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Milk Prices

Volume 496: debated on Tuesday 26 February 1952

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10.20 p.m.

I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Milk (Control and Maximum Prices) (Great Britain) (Amendment No. 3) Order, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 2065), dated 28th November, 1951, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th November, 1951, be annulled.
I think it would be for the convenience of the House and would very much expedite our consideration of these matters if we could have a general debate on this Prayer and the two succeeding Prayers on the Order Paper. The second and third are:
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Milk (Control and Maximum Prices) (Northern Ireland) (Amendment No. 2) Order, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 2066), dated 28th November, 1951, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th November, 1951, be annulled.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Chocolate, Sugar Confectionery and Cocoa Products (Amendment No. 2) Order, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 2067), dated 28th November, 1951, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th November, 1951, be annulled.

I think that might be a convenient course, if it suits the Parliamentary Secretary.

I have no objections.

We shall, of course, have to put each Prayer at the end of the debate, but one discussion will cover the lot.

I am much obliged. Perhaps I can mention briefly what these Statutory Instruments do. The first Order, No. 2065, is an amending Order increasing as from 1st December last the maximum prices of milk by 4d. a gallon. The second Order, No. 2066, is also an amending Order which increases from 1st December, 1951, the maximum retail prices of milk to the same amount in Northern Ireland.

The point in which I am interested in the third Order—Order No. 2067 of 1951—is that it extends the scale of maximum prices of classified sugar confectionery, previously limited to 5s. a pound, to 5s. 10s. a pound.

If I may deal with the last Order first, I think it is objectionable because this does not seem to me to be a time when we should allow manufacturers to increase the maximum prices. If the manufacturers—and no doubt they have proved their case—could not, in fact, produce these lines at cheaper prices, I think the Minister ought to have obliged them to concentrate upon the production of the cheaper lines.

I think that is especially reasonable in view of the fact that the Minister himself has progressively reduced, and is no doubt going on reducing, the sweet ration. I know quite well from experience what arguments can be raised about this. It can be argued that on a reduced turnover the unit profit margin must be increased. But we have to realise that in manufacture and all trading concerns we have to take the ups and downs. It would have been far better if the Minister had resisted this application to increase the maximum prices of these lines.

But I regard as far more serious the first two Orders, which increase the prices of milk. I am concerned primarily with the retail prices of milk. Any consideration of the question of a price in- crease of this character must depend upon the policy of the Minister and the Government about food subsidies, and I am in this difficulty—I quite frankly anticipate what the Parliamentary Secretary may be going to say—that the House can no longer place any reliance whatever on anything the Parliamentary Secretary may say. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]

I will give an illustration. The House will remember that we discussed the question of the Christmas bonuses, and the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary said they were driven to the course they took because of the stock position. What did the Minister say in this House only last week when I challenged him on the heavy stocks that his Ministry is carrying? These are his words:
"I tried to explain that these vast stocks were mostly acquired up to November last year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1952; Vol. 496, c. 521.]
I invited the right hon. Gentleman to apologise to the House—

On a point of order. May I ask you Sir, what the Christmas bonuses and the vast stocks that have been accumulated have to do with milk or chocolate or sugar confectionery or cocoa products?

The point I am prepared to argue is this. We are discussing a price increase consequent upon the decision of the Government to keep within the subsidy ceiling. If that is so, then surely we cannot be precluded from considering the stock position, because the realisation of stocks affects the subsidy position.

I suggest that there are no stocks of fresh milk that are kept. I suggest that to the hon. Member, who is now making his case just as badly as he did when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food.

The subsidy position of the Ministry of Food is affected by the amount of its sales. If it sells more, for instance, of a subsidised food, then it has to face an increased amount which must be provided within the subsidy ceiling, if the policy is to have a subsidy ceiling. However, I shall not deal with this any further except to touch upon this further point regarding stocks. The Minister last week, also referring to the stock position of subsidised foods, referred to tea. He said that tea stocks were not—

I think the hon. Gentleman is going beyond the Order now. There is nothing about tea in this, is there?

May I call your attention to the fact, Sir, that these Orders are signed by the Minister of Food? Surely it is proper for my hon. Friend to argue that, because of the statement made about stocks, this signature on the Order can no longer have the credence of this House?

Surely, in discussing whether or not this House should accept this Order we are up against the fact that it proposes an increase of 4d. in the price per gallon of milk. In considering whether this is justified or not we must have regard to the total amount available to the Ministry of Food for subsidies. Therefore, it is surely open to hon. Members to argue that the price of milk should not be increased, but that that of some other commodity affected by the subsidy should be.

I think the hon. Gentleman dealt with the larger point. He is now going on to things like tea. We could deal with such subjects for a very long time.

I have no wish to prolong the debate unduly, but I would return to this point about stocks. It is relevant in two senses. One is that the stocks held by the Ministry are worth a certain cash value. Whether that cash value is realised, and so made available, is a matter which does affect the financial position of the Ministry of Food. It also affects, directly, the subsidy position, and although I cannot anticipate what the Parliamentary Secretary is going to say, I am content to leave the matter in this way.

I will not, in view of your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, pursue this subject any further. But, as I mentioned tea, I would just say that if we have lower stocks of tea now compared with 12 months ago, we ought to be told where the tea has gone, because the Trade and Navigation Returns show that we have received considerably more tea than over the previous 12 months.

I really must ask you, Sir, if it is possible for us to discuss the whole question of food subsidies on these three narrowly drawn Orders? I ask that because the hon. Member opposite says, in discussing the question of the increase in the price of milk, or chocolate, that it will be legitimate to discuss the subsidy on tea and other food products, and the stocks which the Ministry may, or may not, hold. Would you please say if we can discuss the whole question of the food subsidies?

On a point of order. Since the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) has admitted that he did not know which Order referred to what, and that he had not read the Orders, may I explain that they provide for £6 million reduction in the food subsidies? Therefore, I respectfully suggest that the subject is obviously open for discussion.

No, the whole of the food subsidies cannot be discussed. The first Order, which we are now discussing, deals only with milk, and the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said he was about to finish the point he was making.

I intended to indicate that I was ready and willing to leave the point about stocks, as you say, Sir, but I wanted to deal with the subsidy issue because this price increase becomes necessary as a result of the Ministry having fixed the subsidy ceiling at £410 million. Is it the case that the Ministry has out-run that and the increase is, therefore, necessary? Will the Parliamentary Secretary confirm that?

I think the whole House has been a little dismayed by the behaviour of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) in not appreciating which Order was being discussed. It was agreed when Mr. Speaker was in the Chair that the three Orders might be taken together, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) was dealing with the third that is the one which deals with chocolate.

The whole point of what is the right price for these commodities must depend on how many of these commodities there are in stock and can be brought out at the old price, or what profit the Ministry can make beyond this and, thus, for that reason, we are making our inquiry into the stock position. If we cannot discuss the stock position, there is no basis for knowing upon what it is that the charge is based. If there are no stocks, for example, one would expect a far higher charge than if there were stocks in existence.

It seems to me that the House is called upon to discuss the increase in the price of milk. It is quite impossible for us to make up our minds on that issue unless we also make reference to the other subsidies which the Government have to bear in mind because of the ceiling imposed over the whole range of commodities. It is impossible to see whether the price of milk should be raised without discussing what effect that policy will have on the other items covered by the subsidies.

There may be some logic in that, but it is not according to the Rules of the House.

On a point of order. I had deferred raising this point of order until one of the hon. Members from Northern Ireland was here. I have been very worried since I have been in the Chamber this evening, because one Order relates entirely to Northern Ireland and it has always been the custom, certainly in the last Government, when an Order relating to Northern Ireland has been debated in the House for one of the Ministers from the Home Office to be present to deal with it. That is most important.

I see that one has just arrived. He has not heard what has been said. I also understand that he is the Minister for Welsh Affairs. There are two Ministers in the Home Office who are concerned with Northern Ireland, and it is an insult to that great and loyal part of Northern Ireland that it should here be fobbed off with a reply on behalf of the Government by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food. This is a serious point. We are not being treated with the dignity that this matter deserves. I hope to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and make much of that point, because it is relevant.

On a point of order. As an attack has been made upon me by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), and the hon and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), accusing me of not having read the Orders, and as I see none of the Orders in the hands of the hon. Member for Oldham, West—

Surely it is rather a personal affront for an hon. Member to accuse another hon. Member, who is prepared to enter into a debate on these Orders, of not having read them when I have done so and have them in my hand and am willing to discuss them with any hon. Member.

On a point of order. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) referred to Northern Ireland. Where are the Northern Ireland Members of his party, apart from the unofficial ones? Not one is here.

There is a Minister here to reply. We had better get on with the debate.

On a point of order. Is it in order for an hon. and gallant Member to misrepresent the attendance of another hon. Member?

I willingly withdraw. To be honest, although I am a fairly regular attender in the House, I did not recognise the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Beattie).

The Minister of Food need not have raised these prices. In an explanation which he has given publicly he said that he has been obliged to raise them because of the decision to keep within the food subsidies ceiling of £410 million. In explaining to the House how it comes about that at present the subsidies are running at over £410 million, he has given us some very confusing figures. The statement attached to the Supplementary Estimates is open to some serious points of criticism.

I return to the explanation which has been given by the Minister of the present price increase. He said that it is necessary to increase the price of milk to enable the Ministry to remain within the £410 million which the Government has agreed should be the subsidy ceiling. It can be said that the hon. Gentleman, and his right hon. Friend, if they are in difficulties always quote precedent. They say that they are doing what the last Government did. The hon. Gentleman is not doing that.

The last Government, when it thought it proper, exceeded the ceiling which had been set. It is true that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Labour Government dealt with prices, or possible price increases, in the summer during the economic debate he suggested that if there were further pressure upon the food subsidy ceiling there would probably have to be price increases. But the circumstances then were very different.

My right hon. Friend the then Chancellor of the Exchequer said there would have to be re-introduction of price controls, and we at the Ministry of Food took steps for the re-introduction of fish price control. If that control had been proceeded with, prices would be much less than they are now.

The hon. Gentleman has been a Minister and knows that he is going beyond these Orders.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who after all, is responsible and answerable for the decision about the subsidy ceiling suggested that in the situation obtaining in the summer there ought to be further price control, the present—

If the hon. Gentleman states that the Chancellor is responsible for the ceiling surely it is not possible to discuss such matters on these Orders, which have been signed by the Minister of Food.

For the edification of the hon. Baronet, the position is that the Government, through the Chancellor, imposes the subsidy ceiling for the Ministry of Food to operate and to decide where there are to be price increases.

Then it is the responsibility of the Minister in these Orders which have to be discussed, and not the overriding decision of the Chancellor.

That is true, and I have said so, though perhaps not in such plain language, to the hon. Gentleman, several times already.

If the Government would raise the ceiling these price increases would not be necessary. If we carry these Prayers tonight the Government could raise the ceiling tomorrow.

That is a hypothetical question which we are not considering. We are only considering the Orders.

It must be in order to discuss the effects of the annulment of these Orders.

On a point of order. Does that decision mean that we cannot mention subsidies; and that the Parliamentary Secretary will not be able to mention subsidies when he tries to justify these Orders?

The point on all these Orders is that hon. Members can only discuss what is in them.

But you have actually given a Ruling regarding the actual mentioning of subsidies, Sir. The Parliamentary Secretary has to try to justify these Orders. Will he be allowed to mention subsidies?

I want now, Sir Charles, to deal with the point to which you asked me to address myself—the effect of the annulment of this Order—and also to point out by way of illustration that there is no comparison between the position obtaining today and that obtaining in the summer when the Chancellor in the last Government dealt with the question of such price increases. If this Order is annulled the Treasury will have to allow a raising of the food subsidy ceiling.

The question therefore arises whether there is money available at the Treasury to allow a raising of the food subsidy ceiling. I understand that there is, but there was not in the summer, because in the summer the Treasury were proceeding on the assumption that we should be able fully to complete that part of the re-armament programme which had been planned for this financial year. We have now received the information that it is no longer possible to do that. The money has been raised on the assumption that it would be possible, so that if this Prayer be successful, and if the Order be annulled, we need not be unduly concerned, because the Treasury have the money to avoid any unpleasant consequences.

I want to deal with another reason why the hon. Gentleman should not persist with this Order. As I pointed out the other night, I realise that he is, with his right hon. Friend, a National Liberal: he is not a Conservative. I have tried to find out what are the policies of the National Liberals on such matters as we are discussing tonight—price controls—and the only statement of policy on what we are discussing tonight that I can discover is that the National Liberals
"believe that it is essential to freedom that money should be allowed to fructify in the pockets of the people."
Well, I do not know what that means. I do not even know whether I am in order—

I can guide the hon. Gentleman on the last point. I think he is going back long before the date of the Order in what he is now quoting.

No, Sir. This is a recent statement by the National Liberal Party. If the hon. Gentleman pays any regard to what he said to the electorate he ought to feel that now is the appropriate moment to withdraw this Order. But this, after all, is not a National Liberal Administration: it is a Conservative Adminstration. I therefore looked at the Conservative Party programme to see whether they had any mandate for increasing the price of milk, and I find that they have no such mandate.

I want to keep this part of my speech as short as possible, so I will quote from only one of the pamphlets issued during the General Election. It was headed:
"It's Up To You."

If we are to go back to the General Election I think we shall be here a long, long time.

I indicated that I do not want to dwell for long on this point, but I think it is in order to say that the action being proposed, the present price increase, is contrary to the undertakings and pledges that the party opposite gave to the people at the recent General Election. The Conservative Party, in asking the electorate to vote Conservative, said the people were

"hard up through high prices and fed up with small food rations."

Hon. Gentlemen opposite agree that that was their Election policy. It was certainly agreed by all those who observed the election to be the major factor which gave the party opposite their present slender majority.

If the hon. Gentleman has any political integrity, then I think he should accept what financial consequences there may be, but withdraw this price increase. It is within the power of the present Government to avoid this price increase. When this is avoidable, to come to the House now, after pledges so recently given, is a political disgrace, reflecting upon the party opposite. Another reason why this avoidable price increase should be avoided today is that we are living in a dangerously inflationary situation.

The Minister of Food, referred the other day to price increases generally and made comparison with the position obtaining before. But this is the true comparison. We know now that the January figure for the cost-of-living index showed an increase of two points. In the first three months of the Tory Administration, the cost-of-living has gone up three points. Let us compare it with the previous three months of the Labour Government. Then the cost-of-living went up one point—

I think the hon. Gentleman should not try my patience too severely. He knows perfectly well how far he can go on these Orders.

I must persist in this argument. I am at present being allowed to argue, rightly or wrongly, that the present price increase is avoidable. If it is avoidable, surely, it is relevant to argue that we are in an inflationary position when the avoidable ought to be avoidable.

If we are to discuss all the implications of inflation on these Orders we shall go far beyond the Rules of Order.

I will say no more on this and pass on to my next point.

If we compare with the immediately preceding three months or the corresponding three months last year, the rate of increase of the cost-of-living index at present it is three times what it was under a Labour Government. That is a very serious inflationary position, in which the Government, if it be within its power, ought to avoid all price increases. Supposing the hon. Gentleman says that, in spite of all these arguments and, in spite of the weight of the case against him, he must have, nevertheless, a price increase to provide this sum to set-off against the subsidy ceiling, why should it be milk of all foodstuffs?

The hon. Gentleman, if he runs true to form, again will quote precedent and say we increased the price of milk. That is the very reason, of course, why he should not increase the price of milk. It has already borne an increase. When we increased the price of milk on a previous occasion in the summer, and the party opposite did not pray against it, we carefully considered what effect it might have upon the consumption. We came to the conclusion that it would not affect consumption adversely to any marked degree. We were right.

Although production of milk, as the present Minister of Food now says, was less than the previous year owing to the weather, the consumption of fresh milk in 1951 was greater than the previous year. If we take the two months before the imposition of this price increase, the con- sumption of fresh milk, which is the milk affected by this Order, was greater than for the corresponding period of the previous year. If we look at the position now, though it is early to dogmatise about it, the situation obtaining after the imposition of the present price increase shows that there has been a very serious fall in the consumption of fresh milk.

If we compare December, 1951, which is the first month after the imposition of the price increase we are now discussing, with December, 1950, we find that there was a fall of two million gallons of milk, which, I believe, is a very serious matter for the country. I believe it indicates that we were right. I will give another illustration which will assist the House in coming to a judgment on this question. We faced then, and will face for a considerable time, difficulties in the autumn of the year in matching up milk production with consumption. We face a difficulty this year.

The suggestion was made in certain quarters that we ought to increase the price of milk, so that it would be easier to match production with consumption.

For the last 10 minutes the hon. Gentleman has been using generalities about suggestions made in certain quarters. Will he tell us what those quarters were?

As I have repeatedly told the hon. Gentleman, I have a habit of making my speech in my own way.

I am telling the House that the suggestion came from certain responsible quarters—[HON. MEMBERS: "What quarters?"] If the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will conduct some research, they will find out from which quarters they came. The argument was seriously made that we could avoid this recurrent difficulty of matching consumption with production by increasing the price. It was for that very reason that we were not prepared to consider that suggestion.

Milk is not a food which ought to bear that increased price because it has already borne an increase in the summer. The fears which we had about a further increase in price seem to be borne out already, although it is too early to say definitely that this is so. If we look to milk as a food, we find that, for the financial year, milk is bearing today a much less subsidy than was anticipated when the original estimates were laid before the House. In other words, we cannot say that it is because of the increased cost of milk that it ought to bear an increased price. The facts are just to the contrary.

If we take the unit subsidy margin, we estimated, at the beginning of this financial year, that milk would bear a unit margin of 3d. per quart. The last figure I have seen for 1951–52 shows that milk is bearing a unit subsidy of 2¼d., and this price increase has been operating only a short time. Therefore, it is quite clear that the unit subsidy margin on milk today is less than 2d. In other words, the Government, by this price increase, have heavily cut into the subsidy enjoyed by milk.

It cannot be said that this price increase is consequent upon the special Farm Price Review. I will tell the House what the National Farmers' Union have to say about this:
"That 4d. on milk; it goes to the Exchequer. To correct any misunderstanding about the recent increase in the price of milk the N.F.U. wish to emphasise that the 4d. per gallon increase in the retail price goes, not to the farmer nor the retailer, but to the Exchequer. This 4d. increase has no direct connection with the award made at the recent special Price Review, when the price paid to the farmer for milk was increased by only.68d. per gallon to off-set higher production costs resulting from the recent agricultural wage award."
This price increase operated before the special price award was made. They also anticipated what I regretfully anticipate.
"Should, however, consumption of milk fall because of the higher retail price, the retailers' income would be less than before."
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not quarrel with the statement by the N.F.U. about the increase in the price of milk. If the Minister of Food had wanted to save money at the expense of the milk subsidy he could have had a look at the subsidy now enjoyed by some of the trade users. I know from experience the administrative difficulties involved, but I think that if he was determined to reduce the subsidy on milk it would have been more profitable for him to spend his time looking at this particular problem regarding the milk subsidy, rather than penalising the housewife and children which is what he is doing by this price increase.

If one is obliged to consider price increases consequent upon the decision to remain within the subsidy ceiling we have to look at all the foodstuffs. We have to look at the position from various points of view. One of the most important that 1 and my right hon. Friend considered was the nutritional angle. If a price increase is obligatory we have to pay attention to all the consequences nutritionally and see whether they are avoidable.

I am quite sure that as the old "Radio Doctor" the hon. Gentleman would pay regard to the nutritional consequences of the decision which he might feel obliged to take regarding price increases. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has a particular love for animal proteins because he has already told the House so. He has stressed the importance of animal proteins and gave a picture of the men at the benches not pursuing their work as energetically as they might for want of animal proteins. He said we might get a smaller daily output of work if we could not increase the amount of animal proteins in our food.

The foods that one would surely safeguard and the foods to which one would look if one wanted more animal proteins are meat, bacon, fish, rabbits, butter, cheese, eggs and, of course, milk. What has the hon. Gentleman done to help the worker to get more animal proteins? He has cut the meat ration. The meat ration is lower than it has ever been. He has cut the butter ration—

Is the hon. Member saying that the meat ration is lower than it was last year?

Yes, the meat ration is lower than it was a year ago. Those are the two ration cuts, and looking at the problem of what price increases were to be selected the hon. Gentleman knew that he had cut the meat ration, although the Minister has told us that we have larger stocks than last year. He cut the meat ration and, by keeping a temporary cut permanent, he has cut the butter ration.

He has also looked to the other animal protein foods. The Minister told the House on Monday that he has increased the price of bacon and of cheese. The price of fish has increased because he did not re-impose controls. Fish and meat paste has increased in price, rabbits have increased in price, and now he has increased the price of milk. There is hardly an animal protein food that has not been either reduced in the amount of the ration or increased in price.

It seems that the hon. Gentleman has specially sorted out the animal protein foods when he has been considering either ration cuts or price increases. The animal protein food we are now discussing is most important of all. The explanation can only be that the co-ordinating peer, for some reason or other, is determined to frustrate and humble the hon. Gentleman. Of all the attacks that both of them have made upon the housewife this is the most objectionable.

Milk is entirely home produced. We are all proud that we have increased milk production by almost half as much again as it was before the war; and I am proud of what the farmers have done. I am also proud of the advantage that has been taken to give a subsidy on milk to serve a social purpose.

What do we find? While milk production has increased by half as much again compared with before the war, the consumption of fresh milk by the working class has been doubled and by the poorest classes of all has been nearly trebled. As for the milk policy of the previous Government, we are proud that by price control and subsidy we have enabled those in greatest need to enjoy the increased production that has been achieved.

But I was rather worried when I was at the Ministry of Food that some evidence was already appearing that people with large families were not enjoying as much milk as they ought to have, in spite of the welfare schemes. I see the hon. Gentleman nods; he is equally aware of this factor. Therefore, I should have thought the last thing he would have done would have been to increase the price of milk in considering the whole range of subsidised foodstuff's.

I can only think that by this step the hon. Gentleman is taking a deliberate step calculated to discourage the increased consumption of fresh milk to make it easier to match consumption and production. I would rather he faced the difficulties. He is setting the clock back and marking the beginning of a radical change in subsidy policy.

The Order clearly reveals the different objectives of the two political parties. It is admitted that we on this side believe that the subsidy should be used primarily, nowadays, for social ends; the party opposite have never agreed with this and they believe that it should serve as some economic device. Viscount Waverley said a few days ago that this scheme of food subsidies was not conceived as a social service, it was in essence an economic device to keep the level of wages and prices stable.

On a point of order. It was ruled by your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, that it was grossly out of Order to discuss food subsidies generally. That reference that is being made to a speech in another place is a specific reference to food subsidies generally. Is that out of order?

Further to that point of order. Your predecessor ruled, Sir, that such questions were hypothetical and would have to be dealt with as they arose.

I was about to rise to my feet because I thought the hon. Gentleman was straying outside the confines of what was permissible under a Statutory Order. These Orders only permit an increase of prices, and there is a new definition of chocolate. A discussion on the whole question of food subsidies cannot be erected on such a slender basis.

I apologise if I have gone beyond the limits of what is permissible. I will conclude by saying that a choice has to be taken of which foods should bear the increase. Taking the choice the hon. Gentleman has done has revealed the political difference between the two sides of the House. These Orders do mark a difference in outlook towards food price increases, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will pay regard to what has been said and think again.

11.12 p.m.

I beg to second the Motion.

As the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) seemed to think I said something to misrepresent the intervention he made I will give a specific answer to his question. If he will refer to the three Orders he will find that the two Orders which increase the price of milk are the Milk Orders and the Order dealing with confectionery is the Confectionery Order. I hope that makes the matter plain to him.

The Order relating to confectionery increases the price by 10d. per lb., and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary, if and when he replies—no doubt in accordance with the new tradition of the House he will postpone his reply to the latest possible moment—to tell us what are the costs that have caused the increase, how this conforms with the anti-inflationary policy of the Cabinet, how it conforms with the detailed criticisms on prices we were subjected to week after week in the last Parliament, and how it conforms with the policy put to the electors at the last election.

There was some dubiety last night on the question of declaration of interest, so may I say that I have no interest myself in the price of milk. I am 49 years, and for the last 48 years I have not been a large-scale consumer. But my interest in milk was aroused some 27 years ago when I was a member of a county council in a dairy farming county and a member of the agricultural education committee. We initiated a policy of supplying milk to school children if they could afford to pay for it. We supplied one-third of a pint a day to children at a small price.

We did not do that because we thought children needed it, but because we could not in those days sell the milk. But we were faced with the difficulty that the Leicestershire cows were not fully apprised of the details of what may be called the Orpington theory of supply and demand. There were in the county many families that greatly needed milk, but in the terms of economics there was no effective demand because many families could not afford to pay, and the cows not having been apprised of this, and being probably indignant at the advice of the Farmers' Union that half the milk should be poured down the drain, went on producing and we had some difficulty in disposing of the milk.

But the substance of this point, which we wish to convey to Her Majesty if this Prayer is successful, is that we happened to have a very active medical officer who took the weights and sizes of the children who got approximately a third of a pint a day, and those who did not get any; and the result of that remarkable test was so startling that I have never forgotten it but regard it as one of the most graphic political illustrations I have ever known.

The Parliamentary Secretary, who often gave us advice when we knew him as the "Radio Doctor," has often spoken of the beneficial results of taking this commodity; I have not followed the advice in detail, but have well understood that he would not argue with me if I suggested that, in these days of strain, a substantial increase in the price of this commodity becomes a matter of great moment.

There has been some discussion, and you, Sir, have the advantage of advice from your predecessor upon the subject of the ambit of this debate. But may I inform you that the Parliamentary Secretary was good enough to give the House a Written answer to a Question on this subject recently and what he said was the result of this Order is that £2 million will go to the producers and distributors of milk, and £6 million to the Treasury?

In those circumstances, I submit that it is well within the Rules of debate that we should venture to suggest that one of the matters which Her Majesty may have to consider if our Prayer is successful is where that money is going and whether it ought to go to that precise destination. In the Parliamentary Secretary's answer there was reference to an increase last May—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—well, I may have got the wrong month, but I think the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that about that time there was a price increase and I would ask him now if he wishes to intervene and tell us—because we were not given the information previously—how much went to the retailer, or the wholesaler, how much to the farmer, and how much to the Treasury. I am suggesting that not a penny piece went to the Treasury. Will the hon. Gentleman answer?

It was always the policy of the last Government for the price to be kept down on the principle that milk should be a subsidised item. But the result of the operation of this Order is a tax of 3¼d. to help to pay for re-armament, or whatever one cares to suggest, and that is the most shocking thing that I think I have heard in this House for some time—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, perhaps that is putting it a little too high, but it is one of many shocking things. Of course, the Parliamentary Secretary may say that it is not a tax because it reduces the subsidy, but either it is a reduction of subsidy or a tax on subsidised milk.

Surely he will tell us what were the reasons that prompted the Government to take this action because I understand that the National Farmers' Union does not agree that the price increase was necessitated. We have had some unusual things happen in the House during this debate. We on this side, during the tenure of office of Her Majesty's present Government, have not used the weapon of Prayers against Statutory Rules and Orders at all, although in the last House there was a deliberate campaign of organised obstruction on the part of the party opposite by the use of this procedure.

On a point of order. Is this in any way relevant to any of the three Orders?

I appreciate what you say, Mr. Speaker. I will put my point as I had intended to put it. We regard it as important because this is the first Prayer that we have tabled since 25th October. We have deliberately abstained from the policy which was adopted in the last Parliament of using Prayers as a political weapon instead of as a means of resolving social injustices and legislative anomalies.

We ask the Parliamentary Secretary to be frank about this. Even in his Written answers there seems a certain coyness about this matter, an unassuming modesty which we have not come to associate with him when we have heard him addressing a wider audience throughout the land.

How did it come about? Who decided it? Was it decided by the Minister of Food? Was it decided by the noble Lord the Minister for the Co-ordination of Food and Agriculture, or by the Cabinet? Or did it come from above? Or was it a suggestion by the Treasury, who said that they were hard up? We are entitled to know. I would willingly give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to answer. We are entitled to an answer now. [HON. MEMBERS: "He cannot answer."]

I have referred to the fact that this is the first time that we have prayed against a Statutory Rule and Order in this Parliament. If I were expressing my own opinion, I should not hesitate to say that in these days of encircling gloom, when the bruised and battered shoulders of the British people are having new and unprecedented burdens put upon them, when the anxious observer looking with foreboding at the political sky sees only the darkening clouds which presage the gathering storm, when this once the great palladium of our liberties is fast becoming the necropolis of the people's aspirations, I should not hesitate to suggest that we might well be doing our duty by sitting here de die in diem grappling with the problems that confront the nation and with the increasing burdens that confront humanity; and I should be willing to take my humble share of that task. But my right hon. Friends above the Gangway have not yet taken that serious decision, and I bow to their judgment.

I have this to say to the Parliamentary Secretary. Of all the things that were done in the bad old days, the cut in the milk ration was on the whole the one which redounded least to the credit of the Tory Government of that day. Of all the things that were done, that always seemed the most incredible and the most mean. What they have done today is not to cut supplies but to increase prices, to put a taxation on an essential commodity, one essential to the health of the community.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to face that matter and to say fully and completely to the House why and how and under whose instructions it was done. I have heard no reason given and I have heard no explanation of the Order, and, in default of any explanation, the nation will be entitled to assume that it is a deliberate campaign against the health and the prosperity of the people.

11.24 p.m.

On a point of order. Are we to have no announcement at all from the Government Front Bench? So far in the debate we have had no word of what the Orders mean and what their effect will be.

There could not be any such announcement, because the Motion has only just been moved and seconded. It is for the Parliamentary Secretary to say when he judges it to be appropriate to reply to the debate.

On a point of order. Are we to understand that the debate on this Prayer is to proceed to its close before we have a whisper from the Front Bench of the Government of any reason for the Order and the consequent increase of prices?

I do not think the hon. Member should assume that, but it is for the Parliamentary Secretary to say when he wishes to intervene.

But are we not entitled to an indication of the intention of the Front Bench of whether we can expect any such explanation for these price increases?

I think the answer is that the intentions of the Government are displayed in the Order, and as to the reply, that will be made in due course, no doubt.

I was saying that times had changed. I well remember making speeches from the same seat as the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), who has just spoken, when the hon. Member who moved the Prayer would be answering for the Government in regard to the Orders for which he was responsible. I have to disclose that I have an interest in the milk industry, and I am proud of it. It is an interest in a company. It pays a lot of tax. I do not want to talk only about milk, but upon the chocolate Order, and I have no interest in chocolate.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey), was, I would say, guilty of three incredible effronteries. He had to defend hundreds of price increasing Orders—

I think the hon. Gentleman will realise, if he looks back, that on the only occasion on which the then Opposition prayed against a price Order to which I replied the Order was concerned with sacks.

On these Statutory Orders the debate is strictly limited and I do not see the relevance of this history. The question is whether the maximum permitted price of milk is to go up 4d. a gallon.

I will try to keep within the Rules of Order, Mr. Speaker. I am trying to answer some of the arguments which the hon. Gentleman put forward before you resumed your seat in the Chair.

The hon. Member has accused H.M. Government of making certain price increases which are unnecessary. I would say that comes ill from the Parliamentary Secretary of a Government which produced so many Orders that it was impossible for us to keep pace with them. We could not compete with the number of Orders which increased the price of various commodities from time to time. But one would expect increases in the prices of commodities to result with an incompetent Government.

The present Government has been in office only a short time, and the number of Orders increasing prices, of which the three under discussion are examples, have been kept to a minimum, and are the direct result of previous bad administration. The second complaint made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, was about the small rations that have been given to the community by the present Government.

There is nothing in this Order about rations. It is purely a question of the price.

With the greatest respect, Sir, all these points were made, with the leniency of your predecessor in the Chair —[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—not a bit. There was no reflection meant in that remark; none whatever. With the greatest respect, Mr. Speaker, the question of prices and of the smallness of the ration was raised in the speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North. A great part of his speech he devoted, not to the present price increase, but to the smallness of the ration of, not only milk and chocolate, but of other commodities such as tea and fish; and even armaments were mentioned.

I was not here, but I understand that hon. Members who tried to introduce extraneous topics such as fish and tea were checked by the Chair. Certainly, it is the duty of the Chair now to check any further references to them. The debate must be confined strictly to the Order.

I will leave that point. I content myself with asking: How can we expect greater rations with the empty larder that was left by the last Government?

On a point of order. Is it not a great effrontery when you, Mr. Speaker, have just given that Ruling, for the hon. Gentleman in his very next breath to refer to the smallness of the larder left by the previous Government?

I did not hear that as I was talking to another hon. Member but I now ask the hon. Gentleman to confine himself to the Order.

I had left that point, anyhow. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw.") Not a bit of it. I have nothing to withdraw.

The hon. Gentleman has just said that the present Government found the larder empty. Is he now asserting that on the morning following the Election of a new Government—

The third effrontery of which I think the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, was guilty was in making a speech of interminable length at such an hour of the evening. Those are the three criticisms I have of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

If I may say so, I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West. I took in good part the comments he made about by knowledge of the Orders. As a matter of fact, I had read them; I was fully aware of what was in them. The mover of the Motion began by asking if he might take the three Orders at the same time, and said "I am now going on to deal with the first Order." I therefore merely asked which one of the three he would deal with first. I was fully aware of the contents of the three Orders, as I always am when I take part in debates on the annulment of Orders of this kind.

I shall end by giving one little bit of advice to hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Well, I shall give it anyway, and in the best possible good faith. If they want advice on how to run these Prayers they should consult some of my hon. Friends and myself; if they will we shall do our best to give them every help and assistance in the future.

11.35 p.m.

I wonder whether, after I have made a short point, I may ask the Parliamentary Secretary to intervene at this stage? It would be desirable as my hon. Friends would like to have an explanation of their various points. I want to emphasise that I find it difficult to identify the Parliamentary Secretary with these Orders, particularly the milk order. I know the position of a Parliamentary Secretary: it is responsibility without power. I feel that the hon. Gentleman, in his particular capacity, should have brought certain pressure to bear upon his right hon. and gallant Friend, who has not the professional knowledge which the Parliamentary Secretary possesses.

I also feel he might even have approached the Co-ordinating Minister, who certainly has not a small part of the knowledge which the Parliamentary Secretary possesses in these things. He must consider these Orders very carefully. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey), said tonight, he is increasing the price of an essential food, a food which nutritional experts describe as a perfect food. I would recall, and I think probably there is no need to remind the hon. gentleman of this, that a great friend of his, Sir Wilson Jameson, two or three years ago, when he was Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health, said that the decreased infantile mortality must be related to the enlightened food policy of the Government of that time.

The Labour Government did stress the importance of the consumption of milk and now, apparently, as my hon. Friend, the Member for Sunderland, North, whose memory, perhaps, is more fresh than mine, reminded the Parliamentary Secretary, since the last increase in milk prices the consumption of milk has dropped. He must know that is a most serious thing. We on this side of the House with the support of the hon. Members opposite, who are interested in social reform, were delighted to find that the consumption of milk, particularly in the poorest sections of the population, had increased. The Parliamentary Secretary does agree, I am sure, that must be related to the low infantile mortality rate. I am not making a debating point. I am making a statement which, I believe, will eventually prove to be absolutely valuable.

If, tonight, the Parliamentary Secretary lends himself to this price increase in milk, it will inevitably mean that the consumption of milk will drop even further. It will be lower again among those people who are in the greatest need, the poorest section of the community. I have not to remind hon. Members that the poorest section of the community is that section where there is a large number of dependent children, who are the milk drinkers of the nation.

This hits the milk drinkers of the nation, not my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). He has confessed tonight that he had forgotten the taste of milk. There is not one person in this House, probably, whose health would deteriorate because he is deprived of milk during the next month or so. He already has a balanced diet. But the Parliamentary Secretary will have it on his conscience if he allows —[Interruption]. The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), who interrupts, has forgotten what milk tastes like.

I can only say that the hon. Gentleman has reformed since he sat on the Opposition benches below the Gangway and I was the answer to his Prayers. Right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen opposite kept me up, night after night, answering Prayers, and generally Prayers of a frivolous nature.

I say tonight that, in praying against these Orders, we are adopting a very responsible attitude, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to think again. These figures are not disputed, and I remind hon. Members opposite that this Government have increased the price of 39 foods since they have been in office. Tonight, they are doing this, I believe, without careful thought.

I think I am right in saying to the Parliamentary Secretary that this is, in fact, what may be regarded as a bookkeeping transaction, which the Ministry of Food have to do because the Treasury expect them to do it. The pressure comes from the Treasury. I ask the Parliamentay Secretary to tell us why he has chosen milk. Why has he chosen what he has probably himself described in speeches as the perfect food, because the constituent elements of milk represent a balanced diet for a child? This must inevitably be reflected in our public health statistics.

I ask him to take away this Order and think again. I ask him to bring the pressure which he has to bear upon his right hon. Friend and upon the Coordinating Minister, because this is a retrograde step which we are now discussing. It is not just a question of an increase in the price of milk, but of the effect which that will have on the most helpless, most dependent people in our population.

11.43 p.m.

As I have no doubt whatever that the right hon. Lady put her point in complete sincerity, and on the basis of a belief in milk which I share, I gladly follow her suggestion of intervening now in order to state the position as I see it.

If it were true that this latest increase in the price of milk had effected an appreciable reduction in the consumption of milk, then there would be—and I say it without reservation—great substance in what the right hon. Lady said, but, as I shall show a little later, there is, in fact, this month, a substantial increase in the consumption of milk, and that has happened despite the price increase which is the subject of these Orders.

I will compare the figures in detail.

I want, briefly, to set aside the chocolate couverture point, because I think that what interests hon. Members much more is the subject of milk. Let it be said, on the subject of chocolate couverture, that it is, in part, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey), who moved this Motion, will realise, a re-definition arising out of a judgment, and, in part, a small increase in price.

Perhaps it will suffice to say that what is involved here is 0·5 per cent. of the production of the chocolate and sugar confectionery industry, and an amplification of a scale to meet a mere handful of 25 products out of a total of more than 20,000 products covered by the Order.

I had hoped to save the time of the House by not proceeding with that explanation, as no hon. Member had raised the question, but I shall be glad to explain. Hon. Members will see in the Order in 2 (b) the product groups S.130, S.14, 5.140, and so on. In S.130 there are some 19 different kinds of sugar confectionery of the marzipan kind. In S.14, that is the 5/4 limit group, there is one item, a form of nougat; I think that is the expression. In S.140 there is as yet nothing. In S.15—[Laughter]—If the House desires I will go into the detailed explanation of this position.

It is that there has recently been a permitted increase in the price of sugar confectionery of 2d. It is an inevitable repercussion with an increase of 2d. in a scale which formerly had a maximum of 5s. that there should be a group, in this case S.130, with a maximum of 5/2 in order to permit the increase in that group. That involves the majority of the items here, some 19 items.

There is at the other end S.150, a different problem, perhaps the hon. Member will remember it. It is a chewing gum problem where the size of the machines makes it impossible by adaption of the size to meet the requirements of the new scale. It is necessary, for mechanical reasons, to devise this bracket at the 5/10 level.

For the rest, the interim brackets are there in part because there is one item which is appropriate to S.14, and in part to leave elbow room for what might subsequently happen, the reappearance in due course when materials are available of some of the more high Quality and more expensive items in this field which existed before the war.

I now pass to the subject of the Orders raising the price of milk. Strange though it may seem, in view of some of the fabric outlined by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North—and some of that fabric I accept as accurate—this increase is a direct consequence of two factors. One is an increase in the cost, and the other is, as the hon. Member put it, the subsidy ceiling of £410 million. I am referring, of course, to the increased costs over the food field generally and the calculation, which as the hon. Member knows is made month by month in the Ministry, as to how the Ministry stands in relation to its £410 million subsidy position.

If the hon. Member will allow me, at his powerful behest I will explain the position.

Each month that calculation is made and my right hon. Friend has from time to time within the limit of that ceiling to make such adjustments in the prices that he thinks appropriate, which is a point to which I am coming in a moment, to keep within the subsidy ceiling. On 30th September, 1951, the position was that the subsidies were running at an estimated level of £430 million, or £20 million above the ceiling. That position could have been dealt with by the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend, but he failed to deal with it and it was one of the inheritances of Her Majesty's Government. The position on 31st October was roughly the same—£432 million. While the policy of a subsidy ceiling of £410 million laid down by the late Government remains, then it becomes necessary, whether we like it or not, to keep within the framework of that policy by finding the money.

I agree that in the absence of a raised level of subsidies the only course is to increase charges.

I apologise for interrupting and for having spoken so long tonight. Surely the hon. Gentleman is saying what I said: that the past Government at that time was open-minded and was keeping the matter under review?

If the hon. Member says that we are in agreement so far then I am happy to accept it, whatever suspicions it might arouse in one's mind. The fact remains that the ceiling of £410 million was laid down—it obtained for the last two years—and we discovered on coming into office that subsidy expenditure was running at £20 million over that level. There being £20 million to be found to remain within the subsidy ceiling, I agree it is a matter of argument where the added cost should be imposed. There is ample room for difference of opinion. It was decided to impose such increased charges on milk as would yield £6 million of that £20 million.

It is necessary to get the background complete to look at the subsidy position of milk. The amount of subsidy has grown. In 1942–43 the total milk subsidy was £28 million; in 1945–46 it was £44 million; in 1950–51 it was £105 million. Approximately 30 per cent. of that was in the welfare field and the remaining £75 million was not within the welfare field. Out of £410 million, in 1950–51 £105 million was on milk.

Had the experience of last year revealed that the increased charge had lowered the consumption of milk below available supplies, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be a powerful argument against a further increase in price. Having made one increase in the price it would seem—it is certainly arguable—that milk would not appropriately fall for a further increase.

I gather that the hon. Gentleman is reversing the policy of the late Government. I explained that a matter of which we were proud was that the increased production had gone to those in greatest need. The hon. Gentleman says that when he took over a sum of £20 million had to be obtained on the food subsidies. He has told us the steps that his right hon. and gallant Friend and he took to get £6 million. How was the other £14 million obtained?

Most hon. Members know perfectly well of the other increases we made. I am dealing with this one.

Let me come to the question of consumption, and the point raised by the right hon. Lady. I appreciate the point she made about taking comparable months. This is a tricky piece of com- parison unless you do. Let us go back to the first effect of the cut. There was a small reduction in consumption in December last year of 0.8 per cent. Last month that fall had practically disappeared, and the position as we calculate for February is that consumption has risen by 2.7 per cent.

The figures given in the Annual Digest for December are these: milk consumption for December, 1950, 111.6 million gallons; for December, 1951, 109.7 million gallons. These figures cannot possibly be reconciled with the statement that the difference is 0.8 per cent.

Let me give the exact figures for the December months. In 1950 they were 130.86 million gallons, and in December, 1951, 129.80 million gallons, a fall in total consumption of approximately 1.06 million gallons. I have given the figures for December and January, and my answer to the right hon. Lady is not that the increase would not have been more if there had been no change in price—I am not speculating—but that consumption has risen in spite of the increase in price.

Am I not right in saying that the drop in December was the first time there had been a drop in consumption for many years, and is that not a warning signal that the Parliamentary Secretary should observe?

The fact is that the drop which one might have expected to have been appreciable was trivial and indeed, began to disappear in January. We have now an increase in February which more than outweighs the drop in December and January.

Let there be no qualification about what I say in praise of milk. The right hon. Lady has spoken of it, and let us combine to inform the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), that it is the strongest drink, bar none, and that its nutritional value is outstanding. But that is no reason why the level of subsidy on milk outside the welfare field should stay at £75 million a year, and it is no argument as to the appropriate amount of money which should go in subsidy for that which is not included in the welfare field.

The Parliamentary Secretary did promise to say what the subsidy was now running at, and he did say that the cost of the 4d. worked out at £8 million—£2 million to the producers, and £6 million to the Treasury. But I find it difficult to reconcile that figure with the cost of subsidy.

The subsidy position is that on 31st October last it was estimated that £101 million was going in both fields of milk—the welfare and the general.

If I am in order in giving details of all the subsidy items which come under the various food headings to make up the whole of the picture, I shall be pleased to do it, but I fear that you, Mr. Speaker, would not permit that.

The hon. Gentleman can only speak about the subsidy so far as it affects milk.

The Parliamentary Secretary has spoken at some length on this, and told us that we were running over the notional ceiling of subsidy and that, therefore, the Ministry had to do what it proposes.

I would point out that this would be outside the scope of this Order because the ceiling is understood to include all the food subsidies.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, but the Parliamentary Secretary has wasted a quarter of an hour in saying that the Order was necessary because we had gone over the notional ceiling; that the Government are committed to the ceiling, and that because of the law of the Medes and the Persians the increase had to be made.

I cannot go over the whole of the picture. Before the latest increase in price, the subsidy figure, as I have said, was £101 million, of which the welfare schemes cost £32 million. Following the price increase on 1st December, the subsidy stood at £95 million, of which the welfare scheme cost £33 million; so that the subsidy for welfare purposes—and which I support with the right hon. Lady and every other hon. Member—has been higher, although there has been less subsidy in the general field.

Finally, I want to pose this question. Is there anything that is wrong about this principle, first, of keeping within the subsidy ceiling and, second, of making price increases in order to keep within that ceiling? If there is, the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, should know, for during his tenure of office, for precisely the same reasons and considerations, there were nine such increases in the months April to July, 1951, and the cost in the financial year was no less than £112 million. There is, therefore, a somewhat hollow note to his protestations.

No one likes this increase in the price of milk. I should be very unhappy about it if it had resulted in a reduction in the consumption of milk. It has not so resulted. The Government have followed the right policy in keeping within the £410 million ceiling and in taking the necessary steps to find the £20 million, which the late Government could have found by increasing prices of food in September last had they not been more interested in another approaching event. Her Majesty's Government have thus been left with the task of finding the £20 million which was on the debit side of the account when the late Government left office.

12.7 a.m.

One of the three Orders that we are discussing refers to the price of milk in Northern Ireland. From an intervention of mine earlier, it was reasonable to assume that I was going to raise the matter of Northern Ireland. In those circumstances, I am very surprised that the Parliamentary Secretary did not give any attention to the position of Northern Ireland. It happens that there are on this side of the House, in my party no hon. Members from Northern Ireland—

I hope that the hon. Member will forgive me. I intended no discourtesy to him. He referred to the desirability of there being here a Minister from the Home Office to answer for Northern Ireland. One of the Joint Under-Secretaries for the Home Department is here.

I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will intervene very soon and answer my points. As Under-Secretary at the Home Office, it was my duty to come here on more than one occasion and reply, on just such a matter as this, to points peculiar to Northern Ireland.

I was saying that there happens to be on this side of the House no hon. Member from Northern Ireland belonging to my party. Therefore, since it was my duty for so long to keep an eye on agriculture in Northern Ireland, I consider it my duty to make these points and get an explanation from the Government.

One Order is entirely related to' the increase in the price of milk in Northern Ireland. A very elementary knowledge of agriculture in Northern Ireland leads one to realise that conditions there are completely different from those in Great Britain. Northern Ireland has always been an exporter of milk. The conditions are in no way similar to those in this country.

I wish to know what proportion of the increased consumption to which reference has been made was in Northern Ireland. Production conditions there are very different from those in this country. Even if it is admitted that it is right in Great Britain to raise the price of milk, it will be interesting to see if it can be justified in Northern Ireland from the point of view of the consumer and also of the producer.

I should like the Joint Under-Secretary to say how this has affected milk producers in Northern Ireland, especially those who farm under the curious type of tenancy there—the conacre tenancy. There is a different right of tenancy in Northern Ireland, as the Joint Under-Secretary will find when he goes over there. It is important that he should keep up to date with matters of agriculture in Northern Ireland and such things as the potato Orders and so on. My first intervention on an Order was on a potato Order relating to Northern Ireland. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary, when replying, will relate his remarks to the justification for the increase in Northern Ireland and will say why it should be necessary in a country which always has such a vast surplus of milk.

12.10 a.m.

In the last Parliament there sat on these benches an hon. Gentleman who, whenever a reply was given by a Government spokesman, always commented, "Completely unsatisfactory." That description applies to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary tonight. His reply is unsatisfactory because it betrays every pledge which the party opposite gave to the electors during the General Election. Members of that party promised specifically to bring down the cost of living, and this Order increases the price of the most essential food. It hits the staple food of the most unfortunate and the poorest.

This increased price will bear most heavily on old age pensioners, on those who are sick, and on the increasing number of unemployed which is a result of the policy of the present Government. If one might paraphrase the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, I think it would be true to say, "Never in human history have so few done so much damage to so many in so short a time." The Parliamentary Secretary lacks the courage and determination of the Service Ministers. He ought to have told the Treasury that his Department was not prepared to impose this hardship upon the people: that he wanted the money so that the price of milk could be kept within the reach of the majority of the families of this country. The Services do that and get from the Treasury all they want, whether the Service is the Army, the Navy, or the Air Force.

The Parliamentary Secretary, because of his professional experience, ought to know that one of the best defences that the people of this country can have is an adequate diet, and that in laying this Order he is doing something which will lessen the amount of milk which will be available to the poorest. Thereby he is undoing much of the good work he-has tried to do in advising people how to live and what to eat. I hope that he is going to reconsider this and that he made a slip when he talked about the subsidies running at £200 million above the ceiling figure. Some of us fear that it may not have been a slip and that on 11th March it may prove to be a reality.

Will the hon. Member explain what his party would have done if they had not gone to the country last autumn and had still been faced with the £20 million excess over the subsidy ceiling?

I hope they would have taken it out of the money which was not going to be spent on the rearmament programmes. But they did not get the chance, because they were not here. However, I hope they would have done this. Then the Minister could have said: "The expenditure on armaments was grossly over-estimated, and I do not think it will be a bad thing that £20 million of the £200 million that we are not going to spend on rearmament should be spent in order to keep the price of milk and other foods within the reach of the majority of our people."

We certainly had an election; and I think we shall be having another election very shortly, the result of which will be very different from the result of the last election.

If there is anything I feel sorry for tonight it is for the immediate relations in this House of the Prime Minister.

No man in the medical profession built up a greater name for himself than the Parliamentary Secretary. I know that my own wife used to listen to the pearls of wisdom that fell from his lips every Friday morning. I myself once had some measure of faith in him.

That was before he became a politician, and when he stuck strictly to his professional matters. I am sure that in his heart he must know that if there is one thing we can ill-afford to have increased at the present time it is the price of this food. I therefore hope he will be big enough to take our advice tonight and go back to the Treasury and fight for his Department as gamely as some of the other Ministers fight for theirs.

12.17 a.m.

There is one aspect of the Order dealing with chocolate, sugar confectionery and cocoa products which has not been dealt with, and on which I think we should have some explanation. In that Order there is a new definition of the term "Chocolate couverture," and it would have been desirable had the House been informed as to the reason why the definition in the previous Order has been changed. I understand that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will reply. The point to which I am addressing myself might more appropriately have been dealt with by one of the Law Officers, but unfortunately I do not see any of the Law Officers of the Crown here.

If the purpose of the change in the definition is to make more certain that a competent and proper prosecution can take place under the Order, then I want to make a number of observations. Firstly, what was the difficulty under the original Order which this new definition seeks to overcome? Secondly, is the Parliamentary Secretary satisfied that even with this new definition it will be possible to overcome the legal difficulty? Under the Order, if a person is guilty of contravention he is liable to criminal prosecution, and in order to get a successful criminal prosecution it is essential to have a proper and competent definition in the Order, otherwise it may be impossible for the court to enforce it.

May I seek to help the right hon. and learned Gentleman? I did not deal with this in great detail because, quite frankly, the hon. Gentleman moving the Prayer did not seek to deal with it in much detail. There was a conviction by the Recorder of Leeds which went to appeal, and the Lord Chief Justice made certain comments about the definition of "Chocolate couverture" then appearing in the Order. I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes me to go into that. An effort has been made to meet the views as expressed by the Lord Chief Justice, by simplifying and shortening of the wording of the Order. Heaven forbid that I should seek to pretend to be able to pronounce on the future of this one in that possible field. I thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman would wish to know.

I am obliged for the Parliamentary Secretary's explanation but, as he is probably aware, these Orders apply to Scotland as well as to England. The dictum of the Lord Chief Justice is not binding on the Scottish Courts. We have rather a different procedure in Scotland in our criminal prosecutions. I would like to know if the test as to whether this would stand up to scrutiny in the Scottish courts has been considered. We go in more for relevancy in Scotland than in England.

In order to formulate a proper charge, it is essential to have sufficient notice given to the person, who is accused, of the standards to which he has to subscribe, otherwise sufficient, fair notice has not been given and the courts, in such circumstances, have held complaints to be irrelevant. If one looks at the definition in this Order, one sees it might be difficult for a person charged under it to know exactly to what standards he has to subscribe. It is not sufficient in the courts merely to echo the words of the statute or of the Order, if that criterion, to which I have referred, is not satisfied.

Accordingly, is the Government satisfied that both in the Scottish and English courts, the mere echoing of the words of the Order would be held to give sufficient notice to the accused person of the standards to which he is expected to subscribe? I am not making this as a debating point because I am anxious, if we are passing what is after all penal legislation, that we should do it in a way the courts can enforce. Otherwise, there is no purpose in passing that legislation.

I go timidly into this complicated question. We have been advised on both the Scottish and English legal aspects of it.

In that case, we must await the test of time, if and when a case is raised in court. May I ask one question, and ascertain from the hon. Gentleman whether those who advise him have given him an answer to this? If we read the definition of the Order, one will see that the "Chocolate couverture" means

"any chocolate product that would be regarded in the chocolate industry as properly sold under the trade descriptions of chocolate couverture, bakers' covering compounds…"
If a person were charged with a contravention of the Order in the respect that he had sold the commodities which did not conform to that definition, and he, by way of defence, laid evidence from two witnesses, or maybe one witness is sufficient in England, who are in the trade, that the commodities, which the accused person had sold, was a commodity which had been properly sold under the trade description schedule, would that be a complete defence? There is no criterion save that it should be a commodity that was properly sold under that trade description. If witnesses say it was properly sold under that description because they themselves sold a similar commodity under that description, albeit that the prosecution may have laid abundant evidence to prove it was not, is that to be a full and satisfactory defence to obviate the possibility of getting a conviction?

Accordingly, I think the hon. Gentleman might look at the matter very carefully from that point of view. I am not saying it necessarily means taking the Order away at this stage. If we are going to pass legislation with penal consequences, we should be sure that legislation will be effective in our courts. If, on further reconsideration, the hon. Gentleman is of the opinion that definition might provide loopholes, which would prevent the Order being effective, it would be in the interests not only of the Government but of criminal courts that a better, more comprehensive, and more water-tight definition was provided.

12.25 a.m.

I should like to give an answer to the points which have been raised by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), who asked about Northern Ireland. The position in Northern Ireland is that the Northern Ireland producers receive the full benefit of the agricultural guarantee, and their milk, therefore, costs the same as in Great Britain. In fact, the subsidy per capita and also per gallon is higher in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain, because of the difference in the economies of the two countries.

The hon. Member also asked for certain figures, and I shall try to give them as best I can. He asked for the change in production in Northern Ireland during this month, as compared with the corresponding month of last year. That figure is an increase of 8.9 per cent. The change in consumption, in which I think he was particularly interested, is an increase of 6 per cent., but I must warn him and the House that these figures are not exactly what they look, because this is Leap Year and we are comparing February with February when it has not been possible in the time to make the necessary adjustments in the answer to the hon. Member.

rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

On a point of order. May I submit, Mr. Speaker, that we have now been discussing these three very important Orders for about two hours, and we on this side of the House did agree to a general discussion on the three Orders to expedite the business of the House. May I say that we would not have given that undertaking if we had thought for a moment that the discussion on three important Orders was going to be curtailed to two hours? I should like to submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that, if you are accepting the Closure Motion on the first Order, we should be permitted to continue the discussion on the remaining two?

In reply to that point of order, I made it perfectly clear that we should have a joint discussion on the three Orders, and that I should put each Order separately thereafter, without separate divisions. The Question is—

Further to that point of order. I think it is within the recollection of the House that it has never been known for three important Orders to be taken together by common agreement and for the discussion on those three Orders to last just two hours. I submit to you that it is interfering with the rights of hon. Members on this side to restrict the discussion in this way, and I must repeat that I ask you for permission to speak on the second Order when the Question is put.

Further to that point of order. May I put to you, Mr. Speaker, the fact that hon. Members, in seeking to discuss these three Orders, have borne in mind that the main part of the discussion so far has been centred on the question of milk. There has been very little or no discussion on the chocolate Order, in which an increase in price of 10d. per lb. is laid down. May I put it to you that back benchers on the Opposition side are being denied their rights if the Question is put now?

I am afraid those are not points of Order. They are all arguments to influence me on whether I should accept the Closure or not. The point really is that, of these Orders, two are very similar in substance, and it was agreed that we should take them all together and that I should put the Questions separately.

Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, and negatived.


That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Milk (Control and Maximum Prices) (Northern Ireland) (Amendment No. 2) Order, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 2066), dated 28th November, 1951, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th November, 1951, be annulled.—[Mr. Willey]—put, and negatived.


That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Chocolate, Sugar Confectionery and Cocoa Products (Amendment No. 2) Order, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 2067), dated 28th November, 1951, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th November, 1951, be annulled.—[Mr. Willey]— put, and negatived.