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Food Supplies

Volume 438: debated on Wednesday 4 June 1947

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Carrots And Celery


asked the Minister of Food if he has considered the details which have been sent him about the price of carrots and Californian celery and the difficulties experienced by English growers in obtaining an economic price; and if he will make a statement.

I have read the correspondence which the hon. Member was good enough to send me. Fixed growers' prices are prescribed for maincrop carrots, and growers are assured a market far all standard grade carrots they produce. These prices are regarded by growers in general as providing a reasonable return on the crop. New carrots are at present free of price control. Prices for celery, whether it is grown here or imported, are not controlled. Imports of this vegetable are not shown separately in the Trade and Navigation Accounts, but I learn that celery has come from the United States only in the last two months when home supplies were exhausted and that even so, the quantity was less than 15 tons. I cannot see, therefore, how this import can have affected the home grower.

Does not the Minister realise that because he has purchased these two commodities abroad—and I take it he will not tell us at what cost to the taxpayer—he is putting the home growers out of business?

No, Sir. I have not purchased either commodity abroad. They have been purchased by private enterprise.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that there is a tendency tot certain people to sky-rocket prices of uncontrolled commodities of this kind; is he not aware that in the last four years celery has been sold at a price more than 120 per cent. higher than before the war, and that carrots have rendered a reasonable return to everybody in the trade and that they are satisfied?

Fish Friers, Doncaster (Fats)


asked the Minister of Food why he has refused to include the borough of Doncaster in the scheme to allow extra cooking fats to fish friers; whether he is aware that the actual mining population in the borough of Doncaster is greater than most of the nearby mining villages where he has already conceded the promised increases; and if he will again review the evidence and concede to the fish friers of Doncaster a similar measure of improvement in supplies as other areas.

As a result of the review to which I referred in answer to my hon. Friend on 28th April, Doncaster has been included in this scheme.

Grain Trade Agreement


asked the Minister of Food what were the total payments made in 1946 to former importers of grain into Great Britain whose operations were ended by the institution of bulk purchase of grain; what was the number of such payments; and what was the average amount paid.

My Ministry makes use, as agents, of former importers of grain in connection with its bulk purchases and, under the grain trade agreement which has been in operation throughout the war, pays to a central body the sum of £500,000 per annum, plus the expenses of the firms who are party to the agreement. Detailed figures are not available for 1946.

Does that reply mean that the importers who now receive payments receive them for current activities and that the payments are not made simply because they were put out of business by the Government's bulk purchasing policy?

The expenses incurred which I mentioned refer to firms who are active as agents of the Ministry within the bulk purchase scheme. They act as agents of the Minister.

Price Changes (Information)


asked the Minister of Food why statements of food price alterations cannot be issued to the Sheffield Grocers and Provision Dealers Association similar to other trade associations.

We cannot do this for local trade associations, because there are so many of them. The national grocery and provision trades organisations, however, are told of food price changes so that they may in turn relay the information to their local constituent members.

Is the Minister aware that that is very unsatisfactory? Is he not aware that he is not placed at the head of a secret service department, but is running a Government Department? Why cannot the Secretary of the Sheffield Grocers Association be given this information, when the association is in far closer touch with local traders than the Department itself?

If we are referring to price changes, it is very important that this information of impending price changes is not issued in advance, because very great unfairness as between traders would be caused if some of them knew and others did not.

Since this information is issued by the Minister's own Department, why cannot it be issued through the organised associations?

Conditions Of Sale


asked the Minister of Food what steps he is taking to enforce the provisions of the Food (Conditions of Sale) Order, which makes it illegal to impose conditions on the sale of foodstuffs.

We are much handicapped in enforcing this Order by people's reluctance to give evidence that conditions of sale have been imposed on them. If my hon. Friend will give me particulars of specific cases, I shall be glad to have full inquiries made.

Will my right hon. Friend watch particularly the activities of members of the Housewives' League, who are seeking to influence shopkeepers to impose conditions of sale in respect of the signature of a petition for the removal of the Minister from office?

Apart entirely from that laudable object, is the Minister aware that, when instances of these alleged proceedings are sent to his Department, it is not very sympathetic towards them, and that the Department does not seem very receptive?

If the hon. Member will send me the correspondence, I would very much like to have a look at it.

Sugar Ration


asked the Minister of Food, if, in view of present facts and future prospects in respect to sugar supplies, he will increase the sugar ration.

Meat Manufacturers' Permits


asked the Minister of Food if he will dissect the aggregate sterling value of butchers' and/ or meat manufacturers' permits under the following headings; Groups I, II, III, IV and general butchers, and show these for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, respectively, under the classification of multiple traders, private traders and co-operatives.

I regret that the information which the hon. Member seeks is not immediately accessible. To extract it would involve research into the individual permits of some 45,000 retail butchers—who are the Group II mentioned—and 800 Group I manufacturers, 18,000 Group III manufacturers and 3,000 Group IV manufacturers. None of these groups of manufacturers has been classified according to the three economic types referred to.


58 and 59.

asked the Minister of Food (1) if he will give the average daily supplies per capita of the following foodstuffs during the 12 months to June, 1947; tomatoes and fruits of all sorts, poultry, game and rabbits, leafy, green, yellow and other vegetables;

(2) if he will give figures, based on retail weight, showing the total value of supplies per capita per annum of fats, including butter, in terms of fat content for the years 1934–38, 1945, 1946 and June, 1946 to June, 1947, showing the value in equivalent fat content for the same years of the following four food-groups: butter, margarine, lard and compound lard, other edible oils and fats.

As I told the hon. Member on 14th May, we shall shortly be publishing figures of the consumption of various foodstuffs in the United Kingdom in some detail. These will give him the information he requires, and I should be grateful if he would wait for their publication, as piecemeal reproduction of the rather extensive statistical tables would lay a considerable strain on the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Can the Minister tell us the date when this information will be available, and, further, in answer to Question No. 59, can he say whether the actual loss is equivalent in value at the present time, as compared with prewar, to over 25 per cent.?

As to the first part of the question, the figures are ready now, and it is a question how long the Stationery Office will take to deal with them, and that may not be quite as short a time as we would wish, as there is some congestion; but we shall do our very best to get them as soon as possible. I do not think that I had better attempt to answer from memory the second part of, the question.

Is my right hon. Friend certain that it is advisable, or that any useful purpose is served, by publishing such figures? Is he not aware that the figures in his Dundee speech, in which he gave the amount of fats and butter as being only half that of prewar have been misrepresented by hon. Members opposite, by the Press and by the Housewives' League?

I am well aware that, as the hon. Lady says, any figures may be distorted, and some have been distorted, but I think our function, as a Government Department, is to give the fullest and most exact figures we can.

Is the Minister aware that these Questions were put down with the idea of getting at the facts, and that there is nothing underlying them other than that?

Camembert Cheese


asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that, on Saturday, 3rd May, 1947, Camembert cheese was not available to old-established cheesemongers in the central area of London but was fully available at the general stores of Marks and Spencer, Limited, Oxford Street; and if it is the policy of his Department to ignore the wel-recognised channels of distribution for foodstuffs generally and give preference to new entrants.

Camembert cheese is distributed under the points scheme, so the Ministry does not regulate distribution as between individual traders beyond the first-hand stage. First-hand distributors are instructed by my Department to offer supplies as fairly as possible to those who bought French cheese from them before the war. It is still our policy to use the normal channels of distribution so long as the interests of consumers are not prejudiced.

Is the Minister of opinion that a chain store of the character of Messrs. Marks and Spencer, Limited, is a well-recognised channel for the distribution of French cheese?

I will not express an opinion on that, but if we were to determine the channels through which all points goods, after first-hand, are to go, it would involve an enormous increase in those controls which the hon. Member does not favour.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his Department is still giving instructions to local food control committees to extend the activities of Messrs. Marks and Spencer and the like in selling points goods which they never sold before the war?

Is the Minister aware that the cost of distribution through chain stores like Messrs. Marks and Spencer is infinitely smaller than through the more old-fashioned channels of distribution?

Sweets (Profit Margin)


asked the Minister of Food on what grounds the profit margin on retailed sweets has recently been cut; and whether he is aware that for many small confectioners this reduction, taken in conjunction with reduced tobacco sales, may mean going out of business.

The percentage margin on sweets has been reduced because prices have gone up and the ration has been increased. The retailers' total cash profits will still be higher than they were a year ago.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a vast number of small shopkeepers in this country have to face considerable rises in their own costs, such as rates and other general costs, and that this arbitrary cut in their profits, from which there is no appeal, is very unfair?

The new margin will allow distributors a gross cash profit of £24 million, which is some £5 million higher than a year ago. I cannot feel that they will be driven out of business by this change.

Pigeon Food


asked the Minister of Food if he will consider granting permits for feedingstuff to those pigeon fanciers who were registered members of the National Homing Union prior to being called up, and had to sell their birds, and who now wish to restart their flocks.

I regret that the shortage of ingredients for pigeon food makes this impossible at present.

Will the Minister reconsider this matter in view of the very small quantity of feedingstuffs required, and in view of the fine work done by these carrier pigeons supplied by private persons during the war?

The members of the National Pigeon Service organisation are supplied with rations, but we will certainly reconsider the matter when more plentiful supplies are available.

Can the Minister say whether the activities of these pigeons will come under the review of the national Press?

Home-Grown Fruit

64 and 65.

asked the Minister of Food (1) whether in making direct purchases of fruit from overseas or in allocating licences for private purchases, he will take into consideration the likelihood of a heavy crop of homegrown fruits; and whether he will take steps to ensure that the market does not become glutted to the detriment of the home producer;

(2) whether in view of the likelihood of a heavy crop of both soft and hard homegrown fruit, he will make available vacant meat cold-storage space for the temporary storage of fruits, thus making possible an even spreadover of the crop with benefit both to the public and the grower.

I have received reports that this year's crop of fruit may be above the average, and am considering whether additional temporary storage space is necessary. I am also watching the import position.

Is the Minister aware that there is already a danger that imported fresh strawberries are going to overlap the British crop to the detriment of the British grower, and that the same thing may happen in connection wiht other fruits?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that housewives, after having had a glut of fruit, have not seen any home grown fruit for years, and that if he will encourage the import of all soft fruits and increase the sugar ration, they will call down blessings upon his head?