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Food Supplies

Volume 437: debated on Monday 12 May 1947

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Workers' Sugar Allowances

21.

asked the Minister of Food what is the allocation of sugar for tea for factory workers and for those working in offices, respectively.

Heavy workers' category A canteens receive one-fifth of an ounce of sugar for each hot drink served and other works and office canteens one-eighth of an ounce. Where there is no canteen, industrial workers can get one ounce per head per week for communal tea making but none is allowed for office workers.

Can the Minister explain why there is this difference between the allocation to office workers and that to industrial workers where canteens are not provided?

On the whole, industrial workers are favoured in all food matters because it is considered that it is more important to give them increased nourishment.

Does the Minister seriously suggest that office workers ought not to be allowed a ration of tea and sugar and that industrial workers should be given a ration?

We should like to allow the ration to both, but I think it is reasonable to give the industrial worker prority.

Imported Onions

22.

asked the Minister of Food how many onions have been imported into this country during 1947; how many have rotted owing to lack of facilities to discharge the vessels; and what has been the loss expressed in foreign exchange.

Up to 31st March, 55,736 tons of onions have been imported this year. I have had no complaints of loss through lack of discharging facilities, but if the hon. Member will let me know of any reports which have reached him, I will gladly have them looked into.

Siamese Rice

27.

asked the Minister of Food what shipments of rice have been made from Siam in February, March and April, 1947, respectively.

28.

asked the Minister of Food what price the International Rice Commission is now paying for rice in Siam; and whether expected supplies are now available.

About 20,500 tons of rice were exported from Siam in February, 31,800 tons in March, and 45,000 tons between 1st and 25th April. The Combined Siam Rice Commission do not buy rice; the present export price is about £26 per ton f.o.b.

Would the Minister agree that this total for very nearly three months is well below the contracts signed last year, and what steps is he taking to see that supplies of this vital food from Malaya and other parts of the East are very largely increased? Has he managed to see that the owner and producer of rice gets the benefit of the foreign exchange and not the Government?

I would agree that these totals are not fully satisfactory but they are rising. I would not like to utter any complacent words about the situation. My Director of Rice has very recently been in Siam and we are putting very strong pressure on the Siamese Government in view of the immense importance of this foodstuff and we shall certainly continue to do so.

May I protest against, "My Director of Rice?" The Director of Rice is a servant of the taxpayer and of the country.

If the phrase does not please the hon. Member, I shall be delighted to withdraw it.

Subsidies

29.

asked the Minister of Food the food items on which there is going to be a withdrawal or reduction of subsidy.

I must ask the hon. Member to wait for the announcements which are made whenever controlled food prices change in either direction.

Can the Minister give an indication as to the date of the announcement?

In that case would the Minister recall what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said a few weeks ago when he intimated to the House that we could expect such changes in the near future and that the Minister of Food would be the one to acquaint us?

No, Sir, I know of no such announcement. Various changes of food prices have been made over the past three months of which I gave the hon. Member a list. There may be others.

Will the Minister bear in mind, and also impress it on his colleagues, that this policy of food subsidies has been of tremendous importance both in securing a just distribution of food and in restraining the wages-prices spiral? Will he give this his closest consideration?

Yes, Sir, we regard this as of the utmost importance, and a most substantial figure has already been announced to be expended on food subsidies in the coming financial year.

Does not the Minister agree that it is a great extravagance that the Treasury should have to bear no less than two-thirds of the cost of home-made cheese, the demand for which is far in excess of the supply?

If the hon. Member thinks it would be a good thing to allow the price of cheese to rise to an unsubsidised level, I cannot agree.

Flour (Bakers)

31.

asked the Minister of Food the amount of flour allocation to bakers for each month of the last six months, to the latest available date.

There are no such allocations. As already announced, there is a limitation during the six weeks from 27th April to 95 per cent. of what bakers bought from the millers in February and March last.

Is the Minister aware that this new, limitation is only camouflaged and has the effect of deceiving the public? Is it not simply robbing Peter to pay Paul?

Bread Rationing

33.

asked the Minister of Food if he will make a statement in regard to the continuance or otherwise of bread rationing.

57.

asked the Minister of Food whether, in view of the improvement in the wheat supplies in this country and the potential improvement throughout the coming months of the year, the Government can give an undertaking to abandon bread rationing on or before 30th June, 1947

As I have already said publicly and repeatedly, it would clearly be wrong to make any decision on bread rationing before we see what this year's harvests are going to be like.

When the Minister has reached a decision on this important matter, will be make his first announcement to this House?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that bread rationing is really very largely a bureaucratic farce and is wasteful of bread and manpower, and would it not be better to do away with it?

No, Sir; it will be very much better to do away with it when the supply situation permits.

Departmental Staffs

34.

asked the Minister of Food the total number of persons employed by his Department at the last convenient date; what proportion of these are established civil servants; and how many are employed as enforcement officers.

Counting two part-timers as one full time worker, in the usual way, the number of industrial and non-industrial staff employed in my Department on 1st April, 1947, was 44,242, of whom 1,258, or 2.84 per cent., are established civil servants and 754 are employed throughout the country as enforcement officers

Is the Minister aware that the figure he has just given is only about 10 per cent. less than it was at the height of the war, and may we now anticipate an increase or a decrease?

It is entirely a question of rationing. If we can abolish, for example, bread rationing and the rationing of other staple foods, of course, we can make a most substantial decrease. The vast majority of this staff is employed in the local offices on rationing.

As the Minister has said that a reduction can only be made if we abolish rationing, will he now abolish rationing?

If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will abolish the necessity for rationing.

London Dock Strike (Fish Wastage)

35.

asked the Minister of Food how much food has gone rotten at the London docks because of the latest strike of dock workers.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these successive unofficial strikes affecting food supplies are adding to the prevalent malnutrition, and is he able as the Minister of Food to do anything about it?

No, Sir; in this particular case I am clad to say there was no loss of foodstuffs because of the strike.

There was 12 cwt. of fish lost, but that might very easily be lost in the ordinary course of distribution.

May I ask the Minister what was the loss of the carrying capacity in food for importation of those vessels through the delay in their turn-round?

The Question deals with how much food has gone rotten and not with carrying capacity.

Cocoa Stocks

39.

asked the Minister of Food what stocks of cocoa were held in this country on 1st January, 1945, 1946 and 1947, respectively.

How is it that it would not be in the public interest to reveal these figures for cocoa when the Minister gave exactly the figures for tea the other day?

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman means. Does he suggest that I gave the figures for tea?

Tea stocks in this country? No, Sir, she said that we were concerned at the level of tea stocks.

Dog Biscuits

40.

asked the Minister of Food if he will improve the supply of dog biscuits in the South Eastern area.

Supplies of dog biscuits are not large because of the shortage of flour. I know of no special difficulties in the South Eastern area.

Is the Minister aware that the British people are determined to keep their dogs alive at all costs, and the only way to do it at the moment is by using their own rations and endangering their own lives?

Farm Workers

42.

asked the Minister of Food whether the special food allowance extended to farm workers for seasonal tasks will be continued throughout the summer, having regard to the impossibility of foreseeing any slackening in work between now and the harvest.

No, Sir, except for the seasonal occupations for which they are ordinarily available. We have already extended these allowances till the end of May and they will be restored for the harvest.

Having regard to the fact that agriculture is as important as the mining industry, and bearing in mind that the miner gets three or four times as much coal as the British housewife, would the right hon. Gentleman consider allocating three or four times more food to farmers and agricultural workers?

The hon. and gallant Gentleman should not forget that, in the case of cheese, the agricultural worker already gets six times more.

43.

asked the Minister of Food for what reason food executive officers are refusing to issue for the month of May special rations for farm-workers intensively engaged in overtaking arrears of seasonal work.

I know of no instance of their doing so, but if the hon. and gallant Member will let me have details of any case, I will look into the matter.

World Situation (Review)

44.

asked the Minister of Food when the next review of the general world food situation may be expected.

We shall not know the 1947–48 position until this year's Northern Hemisphere harvests are gathered. When these can be assessed, I shall issue a further review of the world food position and more particularly of prospects for 1947–48.

Does not the Minister remember that this review was promised as a regular quarterly publication, and it is row something like 10 months since the last edition? Would it not be a good thing to resume quarterly publication?

I must admit that the review is in arrear and should be issued, but I would not like to issue it now until we can see what the harvest situation will be. I quite agree, however, that we ought to produce one in the near future.

Potato Subsidy Claims

58.

asked the Minister of Food what steps are taken by his finance department at Oxford to check the accuracy of claims submitted by potato merchants in respect of subsidy; and, in particular, whether he is satisfied that there is any satisfactory check on claims with regard to variety, grade, class and weight.

Merchants' subsidy claims are scrutinised at Oxford before payment; and afterwards a proportion of them is closely checked in all material particulars, comparison being made with growers' records in selected cases. There have been prosecutions in several cases where wrongful claims have been discovered on subsequent checking.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is commonly believed by honest merchants that there are others who receive large sums of public money to which they are not entitled? Is he also aware that in cases where a bona fide mistake is made, merchants are paid without question?

I cannot say what the common belief amongst merchants is but I must point out that the potato merchants are a carefully controlled body and licences are only issued to merchants whom the Ministry believe are reputable. On the other hand, I agree that it is of the greatest importance that a sufficiently large number of these returns should be checked, and I am looking into the matter.

Glucose (Retail Chemists)

60.

asked the Minister of Food whether a greater proportion of the available supplies of glucose will be allocated to retail chemists, in view of the difficulty they have at present in honouring prescriptions.

I will see whether an increased proportion of the available supply can be diverted to retail chemists, although this can only take place at the expense of some other medical use. It would be helpful if all retailers of powdered glucose would take care to sell this scarce article only against medical certificates.

In view of the fact that a great number of retail chemists, especially, for instance, in North West Kent, are able to honour only one in ten of National Health prescriptions, will my right hon. Friend consider enlisting the assistance of the Pharmaceutical Society. to prevent the diversion of supplies for medical use to manufacturers?

It is of great importance that these supplies should he reserved for those who need them and I will consider the suggestion of my hon. Friend.