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Food Supplies

Volume 389: debated on Wednesday 26 May 1943

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Statutory Rules And Orders


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food the reason for the revocation by a direction on 1st May, Statutory Rule and Order, 1943, No. 664, of the Order, dated 23rd April, Statutory Rule and Order, 1943, No. 630; whether the new direction came into operation the day after it was signed, and whether in future longer notice will be given before directions come into operation?

Statutory Rule and Order, 1943, No. 664 was made on 1st May because the production of milk had increased rapidly and it was desirable to raise the minimum allowance to non-priority customers temporarily to four pints a week to avoid wastage. The new Direction came into force on 2nd May. Where possible several days' notice is given of changes effected by Statutory Rules and Orders. It was, however, in this case necessary to take immediate action to avoid wastage of milk. An announcement was issued to the public and the trade on 29th April before the Order was made.

While fully appreciating the need for urgency in this case, do I understand the Minister to say that, whenever possible, as long notice as possible will be given before an Order comes into effect?

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food why no explanatory note was attached to the Emergency Powers (Defence) Food (Saccharin) Order (Statutory Rule and Order, 1943, No. 669), in order that the significance of this Order might be appreciated without the necessity of obtaining three earlier Orders, published in 1942?


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food why no explanatory note was attached to the Emergency Powers'(Defence) Food Rationing (General Provisions) Order (Statutory Rule and Order, 1943, No. 659),.in order that the significance of this new Order might be appreciated without the necessity of obtaining two earlier Orders published in 1942?

It has hitherto been the practice of my Department to interpret the sense of S.R. and Os. to those whom they affect by means of suitable Press notices. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department will, however, make a statement on behalf of the Government on the use of explanatory memoranda in the course of to-day's Debate, and hon. Members will, I think, agree that I should not anticipate his speech.

Is it the habit of the hon. Gentleman's Department to consult those who are interested in the particular trade affected before making an Order?

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he can make a statement explaining the basis of the prohibition of the movement of tomatoes contained in the Emergency Powers (Defence) Food Transport (Tomatoes) (Great Britain) Order (Statutory Rule and Order, 1943, No. 658), having regard to the fact that apparently it will be permissible under this Order, on grounds of economy in transport, to send tomatoes from Sussex to Cumberland but illegal to send them from Sussex to Oxfordshire?

The object of Statutory Rule and Order No. 658 is the even distribution of tomatoes without avoidable cross-hauls and long journeys. It prohibits the movement of tomatoes out of areas where local production is unlikely to exceed local needs; and directs the movement of tomatoes from areas producing in excess of local needs to the most convenient areas needing extra supplies. The Order does not permit, as the Question states, the movement of tomatoes from Sussex to Cumberland.

Can my hon. Friend say why he did not include in that same Order some kind of restriction on the condition of sales which applied to tomatoes in the early part of last season?

Food Office, Eye


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware that the removal of the food office of the borough of Eye to the premises of the Hartismere Rural District has caused serious inconvenience to old people and, under a system of temporary or voluntary staffing, saves no man-power; and whether he will consider the return of the borough office to the building in which it was established originally?

This amalgamation involved the moving of the Eye Food Office a distance of approximately 500 yards and ought not to be a cause of inconvenience. The amalgamation was carried out as part of the general policy of economising in man-power, premises, and expenditure by combining offices when two or more exist in one comparatively small town. The matter was carefully considered and my Noble Friend is satisfied that the final decision was right.

In view of the fact that there is a great number of complaints, not only from Eye but from the surrounding district, and that it is almost impossible for old people to get a mile and a half to this office, will the hon. Gentleman ask his Department or his regional representative to open this matter again with the Mayor and the municipal authorities?

I do not see how it can affect people in outlying districts. Eye has a population of 1,600 in an area of 18,000 people. I think that people in Eye are not compelled to go a mile and a half.

In view of the way the local authorities have been treated by his Department, will the hon. Gentleman ask his representative at the regional office to go into this with the Mayor and municipal authorities?

In response to a letter from my hon. Friend, my Noble Friend did go into this himself in great detail.

Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Local Authorities' Staffs (Overtime Pay)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food what rate of pay it is proposed to pay local authority staff, whom it is proposed to employ in the evening after their usual work is over, for the purpose of preparing identity cards and ration books for issue; and whether such rates have been approved by the trade union concerned?

The rates paid to local authority staff employed in the evenings in connection with the writing up of ration books in food offices, are the overtime rates of temporary clerks, Grade III, in the Civil Service. These rates were the subject of national agreement with organisations representing the staff. As an alternative, simplified flat rates have been authorised at the option of the local Food Executive Officer. These special rates have not been the subject of agreement with the staff.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that these rates are entirely inadequate, and that there are town clerks in the country who are refusing to apply them because of the objections of the staff to work under such rates?

I was not aware of that. I would say that the simplified fiat rates are better than the rates about which agreement has been reached.

They are the overtime rates for temporary clerks, Grade III, of the Civil Service. They were the subject of full agreement with the organisation which represents the staff.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary not aware that the practices obtaining in most food offices are determined by the town clerks, and that they usually relate to practices determined by the local urban district councils, who do not believe in paying any overtime to local government employees?

I would not be able to say, because these officers are employees of the Government; they are civil servants.

Confectionery Points, Shetland Isles

51. Mr.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food why differentiation is made in points for confectionery in Northern Ireland on the ground of the length of time taken by supplies to reach Northern Ireland from Great Britain, whereas no such concession is made to traders in the Shetland Isles situated much further from the main land of Great Britain?

The reduction to which my hon. Friend refers was applied to the Shetlands as well as to the rest of ' Great Britain because supplies were, in general, being delivered more quickly to the Shetlands than to Northern Ireland.

Is the Minister aware that it takes 14 hours longer by steamship to go to the Shetlands than to Northern Ireland?


52. Mr.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware that table fowls unfit for breeding, rearing or laying are being sold nominally for these purposes at auctions throughout the country as a cover to the payment of prices in excess of those permissible for table poultry; that the declarations under which these sales take place are, in many cases, worthless and both render his Department's orders ineffective and waste time and man-power in difficult enforcement investigations; and whether he will take prompt action to remedy this?

I am aware that some poultry bought at auctions ostensibly for breeding, rearing or laying is slaughtered for food. The matter is under discussion with the Agricultural Departments, and it is hoped to take remedial action at an early date.

Can I be assured that there is no real stumbling block at the Ministry? It does seem that this practice has been going on for well over 12 months. I wonder whether the Minister does mean a real, urgent, drastic change or only a modification of the Order?

I can assure the hon. Member that we are extremely anxious, I think as anxious as he is, to stop this undesirable practice.

National Milk And Vitamins Schemes


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he will amend the National Milk and Vitamins Schemes so as to provide that widows and children shall not be deprived of free milk or vitamins as a result of the reassessment of income in consequence of the death of the husband or father?

Yes, Sir. The regulations of the National Milk and Vitamins Schemes have now been adjusted to allow widows and children of Service men to continue to receive free milk and vitamins, where such widows and children were receiving these commodities free of cost prior to the death of the husband or father, provided that the normal weekly income from all sources remains unaltered except by the substitution of a pension for the Service allowance. The concession will be extended to widows and children of men who were not Service men where the circumstances are parallel.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary convey to his noble Friend the great gratitude of many widows at the removal of this anomaly?

Londoners' Meals Service


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food the average charge and the average cost of meals under the meals service of the London County Council?

At the present time the average receipt per customer served in restaurants of the Londoners' Meals Service is 12.26 pence and the average expenditure 11.60 pence.

57 and 58.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (1) whether he is satisfied with the efficiency of the co-operation between the London County Council, the local agent and the local superintendents in the running of the restaurants for the Londoners' Meals Service;

(2) in view of the fact that the number of teachers employed in the meals service of the London County Council has been reduced, whether he will see that they are replaced by caterers with professional knowledge so as to ensure the best results in the administration of the restaurants in the service of the public?

Responsibility for the operation of the Londoners' Meals Service, including the appointment and supervision of staff, rests with the London County Council, which has administered its undertaking, in difficult circumstances, in an admirable manner. My Noble Friend therefore sees no reason for the adoption of the course suggested by my hon. Friend.

In view of the fact that the hon. Gentleman's Ministry has been charged with the efficient and economical distribution of food, will he set up an inquiry under an independent chairman to inquire into the meals service of the L.C.C.?

No, Sir. I think that general experience is that the Londoners' Meals Service is excellently administered, and many hon. Members have had very good meals there.

Soft Fruit (Distribution)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he will ensure that better arrangements are made this year than last for the distribution of Southern-grown soft fruit to the Northern districts of England?

The soft fruit crop is too small in total for even distribution to consumers throughout the country. As much as possible with be pre-empted for jam to be sold on the ration.

Will a certain amount be allowed for householders to make their own jam?

Milk (Pasteurisation)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he will make available to Members of Parliament the details of the experiments which are claimed to have been made by veterinary surgeons, and their findings in connection therewith, contained in the resolution sent him from the National Veterinary Medical Association relative to the compulsory pasteurisation of milk in this country?

My Noble Friend has received a copy of the resolution in question. It does not refer to any experiments by veterinary surgeons, but records the views of the National Veterinary Medical Association on certain aspects of milk policy.

Ration Books And Identity Cards (Distribution)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware of the great hardship, inconvenience and dissatisfaction caused by the inadequate arrangements made in Bristol for issuing the new ration books; and whether he is taking any action in the matter?

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he will inquire into the arrangements made in the city of Manchester for exchanging ration books; whether he is aware that persons had to stand in queues for several hours; and will he see that better arrangements are made in future?


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he has considered the number of journeys which will be required of many housewives living in rural districts by the condition that a new ration book will only be issued for each member of a household on one of the dates allocated to the initial letter of the surname; and whether he will authorise all books for the same household to be collected on the same day by one person or sent by post?


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware that the national distribution of new ration books in rural areas is creating excessive and unnecessary inconvenience to the public; and whether he will take immediate steps to reorganise it, on the basis of distribution by parishes or otherwise?


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware that agricultural and other war workers in some rural districts have to travel as much as 14 miles each way to collect the new ration books; and whether, in view of transport and other difficulties, he will make other arrangements as soon as possible for local distribution?

My Noble Friend is alive to the difficulties attending the present issue of new ration documents, clothing coupons and national registration identity cards. My Department has issued ration books on five previous occasions, and has always carried out this operation with the minimum of inconvenience to the public. There has been only one previous issue of identity cards, and that also was carried out, in the autumn of 1939, with no inconvenience to the public. On that occasion, however, 65,000 people were employed as enumerators, and they carried out their work by calling from house to house. The man-power available to-day does not permit of that procedure being repeated, and it has, therefore, been necessary to appeal to the public themselves to play a larger part in this national distribution of documents than on any previous occasion. For security reasons it is considered essential that the documents should be collected either individually or by proxy, so as to enable identity to be accurately checked and to ensure that the issue of a ration book will be conditional upon the correct establishment of each individual person's identity. It is for this reason that a centralised scheme of distribution has been adoped.

To distribute documents to 43,000,000 people is necessarily a vast and compli- cated operation, demanding considerable patience and forbearance on the part of the public. In some urban areas, including Bristol and Manchester, congestion has occurred, but by increasing the staff, adjusting the accommodation, and arranging for the block issues of documents, the process has been or is being rapidly improved, and the latest reports assure me that in most town areas the congestion is now relieved.

In rural areas, during the period of central issue now in progress every possible local expedient will be adopted for collecting documents of persons living in remote districts. In many such areas voluntary workers are already co-operating in this work, by collecting and checking existing documents in a village and returning later in the day with the new documents. In each food area the documents are being written up a few days in advance of the day on which they are to be issued to the public. When all the documents in an area have been prepared staff will be available to undertake local distribution through local sub-offices, either fixed or mobile. The location of these sub-offices will be notified in each locality.

My Noble Friend recognises that the arrangements made have met with a considerable amount of criticism, but within the last eight or nine days it has become apparent that a high proportion of the public can be dealt with by the present arrangements without putting any individual to great inconvenience. My Department is determined that wherever adjustments, either of a general or local character, would appear likely to assist in the process of distribution those adjustments will be made, without quibble and with all speed, in order that this task may be completed without interfering with essential work or involving the public in special journeys, taking time and money. The new ration books will not come into use until 25th July. With good will and the co-operation of the public, every individual will have received his documents before that date.

Is my hon. Friend aware that applicants have to walk or bus from their homes or their work, very often for considerable distances, from all parts of Bristol; that they have to stand in the open air for three or even four hours before they succeed in getting into the office; that many women have fainted; and that many do not succeed in getting their books, but are turned away when the office closes at eight o'clock? Does he not think that steps should be taken to avoid that waste of time?

I think the hon. Member's description is a somewhat exaggerated account of the conditions obtaining in Bristol last week. An investigator was at once sent down. I think that the arrangement of block issue in the case of factories at Bristol, the rearrangement of accommodation, and the stepping-up of the staff have made conditions in Bristol very different this week from what they were last week.

As it is impossible to do full justice to this scandal—[Interruption.] On a point of Order. If I do not give notice at this moment of my intention to raise this matter on the Adjournment, shall I lose my precedence? I am informed that I shall. That is the only reason why I intervene; I do not wish to prevent other Members from putting questions.

While thanking my hon. Friend for his reply, and for the new arrangements which he has introduced, might I ask whether he will take special steps to follow up the working of these new arrangements, and to make sure that they do in fact relieve the very real hardships which have been caused already to quite a number of people by the quite inadequate arrangements? Also, will he in future make sure that he gets advice from people who understand conditions in rural districts before introducing schemes of this kind?

Certainly, every effort will be made to make the adjustments to which I have referred work as smoothly as possible. I might say that some of these statements are somewhat exaggerated. I took the opportunity yesterday of visiting several rural areas, and the issues made varied very little from the expectations of the Department. I found a queue in only one place, and I found the public co-operating in this issue with all that phlegm and forbearance characteristic of the people of this country.

If it is possible to make a block issue for factories, is it not possible to do so for remote villages; and for that purpose, could the hon. Member not use the emergency food officers in those places?

I hope to be able to make block issues, and to go further than that. I hope to take the block issue to the remote villages, and to make the issue in the villages.

As it is obvious that this scheme is now in the melting pot, will the Minister forthwith withdraw the rigid instructions which have been issued to the general public?

In the adjustments that the hon. Member proposes should be made in the scheme, will he leave the distribution in the country areas to the discretion of the local executive officers?

That is precisely what I meant when I said that every local expedient will be used. I am glad to say that many food executive officers are making adjustments which will suit the convenience of their localities; and doing so with the full approval of my Department.

Why was it not possible to arrange for the distribution of these ration books by the W.V.S., whose services in other ways have given such satisfaction to the public?

The W.V.S. are employed on many important tasks, and cannot be used for everything. Furthermore, there is an important element of security involved in this issue of identity cards. I am sure that hon. Members will recognise that there are perhaps people not doing ail that they should in this country, and we want to secure that they do not get food unless they, establish their identity.

Is it not a fact that a good deal of responsibility rests upon local authorities? If they would have a number of distributing centres, as in West Ham, instead of one, would it not be better?

What arrangements does the hon. Member propose for a household which contains six members whose names all start with different letters, and who have to go ten miles to the distributing office?

That is a problem I am aware of. It is a problem which came particularly to my notice yesterday. I would not like my hon. and gallant Friend to press me now, but I am extremely anxious to secure that a number of journeys should not be made by a household where they are two, three, or four members with different initials, requiring visits on different days if the present arrangements are to continue. I hope we shall be able to meet that.

As it is obvious that the original scheme has, in many cases at any rate, broken down, will the hon. Member take steps to notify local authorities responsible for the distribution of the cards that the original orders are at a standstill until he has had time to review the whole situation and to deal with it accordingly?

I should be glad to know of any places where there is a breakdown. I must say, as I said before, that I found no evidence of a breakdown yesterday in the places I visited, which were fairly representative—large boroughs, small boroughs and rural districts. If the hon. and gallant Member will give me evidence of a breakdown, I will at once see that appropriate measures are taken; but I could not give any such general undertaking as he suggests.

Has the hon. Member made it quite clear to local food executive officers that where they deem it necessary to open sub-offices, they have full authority to do so without delay?

I have every reason to believe that my Noble Friend will be saying something of the sort in the course of the day.

Could not the distribution be improved if it were made by streets rather than by suburbs?

We have considered that, and we found that it would be even more complicated.

In view of what the hon. Member said about security, will he take note of the second part of my former Supplementary, suggesting the utilisation of the existing emergency food officers in remote villages?

Certainly I will take note of it. I think the hon. Member meant voluntary food officers?

Will my hon. Friend take an early occasion to broadcast these conclusions, because there is widespread ignorance in the rural areas about what is required of them and how they are to fulfil the obligations which the new system entails?

I will certainly submit the suggestion of my hon. Friend to my Noble Friend.

In view of the importance of this matter, and of the difficulty of dealing with it by Question and Answer, I beg to give notice that I shall raise it on the Adjournment.

Message From The Lords

That they give leave to the Earl of it Drogheda to attend in order to his being I examined as a witness before the Committee of Public Accounts, if his Lordship think fit.