asked the Minister of Food how many tons of home-grown potatoes have been bought by his Department and resold to the producer at a cheaper price.
Up to 26th March, 78,952 tons of potatoes bought from growers under the guarantee had been sold back to them at the cheaper stockfeed price.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what was the financial outcome of this transaction?
We can hardly separate that from the general sale of surplus potatoes for stockfeed, of which I have already given the House the figures.
Can my right hon. Friend say whether it is part of the guarantee given to the growers that the Ministry will purchase all their potatoes and leave none on their hands?
Yes. Of course, it would be the most outrageous breach of the guarantee if we did not fulfil it by purchasing these potatoes.
Can my right hon. Friend say whether the tonnage is less than 1 per cent. of the total crop?
If my arithmetic serves me aright, that is the case.
asked the Minister of Food if he is now prepared to make a statement about the investigations carried out by his Department into black market operations in the Northern Region and on the kind of methods used in "operation Octopus" of which he did not approve.
I would prefer to make this statement after the Easter Recess as I shall then be in a position to announce the measures which I am taking to prevent the recurrence of the methods of investigation of which I could not approve. I hope my hon. Friend will agree that this will be more satisfactory than making one statement now and then a further statement later.
Allocations (Co-Operative Societies)
asked the Minister of Food to what extent a bigger share of pointed and rationed goods are allocated to the Co-operative Wholesale Society's factories and co-operative retail shops.
Rationed foods, dried fruit and imported canned foods directly controlled by my Department are allocated to co-operative and private traders on precisely the same basis. When last Autumn we were able to give some extra sugar to all manufacturers we departed from the previous method of distribution according to pre-war usage because this basis had become more and more unfair with each year that went by, since it made no allowance for the transfer of customers from one type of shop to another. For example, the number of customers dealing with Co-operative Societies had grown very markedly since the datum year of 1938. If we had reallotted the sugar in proportion to present registrations, as there is a strong case for doing, the Co-operatives would have got far more. The adjustment which we made still left the Co-operative Societies at a distinct disadvantage as compared with private traders.
In view of that reply, may I ask if the Minister's attention has been drawn to the advertisement inserted in the popular Press by the Co-operative Wholesale Society in these terms:
[Interruption.]—and in view of the Minister's previous statement on policy will he stop this cruel deception for attracting the consuming public?"Register all your ration books at the Co-op—you'll get a bigger share of scarcer goods that way!"
No, Sir. I see no element of deception in the Co-operative Society's advertisements. They claim to distribute their products more equitably between customers. It is not for me either to endorse or to comment upon that claim.
As there was a total increase of the membership of Co-operative Societies and the Minister admits that there was a case for an even further increase of sugar, which is not denied by anyone on the benches opposite, will the Minister take into account the necessity for that further increase?
Certainly my only doubt in the steps we took at that time was whether they were adequate or not.
Is it not a fact that private retailers have also increased the number of their customers in view of the great increase of the whole population?
Yes, Sir, but not in proportion.
Is not the greater opportunity for getting a larger share in a Co-operative shop due to the fact that all the goods in those shops are above the counter?
Imports From Yugoslavia
asked the Minister of Food what items of foodstuffs specified in Schedule I of the Anglo-Yugoslav Trade Agreement have so far been purchased by his Department; and when delivery of these is expected.
My Department has so far bought 560 tons of canned fish and 750 tons of white beans. The canned fish has already arrived in this country and the beans are due for shipment this month. We have also bought 75,000 tons of maize, but this is outside Schedule A.
Fried Fish Licence (Application)
asked the Minister of Food, why he has refused to grant an allocation of fats to an applicant for permission to open a fried-fish shop in Appleton-le-Moors; whether he is aware that this village and the surrounding area are seriously penalised by the absence of fish-frying facilities; and whether he will review his decision.
Unfortunately, this application was received too late for the open season for new fried-fish licences which lasted from 1st October to 1st November. Therefore it had to be considered on strict grounds of consumer needs and the local food committee could not agree to it. After looking into the circumstances, I really cannot see good grounds for overruling their decision.
Is the Minister aware that in this area one has to walk more than six miles to get any fried fish? Will he look into the matter again?
No, Sir, my information is that Appleton-le-Moors is already served by a mobile fish and chips van, which visits it once a week.
Imported Fruit (Allocations)
asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that retailers allocations of imported fruits under the control of his Department were last reviewed in October, 1947, and if he will arrange for an early re-assessment.
I am taking measures necessary for such a review at once.
Overseas Food Corporation (Projects)
asked the Minister of Food if he will make a statement on the projects now in hand, or under consideration, by the British Food Corporation.
The Overseas Food Corporation, to which I take it the hon. Member refers, has in hand the East African Scheme for producing oilseeds and, in association with the Queensland Government, the Queensland Scheme for the production of sorghum and pigs. If the hon. Member wishes for information about projects under consideration, he should communicate with the Corporation direct.
Herring (Landings, Lerwick)
asked the Minister of Food what arrangements he has made to ensure that herring landed at Lerwick during the forthcoming season will be distributed throughout Great Britain in preference to sending them to Germany.
Landings of herring during the Summer at the mainland ports are more than enough to meet the needs of the home market, and it would be uneconomic to use Lerwick herring for that purpose. I shall do all I can to encourage consumption of herring at home, but for the disposal of a part of the catch, especially the Lerwick catch, we must continue to rely on our traditional export market.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that there will be a much bigger demand for herring this year because of the great shortage of meat? Will he consider adopting a similar plan to that used by the original Ministry of Food when they put on a small cargo vessel service between Stornoway, Kyle, Oban and Mallaig?
We will certainly consider that, if the home market shows signs of being able to absorb such quantities.
Meat Ration (Butchers' Rebate)
The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. DAVID RENTON:
43. To ask the Minister of Food whether he is aware that, now that the total meat ration has been reduced to 10d. per person per week, butchers serving rural areas are unable to distribute the ration without financial loss in spite of the rebate of 4½ per cent. of the wholesale price; and whether he will increase that rebate and, if necessary, make differential rates of rebate as between butchers serving urban and rural areas.
Since I put down this Question the rebate has been reduced, I understand, to 3¾ per cent.
I am advised that the rebate on the wholesale price of meat has been calculated to give an adequate profit to the retail butchery trade. I cannot agree that the costs of rural butchers are on balance higher than those of butchers serving urban areas.
Is the Minister quite ignorant of the fact that rural butchers endeavour to supply meat to their customers by means of a delivery service? Has that delivery service been borne in mind when fixing these so-called profit margins, or was there merely an average struck between town and country? Will he look into the matter further?
I should not have thought that the delivery services were confined to rural butchers, nor that that was the only element in costs and that such costs as rent, would be smaller in the rural areas.
Eire Cattle (Prices)
asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that it is impossible for private enterprise buyers to obtain the 90 per cent. of Eire cattle to which this country is entitled in our agreement with Eire unless they are put in a position to pay prices which are competitive with those offered by Continental buyers; and whether he will amend his regulations so as to enable them to do so.
No, Sir. I am satisfied that the price agreement which has now been reached is such that the Eire Government will have no difficulty in ensuring that we get the 90 per cent. of their cattle exports, which they have agreed to send us from next July onwards. In fact, the import of fat and store cattle from Eire into Great Britain during the last three months for which figures are available, namely, January, February and March, were 75,217 as compared to 61,698 in the corresponding months a year ago, an increase of 22 per cent.
Is not the controlled price in this country 113s. a cwt. and has not the private buyer to calculate at what price he must buy in order to be able to sell at a small profit in this country after paying expenses? In view of the fact that there is not a controlled price for meat on the Continent, is it not too easy for Continental buyers to outbid the price which our buyers can afford to bid?
That is why we made the recent agreement with the Eire Government. For this year their exports to other countries were restricted to 50,000 and for the future to 10 per cent. of their total exports. The Eire Government are adhering to this agreement most scrupulously.
But do the Eire Government assist British private buyers in this matter? Are they not very much handicapped by the present arrangement?
No, Sir. In this case I should be loath to take the matter out of private hands. I get a great deal of pressure from hon. Members opposite, but I think that would be carrying the principle of bulk buying too far.