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Home Ration Scales (Adjustments)

Volume 446: debated on Wednesday 28 January 1948

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asked the Minister of Defence whether he will now make a statement on the results of his review of Service ration scales.

Yes, Sir. I will, with permission, make a statement at the end of Questions.


In view of the urgent need to reduce our expenditure in hard currency countries, the Government have decided to make certain important changes in the ration scales of the Forces serving at home. The general effect of these changes will be to bring Service rations broadly into line with the food available to the civilian worker.

The Services' home ration scale has been carefully reviewed, in consultation with the Ministry of Food and the Service Departments. The present Services' home ration scale includes more meat, bacon and cheese, but less sugar and fats, than are available from all sources to the corresponding civilian, and it is primarily in these items that the adjustments will be made. A new ration scale has accordingly been agreed and I am arranging for a copy of it to be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Compared with the present ration scale, the amount of meat and offal will be reduced by 12¼ oz. a week, bacon and ham by 4½ oz. a week, and cheese by 1¾ oz. a week. By way of compensation, and to make good the existing deficiencies in those items, the amount of fats will be increased by 2¾ oz. a week, and sugar by 3½ oz. a week. The net calorie reduction that would result from these adjustments will fall to be met partly by an increase of bread and partly by additional purchases of fish, vegetables and such other unrationed items as are available.

On present Services' strengths at home, and on existing food prices, these adjustments are estimated to result in savings in dollar expenditure at the rate of million dollars a year.

The small cash element of the Army ration is being increased from 2½d. to 4d. a day, because the Army ration, including meat, bacon and cheese, is mainly issued in kind, whereas the rations of the other two Services are purchased from a cash allowance.

It is recognised that these adjustments will materially alter the character of the Services' dietary. They will therefore be made in two stages. One half of the adjustments will have effect from 14th February, and the balance three months later. The question of varying the cash messing allowance of all three Services to assist in maintaining a balanced dietary under the new conditions is under review.

These adjustments of the ration apply only to the Forces stationed at home, including Naval shore establishments. I am examining the overseas scales to see what economies in hard currency expenditure are possible, and I hope to make a further announcement on this point in the near future.

The Government much regret that it has become necessary to reduce the Forces' allowance of meat, bacon and cheese. I am sure, however, that the Services will realise that they should bear their share of the austerities which in our present difficult position are the lot of the civilian population.

When the right hon. Gentleman says that the allowances only apply at home, does that include B.A.O.R. for this purpose?

No, Sir, but that is one of the areas which are still under the examination I mentioned.

In respect of the figures the right hon. Gentleman has given, as far as I can understand it—I am comparing the table he gave last December—the reduction in meat is about one-third and the reduction in bacon and ham is nearly half, 4·5 ounces compared with 7 ounces. In view of these, he will agree, very drastic reductions, what did he mean by saying that the general effect of the changes will be to bring the Services broadly into line with the food available to civilian workers? What type of civilian worker has he in mind—a heavy manual worker, or what type of worker?

In the main the personnel covered by this revision could be regarded as broadly comparable with what might be called the intermediate worker and not the heavy worker.

Am I right in saying that the reduction is one-third of the meat ration and nearly one-half of the bacon ration?

Yes, Sir, but it remains substantially above the basic ration of the civilian population and is certainly equal to that of the intermediate worker.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that in the case of recruits coming into the Services careful attention will be paid to their weights in view of the great improvement in their physique as a result of the present scales and the importance of seeing that they are properly fed for the work they have to do?

We have had such excellent results in the last few years from the early military training given to recruits that I am sure the authorities will not want any special stimulation, but I shall certainly bring to their notice what the hon. Gentleman says.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that these reductions are, he will agree, extremely drastic for recruits called upon to take an active physical part in the training they have to do, and is he quite satisfied, after consultation with medical authorities, that it is fair to ask the recruits to do the extra physical effort on the basis of this reduced ration?

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. The Committee considering the matter, which included not only Ministry of Food and Service representatives but had medical opinion on it, has decided that this is a reasonable reduction in all the circumstances.

While the Services will not wish to have any undue preference over the civilian population, and never had, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that many of the duties which the Services are performing are equivalent to the heaviest manual labour done by civilians? May I therefore ask him whether that fact has been taken into consideration in forming these scales of rations?

It should be borne in mind that, after very careful consideration and bearing in mind the admittedly heavy reductions in the items mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, we are nevertheless making compensatory allowances in sugar and other things and also increasing, in the case of the Army, the daily cash allowance for purchasing food from other sources. The whole matter will remain under consideration. We shall watch it very carefully, but the Government feel that in the present state of rations for the civilian population and in response to much pressure of opinion in this House, it is right to bring the Services as nearly as we can to a reasonable and just comparison with the civilian population.

This is rather important. These scales of rations have existed throughout the last two years or more while the right hon. Gentleman has been responsible. I have always thought that this high scale of rations for the Services was justifiable on account of the physical work they have to do. [Interruption.] We know they have to do it. It really is so. If it is right to make this reduction at all it should have been made long ago. It is rather disturbing suddenly to be told that although these people are doing exactly the same work as they have done for the past two years, they are now to do it on two-thirds of the ration. That is the proposition we put. I do not want to make an unfair point but I say to the right hon. Gentleman that what the former Secretary of State for War has said is very much in our minds and we would like to be reassured that he is satisfied that the young men who are going to the Services and will be called upon to take part in active physical work are enabled by these rations to do the job properly.

On the last point, I repeat that the scale has been considered by an inter-Departmental Committee including medical opinion. The last point made by the right hon. Gentleman will certainly be kept in mind, and I will advise those looking after supplies in each of the Services to see that they keep a careful watch on the health of the new recruits. That is very important. On his other, earlier point, of course, the right hon. Gentleman has been in many Governments and speaks with a lot of Government experience, and he will know that it is quite impossible in changing circumstances to let everything stay exactly as it was before.

Could my right hon. Friend say what change is about to be made in the rations of the Women's Services?

They are being adjusted in proportion. If my hon. Friend will look at the detailed schedule I am publishing in the OFFICIAL REPORT, I shall be glad to answer any other Question.

In order that we may assess the extent of the cut in the rations, would the right hon. Gentleman inform us of the estimated calorific value of the proposed new rations?

Yes, certainly, I will see if we can get a note about that matter circulated. I have the statement ready to circulate, but I will see if it can be added. Broadly speaking, I should think that the net reduction of calories is not more than 30 a day.

Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, since the rations will still be above the civilian scale, and since there has been a discrepancy, upon which great play has been made in the Conservative Press of this country, the mass of people will appreciate, as the Services will appreciate, that this is very necessary?

Are we to understand that the men serving afloat are not affected by these cuts? Further, is he aware that the amount of bread eaten by the Royal Navy at present is already half as much again as that eaten by the other two Services, and is he really now proposing to increase it at the expense of the protective foods like meat, bacon and cheese?

I would not like to answer the last Question without some detailed notice because, as the hon. Member knows very well, the whole basis of rationing in the Navy is different from that of the Army. The Army is practically always issued in kind and I am quite sure that the Royal Navy, with its messing allowance, used to make adequate compensation for what it lacked in the other direction. As regards men afloat, I should say that the cuts would not apply except that they are subject to the reexamination which I said I was making.

When the right hon. Gentleman was comparing this new ration with that of the civilian workers, did he take into account the fact that civilian workers can go to canteens and restaurants and get extra meat, and have the money with which they may get it? Is he doing anything, or does he think it necessary to do anything, to adjust the soldiers' pay so that they may be allowed to reinforce their meat ration?

A great deal is purchased by workers out of their own income to supplement their ration in the canteen facilities available to them. Similarly, canteen facilities are available in the great majority of Service stations and one must leave it at that, having regard to the fact that I have indicated we are increasing the Army daily cash messing allowance.

There was one point not referred to, the cooking of the existing rations. Would the right hon. Gentleman make particular note of that?

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, may I respectfully put it to you that questions have been asked regarding the Army and the Navy, and nothing regarding the Royal Air Force? May I submit to you, Sir, that I have a question to ask which affects the R.A.F. vitally?

If the hon. and gallant Member wishes to put a definite question about the Air Force, I think he can do so.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if, in arriving at this decision, he has taken into consideration the special diet required by air crews, particularly men who are flying at extremely high speed? This does require special food.

I think all the special facts in this connection have been taken into account by the committee of Service advisers, Ministry of Food and medical experts. As the hon. and gallant Member

Weekly Scale effective from 14th February, 1948.Weekly Scale effective from 15th May, 1948.Weekly Scale effective from 14th February, 1948.Weekly Scale effective from 15th May, 1948.
Meat, fresh or frozen (bone in)2922¾2217
Preserved Meat1 2/51 2/5
Sausages (Beef)
Fish Fresh (uncleaned)12¼12¼7
Tinned Fish12⅝12⅝12⅝12⅝
Margarine 87 7/108
Dried Egg2⅝2⅝
Flour17½17½12 3/512 3/5
Cake (slab)
Milk Fresh 47¼ (fluid)47¼ (fluid)50¾ (fluid)50¾ (fluid)
Skimmed Milk Powder2⅝2⅝
Semolina, Macaroni or Barley
Dried Fruit
Potatoes (old)84847777
Fresh Vegetables363650 2/550 2/5
Dried Peas, Beans or Lentils
Drinking Chocolate1 2/51 2/5
Ration Cash Allowance2S. 2¼d.2S. 7½d.1s. 7¼d.1s. 10¾d.

* In the R.N. and R.A.F., which are on a cash system of messing, consumption of the nationally rationed items is restricted to the quantities shown in the Army scale.

NOTE.—The small calorific reduction in the previous home ration scales due to the adjustments in meat, bacon, cheese, sugar and fats will be made good by additional bread, fresh fish and fresh vegetables. There will be no overall reduction in the calorific value of the ration, which will remain at 2,900 for men and 2,600 for women.