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Food Supplies

Volume 437: debated on Monday 5 May 1947

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Cocoa Beans (Allocation)


asked the Minister of Food why the allocation of cocoa beans to British confectionery manufacturers has been reduced, as compared with 1946, in spite of the fact that a larger tonnage has been allotted to Great Britain this year by the International Food Board.

During the past three years, we have been able to use more cocoa than we have received by drawing on stocks accumulated during the early part of the war. In future, consumption will have to be limited to the quantities which we actually receive. The rates of allocation to chocolate and confectionery manufacturers have had to be reduced accordingly.

International Wheat Conference

asked the Minister of Food if he will make a full statement of the reasons why His Majesty's Government have rejected the wheat agreement proposals at the final plenary session of the International Wheat Conference on 23rd April.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the statement made on behalf of His Majesty's Government by the leader of the United Kingdom delegation at the final meeting of the Conference which was fully reported in the Press. I am circulating this statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Is not the hon. Lady aware that the consumers in this country will be delighted to hear that her right hon. Friend is beginning to learn the lesson which I have tried to teach him, and has been compelled to call a halt to the disastrous policy of Government purchase and Government sales?

My right hon. Friend is just as concerned that the producers should have a fair price as that the consumers should not be exploited.

Following is the statement:

"SIR HERBERT BROADLEY (U.K.): Mr. President, I am sorry to have to announce that the United Kingdom Delegation is unable to associate itself with this Wheat Agreement. With its general plan we are in complete agreement, and the United Kingdom Delegation took a substantial part in shaping it. In fact, in many ways we regard it as a model for future commodity arrangements. It preserves the opportunity for freedom of trade so that the price finds its own level, and, at the same time, it provides maximum and minimum wheat points, rather like gold points, so that the consumer is protected against too high prices, and the producer against too sudden and too deep a fall.
"It is the prices themselves, Mr. President, with which the United Kingdom Delegation are unable to agree. We regard certain of these prices as excessive. We do not admit that the present and future wheat prices quoted on particular markets are any indication of what should be a reasonable price for wheat, either now or in the coming years. At the same time, we agree that some of the low prices that ruled before the war were equally unjustifiable. What the United Kingdom seeks is a price which is fair to the producer and the consumer alike. The world must face much lower prices for wheat than those which rule at present, and we want to see those lower prices achieved in a manner which protects the producer against hardship, and enables such arrangements as are necessary for every form of Agriculture to be made without serious dislocation and disaster.
"But, having said that, and being prepared to recognise the system which contains these safeguards, 'the United Kingdom delegation must place on record its feeling that the price scheme proposed in the Agreement in Article VI does not enable the price to come down to a reasonable figure sufficiently quickly. The United Kingdom cannot afford to pay excessive prices for its imports, and the reduction of the cost of our imports is a corollary to the expansion of the volume of our exports."

North-East Area (Supplies)


asked the Minister of Food what is the percentage increase in the following foodstuffs supplied during April to the North-East: fat, sugar, oil for fish frying and meat for cooked meats.

Increased allocations of fats, sugar and meat for manufacturing purposes were made to certain areas in North-East England in 1945, and the recent increase varies between 4 per cent. and 14 per cent., according to whether the area concerned benefited in 1945. For fish-frying oil the increase is between 10 per cent, and 14 per cent.

Fish (Air Transport)


asked the Minister of Food if the committee set up by him to expedite transport of fish to Billingsgate considered the transport by air of fish from Aberdeen, and with what result; or if he will direct them so to do.

Air transport is outside the scope of the committee, and my right hon. Friend does not propose to ask them to examine it because, at the present time, its use for fish would be impracticable and prohibitive in cost.

I would remind my hon. and learned Friend that about 100 to 150 tons of fish come from Aberdeen to Billingsgate every day. That would necessitate 17 aeroplanes, at a cost of £66 per ton.

New Potatoes


asked the Minister of Food to explain why, since the price of new potatoes has been controlled at 9d. per lb., they are no longer to be obtained in greengrocers' shops.

The maximum prices prescribed were agreed with the trade as being a reasonable level for this period of the year. Owing to the season being late in the supplying countries, the supplies available are at present very small.

Is the House to understand from the hon. Lady's reply that the Minister is satisfied that there is no under-the-counter trading going on?

My right hon. Friend is never satisfied, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the supply of these potatoes is very limited, and the demand very great.

Is the hon. Lady aware that, while a shortage exists in this country, thousands of tons of potatoes are being destroyed in the United States?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware that many of those potatoes are in such a condition that we would not be prepared to import them into this country.



asked the Minister of Food the total amount of tea imported and consumed in this country, respectively, from 1st January, 1946, to 31st March, 1947.

Figures for the precise period mentioned are not available, so I will give those for the nearest comparable dates. Between 29th December, 1945, and 28th March, 1947, 485.4 million lb. of tea arrived in this country, and 531 million lb. were allocated for home consumption.

In view of the facts given by the hon. Lady, which show a diminution in stocks, would she tear down a few more of the veils existing between the public and the Government about tea and tell us the real position, whether a ration is going to be imposed, and if the price increase is going to be passed on to the public, or carried in other ways?

I think the hon. Gentleman knows that negotiations are going on at the present moment. Therefore, it would be inadvisable to give all the information for which he asks.


asked the Minister of Food if he will now give details of the tea stocks in this country; what are the prospects of maintaining the tea ration; and if he will give an assurance that, in any event, the ration to old age pensioners will be maintained.

It would not be in the public interests to disclose the quantity of tea held in stock in this country. Until the negotiations now in progress are completed, it is impossible to assess fully the prospects of maintaining the existing tea ration or to give the assurance asked for. It is my right hon. Friend's intention, however, to maintain the ration to old age pensioners if at all possible.

Sweet Ration


asked the Minister of Food if he is yet in a position to make an announcement regarding an increase in the sweet ration.

Would the hon. Lady bear in mind that, if she could increase the sweet ration, it would encourage people to cut down their smoking, and would be popular with the Chancellor of the Exchequer?



asked the Minister of Food what is the reason for the present shortage of sardines in this country.

A substantial quantity of sardines was recently released and will be in the shops during the present rationing period. This will relieve the temporary shortage.



asked the Minister of Food what is the amount of horseradish imported into the United Kingdom during 1947.

Imports of horseradish are not identifiable as a separate item in the official import statistics. The best information I can get indicates that the quantity so far imported this year is 36 tons.

Does the Minister really think it necessary to import horseradish, and is she not aware that we grow it in this country?

The hon. Gentleman may not have a taste for horseradish, hut other people have.

West Indian Sugar (Subsidy Cost)


asked the Minister of Food what is the cost by subsidy on the importation of British West Indian raw sugar during 1947; what is the estimated cost for the financial year 1947; and what would be the cost of the sugar per pound without subsidy.

It is not possible to calculate accurately the subsidy on sugar imported from one particular source. The average subsidy on raw sugar in the financial year 1947–48 on present price levels would be about £15 7s. per ton. Imports of raw sugar from the British West Indies into the United Kingdom in 1947, are estimated at some 370,000 tons, on which the subsidy would be about £5,800,000. There is no reason to expect that the figure would be materially different in respect of the financial year 1947-48. Without subsidy, the retail price of sugar would be about 7d. per lb.

Diabetic Bread (Price)


asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware of the hardship occasioned to diabetic patients by the price of 1s. per 1 lb. loaf of Procea diabetic bread; and if he will effect a reduction in the price.

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend has been advised that bread sold under proprietary names is not essential for the treatment of diabetes, and does not, therefore, consider it necessary to control the price of such bread.

Does not the Parliamentary Secretary agree that this particular form of bread is extensively used by diabetic subjects, and that the disproportionate price of this bread compared with the price of other bread is unfair to such people?

The most distinguished physicians in this country have considered the needs of diabetics, and although we give them no ration of sugar, they get two extra rations of meat, two extra rations of butter and margarine, 12 ounces of cheese instead of two ounces, and seven pints of milk a week.

Hides (Warble Fly Damage)


asked the Minister of Food how many hides were damaged or rendered unfit for tanning due to the warble fly for the quarter ended 31st March, 1947.

Of the 255,000 hides produced in the Ministry's slaughterhouses in Great Britain during the 13 weeks ended 28th March, 1947, about 53,000 had been damaged by the warble fly. None of these hides was unfit for tanning, but the leather produced from them would be reduced in value by the presence of warble holes.

In view of the great loss in beef and, of course, of leather, does riot the hon. Lady agree that something should be done very quickly to counteract the effect of this pest?

I am advised that there is no loss in beef. The only trouble is the deterioration of the hide, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, who is very concerned in this matter, is giving it his careful attention.

Coffee (Preparation)


asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that nearly three times as much coffee is drunk annually in Britain now as before the war, and that a number of tourists are expected to come to Britain from countries in which coffee is a favourite drink; and if he will take steps, by advice in his Department's advertisements or otherwise, to educate housewives, hotel keepers and others in the preparation of tolerable coffee.

I fully appreciate that coffee as prepared in this country is not to the liking of most overseas visitors. My Department has already given advice on the proper preparation of coffee in a. booklet entitled, "The A.B.C. of Cookery," and I shall be glad to take such measures as I can to circulate this advice more widely in the appropriate quarters.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the average English housewife, however admirable her other qualities, and the average English hotel are quite incapable of preparing a cup of coffee which any Frenchman or American could drink without choking, and will she intensify her educational campaign which does not seem to have been very effective so far?

Is the hon. Lady aware that recently in a British restaurant, some tea sold as coffee was thought by a customer to be cocoa?

Imported Poultry (Fowl Pest)


asked the Minister of Food whether, in view of the recent serious outbreak of fowl pest in the United Kingdom, he will arrange with the exporting countries of dead poultry to the United Kingdom to export in future dressed and not undressed fowls, so as to prevent the further infection of home poultry stock.


asked the Minister of Food what is the total of undressed poultry imported from the United States since the New Year; and what precautions are taken against these dead birds bringing in poultry pest.

About 1,500 tons of undressed poultry have been imported from the United States this year. Officers of my Department and of the Ministry of Agriculture are examining measures to minimise the risk of fowl pest being brought into the country through the medium of imported poultry and the noble Lord's suggestion will certainly be taken into account.

In view of the serious figures given by the Minister of Agriculture about these recent outbreaks, will the hon. Lady see that not only do we prevent undressed fowls from coming into the country, but also that their heads are cut off before they come into the country?

No, Sir, I cannot promise that. We do not want to prohibit poultry from being imported into this country. I think the noble Lord is wrong about the heads, and that infection is due to the fact that the poultry offal is unsterilised and is then used as swill.

Is the hon. Lady aware that if drastic action is not taken, and the pest is allowed to continue, there will be few eggs and poultry from home producers?

Does the hon. Lady realise that in one instance the infection has been definitely traced to a head having been thrown down and a fowl having picked it up and contracted this disease? In view of the fact that 10,000 home birds have had to be slaughtered as a result of this pest, does not the hon. Lady think it better not to import fowls in the numbers in which they are being imported?

Is the hon. Lady aware that this disease is prevalent also in countries in Eastern Europe from which we are increasing our poultry imports?

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the replies of the Minister of Agriculture and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food on this question, I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment. It is thoroughly unsatisfactory.

Sugar (Fruit Bottling)


asked the Minister of Food whether, in view of the favourable position of sugar stocks, he will consider making a special allocation this summer for the bottling of fruit.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my right hon. Friend on 31st March to the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson).

If we cannot have any more sugar for fruit bottling or sweets, can we have any more for jam?

The hon. and gallant Member should be aware that the first extra allocation is to be made very soon, and that last year there were five allocations for that purpose.

Meat Consumption


asked the Minister of Food by what amount the consumption of meat, including home-produced, imported and canned, exceeded supply during the months February, March and April, respectively.

Consumption exceeded supply by about 59,000 tons in February and about 27,000 tons in March. Provisional figures indicate that in April consumption and supply were practically equal.

Is the hon. Lady aware that this reveals a grave position, showing a run-down in stocks of well over 100,000 tons in the last six months? In view of that fact would she consider the necessity of cutting the meat ration to avoid a breakdown?

I will certainly not commit myself to that. I think the hon. Member knows that my right hon. Friend is discussing the whole question of meat shortage with the trade.

West African Groundnuts


asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that there were 300,000 tons of groundnuts recently in Nigeria which the 'growers were unable to sell or ship for use in this country; and what action he is taking to secure these supplies.

West African groundnuts are bought on my right hon. Friend's behalf as soon as they are offered by the growers. The stocks to which the hon. Member refers are the Ministry's property and are being shipped for use in this country.

In view of the disquieting information revealed in the report of the Oil Seeds Commission about the shortages of spares for the Nigerian railway, which has to move these crops, will the Minister take all possible steps to speed up this matter?