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Food Supplies

Volume 465: debated on Monday 16 May 1949

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Chocolates And Sweets

3.

asked the Minister of Food why small retail shops in Brighton and Hove and small wholesalers are not receiving their regular supply of sweets, whereas the larger stores have enough sweets to sell.

The distribution of sweets is primarily in the hands of the trade. The manufacturers gave me an assurance before we de-rationed sweets that the increased supplies would in the early stages be distributed as fairly as possible throughout the country, based on the wholesalers' or retailers' trade under rationing.

Is the right hon. Gentleman really satisfied with that answer; is he going to do nothing to help the smaller people; does he not think that the smaller people should be looked after a bit; and does he not realise that they cannot possibly carry on as long as this situation continues?

I see no reason to accept the implication that manufacturers or wholesalers are being unfair to smaller retailers.

Does my right hon. Friend now at least recognise the folly of Lord Woolton's theory that the economic troubles of this country would be removed by the removal of sweet rationing?

Having put the Question to the right hon. Gentleman and intimated the problem, am I to understand that he will do nothing about it?

The hon. Gentleman has very strongly urged me to interfere with and coerce wholesalers and manufacturers in this country, but I shall not do so until I am sure that there is a case for doing so?

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that in this House I asked him whether he was satisfied that on de-rationing sweets, there would be sufficient sweets to go round, and that he said there would be?

I said, and I repeat, that the estimate of the manufacturers is that the present level of manufacture will satisfy the demand. We shall see whether or not that estimate proves right.

13.

asked the Minister of Food whether, in connection with the shortages of both chocolates and sweets which are occurring in some parts of the country, he will make additional allocations of raw materials of chocolate to sweet manufacturers so as to ensure that the public are not faced with shortages in the near future.

Is the Minister aware that that answer is quite misleading? Is he further aware that in order to make the rationing scheme, which is vitally necessary to the country, work, he has to give an allocation of seven ounces per person. It is no good giving a miserable half-ounce. What is the good of all this jiggering about? Do something about it.

Groundnuts

5.

asked the Minister of Food how many tons of the 270,000 tons of the current year's crop of groundnuts and of the 44,000 tons of last year's crop, respectively, have been shipped to Britain; and what price he paid for them.

The Nigerian crop of groundnuts for 1947–48 amounted to 314,000 tons, not 44,000 tons. Of these, 274,000 tons have now been shipped to this country. The current year's crop will amount to about 315,000 tons, not 270,000 tons; 28,000 tons have been shipped to this country. We are paying £55 per ton c. and f. for decorticated nuts from the 1948–49 crop and £45 per ton in respect of the 1947–48 crop.

Is the Minister aware that the point of this Question is not what he has bought but what has been shipped? How many tons are lying rotting in Kano? Is he aware that I have received letters from West Africa to the effect that it is not the scheme but the Minister of Food who is nuts?

Disregarding the brilliant wit of the hon. Member, I would point out that my reply refers to nuts shipped and not to nuts bought.

Why will the Minister not make up the short-fall from East Africa by shipping from West Africa the many thousands of tons waiting there to be removed?

Dairy Produce (Distribution)

6.

asked the Minister of Food in view of the fact that the policy of his Department is not to show preference to any particular area in the distribution of rationed foods, why eggs, butter and cheese are more plentiful in Scotland than they are in the South of England, as shown by particulars which have been sent to him.

We show no preference to any particular area in distributing these foods. Eggs have recently been more plentiful in country districts, but that is in practice unavoidable.

When will the Minister of Food realise that his regulations are really a mockery and that many thousands of people are breaking them, perhaps unwittingly? How many more times have I to tell him that if he breaks the law of supply and demand, that law will break him?

19.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will review the present system of distributing eggs imported from Europe, with regard to the special needs of London and other big centres of population.

At present we distribute all the eggs that come under my Department's control on the basis of population. If my hon. Friend will let me know precisely what he has in mind as an improvement on this system, I shall be glad to consider it.

Meat Products (Price)

7.

asked the Minister of Food if he is aware of the substantial increase in the price of made-up foods with a meat content that has taken place since the 4d. per lb. increase in meat prices; and if he intends to deal with any such increases found to be unwarranted.

The principal meat products are controlled in price, and the recent increase in the price of meat will be no more than reflected in the new prices. I am making inquiries to find out whether there has been any unwarranted increase in the price of those meat products which are not controlled.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in certain districts there has been a grave disparity between the recent increase in the price of meat and the prices charged for made-up products?

That can refer only to made-up products that are not price-controlled.

Agricultural Workers (Meat)

8.

asked the Minister of Food what is the meat ration of European voluntary workers who are employed as agricultural workers and of others living in camps; and how does it compare with the meat ration of British agricultural workers living in their own homes.

I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the reply that I gave to the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) on 2nd May.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that that reply gave no satisfaction to farm workers? Will he now take into account the very important work which these men have to do in the great meat crisis? Cannot they have additional meat, instead of cheese, on the same basis as the miners?

I cannot follow that supplementary question in relation to the original Question.

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the reply to which he has just referred has caused the gravest disappointment and distress to farm workers, and is liable and probably is going to affect our output throughout the summer?

While we are not in the least anxious to cut down the meat allowances to the European voluntary workers, does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the disparity between what they get in the country districts and what our own farm workers get has led to unnecessary bitterness, with all sorts of other consequences?

If there is any such bitterness, it is because of the persistent implication that these foreign workers are receiving more than the British workers living in the same conditions. That implication is totally untrue.

Potatoes

9.

asked the Minister of Food what was the loss to his Department in the dealings in last year's potato crop.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave him on 19th January, 1949. The 1948 crop is unlikely to be cleared for another two or three months.

When will the Minister, who keeps on wriggling out of giving the figures of his losses, realise that State trading is dangerous, and that with State trading there are inevitably losses for the taxpayers? Is he aware that the only cure is to return to healthy competition and to——

The Question is quite a direct one as to the amount of losses, and the hon. Member has received the answer.

12.

asked the Minister of Food why the date for the importation of early potatoes has been extended from 14th May to 24th May.

In order to get the extra supplies which, in view of recent price increases, are evidently needed.

Directly resulting from the Minister's reply, will he consider extending the date in Cornwall for the delivery of early potatoes, owing to the drought, of which he is no doubt aware?

The extension of the date is precisely because we fear that the supplies of new potatoes as a whole are short.

Canned Fruit

10.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will now give facilities to provision merchants in the United Kingdom to sell canned fruit, free of points, on the home market.

All home-produced canned fruit, as well as imported canned grapes and canned apples, are already sold free of points. I shall take the other varieties off points as soon as I am satisfied that I can justifiably do so.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that British provision merchants have now to compete against the Republic of Eire, which is selling all kinds of canned fruits on the market without import licences and therefore without paying duty? What action does he propose to take to protect our own provision merchants?

It is, of course, illegal for residents in this country to import from Eire without a Board of Trade licence.

Is the Minister aware that provision merchants in this country are finding that the Republic of Eire are advertising their goods on the home market both by way of advertisements and circulars? Will he not, therefore, make representations to Eire?

Perhaps the noble Lady will give me direct instances of that practice.

Canned grapes come from various parts of the world, including South Africa.

Meat Ration (Change)

11.

asked the Minister of Food how many days' supply is represented by the present reserve of meat in this country.

I regret that it would not be in the public interest to give this information. I am, however, glad to be able to tell the House that our stocks of carcase meat have now increased sufficiently to enable us to substitute an additional 2d. of carcase meat for the 2d. of canned corn meat at present being issued. As from 22nd May, the meat ration of 1s. 1d. will again consist entirely of carcase meat.

Can we take it from the Minister's reply that we can anticipate an increase in the meat ration in the not-too-distant future?

Overseas Visitors (Ration Cards)

15.

asked the Minister of Food if he will simplify the arrangements for issuing temporary ration cards to foreigners visiting this country.

Everything has been done to make the arrangements as simple as possible. Overseas visitors staying in hotels do not need ration documents for the first four weeks of their stay and I am arranging that from 22nd May this arrangement will be extended to the first eight weeks of a visit. Overseas visitors who stay with friends need temporary ration cards, but these can be obtained at any food office on production of the visitor's passport or travel documents. Personal attendance is not necessary.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that overseas visitors sometimes have to wait for hours at a food office to get a card? Could not arrangements be made to issue the card at the time of landing at the port?

I think that would be difficult, but the overseas visitor does not have to attend a food office. I agree about the great importance of making the visits of people from overseas as agreeable and as easy as possible.

Overseas Food Corporation (Report)

16.

asked the Minister of Food what period will be covered by the first annual report of the Overseas Food Corporation; and when he expects that this will be published.

The report of the Overseas Food Corporation will cover the period from the establishment of the Corporation on 16th February, 1948, to the end of their first financial year on 31st March, 1949. In accordance with the normal practice of large commercial undertakings the report will be published within a reasonable number of months' time of the end of the period to which it refers.

As the Minister is going to Tanganyika next month to see what is happening to the groundnuts scheme, would he, simultaneously with the Corporation report or before the Summer Recess, let us have the benefit of his second thoughts?

When I return from Africa, I shall be willing to make a statement if the House so desires.

What does the right hon. Gentleman consider "a reasonable number of months" to be?

The usual commercial practice of large undertakings is within six months, I think.

Then we shall not be able to get a Debate before the Summer Recess.

Not necessarily on the annual report, but no doubt an occasion can be provided.

Polish Confectionery (Import)

17.

asked the Minister of Food the quantities of boiled sweets and other confectionery now being imported from Poland.

Under the trade agreement with Poland private imports of £60,000 worth of confectionery will be permitted during 1949.

If the Poles have the sugar to spare, should not we buy it from them, rather than manufactured sweets?

No, Sir, I think that in this case, and taking the agreement as a whole, this was a reasonable arrangement.

American Pork

18.

asked the Minister of Food whether he now has any further statement to make on his purchase of pork in the United States of America.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that statements have appeared in the Press on this matter? Can he explain where he is getting the additional meat to increase the fresh meat ration?

The hon. Member's Question refers to an additional purchase of meat. This is part of the additional supplies we have, of course.

Jam-Making Sugar

20.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is now in a position to make greater supplies of sugar available to housewives for making jam.

No, Sir. We are already giving 7 lb. in jamming bonuses this year as compared with 5 lb. last year, and we have also increased the weekly ration from 8 to 10 oz. I should have thought that any future improvement of supplies ought to be used for the domestic ration.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that housewives use less sugar for making jam than jam factories do, and that if he would give more sugar to housewives and less to the factories he would achieve an overall economy?

It is partly for that reason that we have increased supplies of jamming sugar to housewives.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider putting the English language to its traditional use instead of inventing absurb jargon, such as "jamming bonuses?"

"Jamming sugar" is a term very frequently used by housewives, and is a very sensible term.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the alleged increase of sugar to a large number of housewives who grow their own fruit and want to make their own jam, results in considerably less sugar going to them than they had before the alleged increase?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also consider the waste of the fruit itself?