Skip to main content

Food Supplies

Volume 463: debated on Monday 21 March 1949

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Ewes (Slaughter)


asked the Minister of Food to state his policy in regard to the slaughter of sheep while in lamb.

The graders are required by a standing instruction not to accept for purchase any sheep which, in their opinion, is in lamb unless it is necessary or desirable that the animal should be taken for immediate slaughter under the casualty arrangements. The attention of all the graders has been drawn to this instruction and they have been reminded of the need to exercise the utmost care in the examination of all ewes.

In order to comply with your request, Mr. Speaker, to avoid unnecessary supplementary questions, I simply say that I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman.

Bulk Buying Contracts (Prices)


asked the Minister of Food why he will not give the prices paid under his bulk-buying contracts after they have been published by the selling country.

It is usually agreed between the Governments of the buying and selling countries that prices should not be published. Where the Government of the selling country takes it upon itself unilaterally to disclose prices I, of course, consider whether publicity should be given in this country also. But I cannot undertake to confirm or deny unofficial reports about prices which may be current abroad.

When the deal has been concluded, is it not right that the people in both countries should know what prices their Governments have incurred on their behalf?

Is not the real reason for this the fact that if the figures were published they would show up the utter incompetence of the Ministry of Food?

No, Sir. In cases where they have been published they have shown just the reverse.



asked the Minister of Food how many tons of potatoes are available under the reduction of £1 per ton offer for stock feeding; and how many tons of these are the property of his Department.

Under the guarantee to growers I must buy any sound ware potatoes now offered to me, and in consequence we expect to have about 200,000 tons to sell for stock feed between now and the end of the season. I cannot yet say for how long the price reduction recently announced will continue.

Can the Minister say how much more this last disastrous transaction will add to the £10 million he has already lost?

No, Sir. I cannot give to the House an estimate of the end of season position.


asked the Minister of Food how he computed his estimated loss of £10 million on potatoes.

This estimate of the trading loss in potatoes and carrots for the financial year 1948–49, which of course covers part of two crop years, was computed by reference mainly to the surpluses which my Department expected to handle as a result of the guarantee of the grower's market at fixed prices; the cost of imported supplies; the price premiums paid on purchases of potatoes for end of season reserve; and the cost of emergency storage under the allocation scheme put into operation last year.

In view of the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food has stated that the surplus of potatoes is five million tons, will the Minister now say what price he expects to pay for them and what price he expects to get when he sells them again?

My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said that the surplus of this year's crop as against last year's crop was five million tons. We shall have five million more tons this year than last, but not a surplus of five million tons over the demand.

Is not the Minister aware that I questioned the Parliamentary Secretary twice on the same subject and she confirmed that there was a five million ton surplus?

How much money went to Eire by the process of buying Eire potatoes at a high price and selling them back to Eire at a low price?

There was a loss on Eire potatoes as on the other potatoes. I will give the hon. Gentleman the figure if he will give me notice of the Question.

Will the Minister give, in the OFFICIAL REPORT, the actual amounts involved in each of the surpluses mentioned in his original reply?


asked the Minister of Food what is the total tonnage of ware potatoes exported by him in the current potato season; what he has paid for it; what he has received for it; and how many more tons he expects to export from the present crop.

Up to 3rd March, exports of ware potatoes of the 1948 crop amounted to 48,503 tons; the f.o.b. cost was £571,286 and Ministry receipts £477,577. A further 10,000 tons of potatoes may be sold abroad.

Would the Minister explain why he gave an answer on 21st February that 140,000 tons of ware and seed potatoes would be exported from the 1948–49 crop, and why the figure is now so much smaller?

I may have hoped that we should be able to export a larger amount than this, but, as I have said, the final amount at the end of the year is not certain. The figure I have given is the present forecast.

Is not the Minister imperilling the public interest by making these disclosures?

Algerian Wine


asked the Minister of Food how much Algerian wine is at present in the vaults at London docks; how long it has been there, and what storage fees have been paid in respect of it


asked the Minister of Food of how many gallons of Algerian wine does his Department stand possessed; and what price per gallon he gave for it.

It would not be in the public interest to disclose the stocks held by my Department. The wine arrived in this country at various times between February and May last year. Storage fees are approximately 3d. per gallon per annum.

When will the Minister stop this folly of bulk purchase? Is it not a fact that he has got about £1 million worth of this wine in stock? If he wants further particulars will he look at the "Sunday Express" for 13th March? Will he also be good enough to read a pamphlet just published by Lord Teviot "Why I should not be a Socialist"? It might get through his thick head.

Can the Minister give any reason why, in this case, publication would not be in the public interest?

There is no reason whatever to make an exception in this case from the general principle, for which I have given the reason in a number of cases.

Has not the reason given generally been that publication might prejudice further purchases? Does that mean that the right hon. Gentleman is going further into the Algerian wine market?

I should have no hesitation in doing so if it proved advisable that we should make further purchases of Algerian wine. Why not?

Has not the Minister of Food informed the wine interests in this country that unless this Algerian wine is definitely sold, he will cut down future imports of ordinary wine into this country?

Surely the right hon. Gentleman is hiding behind an excuse which has no validity. Is he really saying to the House that he proposes continuing in the Algerian wine market? Is he not laying himself open to the suspicion of refusing to admit that he has made a mess of it?

There is not the slightest reason to suppose that these transactions have any element of mistake in them.

Fruit And Vegetable Imports


asked the Minister of Food what consultations he had with the representatives of the British fruit and vegetable growers and the Channel Island producers before signing the 1949 fruit and vegetable imports agreement with the Netherlands.

On these matters I receive advice from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture who has, I understand, been in touch with British horticultural interests.

Is the Minister aware that there were only very general consultations at an early stage of the proceedings, and that no notice at all was taken of the advice given by the British horticultural industry? Is he aware that the agreement has given rise to despondency and anger throughout that industry?

If we always took in full all the advice given by the British horticultural industry, I am afraid that the price of vegetables would be very high indeed.

Is the Minister aware that, particularly in onions, losses in East Anglia have been very considerable, and that the new agreement which has been signed for the coming year extends the number of countries from which there will be competition? Can nothing be done, at least to regulate the period of the year, by way of timing these imports so that they harm our people to a much less extent?

Of course, it would be possible to exclude these foreign vegetables, but only at the price of dearer vegetables for the consumers in this country.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that only the other day I had to pay 10d. for a very small and pathetic-looking lettuce? Will he undertake to see that greenstuffs in this country are within the reach of the humblest housewife?

Is the Minister aware, taking the one crop that I have mentioned, that the price of Spanish onions has been twice as much as that for which British onions could have sold, if they had been allowed to find their way into the shops?

Surely that question can only mean that if Spanish onions were dearer, they were not interfering with the price of British onions. I should think that even the hon. Gentleman could see that.

Can the Minister say whether he consulted not only the Minister of Agriculture but the Secretary of State for Scotland, and whether the National Farmers' Union of Scotland were consulted, in particular in regard to soft fruits?

My Department consults the Agricultural Department. It is their business to make further consultations.

Potato Merchants And Agents


asked the Minister of Food what steps are necessary for an ex-Service man to enter the potato merchant trade and for a potato merchant to become a Ministry agent; how many applications for merchants' and agents' licences, respectively, he has received since 1945; how many of each he has granted; and what is the usual ground for rejection.

With permission I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the answer, which is necessarily rather long.

Following is the answer:

No one requires a licence to sell potatoes by wholesale but only to buy direct from the grower; and to get such a licence an ex-Service man or any other person must satisfy my Department that he has established a substantial wholesale trade, or has an extensive knowledge of that trade. If he is a disabled ex-Service man he may be granted a licence if one is necessary for his rehabilitation. Any licensed potato merchant may be appointed a Ministry agent if he is nominated by a grower, has traded for at least a year in the area concerned and has the necessary equipment and organisation for handling Ministry business.

Since 1st January, 1946, 997 applications for merchants' licences have been received and 241 granted, the most common ground for rejection being lack of experience of wholesale trading. In the same period, 302 merchants have applied for agencies and 198 have been approved, the usual ground for rejection being lack of suitable facilities.

United States Personnel


asked the Minister of Food what arrangements have been entered into regarding the supply of rationed foodstuffs to personnel under Command Headquarters, United States Air Forces in Britain, Bushey Park, Middlesex; and what ration scales are applied to those military and civilian personnel, respectively.

All the rationed foodstuffs for the United States Air Force Services personnel at Bushey Park, are imported direct from America by the American Government. The civilians use ordinary civilian ration books and are consequently provided with food by us.

Is not the Minister aware that it has been published in this country, from sources in America, that some of the foods are British rationed goods and that the ration scales include, among other things, I lb. of meat per day for each person, I lb. of butter and a dozen eggs per week? Would the Minister agree that acceptance of Colonial status vis-à-vis America, means that the same ration scales should be afforded to us?

As I have already said, the ration scales of the U.S. Services are not the concern of my Department because the rations are brought direct from America. The civilians receive the same scales as we do ourselves.

Would not the Minister agree that we welcome every one of these men here and that, if necessary, we will gladly share our food with them?

if the rations include tinned potatoes, is there any reason why we should not supply them from this country?

Are "foodstuffs to personnel" what used to be called "foods to people"?

Surplus Eggs


asked the Minister of Food whether surplus eggs may now be sold to the public generally; or whether they are available only to registered customers.

So far surplus eggs may only be sold to customers registered for shell eggs. If eggs were to become really plentiful in April and May, I should allow them to be sold freely after the allocations have been fully met.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is now a surplus of eggs in various country districts and that the shops are prepared to sell them to unregistered customers after they have made allocations to their registered customers?

Bacon Ration (Hostel, Shanklin)


asked the Minister of Food if he will now give the decision of the local food control committee regarding the simultaneous issue of eight weeks' bacon ration to the Manor House Hostel, Shanklin, Isle of Wight, in the last week of February.

I understand that the food control committee has instructed a solicitor with a view to a prosecution.

On a point of Order. I wish to say that if the prosecution succeeds, I shall move that another Lynskey Tribunal be set up.



asked the Minister of Food if he will give an estimate of the tonnage of broccoli needed to supply the home market in the autumn and winter season, 1949–50; and whether before making any further arrangements for importations under licence, he will ascertain from the Minister of Agriculture the tonnage which can be expected to be supplied by home producers.

No reliable estimate can be made now of what the demand for broccoli and cauliflower is likely to be next winter. This will depend on the price, the weather and the supplies and prices of other vegetables and foods. Consultations with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture invariably take place before broccoli and cauliflower imports are authorised.

If the right hon. Gentleman cannot now give an estimate of the likely home needs of broccoli in this country, will he say on what date he will be able to give an estimate so that we may know how much extra, if any, he will need to import over and above what the home producers can supply?

Hon. Members always leave out of these calculations the little matter price. The need, in the sense of the effective demand or what the market can absorb, depends on the price, and if the price is brought down by imports, the need will be that much the greater.

Are we to understand that the Minister intends to use the price weapon in order to ruin the Cornish broccoli industry?

No, Sir. I intend to use the price weapon, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman calls it, in order to give cheap broccoli to the British housewife.