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Christmas Turkeys

Volume 395: debated on Wednesday 1 December 1943

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asked the Minister of Food why a central commission at Smithfield has been entrusted with the distribution of turkeys for Christmas; why they propose to do this on the basis of retailers' pre-war orders; whether he is aware that this is very unfair as populations have altered owing to bombing and evacuation; and whether he will institute a fairer scheme of distribution?

The arrangements for the distribution of turkeys from Northern Ireland, to which I assume my hon. Friend refers, were explained in detail in my reply on the 23rd November to the hon. Members for Edinburgh West (Lieut.-Commander Hutchinson) and Reigate (Mr. Touche). The allocation of supplies to traders in each area by a committee chosen by the local trade organisations concerned, acting under the guidance of my Department should, in my view, ensure equitable distribution amongst retailers. Moreover, arrangements are being made in each area for the setting up of an independent body to which retailers may appeal if they are dissatisfied with the decision of the local committee on their application for a share of the supplies. The proportion of the total supplies of Northern Ireland turkeys allotted to each of the five selected areas was determined by my Department, on the basis of the latest available estimate of civilian population in each Food Area. The equitable distribution of the supplies allotted to each centre among the retailers there is more likely to be achieved by reference to their pre-war trade than in any other manner.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that a large part of my constituency has been told that it is to have no turkeys at all? Would he look into that matter?

I think that turkeys are not yet on general sale, and I think that the hon. Member's constituency will find itself rather better placed than some others.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that in most working-class areas butchers purchased foreign turkeys in 1938 and will not participate in this scheme of distribution, but the West End shops, which catered for better-class trade, will get the bulk of the supply from Northern Ireland and English turkeys as well?

That is not quite right. Eire turkeys are a far larger supply than Northern Ireland turkeys, and any butcher who purchased imported turkeys before the war from wholesalers who are now members of the distributing association will, wherever they may be, be entitled to have a share in these Eire turkeys, and of course there are the home produced turkeys as well.

Will they have a contrasting quota for the foreign turkeys they purchased in 1938?

Can the Parliamentary Secretary say whether he has been able to make effective provision in this distribution for the Armed Forces?

Yes, Sir. I should like to say that the Armed Forces have co-operated by issuing an order prohibiting the purchase of turkeys by messes, and General Devers, the General commanding the American forces in the European theatre of operations, has with great consideration issued an order prohibiting the purchase by units or individuals of the American forces of turkeys in the open market or direct from producers.

In working-class areas where turkeys are not available will the Parliamentary Secretary consider arranging for a supply of geese?


asked the Minister of Food whether it is his intention to allocate to Hull a quota of Irish turkeys; and, if not, why not?

Poultry retailers and caterers in Hull who, before the war, purchased imported turkeys from wholesalers who are now members of the Association of Wholesale Distributors of Imported Poultry and Rabbits, Limited, should receive a fair proportion of Eire turkeys under the arrangements referred to in my reply to the hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison) and the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Touche) on 23rd November. As was explained in that reply, it has not been found practicable at the outset of the new scheme to make arrangements for the direction of Northern Ireland turkeys to Hull.

Is my hon. Friend not aware that supplies of poultry in the immediate countryside are very small, and that his reply probably means that turkeys will not be available in Hull at Christmas-time?

It is perfectly correct that the supply of turkeys is very small indeed. There are approximately 1,500,000 for the whole country; hon. Members will appreciate that that cannot work out better than one for every 10 families. We cannot make more.

Will my hon. Friend see that no Member of Parliament eats turkey at Christmas?

Will there be any turkeys for consumption in Hull? Can the Minister reply to that?

Having regard to the widespread famine on the Continent, among our Allies, would the hon. Gentleman agree that the less we discuss these matters in public the better it will be?

Why has my right hon. Friend refused to allocate supplies to his own city of Leeds, where there are 500,000 people?

Will the hon. Gentleman arrange to sink all the turkeys in the Irish Sea?


asked the Minister of Food whether he realises that the system of distribution inaugurated by his Department for turkeys from Northern Ireland results in the South Staffordshire industrial area, hitherto largely dependent on supplies from that quarter, receiving supplies neither direct nor through the Birmingham wholesalers from whom they regularly buy, whereas the Birmingham consumer receives both a privileged supply and the right of drawing through wholesalers from the common pool; and whether he will immediately rectify this inequality?


asked the Minister of Food whether adequate provision has now been made for an allocation of turkeys to retailers in the Stretford area, equal in proportion to that made to Manchester and other areas?

The number of turkeys from Northern Ireland will be small, and is expected to be no more than one-fifth of the total supplies available in Great Britain. To create special machinery for a precisely equitable distribution over the whole country would not be justifiable on man-power grounds, even if it were practicable. Arrangements for fair distribution amongst retailers in the five areas which, before the war, bought a large proportion of the Northern Ireland supplies have, however, been found practicable. Whilst this will result in some concentration of the Northern Ireland supplies in a limited number of areas, this is considered preferable to permitting a repetition of the conditions which prevailed last year. Although poultry retailers in South Staffordshire and those parts of Lancashire outside Liverpool, Manchester and Salford will not receive Northern Ireland turkeys, they will be entitled, under the arrangements referred to in my reply to the hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh and the hon. Member for Reigate on 23rd November, to a share of Eire turkeys if they bought imported poultry from a member of the Association before the war.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, when he speaks of the equitable distribution of these turkeys, he is referring much more to an equitable distribution among wholesalers than among retailers, and that places like Hull and Coventry are penalised very much indeed?