Skip to main content

Food Supplies

Volume 465: debated on Monday 23 May 1949

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

Elderly People (Meals)


asked the Minister of Food if he has now had an opportunity of examining the results of the experiment for which he granted a licence to Jarrow to enable old people to be provided with a prepared uncooked meal of meat, vegetables and dessert; and whether he is now prepared to issue similar licences to other local authorities.

When the Jarrow Corporation proposed this most interesting experiment to my Department we agreed with them to run it for a trial period of six months. It was accordingly started on 25th April last. I think I ought to wait at any rate till a rather longer portion of the trial period has elapsed before expressing an opinion on it.

In view of the fact that old people find it extremely difficult to stand in queues waiting for unrationed food, will the Minister ask the council to give some account of the results soon, so that he will be able to exercise his rights elsewhere in a similar direction?

Yes, Sir, but we ought to wait rather longer than three weeks out of the six months' period.

If this experiment is successful, will the Minister make a general appeal to voluntary organisations in the country to help in the distribution of this food?

This is more a case for the initiative for such an appeal coming from the local authorities. What we would do is to give the necessary licences to the local authorities.

Will the Minister continue to encourage the excellent meals-on-wheels service now being provided by voluntary organisations in association with local authorities?

I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for mentioning it. I do not think I ought to show any partiality or preference between the forms of doing this very meritorious service.

Does the last answer but one that the Minister has given mean that he would not issue licences to voluntary organisations, even if they were inclined to be most suitable for the distribution of such meals?



asked the Minister of Food if he will now say how many tons of potatoes bought by him have been sold for cattle feed; and at what prices.

I still cannot tell the hon. Member what will be the total amount of potatoes which will be used as animal feedingstuff in order to produce meat. For they are not all sold yet, but on 14th May, about one million tons of potatoes from the 1948 crop had been sold by my Department mainly for feeding pigs, not cattle, at an average price of about 68s. per ton.

Is it not a fact that the Ministry of Food give £8 15s. per ton for these potatoes? Is the Minister not aware that because he pokes his nose into the retail distributive business his officials refuse to do business on the telephone, that this leads to delay and that the merchants cannot get what they want because of his interference?

Is it with the approval of the right hon. Gentleman that, without removal, the potatoes are sold to his Department for £10 per ton and are sold back to the owners at £3 or £2 10s. per ton, and that the total transaction is to pass a cheque through the post to the farmer for the difference?

No, Sir. Those are not the figures. It is true that potatoes are fed to animals at a subsidised rate, but then so are all other animal feedingstuffs. Potatoes are not unique in that respect.

How many tons of these potatoes have been used for cattle and how many have been sold to fish friers?


asked the Minister of Food how many prosecutions by his enforcement officers have been initiated or are pending against potato growers who sold potatoes to his Department at £8 15s. a ton and bought them back at £2 15s. a ton to be dyed for cattle feed and are re-selling them for human consumption; and how many tons are involved.

In view of the fact that the Minister lost £10 million speculating with last year's potato crop, how much longer is he to be allowed to play ducks and drakes with the food of the people?

That is, of course, a grotesque way of describing the fact that the farmers are paid a guaranteed price for their potatoes. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would make it quite clear to the farmers of the country that he is against their being paid a guaranteed price for their crops.

Ice Cream


asked the Minister of Food if, in view of the high food value of ice cream and in order to improve the quality, he will consider reducing the control on the using of fresh milk by ice cream manufacturers.

While not yielding to my hon. Friend in partiality to ice cream, we must meet the needs of the market for liquid milk and essential milk products first, and can only spare small amounts for ice cream.

Does that mean that there is a temporary lifting of the ban on the use of milk for ice cream while the milk is de-rationed?

Yes, Sir. We have allocated small quantities of milk for ice-cream in recent weeks and shall continue to do so as long as the milk is available.

Livestock (Grading)


asked the Minister of Food, in view of the report of the Auditor General revealing over £2 million loss resulting from faulty grading of animals for slaughter and of further losses still unknown, what steps he is taking to end this inefficiency and waste of taxpayers' money; and what disciplinary action he proposes to take against the officials concerned.

The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General to which the hon. Member refers relates to the trading accounts of the Ministry for the financial year 1947–48 and an indication is given in that report of the causes of the loss in that year. The report mentioned as one unusual factor in 1947–48 the exceptional condition of the animals following the severe winter of 1946–47 and the subsequent drought. £890,000 of the £2 million was in respect of carcases condemned for reasons that could not be detected at the point of grading: this is quite usual and is allowed for in the prices that are fixed for fatstock. The total loss is under 2 per cent. of the amount spent in the period referred to. Continuous efforts are being made to improve the standard of grading, upon which the financial result in part depends. A staff of livestock inspectors constantly supervises the grading work. These inspectors are instructed to concentrate on centres where grading is least satisfactory. Individual graders are relieved of their appointments if inefficiency is proved against them.

Talking of grading, is the Minister aware that in my opinion he is the lowest grade Minister in English history?

Meat Ration


asked the Minister of Food whether it is proposed to increase or decrease the amount of the meat ration during the remainder of 1949.

I never speculate on the future level of rations. But on this occasion it may be appropriate to say that at present no factors in the situation are apparent which would compel us to decrease the ration during the remainder of 1949.

Black Market Inquiry (Newcastle District)


asked the Minister of Food if he will make a statement on the result of his inquiry into "Operation Octopus."

Yes, Sir. The purpose of this operation was to follow up information which purported to show that there was a highly organised black market in the Newcastle district with ramificacations all over the North of England. The people concerned were alleged to be dealing extensively in a large variety of foodstuffs both imported and home-produced.

The principal source of this information was a recently appointed intelligence officer attached to my Northern Divisional Food Office. This officer was furnished with sums amounting in all to £2,333 in order to make purchases with a view to securing intelligence which would lead to the prosecution of the principals said to be in the background.

The inquiry has shown that insufficient care was taken to check the original, information furnished by the intelligence officer and that there was inadequate control of that officer by his superiors in the expenditure of the sums advanced to him. There was also undue delay in calling in the police. When Scotland Yard investigators were brought in to carry on with the investigation it was found that there was no reliable evidence to confirm the original suspicions of a big black market in the area and that the intelligence officer had, owing to his inexperience and in spite of warning, made purchases which were open to serious criticism on the ground that they were encouraging the commission of offences. The operation was called off and subsequently the intelligence officer resigned from the Ministry.

The administration of enforcement, both at the Ministry's headquarters and in the divisions, is being reorganised so that divisional food officers shall have a tighter control on the work of enforcement staff and that there shall be the strictest supervision of any officer who is exceptionally authorised to make purchases outside the normal test purchase procedure. I am confident that this reorganisation will prevent a similar occurrence in the future.

From the evidence at the inquiry, did it not appear that most of the goods which were coming into the black market came from depôts and not from small dealers? Has Mr. Collins received the salary or wages due to him?

In reply to the first part of the supplementary question, I believe they came from both sources, though I could not say the proportion. As to the second part of the supplementary question, Mr. Collins was not an employee of the Ministry at the time.

In view of the fact that the Minister has used the expression "owing to his inexperience," about the intelligence officer, will he say what steps were taken to see that the man was suitable before he was appointed?

He was an officer with a very fine military record, but he did not prove suitable for this work.

Was not nearly £2,500 an immense sum for which to have given authority, even if it had been properly spent? Surely, it must have meant acquiescing in very large purchases indeed in the black market in order to get evidence?

No, Sir. I do not think that the size of the sum was necessarily undue, because it was spread over quite a long period, but I think its use was injudicious and, in fact, wrong, and that was why the operation was called off.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the employment of agents provocateurs is not only inimical to the British way of life, but has also been found by long police experience to be generally ineffective, and will he consider that very carefully before making experiments such as the one he made in this case?

Can the right hon. Gentleman say why Scotland Yard was not informed and called in at first, instead of the intelligence officer?

In reply to the first supplementary question, I think that on this occasion the methods used went dangerously near agent provocateur methods and that is why we have taken in this respect the steps which I have outlined. As to the second supplementary question, as I said, I think Scotland Yard should have been called in earlier.

The right hon. Gentleman speaks of the operation going on a long time. Can he tell the House what was the length of the period?

Have we not been frequently assured by the Minister that agents of the Minister would not be used in the way in which this man was used?

No, Sir. I have repeatedly defended the test purchase procedure, and there is a difference of degree between that and what was done here. However, I repeat that I think this officer went too far in the methods he used on this occasion.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have evidence that Mr. Collins has a letter from the Ministry saying that his wages were being held up until the inquiry was completed, and does he still say that Mr. Collins was not employed by the Ministry?

Mr. Collins was undoubtedly employed as an agent of the Ministry. The hon. and gallant Gentleman used the word "wages." Undoubtedly there were sums due to Mr. Collins out of the amount I have mentioned, but I should not have described them as wages.

I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Irish Canned Fruit (Prosecutions)


asked the Minister of Food how many prosecutions he has caused to be instituted against inhabitants of Britain for obtaining canned fruit from the Republic of Ireland; how many of these were successful; and how many prosecutions are pending.

There have been nine prosecutions of which eight were successful and 15 prosecutions are pending.

Is the right hon. Gentleman doing his best to see that publicity is given to these prosecutions so that in future people shall not unwittingly commit offences? Secondly, is there any means of bringing to book the real culprits, who are the sellers in Southern Ireland, as soon as they set foot in this country?

Chocolates And Sweets


asked the Minister of Food whether he will take action to ensure that manufacturers make a fair allocation of sweets to small shopkeepers.

I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Teeling) on 16th May. I shall not interfere with the manufacturers' arrangements until there is a clear case for doing so, but I will willingly look into any case my hon. Friend may have in mind where a small shopkeeper has been left without supplies for an unduly long time.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread dissatisfaction that has been expressed by small shopkeepers all over the country at what they consider to be unfair discrimination by manufacturers in favour of large retailers? Will my right hon. Friend at least ask the manufacturers to exercise a little more discrimination in favour of the small shopkeepers.

We must see what representations we get from the various trade associations on the matter. We will certainly pay attention to them when we receive them.

Will not the Minister appreciate that consumption has been misjudged and that the matter needs complete reconsideration to find out how the problem can be solved?

In view of the reports he must have been receiving from all over the country, is not the Minister fully satisfied that he was foolish to accede to the requests of hon. Members opposite and take off the ration altogether?

Is not the Minister aware that every Member of Parliament must be getting complaints, especially those from working-class districts, that people who could get sweets when they were on the ration are getting no sweets at all at the moment?


asked the Minister of Food whether he will give details of his release of 1,000 tons of sugar for the manufacture of sweets; and whether he is releasing a corresponding quantity of fats for this purpose.


asked the Minister of Food if in view of the continued shortage of sweets and chocolates, he will either further increase the allocations to manufacturers or reintroduce rationing as soon as possible.

We have now released sufficient sugar, fats, and other ingredients to enable the manufacturers to put an additional 9,000 tons of sweets on the market. As to the suggestion of my hon. Friend that we should at once reintroduce rationing, I should like to say this. In my opinion it would be unfair to consider this step until the new method of free distribution has had at least some months of trial. After all sweets are not by any means a staple food; that was, of course, why we chose them for de-rationing, which had been so strongly pressed upon us in respect not only of sweets but of some staple foods. On the other hand, I agree that if the supply and demand for sweets and chocolate did not by, say, the autumn come into approximate balance both the trade and the public might well prefer the reintroduction of rationing to the indefinite continuance of acute shop shortages.

Arising out of that reply, did not the Minister of Food anticipate that there would be an increased demand when sweets were de-rationed, and if so, why did he not make this release much earlier?

Does the hon. Gentleman think that we made no increased release of ingredients? Of course we made an enormously greater release of ingredients than this some months before de-rationing.

Will my right hon. Friend make clear what he meant by saying that he was putting 9,000 tons on the market? Within what period of time?

We have just released the ingredients, and I cannot tell the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, without notice, exactly how long it takes between that and the coming of the sweets into the shops, but it will be a matter of a few weeks.

The right hon. Gentleman has released the ingredients for the whole 9,000 tons now?

Surely this is negligible? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the minimum requirement is 7 oz. per person per week?

Imported Sugar (Shipment)


asked the Minister of Food how much of the sugar imported from the West Indies in 1948 was carried in chartered boats; how much in regular service passenger and freight vessels; and what was the proportion carried in foreign vessels and British vessels, respectively.

All sugar imported into the United Kingdom from the British West Indies and Haiti in 1948 was carried on British liners. From Cuba, 764,080 tons were shipped in chartered vessels, of which 38,600, i.e. 5 per cent. were foreign, and 21,000 tons in British liners. From San Domingo 185,691 tons were shipped in chartered vessels, of which 16,000 tons, or 7.6 per cent. were foreign, and 23,750 tons in British liners.

Has the Minister considered any reports to the effect that the British West Indian shipping services would be greatly stimulated if all contracts from his Department were placed for carriage in British ships? As this would be to the great advantage of Colonial development in the West Indies, will he look into this matter with a view to stimulating a regular and more frequent service of British ships with the West Indies?

I should have thought my reply showed that the margin is rather small.

Grains (Export)


asked the Minister of Food if he will give details of the £49 million of cereals, including cereal feedingstuffs, sold for delivery abroad during the year ended 31st March, 1948, showing the amounts sold to each country.

As the answer contains a number of figures I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The hon. Member should note that virtually all the grains were intended for human consumption.

Can the Minister give an assurance that these sales were effected at a profit and not at a loss?

I must have notice of that financial question. Some would be subject to subsidy and some not.

Following is the information:

Crown Agents for the Colonies.791,00025,009,000
Middle East and Oil Companies.32,000923,000
Services Overseas, War Office Civil Affairs Admiralty and N.A.A.F.I.151,0004,332,000
Saudi Arabia9,000236,000
Southern Rhodesia8,000132,000
Private Traders1,00044,000

Of the total quantity of 1,604,000 tons little over 1,000 tons were delivered out of United Kingdom stocks. The remainder were purchases for countries for which we had procurement responsibility or acted as purchasing agents.

Of the total of £49 million, wheat and flour account for about 84 per cent., maize for 6 per cent., barley for 4½ per cent., and rye and oats together for 1½ per cent. Virtually all these grains were intended for human consumption.