated 25th March, 1947, a ropy of which was presented on 28th March, be annulled."
"That the Coffee (Maximum Retail Prices) (Amendment) Order, 1947 (S.R. & 0., 1947, No. 597), dated 31st March, 1947, a copy of which was presented on 15th April, be annulled."

10.4 p.m.

I think it is agreed that all five Orders carry the same points, and therefore it may be for the convenience of the House, if the hon. Members agree, that we should discuss all five on one Motion. If the House agrees I am agreeable.

If we do that may I ask whether, at the end of the Debate, we may have the opportunity, if we so desire, of dividing against each one individually?

That is the usual procedure. If hon. Members will make their speeches on the first Motion, then the House will have an opportunity of dividing on each of the Motions, if it so desires.

As each one deals with a separate article, I assume that we shall be entitled to discuss each of those articles on the first Order?

Yes, each article may be discussed on the first Motion, but there will be no Debate on the remaining Motions.

10.5 p.m.

I beg to move,

"That the Cheese (Control and Maximum Prices) (Amendment No. 2) Order, 1947 (S.R. & 0., 1947, No. 428), dated 11th March, 1947, a copy of which was presented on 14th March, be annulled."
The last occasion on which this House debated the cheese Order was some weeks ago. Dealing first with the cheese Order, I should like to ask the hon. Lady one or two questions. Why is it necessary to make these changes in the retail price of Wensleydale cheese, processed cheese and any other variety of cheese "not specified above," which obviously means any form of cheese, reducing the retail price of cheese from 1s. 1d. per pound to 10d. per pound, thereby increasing the subsidy? I will return to the word "subsidy" in due course. My second question is, How much will this decrease in the retail price of cheese, which is a comparatively large reduction of 3d. per pound, increase the subsidy which is at present paid in respect of cheese? My next question is, What benefit would there appear to be for the individual cheese eater in that reduction of the price, when his present allocation is two ounces per week? It means that the individual is saved a halfpenny a week by this particular Order.

Turning to the next Order, that dealing with butter—[Interruption].I wish to be brief, but I would ask hon. Members opposite who do not appear to have taken the trouble to study these Orders, to take these matters rather seriously. These are serious matters, running into thousands of pounds. The same remarks as those I have made about cheese apply to the butter Order, No. 551. The butter ration at the present time is, as we all know, terribly small. Was there any great demand by the public for a reduction in the price of butter, thereby increasing the subsidy? Under the butter Order we see that the retail price of butter is reduced from Is. 6d. per pound to Is. 4d. That is quite a large decrease of 2d. per pound, but when we realise how much butter each individual person receives pet week the reduction in cost to the individual is seen, to be quite negligible: Again, I would like to ask how much this decrease in the retail price of butter will increase the cost of the butter subsidy. The costs of milk production have gone up. It does not pay to make butter in this country at the present time in spite of the subsidy, so why do we see here a decrease in the retail price?

The next Order, which relates to sugar, is slightly different. There is no change in the retail price to the consumer. In other words, domestic sugar is not affected. This time the Order increases the price of sugar used for purposes other than domestic from 51d. to 7d. a lb. For the benefit of hon. Members opposite, that is an increase of Ltd. a lb. which, in the circumstances, is a very large increase. I ask the hon. Lady what effect this increase in the price of sugar used for manufacturing purposes will have upon the cost of children's sweets, jams, soft drinks, beer, cakes and biscuits, in all of which sugar is used during the process of manufacture.

If the hon. Member had been here at the beginning of the Debate, he would have understood that these Orders, all five of them, deal with in- creases or decreases in the retail or wholesale prices of certain commodities. They are all connected with each other, as I hope to show. I would like to know what is the reason for this increase in the price of sugar to manufacturers. Is it part of the policy of the Government to reduce the cost of food subsidies? It is rather interesting to compare the butter and the cheese Orders with the sugar Order. The butter and cheese Orders decrease the price and increase the subsidies, and the sugar Order does precisely the opposite.

We then come to the next Order, No. 525, which increases the price paid to the producer for eggs. The producer gets 1d. a dozen more, and the price of eggs to the consumer is decreased by 3d, a dozen. What on earth difference does it make to us whether we get the eggs for 2s. or 1s. 9d. a dozen? We never get any eggs, in any case. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] The very fortunate person gets one egg a week.

I am not talking about under the counter. I am talking about the allocation of eggs, which, I understand, is 53 per year per individual.

It is quite obvious that the hon. Gentleman does not do the shopping. Fifty-three eggs per year do not average out at one a week all the year round. At this time of the year when the hens are laying, one gets at least two per allocation per person per week. If one has a large family, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has, one sometimes gets a dozen.

I do not want to go into the size of my family but I have a large one. I am not talking about getting eggs from under the counter. What I am talking about is the allocation of eggs per year, and that is 53. If the hon. Lady will work that out carefully, she will find that it comes, more or less, to one a week. [HON. MEMBERS; "More. If we get so few eggs what difference does it make whether we pay 2d. for each egg or 1¾d.? [HON. MEMBERS: "One farthing."] Surely in these days when the cost of living is rising so high, we can exclude the one farthing on the egg which is a luxury. I am certain that most people throughout the country would not object if they had to pay 2d. instead of lid. The cost of feeding-stuffs for chickens has gone up and they are in short supply. Why decrease the retail price of eggs?

The last Order is the one dealing with coffee. I do not want to argue about this so much because it raises the price of coffee, and as coffee is not really a staple diet in the normal household I do not object to the increase in the price; but it is useful for comparison purposes. Is the increase in the price due to Government bulk buying? The other day when we listened to a long and very able speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he talked about the cost of living subsidies, and said:
"The Ministry of Food estimate shows a large increase of £50 million over last year's expenditure. This is due to the increase in the cost-of-living subsidies, on which, perhaps, I might conveniently interpolate some observations at this stage … I am anxious to speak frankly to the Committee about these subsidies. I have estimated their total cost this year at £425 million, of which £392 million are for subsidies to food prices, as against £348 million last year … This is a most formidable total, which has grown very rapidly in the last few years. Last year in my Budget Speech I said that we could not go on holding the cost of living steady regardless of the cost."
Then he went on to say:
"We have now reached a point where, in any case, it would be necessary to consider very carefully whether we could face any further increases in the total cost of these subsidies."
This is a few days after the Orders produced before this House by the Department of the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food. The Chancellor went on:
"Otherwise, this element, alone in all the total of our public expenditure, might seem to be passing out of our own control, and we might be seen to be dragged along by rises in prices all over the world, independently of our own decisions, and hitched to a most out of date and generally discredited index of the cost of iving. This would be a very unfortunate and? ignominious situation."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1947; Vol. 436, c. 43 and 44.]

If hon. Members want me to, I will, but those are the salient points of the Chancellor's speech about these sub- sidies. I suggest to the Minister of Food that the five Orders I have mentioned are produced for one purpose only, and that is to juggle with the cost-of-living index figures. I shall try to show that these Orders are used to produce entirely fictitious figures to indicate that the cost of living is being maintained at a low level. I understand—again, the hon. Lady will correct me if I am wrong—that the cost-of-living index is based upon a document produced by the Minister of Labour in 1937–38 giving figures for those years, and it is called "The Weekly Expenditure of Working Class Households in the United Kingdom." In 1937 and 1938 the-average household of four got over 14 eggs a week. Today they get four eggs a week.

I suggest that the actual reduction in the price of eggs under this Order to the consumers is multiplied by nearly four times when it is reflected in the cost-of-living index figures. I suggest that the Ministry of Food are still putting their cost-of-living index figures on the basis that each household of four people is still getting 14 eggs a week. Therefore, I suggest that these figures are entirely fictitious, and are calculated purely in order to say that the Government have been able to keep the cost of living down. The same applies to butter, because butter happened to be the fourth most expensive part of the budget of the ordinary household of four people in the year 1937–38. We know that the average household today gets hardly any butter.

The figures to which I am referring give the weekly expenditure in the United Kingdom of the households of industrial workers. The expenditure on butter at that time was 2s. 5½d. a week out of a total budget of 34s. 1d., and the amount of butter which the household got was 1.8 lb. a week for a family of four. I cannot argue against Ministry of Labour figures. How much butter does the average household get today? I suggest that the reason for these Orders is not to reduce the price of certain commodities to individuals living in this country, but that it is an absolute and complete ramp to try to show that the cost of living is on a far lower scale today than it really is.

10.23 p.m.

I beg to second the Motion.

I think my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) has made clear that our object in placing these Motions on the Order Paper is not necessarily censorious, but is an attempt to elicit from the Government a certain amount of information. As hon. Members are aware, the Ministry of Food very frequently make Orders of this kind under which the prices of important foodstuffs are varied, and I imagine that hon. Members on both sides will agree that it is a very proper function of the House, on occasion, to seek from the responsible Minister information as to why changes of this sort, which are of great interest to our constituents, are made.

The five Orders which are affected by the Motions tonight are all Orders made during March, and they affect five important foods in different ways. In the case of three of them, cheese, butter and eggs, the net effect is to reduce the retail price, and in the case of two others, sugar and coffee, the net effect is to raise the retail price. I do not know, and I do not think any hon. Members know, the reason for which this has been done, and it is surely a proper function of the House to seek to elicit the reason from the responsible Minister. The reason may be good or it may be bad, but at the moment we do not know what is the reason. Whether the reason be good or bad, the effect of these Orders is of very great interest to the people of this country. I am perfectly certain that the Parliamentary Secretary will welcome the opportunity of explaining the Orders. [HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear."] I notice cheers from behind the Parliamentary Secretary, and though not from the hon. Lady herself, but I do believe the hon. Lady will wecome the opportunity of expounding the reasons for these Orders, and I have no doubt that, if she has time, she will express her gratitude to my hon. Friends for having given her the opportunity.

What we want to know, and I hope the hon. Lady will make a note of it, is why are these changes being effected? Against the background of food subsidies to the tune of £400 million a year they are small matters, financially—quite small; and therefore it is the more interesting to discover why it has been thought necessary to make these adjustments. There must be some reason. [Interruption.] I am much obliged to hon. Members for their assistance, but nevertheless I do prefer an answer from the Parliamentary Secretary. The variations are small, and it is quite obvious that they would not be made for their own sake. Obviously, against the background of £400 million food subsidies, it is not worth while to make fractional adjustments, with all the trouble it causes to everybody, the Ministry, the retail trade and the consumer, without some good reason, and without a reason rather stronger than some small variations in the wholesale prices of these commodities.

Therefore, I should be very grateful if the hon. Lady, when she comes to reply, would answer these questions. Why has it been thought necessary during the month of March to make these five alterations? What is the reason for it? The second question which I would be grateful if she would answer is, working as she and the House must for the moment on the present cost of living index figure, what is the net effect on that figure of the five changes effected by these five Orders? Is it an increase, is it a decrease, and in either event, to what degree? The hon. Lady must have those figures available; I assume that she and her Department would not have made these changes without considering their effect on the cost of living index figure, and therefore I think it would be of interest to hon. Members and to their constituents to know what that effect is.

I hope that the points upon which hon. Members would be grateful for information are clear to the hon. Lady; but to avoid any risk of a waste of time due to any misunderstanding, I would like to repeat the questions. [HON. MEMBERS; "Oh."] Hon. Members may not be interested, but I can assure them their constituents are. The two questions are, first, what is the reason for these changes, and second, what is the net effect upon the present cost of living index figure?

10.29 p.m.

I confess I am surprised tonight to hear the reasons adduced for praying against these five Orders, having regard to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, from which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) quoted. I think my right hon. Friend made it quite clear in his Budget speech last week that he intended to keep the present index stable. He did not disguise the fact that a new index was about to be introduced, but until that new index replaced the old one, he would continue to vary the prices of food and to adjust the subsidies in order to keep it stable. Of course, it was for that reason that these Orders were introduced. They are really part of the stabilisation policy of the Treasury, and hon. Members who would question the stabilisation policy must put these questions to the Treasury, because the stabilisation policy is not part of the work of the Ministry of Food. I certainly intend to explain to the hon. Members who have raised this matter, the meaning of the changes of prices in these Orders, but the general policy is a matter for the Treasury. I think hon. Members opposite will recognise that.

May I remind the hon. Member for Eastbourne, who asked me about the index, that although he has quoted the 1938 figures, he is quite wrong? He has forgotten, as the Chanceller of the Exchequer again reminded hon. Members last week, that whereas the index today is related to the amount of money spent by working-class families in 1914—there is, of course, a more recent one related to prices in 1938—the commodities are those used in 1904. May I also remind the hon. Member that my right hon. Friend mentioned candles and flannelette and, I believe, cotton stockings. So far as food was concerned, in those days the range of commodities which were taken into account then did not include things like biscuits, beer, breakfast foods, and so on. Therefore, when the new index replaces the old one, we hope that a much wider range of articles will be taken into account, and that the new index will not be so heavily weighted with food. At the moment, as I am sure the hon. Member knows, 60 per cent. of the original index is concerned with food.

I have been asked by the hon. Member what good it does him personally to reduce the price of butter, and so on. I do not want to be discourteous, but I think that is rather a selfish question. The whole object, of course, as I have already said, of these changes, is to stabilise the cost of living. Every hon. Member, I think, is aware of the tragic result of the lack of control in those countries where there is a shortage of raw materials. Everyone knows that prices have rocketed, the inevitable inflation has followed, and the people of those countries, the poor people. experience under-nourishment and distress. That is the reason why we are having to adjust these prices—not because we are concerned with the hon. Member's having to pay a penny or twopence less for his foodstuffs. I am coming to the details of the Orders, but I want hon. Members to realise that in four of these Orders the same principle has to be considered. One Order—the Coffee Order— has nothing to do with the cost of living. Now in view of the rise of prices of foodstuffs in exporting countries, it is essential that we should look at the whole question of subsidies afresh. We must do this, of course, for the reason that a new index is going to replace the old one. My right hon. Friend last week made it clear to the House that he was prepared to look at the whole question of subsidies. Meanwhile, the Government have decided to hold the index steady, principally by variations in the prices.

The price changes involved in these Orders are, as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, variations which are sometimes up, and sometimes down. May I illustrate how the variations work by reminding the House of the increase in the price of potatoes last February? Potato consumption has been heavy since bread rationing was introduced, and the low price was encouraging people to feed animals on potatoes. So potatoes were increased in price one penny per seven lbs., but since that has as much effect on the index as threepence a lb. on cheese, it was necessary to compensate for a change in the price of potatoes by some other adjustment. Let us come to cheese. Hon. Members will recall that we had an exhaustive Debate on cheese recently. This Order is concerned only with a difference in the price of cheese from 1s. 1d. to 10d. per lb. The hon. Member for Eastbourne asked me what that meant in terms of subsidy. This involves an increase of threepence a lb., which will amount approximately to 5,800,000 for the year 1947/ 1948. That is following a reduction from 1s. 1d. to 10d. a lb.

The effect of the butter Order is to consolidate the previous Order, and to reduce the price of butter on sale by retail to the domestic consumer from 1s. 6d. to 1s. 4d. per lb. It should be pointed out that butter for the domestic consumer is included in the index, whereas butter for manufacturing purposes is not included, and the subsidy on the latter is, by this Order, eliminated. This involves an increase in the subsidy on butter for domestic consumption of twopence a lb.

It is an increase. Hon. Members must examine their Orders more carefully. I am dealing with the reduction in the price of butter—domestic butter—from 1s. 6d. to 1s. 4d. a lb.

It is an increase, and if hon. Members cannot read their Orders, I will pause every time I mention a figure so that they may understand it. This means an increase in the subsidy of about £4,000,000, while the saving in respect of butter for manufacturing purposes is about £200,000. We are eliminating the subsidy on manufacturing butter. The effect of the sugar Order is to increase the price of sugar sold for manufacturing purposes, and this does not come in the index. This eliminates the subsidy—and this will cheer hon. Members opposite— the consequent saving is £5,700,000. The price of sugar for domestic consumption remains subsidised at approximately threepence a lb.

So far as eggs are concerned, I agree, looking at this Order, that it appears to be very complicated but, in fact, it is quite simple. The effect of the Order- is to increase the price paid to the home producer of eggs by a penny per dozen, and to reduce the maximum price payable on sale of category 1 and 2 eggs— that is, eggs that are home produced and Eire produced—by threepence per dozen. Most hon. Gentlemen here will know why we have increased the price of eggs to the producer. This Order simply puts into effect the Government's decision reached after discussions with the N.F.U. in February at the annual price review, when it was decided to. give producers an extra penny per dozen for April and a further penny for October to next March. Reduction in the distribution costs is a somewhat complicated matter because there are five categories of eggs: Categories 1 and 2 being home and Eire produced; Category 3 being those produced by domestic poultry keepers; Category 4 being imported eggs; and category 5 are cooking eggs. I am sorry to weary the House with the five categories, but it is important in order that they shall understand these price changes, because no price changes were made in categories 3, 4 and 5 because these do not figure in the cost-of-living index. The changes involve an increase in subsidy payments of 4d. a dozen or approximately £2 million in 1947–48.

As I have already stated, whilst price changes under these four Orders are concerned with the cost of living, price changes under the coffee Order have been made for entirely different reasons. The effect of this Order is to increase the retail price of coffee by 2d. per pound. Coffee is not included in the cost-of-living index and it is not subsidised but nevertheless the demand for coffee is increasing. In fact, it looks as if this country is becoming a coffee drinking country. Our consumption has increased three times since before the war. We are now consuming 43,000 tons a year as against 15,000 tons before the war. The demand from Europe is growing and consumption in the United States, I am told, has reached even higher levels. Because of the increase in replacement costs of raw coffee, prices have risen and we find it necessary to increase the retail price by 2d. Without this increase, there would have been a loss to my Department of £350,000. So, I think hon. Members will see that this Order is simply to meet an increase in costs. I have endeavoured to explain why these prices have been introduced and I think it is quite apparent that it is in order to maintain a stable economy. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—

The hon. Lady has given us some interesting figures. Could she just complete the figures of the subsidy, and give us the amount of the effect on the cost of living in separate items and give us data about cheese, butter, sugar and eggs?

The effect of the five changes on the cost-of-living index is; cheese, 1.05 points; eggs, 1.06 points; butter, 1.70 points; total 3.81. The other two do not affect the index. I beg the hon. Member's pardon, he asked me a question about foods which have a sugar content and what would be the effect. He must remember that sugar is only one ingredient in these foods and the effect would be very small. Chocolate manufacturers and so on will feel it most, and of course we always keep in touch with the trade and if necessary adjust their margin. I hope that I have been able to satisfy the House that these changes have not been done in any arbitrary manner. They have been given the fullest consideration. My Department is in the very closest touch with the Treasury and we decide these figures after the closest consultation.

10.46 p.m.

We are indebted to the hon. Lady for the figures she has given and, if I may be allowed to say so, I thought her speech was much fuller on this occasion. Practice has made her better in dealing with these Prayers than some of the earlier answers I have had the good fortune to listen to. We should spend a few moments in appreciating the effect of what the hon. Lady has told us. It sounded very nice as she read it out but let us look at what the Government are really doing. The hon. Lady says that the object of these Orders was to maintain stability in the cost of living. She is achieving stability by reducing the cost-of-living index by 3.71 points, and presumably some other items in the cost-of-living index have risen by approximately the same amount, otherwise it would not be necessary to make this artificial reduction. I think that must be perfectly clear. I do not know offhand what is the exact figure the Government are trying to keep the index at-135, a figure like that. It is quite clear that they would not have come along quite suddenly and made this artificial decrease in the cost-of-living index unless otherwise there would have been some difference appearing in the index which they wanted to avoid.

Let us take cheese and potatoes, which the hon. Lady has referred to. She said that there had been an increase of a penny per seven pounds of potatoes and that she desired to offset that increase by, reducing cheese from 1s. 1d. to 10d. While that might achieve the object as far as the cost-of-living index is concerned, it certainly does not achieve the object as far as the individual householder is concerned. It would have done if people were still consuming, and were still able to consume, the same relative amount of cheese today as they did in 1004 when the index was first started; but as our cheese ration today is of the order of two ounces, it is clear that a reduction of threepence a pound translated into two ounces, if anyone can do the sum in his head, and get a coin which will denote it, does not offset the increase of a penny per seven pounds of potatoes. If hon. Members will take the trouble to look at the most recent number of the "British Medical Journal" in which the whole question of the nutritional level of the country is discussed, they will find that the average consumption per head of potatoes is given at a figure which means much more than a penny per week increase. Therefore, although no doubt on the public platform the hon. Lady can tell the housewives that as a result of reducing the cost of cheese from is. 1d. per pound to rod. per pound the cost of living index has gone down by one point, in fact, everyone who is purchasing goods knows that that has been more than offset by the increase in the price of potatoes.

Is the right hon. Gentleman quite sure that the average consumption of cheese today per homestead is less than it was in 1004 or more than it was then? Does he know and can he be sure of his figures?

The average consumption per homestead today compared with 1904? Is the right hon. Gentleman quite sure of his own figures whilst doubting those of the hon. Lady?

It is one of the real handicaps under which we suffer in this House that, in spite of the improvement in the Library of the House of Commons, it is impossible, as I have tried with a view to arming myself with the necessary statistics for this Debate, to find the details of the original 1904 cost of living. All I can get is an interim report of the Cost-of-Living Advisory Committee, and, unfortunately, although it refers to 1904 and 1914 it does not give the actual figures.

We used to live on bread and cheese in those days, and I think the right hon. Gentleman is right.

In any case, that really does not affect my argument about the reduction of the cost of living, for the two things together are nothing like equal to the increase of one penny on seven pounds of potatoes which came into operation during the week. Therefore, when the housewife goes to shop she will find that this claim of the Government that they have reduced the cost of living is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) said, a ramp.

We now come to the question of butter. Again, the hon. Lady announced that there has been a reduction in the price of domestic butter of 1s. 6d. to 1s. 4d., which is to cost the country 7 million. Again, we only get two ounces of butter per head—hon. Members can multiply that by four to find out what is the amount per average household—so that the gain is less than any current coin of the realm. If these three are put together they do not offset the increase in the price of potatoes. On these figures the hon. Lady can get up on the public platform and claim that the Government have succeeded in reducing the cost of living index by 2.75 points, but that is the second thing which is a sheer ramp.

We come now to the question of eggs. Again, I do not know what the figures were for 1904, but I know that eggs have a weight in the cost-of-living index out of relation to the importance of eggs as far as numbers in our present diet is concerned. I happen to know about this because I had personal experience of it towards the end of the war when the cost-of-living index was pretty well up to the limit to which the then Chancellor of the Exchequer wanted to allow it to rise. The farmers of this country wanted a considerable increase in the price for eggs. We had to grant that big increase and at the same time we had to reduce the price to the consumer.

The act of producing that fictitious figure of the price of an egg—if you could get it—had the wholly disproportionate effect of keeping down the cost of living, and the hon. Lady is doing the same thing today. When she says that the three items together represent a reduction in the cost of living of 3.71 points, it really is a misuse of the English language to suggest that what she has done is to keep living conditions stable. It is perfectly true that she has managed to wangle an essential cost-of-living index table that bears no relation at all to the actual cost of living today or to the increase in the cost of living which the ordinary housewife has to suffer, and that is being done at an enormously increased cost, the two items alone representing 9,800,000 to the taxpayer.

The hon. Lady says that as the result of the increase in the price of sugar she is saving by eliminating the subsidy to the tune of £5,700,000. She may be able to eliminate the subsidy to that extent, but I suggest that in the course of a comparatively short time that £5,700,000, plus a bit more, will in fact have been passed on to the consumer. It is bound to be. She has said that she is discussing with the manufacturing interests concerned an increased margin, which is merely a polite way of saying "enabling them to increase the price to the consumer." Thus the net effect of all these items which we are considering tonight is that the consumer will have to pay at least £5,700,000 more in the purchase of articles containing sugar, the taxpayer will pay £9,800,000 more in subsidies through his taxes, direct or indirect, while the housewife, as far as concerns her actual purchases of eggs, butter and cheese, will notice no appreciable difference whatever.

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, may I make this observation?

I thought the hon. Gentleman was going to ask a question. He may ask a question, but he may not make an observation.

May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman was in Order in using the word" wangle as applied to the activities and operations of the Ministry of Food?

It would have been more appropriate to have done so at the time, rather than after the right hon. Gentleman had resumed his seat. However, the answer to the point of Order is that the word "wangle" is not un-parliamentary and therefore the right hon. Gentleman was not out of Order.

11 p.m.

I want to direct my very brief remarks exclusively to the first Order, which concerns cheese. There is one question which the Parliamentary Secretary has left entirely unexplained, and I should like to ask her to deal with it. The main Order which we are now amending is left intact as regards certain imported cheeses. We are still left with a retail price of 3s. per pound for imported blue-vein cheese—that is the so-called Danish gorgonzola—a price of 6s. per pound for Roquefort, and 25. 6d. per Camembert cheese which, I think, works out at about 5s. a pound.

Why should the prices of cheeses which everybody in England wants to buy— Wensleydale, Stilton and English cheddar—be reduced to 10d. per pound, when such very high prices are still to be charged for these imported cheeses? They are not of the highest classes. The Camembert is only winter Camembert, and is not made of cream, but of rather poor milk. The Danish gorgonzola is not gorgonzola at all, and Roquefort is really the only imported cheese which is worth the price. I understand that the British cheeses, namely, Wensleydale, Stilton and British cheddar are on the ration, whereas all imported cheeses, except imported cheddar, commonly known as "mousetrap," are on points. The other day I asked, when one paid 10d. per pound for Wensleydale and Stilton, how much one was contributing to the cost, and how much the taxpayer was contributing. I was given the astonishing information that when one paid 10d., double that amount, i.e., 1s. 7½d., was being contributed by the taxpayer. In other words, the buyer only pays one-third of the cost of Wensleydale, Stilton or British cheddar.

Everyone is anxious to avoid "mousetrap" and buy any other of these cheeses if he can. Unfortunately, they are very hard to come by. When the Parliamentary Secretary said the other day that these cheeses were only an acquired taste, there was a perfect outcry from the Press of all parties, which is still going on. It has been going on for the last six weeks, and even that well-known Socialist, Mr. Joad, the other day denounced the hon. Lady for making the statement that these cheeses were an acquired taste. I assert that every wage-earner is just as willing to buy, at the full cost of production, British Stilton, Wensleydale or cheddar as the West-End clubman, whoever he may be, whom the Parliamentary Secretary denounced. The Chancellor said the other day that the food subsidies were too high. It is therefore a pure waste of the taxpayers' money to subsidise to the extent of two-thirds of their cost, these British cheeses, when everyone in England would be perfectly willing to pay the entire cost of them. I make this practical suggestion. Why not put all these so-called unquired taste cheeses on points and leave "mousetrap" on the ration? Then everyone who wanted to buy Stilton, Wensleydale, British cheddar, Roquefort, Camembert, Brie or gorgonzola could get what they wanted without cost to the British taxpayer, and everyone who had an unacquired taste could buy "mousetrap at 10d. per pound?

11.5 p.m.

I want to express my extreme disappointment with the Tory Party tonight at the way they have brought forward this question of subsidies, because I think they should thank the Ministry of Food for what that Department have done about the manufacturing of sugar. I wonder why the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) did not congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and her Department, for acting sensibly in this matter, and saving in stopping the nonsense of subsidising milk bars and other people, who have been charging fantastic prices while receiving benefit from the Ministry.

I took objection to the hon. Lady suggesting that the elimination of subsidies would have no effect on the cost to the consumer.

I hope that the Tory Government will—as I shall try to do— encourage the Government to comb out every unnecessary and unimportant subsidy. These subsidies were started by Lord Woolton, were carried on by Lord Llewellin, and have gone on far too long under this Government. They ought to have been dealt with long ago. The Tory Party have been very silent about dried eggs—

If we are not careful we shall roam over the whole range of foodstuffs. Dried eggs do not come within the scope of this Debate.

I am sorry, Sir. What we have heard from Members opposite tonight is only part of the nonsense they put forward when wanting to attack something with which they do not really disagree. They do not really disagree with the Ministry of Food—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) raises every kind of detail that does not really matter so that he can build up a case. When he gets an answer such as the Parliamentary Secretary gave him tonight he ought, in honesty, to get up and say, "The sensible explanation which the hon. Lady has given is very convincing, and is good economics, and we are very grateful to her." The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) said that every kind of cheese—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name them."] As an old grocer, I could probably give a longer list than the hon. Member gave—

There - as sound reasoning in the case which the hon. Member put forward, that we should wipe out every form of subsidy from these various odds and ends of cheese that are covered by the acquired-taste group. It is far better that we should recognise the principle that the ration means the ration which is commonly consumed by the average citizen and that that type of cheese should be subsidised, but that all the other odds and ends, whether they come from Italy, from Denmark, or from Port —[An HON. MEMBER: "Sunlight."] I was going to say another port, but there is Port Sunlight processed cheese, and it is also subsidised. The point that matters is the very important one of whether, for all these little groups of cheese that are available on points, we should pay any subsidy. Personally, I do not think that, apart from the ration, there should be one penny piece allocated to that particular group, but I believe that on potatoes or bread—I do not think the Tory Party object to that—

The Debate cannot range over the whole question of subsidies. It must be confined to the five Orders to which the Motions relate.

I contend that on the five Orders the adjustments are sensible, they are in keeping with the policy of the Government, and are in the main in keeping with the policy of the Tory Party, so that 'I think we ought to go home very well satisfied that we have a very good, efficient policy at the Ministry of Food.

May I ask the hon. Member whether he agrees with me that what he calls the odds and ends which are on the ration, namely, Wensleydale, Stilton, British Cheddar, and so on, should not be subsidised to the extent of 66 per cent.?

Any of the odds and ends that are actually within the ration should be the subject of subsidy.

In view of the fact that, as I think hon. Members will agree, we have elicited a great deal of very useful information, and information which is very damaging to the Government, and in view of the fact that my hon. Friends who have spoken have shown up the position with regard to this reduction in the retail price for butter, cheese and eggs, I think there is no reason for pursuing this matter further, and, therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.