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Food Supplies

Volume 387: debated on Wednesday 24 March 1943

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Fish Zoning Scheme


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether, as by the Fish Zoning Order merchants are tied to ports for supplies of fish and retailers are tied to wholesalers, he can state the reasons for failing to tie each consumer to one fishmonger; and whether he will now adopt a simple form of consumer registration for fish?

The suggestion of my hon. Friend has been carefully and sympathetically considered, but I regret that, in view of uncertain landings and the perishable nature of fish, it is not possible to assure a specific share of supplies to the individual consumer. Without such an assurance, registration would have only a restrictive effect and would not in itself secure more equitable distribution of supplies between individual consumers.

While arriving at those conclusions, has my hon. Friend taken into account the widespread complaint against fishmongers, especially on the ground of unfair distribution? Is he also aware of the experiment carried out by a very successful and enterprising firm of fishmongers in London, who have formed their own registration scheme and satisfied all their customers registered with them?

Yes, Sir, all these matters have been carefully taken into consideration. If all the fishmongers would act in the way chosen by the firm mentioned by my hon. Friend, I think that distribution would be a great deal better.

Why has there been absolute failure, especially in the Southern districts?

Bottled Beer (Long-Distance Trains)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Food whether he is aware of the shortage of bottled beer on long-distance trains; what steps are being taken to ensure adequate supplies; and whether this shortage is any way due to the diversion of barley suitable for brewing for mixing with flour?

I have no reason to believe that the availability of bottled beer in restaurant cars on long-distance trains differs from its availability generally. The reply to the last part of the Question is "No, Sir."

Will my hon. Friend make sure that there is an increased supply of bottled beer?

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the difficulty of obtaining food on long-distance trains?

Cabbage Crop, Devonshire (Option Contract)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware of the option-purchase by his Department at Oxford, on 21st December, 1942, of some 95 acres of flatpole cabbage, then growing in Devonshire, for delivery as specified; for what reasons delivery was declined by letter from the Fruit and Vegetable Department, dated 4th March, 1943, though the growers were precluded from selling elsewhere during this period; is he aware that the whole crop has now become unfit for either human or cattle consumption; what is the total quantity and value involved in this wastage; whether any and what compensation for the loss will be offered; and what steps are proposed to prevent any such event occurring again?

While my hon. and gallant Friend does not, in his Question, give me precise particulars, I hope I have correctly identified the case he has in mind. In this case, as in others, my Department made no purchase of the crop but paid for an option to purchase. There was no obligation to take delivery. The contract provided for automatic and progressive releases of the crop during the period of its currency, and final release was given on 25th February. It appears, however, that the growers in question had in fact sold the crop to a third party, and it was to this third party that the subsequent letter of 4th March to which my hon. and gallant Friend refers, was addressed. I am unable to estimate the quantity or value of the crop, which I should emphasise was planted as a fodder crop. No question of compensation arises.

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether this option-purchase by his Department had the effect of precluding any other sale, and when it was, and to whom, any sub-contract was made; and is it not a fact that the whole of this crop is now lying rotten?

The option-contract provided for progressive releases of parts of the crop which growers could use as they pleased, and the fact that they did enter into a contract of sale shows in fact that they did not regard themselves as precluded from making any other sale. Of course, the option-contract does not preclude anyone from selling any interest outside the option.

Does the hon. Gentleman say that these crops were in fact sold, paid for and taken up by someone outside his Department?

No, I do not. I say that a contract of sale was entered into with a third party, and the third party, I think, has not taken up his contract.

Poultry And Rabbits (Distribution)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he will take steps to obviate the waste of transport and man-power now resulting from the lack of control and over-lapping in collection and distribution of poultry and rabbits; and whether he will examine the evidence and general causes of complaints arising from unsatisfactory distribution?

Steps have recently been taken by my Department, in conjunction with the Ministry of War Transport and the Ministry of Fuel and Power, to deal with overlapping of road transport engaged in collecting and distributing poultry and rabbits. This action should result also in the saving of man-power. As regards the last part of the Question, I am aware of the complaints referred to and certain measures for improving distribution are under examination.

Will the hon. Gentleman explain one simple fact—why it is that one can regularly obtain chicken as part of a meal at the Grosvenor Hotel but that when sick persons, say in towns or villages in Yorkshire, require one, they have difficulty in even buying one in a shop? Can he explain a fact like that or deal with it?

Winter Cabbage Crop (Ploughing-In)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware that winter cabbages are being ploughed into the land owing to the impossibility of disposing of them at current prices; and whether immediate steps are to be taken to prevent this waste?

The winter cabbage crop has been exceptionally heavy, and I am aware that growers, as is the usual practice, are ploughing-in such surplus as cannot be sold or used as stock-feed. Demand throughout the country has been amply satisfied and there is no evidence to support the suggestion that the existence of a surplus is due to prices currently ruling rather than to crop conditions.

While thanking my hon. Friend for his reply, may I ask him whether the demand for all green-stuffs, cabbages in particular, has not been restricted by the high prices which his Department fixed for them, and that that is the reason for the reduced amount bought?

This Question relates to winter cabbages, but it is a fact that the maximum prices fixed by the Department have not been reached in the markets throughout the country and that the prices ruling have been considerably below the maximum prices fixed.

Does that not prove that the prices were fixed too high and that people have been held off buying because they saw these prices in the paper and thought that they had to pay them?

No, Sir, the prices in markets throughout the country have been considerably below the maximum prices fixed.

British Restaurant Managers


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he has given his approval to the enrolment of British Restaurant managers and manageresses in the Industrial Catering Association; and whether it is his intention that any costs incurred shall be borne out of rates and/or taxes to which commercial caterers contribute, or shall be added to the price of meals served in British Restaurants?

British Restaurant managers are the employees of local authorities and the question of my Noble Friend's approval to their enrolment in an Association does not arise.

Merchant Seamen (Rationed Food)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware that merchant seamen, when ashore, are unable to obtain an emergency ration card from a local food office; and, as this causes hardship, will he take steps to see that these men are enabled to obtain, without undue inconvenience, their fair share of rationed foods?

I have been asked to reply. Temporary ration documents for use ashore by merchant seamen are issued at Mercantile Marine offices under arrangements made by the Ministry of War Transport in conjunction with the Ministry of Food. These arrangements are comprehensive and it is only rarely that a merchant seamen should find it necessary to have recourse to a food office. In such a case the Food Office will issue a temporary card for one week, and tell the seaman to communicate with any convenient Mercantile Marine office. I shall be happy to inquire into any case in which difficulty has arisen.

Is there any reason why a merchant seaman should not be treated as an ordinary traveller and given an emergency ration card so as to enable him to get food in any area in which he finds himself?

I think that the arrangements are much more to the advantage of the merchant seamen. If we can improve them, we shall be glad to do so.

But what is the objection to giving the merchant seaman an emergency ration card to enable him to get food in any area in which he happens to be?