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Food Supplies

Volume 466: debated on Monday 27 June 1949

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Points Rationing

35.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will now make a further statement on the future of the points rationing scheme.

I cannot add to the statement made on this subject by my right hon. Friend in the House on 3rd June.

When may we hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to add anything encouraging?

The hon. Member has not said what he wants me to add. I shall be only too happy to answer him if he will tell me what particulars he wants me to answer.

I am certainly prepared to answer that. The answer is a simple one and has been given on many occasions. There are certain foods, such as canned meat, canned fish, dried fruits and canned fruits which are in very short supply, and until we can equate supplies to demand we feel we must retain the points system.

Is the right hon. Lady telling the House that snoek is in short supply, because there are tons of it in my constituency and no one will buy it?

If the hon. Gentleman will listen to the answer which I shall give to a Question dealing with that commodity, I am sure he will change his mind.

Potatoes And Carrots

36.

asked the Minister of Food, in view of the fact that potato merchants are cancelling outstanding orders to his Department for potatoes because they lose money on every bag, how many tons of the 1948 crop he now possesses; and if he will reduce prices to enable them to be used.

I know of only one case where this is the alleged ground for cancelling an order. The small remaining stocks of 1948 crop potatoes have now all been ordered, and the last part of the Question does not therefore arise.

As the Ministry has already lost £10 million, and probably a good deal more, in speculations over last season's potato crop does the right hon. Lady realise that it is impossible for a Government Department to control the distribution of potatoes without a serious loss of food and a serious loss to the taxpayer? May I have an answer? As the right hon. Lady is incapable of answering, I will ask Question No. 37.

37.

asked the Minister of Food if he will instruct his officers to do business over the telephone, which is common practice in the industry, for orders for potatoes and vegetables.

No, Sir; normally we arrange to supply potatoes and carrots for human consumption only for a month or two at the end of the season. Our transactions, therefore, do not enable us to establish trade relationships which would justify business being conducted on the telephone.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that dealers in perishable foods want their produce at the market within 12 hours? In the old days they telephoned their dealers and got it; now they have to telephone the Ministry, and all the answer they get is "Fill up 14 forms," which means that they get delivery in a week.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that potatoes are not highly perishable, and that the House would expect us to have an order of this kind confirmed in writing.

Fats (Containers)

38.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will take steps to prevent the practice of wholesalers in delivering margarine to retail grocers in unlined cardboard containers, the unpalatable flavour of which has in some cases made the contents unsaleable.

All bulk margarine is supplied in parchment-lined containers. We have received no complaints that wholesalers are delivering margarine in unsatisfactory containers, but if my hon. Friend will let me have details of any case he has in mind I shall be glad to have the matter investigated.

39.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that cooking fat is being delivered to retail grocers in wooden cases which are not sterilised when returned for re-issue and that the fat is contaminated by dirt penetrating the greaseproof paper container; and whether he will refer this matter to the working party for the catering trade and consult the Minister of Health and Secretary of State for Scotland on the possibility of further action to ensure hygienic distribution.

We must continue to use returned containers until better packing materials are available. All used containers are cleaned and lined with new parchment paper before being used again. We shall continue our efforts to supply new containers, but it must be some time before we can guarantee to do so.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that retailers complain that, especially in hot weather, the product seeps through the present detachable lining? Would it be possible to have a more suitable lining?

I can assure my hon. Friend that we have had few complaints of this character, and that the retailer can have the fat replaced if it is contaminated.

Tea Rationing

40.

asked the Minister of Food in view of the more favourable position of our tea stocks, if he will increase the weekly tea ration to the 2½ ozs. received before the last cut in 1947.

Although increased quantities have been contracted for this year, the tea has yet to arrive. We shall certainly increase the ration when it is safe to do so.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the small tea ration hits single people and old couples very hardly, and results in driving them to drink beer?

I cannot agree. Most old-aged pensioners prefer weak tea to going into public houses.

The right hon. Lady referred to deliveries. Is it not the case that stocks are now much higher than they have been during the past few years? Is it not possible to increase the ration?

Is the right hon. Lady aware of the immense popularity of tea in Birmingham, and will she try to meet the proposal made by the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer)?

I agree; I was in Birmingham a fortnight ago, when I had some of the best tea I have ever had.

Canteen Prices

42.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that the prices of foodstuffs have been raised in many industrial canteens; and what steps does he propose to take to reduce them and maintain them at the prices formerly operating.

While my right hon. Friend is anxious that the price of canteen meals should be as low as possible, it is not practicable to impose a price limitation for this purpose.

I thought I told the hon. Gentleman the other night, in a Debate on a Prayer, that it is virtually impossible to enforce maximum prices for all sandwiches. Many hundreds of different sandwiches are produced, and it would discredit our orders if we were unable to enforce maximum prices.

Spanish Wine (Imports)

43.

asked the Minister of Food what was the value of wines imported from Spain during the last full year to the end of May; and whether, in view of the unfavourable balance of trade with Spain, he will restrict imports of wine from that country.

The value of wine imports from Spain during the year ended 31st May, 1949, was £2,153,388. I am advised that this country's balance of payments with Spain is not at present unfavourable.

In view of the need to restrict imports of a non-essential character, can the right hon. Lady justify the importation of £2 million worth of wine this year?

We have never said that we shall restrict consumption of, say, sherry, of which this importation largely consists.