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Food Supplies

Volume 440: debated on Monday 21 July 1947

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Usa Canned Fish (Dollar Purchases)

1.

asked the Minister of Food how many U.S. dollars have been expended on canned silver hake and similar fish purchased from the U.S.A. since January, 1946.

There are no separate import figures for canned hake. About 2,300,000 dollars were spent on all private imports of canned fish from January. 1946. to the end of June, 1947.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this particular fish has been most unpopular with the people because much of it has been delivered in such a bad condition, and cannot he impress upon his staff the importance of conserving our valuable dollars and spending them more profitably?

Yes, Sir, the open general licence which covered this and other such imports has now been suspended.

Allocations

4.

asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that the allocation of various non-rationed foods to Cheltenham is based on a population of 62,000, whereas in the opinion of the Borough Food Committee the figure should be 75,000; if regard is had to the fact that the town is a popular inland health resort with a large number of unlicensed boarding establishments, has many residential schools and colleges and is a shopping centre for a big area of the county of Gloucester; and if he will take steps to bring supplies into a proper relationship to the population the town is expected to serve.

Population figures prepared by the Registrar-General are used by my Department when adjusting allocations of manufacturing meat and fats for fish frying which are based on prewar trade. They are also supplied to primary distributors of unrationed foods which we do not allocate, to help them to do the same. The latest figure for the Metropolitan Borough of Cheltenham is 62,000. If the hon. Member has evidence that it is too low, I shall be glad to look into it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I sent him a report of the meeting of the local food committee, which is a very responsible body, in which they accepted the figure of 75,000? In view of the discrepancy between his figure and that, will he not hold an inquiry, or make representations to the local food committee to try to get the matter adjusted?

Yes, certainly. I will listen to any evidence on the subject, but the Registrar-General's figures of population are, I think, the proper figures.

But for what year? The figure has changed very much for a town like Cheltenham since the war.

5.

asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that the percentage increase in sales of food and perishables in May, 1947, compared with May, 1946, is only 4.8 per cent. in the London suburban area as compared with an increase of 6.5 per cent. for the whole of Great Britain, and 12.0 per cent for Central London and the West End; and if he is satisfied that the London suburban area is receiving its share of increased supplies.

Yes, Sir. I know of these figures of retail sales collected by the Bank of England. They relate only to money values and cover alcoholic drinks, tobacco and also restaurant meals, and are not a reliable indication of the amount of food reaching consumers in each area. I am satisfied that my Department is doing its utmost to ensure that food supplies are fairly distributed.

Can my right hon. Friend explain the great difference between the 4.8 per cent. increase in the London suburban area and 12.0 per cent. in central London and the West End? There seems to be a great discrepancy between those figures; could he explain what it is?

Not fully, I am afraid, without trespassing on the time of the House, but it is important to realise that these are in money values and, therefore, the West End figures are disproportionately high because of the large hotels, the expensive restaurants, and the like which are in that area.

Ministry's Staffs

6.

asked the Minister of Food how many people were employed in his Department in July, 1945, July, 1946, and the first week of July, 1947; and how many were employed (luring these periods of time it the Fish Division of his Department.

The staff of the Ministry is divided between Headquarters, Area Offices and Divisional and Local Offices. There are no employees of the Fish Division in the third group. The total numbers of non-industrial Headquarters and Area staff on 1st July, in 1945. 1946 and 1947 were 10,331, 10,589 and 10,595, respectively, of which the Fish Division accounted for 271, 277 and 240. in each year.

Extra Cheese Ration

7.

asked the Minister of Food what machinery is provided by his Department for the consideration of applications for the extra cheese ration by categories of workers who are not organised, or whose organisations are not affiliated to the T.U.C.

No special machinery is provided for this purpose. Any such applications are carefully considered by the appropriate branch of my Department.

By that reply, does the right hon. Gentleman repudiate the statement made in a letter to me by his Parliamentary Secretary that these decisions were made by a special committee of the T.U.C.?

Oh no, Sir. But the hon. Gentleman's Question relates specifically to classes of workers who, he suggests, are not organised, or adequately represented by the T.U.C. They make representations direct to the Minister.

In view of the answer given by the Parliamentary-Secretary, can the right hon. Gentleman say how those representations are made?

Any individual, or group of individuals, can make an application or representation to the Minister.

Price Controls (Bbc Announcements)

8.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will consider asking the B.B.C. to make announcements with regard to the changes in price controls made by his Department.

East Midland Food Controller (Resignation)

10.

asked the Minister of Food if his attention has been called to an anti-Semitic statement made by Brigadier Ford, East Midland Food Controller, to a party of German journalists paying an official visit to his region; and what action he is taking.

18.

asked the Minister of Food if his attention has been called to the official statement, made by Brigadier V. T. R. Ford, Regional Food Controller, at Nottingham, to the effect that black-market offences are committed chiefly by Jews; and what disciplinary action he proposes to take.

A full and careful official inquiry has been made into this matter. The report of this inquiry has established that Brigadier Ford made certain statements to a group of German journalists visiting this country, which could be construed as casting reflections on the Jewish race. He has assured those of my officers who conducted the inquiry that this was not his intention, and I accept this assurance. Nevertheless, it is essential that a divisional food officer, who is my chief representative in a region, should not only administer the affairs of his area impartially, but that his impartiality should be evident in everything that he does and says. I regret that the recent incident has shown a failure in this all-important requirement. Notwithstanding the satisfactory services which Brigadier Ford has rendered to the Ministry of Food in the past, I decided that I had to accept the recommendations of the official inquiry. Brigadier Ford has placed his resignation in my hands, and I have accepted it.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that very satisfactory reply, may I take it that steps will also be taken to remove from the minds of the German journalists concerned any impression they may have received that the heresies of Streicher and Goebbels have any official support in this country?

I should hope that this careful inquiry into the matter, and the action following it, would have that effect.

I think the right hon. Gentleman referred to an inquiry which was instituted; are we to suppose that the findings of that inquiry, or part of them, will be made public? That would be desirable in view of the action taken.

No, Sir. I wish to make it clear that the matter was dealt with under proper Civil Service procedure, and the relevant and responsible officers of my Department went into the case most carefully, and reported to me.

While it is obviously desirable that racial feeling should not be introduced into this country —and we are all agreed on that—is not the balance being thrown in the wrong direction? If it is the case that a certain race are concerned with the majority of these offences, is it wrong to say so?

No, Sir. If it could be proved, or any evidence were produced, that offences against food orders were committed by disproportionate numbers of any one particular race, I do not think anyone could object to the facts being made public, but there is no evidence of that at all.

Rye Biscuits (Bread Units)

11.

asked the Minister of Food whether, in the case of persons advised on medical grounds to eat rye biscuits instead of bread, he will authorise local food offices to exchange bread units for points on production of an appropriate medical certificate.

In very special cases, on medical certificate, points are given in exchange for bread units where my medical advisers agree that rye biscuits are essential. Because supplies are limited, I cannot leave the decision to local food offices.

But is there not machinery by which local food offices may put the applicant in consultation with the medical officers to the Ministry? There has been considerable difficulty owing to the fact that three points have to be surrendered for only seven ounces of these biscuits in cases where patients are strictly forbidden to eat bread, and would not food offices themselves appreciate some method by which they could get over the difficulty?

If my hon. Friend has in mind the rate of exchange in these cases perhaps he will make representations to me on the matter.

Argentine Wheat And Maize (Purchase)

12.

asked the Minister of Food if he will give details of the hitch in the purchase of 500,000 tons of wheat from the Argentine and say whether the contract was free alongside or f.o.b.; who was responsible for the hitch; and how much more the wheat will cost the British taxpayer.

15.

asked the Minister of Food what difficulties he is experiencing in securing the fulfilment of contracts for the purchase of wheat and maize from the Argentine Government owing to any dispute over the interpretation of the contracts; and whether he will make a statement.

There has been no hitch or dispute about any of the provisions of the Agreements.

On a point of Order, my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) had a similar Question, and I played the game by giving him an opportunity to get up first to ask a supplementary question. We were both cut out, and it was most unfair.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) resumed his seat, and, therefore, I called the next Question.

I am sorry to say the hon. Gentleman must withdraw that remark immediately.

Later

On a point of Order. Is it assumed that the Minister has the permission of the House to bracket two Questions together without consent being given, and by that means prevent a supplementary question being asked?

I did not notice that the two Questions were taken together; perhaps if the hon. Member wishes to ask a supplementary he would do so now.

I am much obliged. I did not ask the question earlier, because I gave way to the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers). I wish to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that a statement was attributed to Senor Miranda in regard to this contract, which shows a difference of opinion whether wheat was free alongside or f.o.b.?

I have seen various statements in the Press on the subject, but I am glad to say they are without foundation.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry hold the view that we are going to be penalised to the extent of one pound a ton by a sharp practice reading of a contract, which is against the established custom of the trade?

Rice And Cocoa (Brazil)

13.

asked the Minister of Food for what reason Brazil has withdrawn from the I.E.F.C.; and what consequences he anticipates from this withdrawal, particularly as regards, rice and cocoa.

The Brazilian Government have made no statement on their reasons for withdrawing from the I.E.F.C. So long as all other member countries continue to abide by I.E.F.C. allocations the effects of Brazil's withdrawal should not be serious much though it is to be regretted.

Is the Minister aware that Brazilian rice is being dealt with in large quantities by other countries within the I.E.F.C., and that the effect of this withdrawal must be disastrous on the supply of rice, which is sold at a lower price in. Burma and Siam, as it will affect the distribution in Malaya and other Far Eastern countries?

Brazilian rice amounts to about 10 per cent. of the rice entering into the world export trade. No doubt the matter is serious, but I would not have said it was disastrous.

In view of the fact that over 250,000 tons of Brazilian rice are being offered, would not the Minister agree that the effect of such a withdrawal must result in supplies from Burma and Siam not flowing into the I.E.F.C.?

I could not admit that that would be the result, but any withdrawals from that international allocation machinery must have a bad effect.

East African Groundnut Scheme (Locusts)

14.

asked the Minister of Food if the foliage of groundnut plants is liable to be attacked by locusts; and what precautions it is proposed to take to deal with this danger to the success of the East African Groundnut Scheme.

The foliage of the groundnut plant is eaten by some varieties of locusts. Co-ordinated measures for dealing with outbreaks are in operation over the whole of East Africa. Further, the whole lay-out of cultivation in the new groundnut areas and the equipment available will make it possible to fight locusts in a way which could not be attempted where there are scattered holdings or relatively small farms.

Have any experiments been made in spraying the larvae of the locusts before they move up? Have aeroplanes been used for this purpose?

Whale Meat (Distribution)

16.

asked the Minister of Food whether, in view of the high protein value of whalemeat, he will arrange to control the distribution of this meat and ensure that adequate supplies are sent to heavy industrial areas, such as the North-East.

We are not likely to get enough whalemeat for some time to permit of controlled distribution. As I explained to the hon. Member on Wednesday last, we are encouraging imports, but the quantity available this year will be small.

In view of the excellent food value of whalemeat, could my right hon. Friend see that it is distributed on the basis of "No work, no whalemeat"?

At the present stage, when the matter is largely experimental, it is probably better to let whalemeat come in quite freely, and be sold on the open market.

is not my right hon. Friend aware that we in the industrial North like a nice tasty steak? Is there any real reason why whalemeat should arrive at a port in the North and be brought to London, and be available only for people who seem to have a fairly good time in the West End of London? Why may we not have whalemeat in the industrial North?

It is available in the industrial North, but the quantities, North or South, are very small this year. It is available in various parts of the country.

Calves (Slaughter)

17.

asked the Minister of Food how many calves have been purchased by his Department for slaughter in the past 12 months; and the numbers in each of the past five years.

As the reply contains a table of figures I will, with the hon. Member's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there has been a sharp increase in the slaughterings of calves, and, if so, is he taking any action to stop this premature slaughter, in view of the great need for increasing beef production?

Is the Minister aware that, from the figures in the first week of July for the last seven years, in the county of Herefordshire, the slaughtering of calves shows an increase of 50 per cent., while supplies of beef to collecting centres have decreased by 66 per cent.?

Is it not a fact that there has been a drastic reduction in home-killed beef supplies as against prewar, and is it not time that the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of Agriculture got together and decided to change the balance of our livestock economy more in favour of home production?

It is true that there is reduction in the home-killed meat supply, but that will be solved as and when we get adequate imports of feedingstuffs, which we are most anxious to do

The following is the reply:

The number of calves purchased for slaughter in the 12 months, July, 1946, to June, 1947, was 1,441,899. For the previous five years the figures are as follow:

July,1945, to June, 19461,374,060
July, 1944, to June, 19451,385,375
July, 1943, to June, 19441,302,190
July, 1942, to June, 19431,253,171
July, 1941, to June, 19421,004,384

Beer (Imports)

19.

asked the Minister of Food from which countries the 933,859 bulk barrels of beer imported in 1945 and the 929,965 bulk barrels imported in 1946 came; and what proportion of these imports were from Eire.

Of these imports all came from Eire, except 12 bulk barrels in 1945, which came from British India and America, and 234 bulk barrels in 1946, which came from Hong Kong, Australia. Sweden and America.

Would the Minister give an assurance that the grain exported to Eire did not include barley, which subsequently came back to this country in the form of beer?

Speaking from memory, we exported a certain amount of barley to Eire for the express purpose of getting it hack in beer.

Does not the Minister consider that it would have been far more advantageous to British agriculture if the barley had been fed to our own livestock?

It might be said if we took all our brewing barley to feed our livestock, then we should have no beer. That would be a very drastic thing to do.