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Food Supplies

Volume 390: debated on Wednesday 30 June 1943

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Ships From North Africa (Ballast)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he will obtain fruit, or other foodstuffs, for use as ballast in vessels return-log from North Africa instead of Algerian wine?

Fruit is not suitable for shipment as ballast, nor should it be supposed that any substantial amount of foodstuffs are in excess supply and available for export in North Africa at present. My hon. Friend may rest assured that if foodstuffs become available they will be brought to this country whenever practicable.

As I said, it would be false to suppose that there is any substantial excess of food supplies in North Africa.

Has the Minister been told whether it is good Algerian wine?

Why is it that the wine, having been brought to this country, is not yet made available to the public?



asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware that during the last season the South country received an average of over 6 lbs. of tomatoes per head of the population, while in the North-East country it was 3.85 lbs.; and what steps he is taking to give the North-East coast an equal share with the rest of the country?

No, Sir, supplies of tomatoes distributed under last year's scheme did not average 6 lbs. per head of the population in the South of England. Taking Great Britain as a whole, the supply of tomatoes distributed under the scheme averaged 4.19 lbs. per head. The average supply distributed in deficiency areas amounted to 3.98 lbs. per head. My Department cannot arrange for a crop so perishable and so variable in supply as tomatoes to be distributed with mathematical accuracy, but every effort will be made to ensure that all parts of the country, including North-Eastern districts, receive in the course of the season supplies of tomatoes in proportion to the size of the local population.

Cases From United States (Pilfering)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware that retailers are complaining that cases of pork luncheon meat imported from the United States of America contain bricks, apparently packed to fill up space, and that drain pipes are found in cases of tinned salmon; and what action is being taken to remedy this and protect retailers here?

I am aware that tins of canned meats and canned fish are pilfered occasionally and that foreign bodies are sometimes inserted to fill the gaps so caused in the cases. The volume of complaint from retailers on this score is negligible. Retailers generally have no difficulty in obtaining reimbursement from their suppliers for the lost goods on presentation of satisfactory evidence.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that these bricks, worth a penny, are substituted for meat which costs 15s. to the consumer?

As I say, we have had very few complaints, and we cannot avoid a certain amount of pilfering. It does not appear that these foreign bodies have a foreign origin.

Fish (Prices)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he has seen the reduction of 10d. per stone in fish prices to the inshore fishermen and whether any representative of the inshore fishermen attended the price-fixing meeting; and whether he is aware that the new price is below the pre-war price and with the increased cost of gear, bait and labour, will cause distress and hardship to our inshore fishermen; and will he take some steps to keep this important industry on a sound economic basis?

The prices to which my hon. and gallant Friend refers were discussed with the Fish Industry Joint Council, but I understand that, although that Council represents the industry as a whole, it does not contain at present a special representative of inshore fishermen. The new prices, which are in general substantially above pre-war prices, apply to all producers and were fixed after full consideration had been given to all relevant factors including the cost of gear and labour. It is not practicable to fix special prices to inshore fishermen whose catch constitutes only a very small proportion of all the fish landed.

Does not my hon. Friend consider it is absolutely necessary for our inshore men to be properly represented on this body, so that we do not get these complaints, and if this industry is not vital to the country and is not going to be made an economic industry could not these men be usefully used in something else rather than be left to dwindle away in declining numbers?

I wholly agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and the Fish Industry Joint Council is trying to persuade the inshore fishermen to appoint a representative to sit on the Council.

Price Regulation (Charges For Containers)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food what steps he is taking to ensure that traders are not evading maximum price regulations by the device of any excessive charge for containers of a damageable character, for instance, paper bags?

It is the practice of my Department to include, where appropriate, in its maximum price Orders a provision prohibiting in terms the making of any additional charge for containers. I have no reason to believe that there is any general evasion of our maximum price Orders in the manner suggested, but I shall be pleased to have investigated any specific cases brought to my notice.

Does that reply mean that if a charge of 1d. is made for a paper bag without which the article purchased cannot be taken away, that is regarded by the hon. Gentleman's Department as an evasion of the price regulations?

I think the precise terms of the regulations must be interpreted by the courts.

Carrots Order


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food the object of paragraph 14 of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Food (Carrots) Order (S.R. O. No. 831 of 1943); and, in particular, what was intended to he meant by the words "any artificial transaction"?

This article appears in all Orders made by my Department to control prices. Its object is to make it an offence to attempt to evade a controlled price by some collateral bargain which is fictitious and not bona-fide. Whether a charge purporting to be made for some fictitious service is or is not an artificial transaction must be a matter for decision by the courts.

Why is not the term "artificial transaction" used in the Order, which contains a long interpretation clause?

I think the hon. Member will appreciate that a similar term was used in the Finance Act, and that the interpretation must be left to the proper body charged with the duty of interpretation.

merely used the Act as an illustration. I am sure that the hon. Member fully appreciates that it is impossible to define in an Order what is an artificial transaction.

Northern Ireland Potatoes (Price)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether, owing to the dissatisfaction among farmers at the lower price fixed for potatoes grown in Northern Ireland as compared with that paid in Great Britain, he will go afresh into the whole matter and fix the price of the 1943 crop at the same rate for the whole of the United Kingdom?

Prices of potatoes of the 1943 crop from 5th August onwards are now under discussion, and representations on behalf of Northern Ireland farmers will be carefully considered. My Noble Friend however does not contemplate abandoning the customary practice of grading prices according to the district of production.

Will the Minister of Food bear in mind that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and that the farmers there have the same liabilities as farmers on this side and should receive the same consideration?

Closed Creamery, County Tyrone


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware that Mr. Patrick McDermott, of Dromore, County Tyrone, has had the creamery he purchased for £1,200 closed, and has been deprived of earning a livelihood for himself and his family; and whether he will arrange that this man is adequately compensated for the loss of income arising from the closing down of his creamery?

Compensation is being paid to the owners of the closed creameries in Northern Ireland. Although the claim forms have been sent to Mr. McDermott, no application has yet been received from him.

Is the Minister aware that I have received a number of complaints from Mr. McDermott? I want to ask the Minister of Food to grant this gentleman ordinary British justice and to deal with him fairly and squarely.

Fish Friers (Frying Fat)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether-he is aware that fish-frying businesses in the Brandon, Langley Moor, Browney and Meadowfield districts are closed three days a week because of their inability to obtain supplies of fat, while at the same time they are unable to accept supplies of fish owing to the above shortage; and can he do anything to remove this hardship from the fish friers and the general public?

Yes, Sir. Some fish friers are at times unable to take up their full allocation of fish because they are temporarily short of frying fat. The average amount of fat allocated by my Department to fish friers is 75 per cent. of their pre-war purchases, the actual amount for each area varying according to changes in population which have since taken place. The supply position does not permit my Department to increase this percentage, and each frier must use the allowance in the best interests of his business and his customers.

While thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask whether he is aware that in the areas concerned there are 2,300 houses, between 9,000 and 10,000 of population, and over 4,000 workers? Cannot something be done for the population of that area? The general public are terribly affected by the closing down of those shops.

I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates the supply position. We do give most generous assistance to fish friers.

Bilberries (Picking Rates)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food the reasons which decided his Ministry to fix the price of 7d. per lb. to whimberry pickers this season?

The price of bilberries or whimberries has been controlled because of the large number of complaints last season that they were being sold in retail shops at quite excessive prices. The price to the picker, which is nearly twice as high as that allowed to the picker of wild blackberries, appeared to be reasonable in relation to the prices currently fixed for other soft fruits.

May I ask the hon. Gentleman to reconsider this decision, in view of the representations which he knows have been made to him? Is he not aware that there is no comparison here with the picking of blackberries, since whim-berries are extremely small, and it takes well over an hour to pick a pound?

The matter has been very carefully considered. We cannot get the price quite out of range of other soft fruit without the danger of diverting pickers from other fruits. Moreover, it is by no means certain that the increased price went to the pickers last year.

Milk Distribution, Hungerford Rural Area


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he has yet taken any steps to improve the milk distribution scheme in the rural districts round Hungerford, of which he has recently been informed; and whether he is aware that much of the milk delivered there was wasted owing to sourness and lateness of delivery?

Yes, Sir. I am informed that the distributor concerned has now made arrangements for a daily delivery of milk in Hungerford rural area.

May I say that I have just had a letter of thanks for what the Minister has done, and may I be permitted to pass those thanks on to him?

Potatoes (Stockfeeding)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food the quantity of potatoes sold for animal fodder during the present year and what price has been received?

As the reply to my hon. Friend's Question is rather long and contains a number of figures, I will, with his permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Will it include the potatoes that were allowed to go stale in London markets last week, owing to the clumsy handling by the Ministry?

I cannot accept the suggestion that the Ministry handles the potato situation clumsily.

Following is the statement:

Up to and including 29th May, 1943, 274,538 tons of potatoes of the 1942 crop were sold by my Department for stock-feeding, the prices for truckloads delivered to buyer's station being 7os. per ton to stockfeeders or 66s. 6d. per ton to merchants for re-sale. Between 30th May and 25th June a further 62,464 tons were sold, the prices being 20s. per ton to the grower for use on his farm, and, in respect of truckloads delivered to buyer's station, 25s. per ton to merchants for resale and 30s. per ton to stockfeeders. It is not possible to apportion the total sales between the different categories, but it is estimated that 75 per cent. was sold to merchants.

Fish Supplies, Liverpool

(by Private Notice) asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware that fish supplies are being held up in trawlers in Fleetwood; that the people of Liverpool and district cannot get their quota and that thousands of pounds' worth of fish is likely to rot; and what action he has taken to end this hold-up?

In putting this Question, Mr. Speaker, may I say that I am in great difficulty? I put the Question to the Ministry of Food, who would not accept the responsibility. Further, the Ministry of War Transport would not accept responsibility. Ultimately, a quarter of an hour ago, I was informed that the Question had been handed over to the Ministry of Labour, who would deal with it. Having placed this Question, as a matter of primary importance, before the Minister who assumes responsibility in matters of food, I should like it to be answered by the Minister to whom I originally addressed it, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food.

I have been asked to reply——

On a point of Order. I do not know whether it is considered dignified or not in this House that when a Member addresses a Question to the Minister responsible for fish supplies that particular Minister cannot give an answer.

The usual practice is that responsibility must be accepted by the Minister who is asked to reply. In this case the Question was put down to one Minister, and it is natural for that Minister to pass that letter on to the Minister responsible, who in this case appears to be the Minister of Labour.

I have been asked to reply. Following the introduction of the dock labour scheme at Fleetwood on Sunday night, the fish lumpers objected to being brought within the scheme. The military were accordingly brought in yesterday morning, and I understand that the catches are being discharged, and so far none have been lost, and I hope that Liverpool will receive their due proportion of supplies to-day.

Can the statement made by the Minister who has replied be borne out by the responsible Minister, that the fish supplies are not rotten and that they are normal supplies? Will Liverpool get its quota?

In view of the fact that the representative of the Ministry of Labour has stated that military personnel are now making deliveries, I am now asking the responsible Minister whether I can be assured now that we are going to get fish that is normal and not rotten delivered in our city? Does the Minister know that? Can I get an answer? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]

The original Question was as to the action that we were taking to end the hold-up. I have endeavoured to answer that Question, but I did say that so far no fish had been lost. I hope that Liverpool will receive its due proportion to-day. I have nothing further to add to that answer.

Coal Bill Lords

Read the First time; to be read a Second time upon the next Sitting Day. [Bill 47.]

Message From The Lords

That they have agreed to.

Amendments to.

Grand Union Canal Bill [ Lords], without Amendment.