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Ration Books And Identity Cards (Distribution)

Volume 390: debated on Wednesday 2 June 1943

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65.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food what steps he has now taken in the Isle of Wight to improve the arrangements for the issue of ration books and identity cards in view of the hardships still caused to elderly and infirm people and those employed in essential war work by having to travel from outlying towns and villages?

66.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware of the terms of the telegram sent by the Press officer, Ministry of Information, Reading, on 25th May, 1943, to the editor of the "New Milton Advertiser," about the decision of the divisional food officer for the Southern region to open special distribution points for the new ration books where necessary; and whether there is any objection to the telegram being displayed on the premises of retailers in the New Milton area together with any official notices?

67.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware of the difficulties still caused by the method of distributing ration cards in Glasgow; that by only having a central office in the city it is still made difficult for a woman with children to collect the books; and whether he will, without delay, make fresh arrangements to remedy the situation in Glasgow, especially by establishing sub-offices for each Parliamentary district?

68.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware that people living on Mersea Island are still compelled to go all the way to Colchester to obtain their new ration cards; that the only means of transport are a few overcrowded omnibuses and that, having reached Colchester, a long delay occurs before the cards are issued; and will he take steps by opening sub-offices or otherwise to put an end to the waste of time and lass of labour involved?

I am able to say that the issue of new ration documents, clothing coupons and national registration identity cards is now proceeding, in general, in a satisfactory manner. Every effort has been made both centrally and locally to minimise inconvenience to the public, and many improvements in procedure have been effected to enable this formidable task to be carried out with all possible smoothness. In some rural areas local distribution is now being undertaken; in others local sub-offices will be set up in due course after an initial issue for those who find it possible to attend at a central point. The utmost use is also being made of voluntary workers and other agencies to collect documents of those living in villages or hamlets inconveniently situated. It is now generally understood that those who cannot conveniently attend at a central point will be provided for in other ways and that my Department will ensure delivery of documents to any elderly people or infirm people who cannot attend themselves or by proxy. In urban areas the development of the block system of delivery to factories, the breaking down of initials and the provision of alternative points of issue and more extensive accommodation have substantially assisted in the process of distribution. Throughout the country arrangements have been made in those cases where more than one initial is represented in one household for all documents to be brought for exchange on the day appropriate to the last initial.

In detail, voluntary helpers are providing very useful assistance in collecting and distributing documents in the Isle of Wight. Local sub-offices are to be set up in the island and will be advertised as soon as possible. I am aware of the message sent to the "New Milton Advertiser" indicating that local sub-offices would be opened later and urging as many people as possible to call centrally. The display of this telegram by retailers would be welcomed. I regret it is not possible with the man-power available to break down the documents in Glasgow into districts. I am informed that, after the first day, distribution in Glasgow proceeded much more smoothly and indeed my Department would now welcome and could handle larger attendances in order to enable the documents to be issued in time. The inhabitants of Mersea Island have been notified that a sub-office is to be opened later. Those who can go to Colchester will, however, be dealt with quickly there.

In view of the concern of the House, I can assure hon. Members that my Department is carrying out this task with the utmost degree of flexibility consistent with the most important element of security necessary in the process. I hope I may be allowed to express appreciation of the staffs of the food offices, permanent, temporary and voluntary, who are devoting long hours every day to this task with patience and courtesy and of the good will with which the public is cooperating in an undertaking which, I think hon. Members will agree, was bound to present very considerable difficulties.

While appreciating the answer given by the hon. Gentleman, may I ask what steps are taken to notify people in rural areas of the new arrangements, particularly those who take only weekly papers?

It was suggested last week that my Noble Friend should broadcast, and that suggestion was put into effect.

Is the hon. Member aware that the people of the City of Glasgow have solved this problem by not calling for the cards? That is what has happened. Will he not undertake to go into the question again, and in the event of people not calling for the cards, because they find it an impossibility to do so, does he intend to take alternative steps to see that they will be issued with cards?

There is a great deal of force in what my hon. Friend says, but there is a considerable flow at Glasgow at the present time. It is our job to get these documents into the hands of the public by 25th July, and I can assure the hon. Member we shall take appropriate steps to secure that the documents get into the hands of the people by the proper date.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that if generals and admirals lose battles, they get removed, and does he not think it would be a graceful action if he and Lord Woolton at least tendered their resignations?

The House is never reluctant to let Ministers know its wishes in such matters.

Will the Minister consider opening centres in the districts of Glasgow? Most of the women there are either working or have children. There was one woman with three young children—one year, two years and four years—who was going to collect the food cards, and she had to travel miles to get to the centre.

We are paying particular attention to Glasgow, and I shall be very glad to consider the suggestion put forward by the hon. Lady.

Could the Minister see that in those rural areas where it is decided to open sub-offices the actual names of the areas are broadcast, so that the people concerned can know?

I think broadcasting would be a little difficult, but we will do our best to secure that by some means or other people do know.

Can we take it that local authorities will not be required to provide the rather elaborate type of van which may be needed for mobile local distribution, and that the Ministry will provide them?

I have made many journeys myself in visiting these points of distribution, and so far as I can judge the Food Division will be able to supply mobile canteens, to enable those documents to be taken round to the villages where that system is to be adopted.

May I ask the hon. Gentleman again to look at the conditions in the City of Glasgow? There is only one central office for a population of well over 1,000,000, and in the circumstances there must be either non-collection or wholesale chaos. Is he also aware that the trams are being over-crowded with women carrying young children, causing terrible annoyance to men and women who have work to carry out in the national interest, and will he not use his capacity to get over this scheme, which is really not a scheme at all?

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that in built-up areas in London it is not an advantage to have sub-offices, which only means increasing the amount of sorting, because the sorting has to be done twice?

That is quite true. The sub-offices are being opened in rural areas, although I will look at the particular problem of Glasgow.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the advertisements still being issued by the Ministry of Food are inconsistent with the statement which he has just made?

If the hon. Member is referring to the published programmes indicating the initials that are going to be taken at one central point, we shall go through that first round, and after that we shall go out to the villages and hamlets, and we shall have plenty of time to do it.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary see that if a time is fixed for the opening of a sub-office, at least it shall open at that time, and not an hour later?

All I can say is that I have been round a lot of them myself, and I find that the people in the food offices have been working extraordinarily long hours. They are very hard pressed, and I do not think it is quite fair to suggest that they are keeping the people waiting by opening the offices an hour late.

If they cannot open until 10 o'clock, it is far better to say so and to open at 10 o'clock. That is the only point I am making.