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Flowers By Rail (Concession)

Volume 387: debated on Thursday 18 March 1943

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The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport
(Mr. Noel-Baker)

My hon. and gallant Friends the Members for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) and Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher), together with other hon. Members, have asked me a number of Questions in recent weeks concerning the transport of flowers by rail, and I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me this opportunity of making this statement on a matter which has been of interest to them, and to the whole House.

The Government have reviewed the present arrangements, and have decided that the lengthening hours of daylight will make it possible, subject to the conditions which I will indicate, for some flowers to be carried by rail. The Transport of Flowers Order is, therefore, being suspended as from 25th March, and during the summer months. This suspension of the Order does not, however, mean a return to the conditions which existed before it was introduced. On the contrary, it must be clearly understood that the carriage of flowers will be subject not only to the state of railway traffic, but also to the following special conditions.
  • First: no special or additional trains will be run for the carriage of flowers.
  • Second: flowers or plants will only be carried subject to the prior claims of perishable foodstuffs and other essential traffic.
  • Third: flowers or plants will not be carried in any case where a reduction in the accommodation for passengers would be involved.
Unless these conditions can be fulfilled, flowers will not be accepted for conveyance. Thus they will not be carried on heavily occupied lines. No guarantee can be given of conveyance by any particular service, and conveyance will be only at owner's risk. Growers must, therefore, ascertain from local railway officials what services are likely to be available before they arrange to present their consignments. These new conditions do not, of course, apply to plants for producing food crops, or to those forms of hardy nursery stock which are excluded from the operation of the present Order. These plants, bushes, shrubs and trees, will continue to be carried as they have been hitherto. The Directions required to give effect to these arrangements are being issued to the railways without delay.

I must add this warning to the House and to the public. While my Noble Friend has been glad to make these small concessions for the transport of flowers, it must not be assumed that the need for the strictest economy in the use of all forms of transport has become less urgent than it has been in the recent past.

Is my hon. Friend aware that his statement will give great satisfaction to thousands of flower lovers, while the restoration of this amenity will not detract from the war effort?

Will the Postmaster-General also modify his prohibition of the conveyance of flowers by parcel post? Will the Minister ask the Home Secretary also to review the very heavy penalties imposed for offences which happened only a day after the Order was issued, and in which a number of people were arrested and very heavy fines were imposed upon them?

I understand that it will not be possible for the Postmaster-General to relax his present Order. In regard to the second Question, the hon. Member will no doubt remember that the penalties were imposed under the Defence Regulations and were for offences which were certainly most unpublic-spirited.

Was it necessary to modify the original Order? Is it not a terrible commentary on our proceedings that we should be modifying the decision of the Government in this matter at a time when we are asking men to sacrifice their lives?

No, Sir, I do not admit that at all. We have made a very considerable economy of transport during the winter by this Order. Conditions in the summer are quite different. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not ask us to impose austerity for austerity's sake. I hope he will recognise that this arrangement now proposed will, broadly speaking, permit the use of carrying capacity which otherwise would be unused.

May I press the Minister further on this point? Is he aware that when the Order was published the only public reference to it was five lines in "The Times" newspaper, and that next day four people, who were totally unaware of the existence of the Order, were arrested at Paddington Station and that fines up to £75 were imposed?

That is obviously a matter with which I cannot deal now. I hope my hon. Friend will realise that travelling for the carriage of flowers in order to obtain high profiteering prices is an anti-social abuse that we ought to stop.

Is not the Minister aware that many ex-service men from the late war are engaged in flower growing and that they will thank him for his reconsideration of policy? Will he also ask his Noble Friend not to be too impressed with the criticisms of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell)?

Further, with regard to the Post Office, may we know whether the hon. Gentleman will be in communication with the Postmaster-General, and whether it is absolutely certain that no relaxation of the Order with regard to the carriage of flowers by post will be made?

Certainly, I will consult with the Postmaster-General, and I believe I am right in saying that it is not absolutely finally settled.

Have we any control over the price of flowers? Is my hon. Friend aware that at Upton Park railway station, daffodils were being sold at 6s. 6d. per bunch of four?

I am aware that there is a very undesirable profiteering in flowers, but my hon. Friend will recognise that it is an extremely difficult matter to deal with. Obviously it cannot be stopped through the transport system, and it would therefore fall within the competence of another Department; but it is in fact being considered whether it will be possible to overcome the difficulty.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the prime cause of all this trouble was the hasty and unfortunate drafting of the Order in connection with flowers?

Why all this fuss about a luxury for the well-to-do? The hon. Gentleman ought to take strong steps to see that prices are reduced.