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Food Supplies

Volume 476: debated on Wednesday 28 June 1950

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asked the Minister of Food whether he will now remove all restrictions on the receipt of food parcels from any country in the sterling area.

I am keeping these arrangements under review to ensure that restrictions remain in force only as long as they are necessary, but I cannot lift them at present.

Will the Minister say what reasons exist for these restrictions other than the theory that because everybody cannot have something, nobody should have it?

That is not quite the theory. We have got a balance of payments even in the sterling area, but the real reason at the moment is to prevent a few individuals with plenty of money and good contacts overseas, getting food that the ordinary people in this country cannot get.



asked the Minister of Food whether, in view of the large increases in supplies of butter now available, he will consider de-rationing it forthwith.

Is the Minister aware that I am not accustomed to taking "No" for an answer? Is he further aware that there is now enough butter for everybody and that there is no longer any justification for rationing? Is it not a fact also that the Minister knows it to be the case, although he does not like it, and that he cannot find a suitable answer?

I can think of many suitable answers but I cannot give any of them at the present time.

Flour Imports


asked the Minister of Food if he will state the quantities of flour which the United Kingdom has contracted for and purchased from Canada and Australia this year with the comparable quantities purchased in 1938; and if he will give an estimate of the amount of animal feedingstuffs lost by importing flour rather than wheat.

The best comparison is between imports of Canadian and Australian flour into the United Kingdom in 1938, which amounted to 329,000 tons, and imports in the latest period of 12 months for which official figures are available—June, 1949, to May, 1950—which amounted to 442,000 tons. If these quantities of flour had been milled in the United Kingdom at the extraction rates prevailing in the two periods, the amount of wheat offals which would have been produced in the process would have been about 128,000 tons in 1938 and about 78,000 tons in the later period.

In future negotiations with Canada and Australia will the Minister always remember the desirability of buying wheat rather than flour so that our pig and poultry keepers may have some decent quality rations?

We have to bear that in mind, but at the same time we have to take into account other people's desires in the way of milling flour.

Apples (British Columbian Gift)


asked the Minister of Food whether he is now in a position to state what was the total outlay by his Department for transport and distribution charges on the gift of apples from British Columbia; what this represented per pound of those sold; what prices were charged to wholesalers and retailers; what price was paid by the public; and how much profit was made on the transaction by his Department.


asked the Minister of Food how he disposed of 1,000,000 bushels of British Columbian apples which were recently given to this country by Canada.

It proved possible to arrange to distribute 50,000 boxes free to school children, and the rest had necessarily to be disposed of to the public through normal trade channels at prevailing prices. The British Columbia growers who made this generous gift to us knew that we were doing this and understood that no other course was possible. So far as can at present be ascertained, transport and distribution charges, including Ministry overheads, amounted to about £700,000, or approximately 3¾d. per lb. of apples sold. The average price realised on sales to wholesalers was 6½d. per lb. Sales by wholesalers to retailers and by retailers to the public were subject to price control, with maximum retail prices varying from 8½d. to 10½d. per lb., but some sales may have been made at prices below these. The profit on the transaction is expected to be about £500,000.

In view of that information, for which I thank the Minister, may I ask whether it is not a great pity that those most generous donors from Canada were not aware when they gave these apples that this was the kind of thing which would result from their gift?

I think they were aware. I discussed the matter with the Prime Minister of British Columbia and he fully agreed with the course that we were taking. It has resulted in a profit and we are now considering what is the best way of dealing with that profit.

Will the Minister write frankly and fully to the Minister of Agriculture of Canada who lately, in the Canadian House of Commons, expressed the misgivings of Canada as to how we are dealing with this gift?



asked the Minister of Food what is the estimated normal requirement of sugar for Great Britain; what proportion of this can be obtained at home; and to what extent the balance could be obtained from non-dollar Empire sources.

We estimate that about 2,550,000 tons of sugar a year would be needed to meet the normal demand, and that of this quantity an average of about 500,000 tons should be available from home sources. We hope eventually to be able to get nearly 90 per cent. of the balance from the Commonwealth under long-term agreements, but it will be several years before Commonwealth producers can achieve the considerable expansion needed to reach this figure.

Were the Commonwealth prepared to meet some of the balance from Commonwealth sources after 1952? If so, why has the right hon. Gentleman turned down the offer on the part of the West Indies.

There is not actually any offer. An arrangement was negotiated last year between the Dominions and the Colonies to reach this sort of target. We are now engaged in negotiations with the West Indies as to their share of the target, but I would rather not make any statement.

May we get the facts aright? Were the West Indies prepared to offer His Majesty's Government 85,000 tons of additional sugar, which His Majesty's Government have hitherto refused to accept?

I wish I had time to give the whole of the figures, but really that is quite wrong. The facts are these. We have undertaken to guarantee prices for 640,000 tons from 1953 for eight years onwards, and the rest up to 900,000 tons, at world prices plus preference. We feel that that is a reasonable arrangement.

As this is all very confusing, may I ask whether the Minister can make it clear that he will take all Empire sugar—that is, everything—until 1952, from whatever source?

Yes, Sir. At the moment we are taking all, and we could take more. I would make it clear to the House that at this moment the West Indies are not providing the sugar that they had contracted to deliver. That is our difficulty. We are discussing sugar which is not even grown, from 1953 onwards.

Meat Supplies


asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that there is much resentment throughout Devon at the poor meat supplied to butchers, particularly beef, and that the average quality of meat available in Devon compares unfavourably with that obtainable in some other parts of the country, notably South Wales and the Midlands; and what steps he proposes to improve the quality.

I am not aware of any grounds for this feeling in Devon. We do everything we can to see that all butchers get a fair share of the various qualities of meat, and I cannot agree that Devon butchers have been less favourably treated than butchers in South Wales and the Midlands.

Is the Minister aware that some of this meat has lately been so horrible that some of my constituents have had no alternative but to refuse their present scanty meat ration? Is he further aware that one of them, having laid his weekly ration before his family then offered it to his dog, by whom it was immediately rejected. Will the Minister come down to my constituency and see some of this stuff?


asked the Minister of Food how far British beef is supplied to butchers' shops in the areas covered by the Stroud, Thornbury, Dursley, Gloucester and Nailsworth Rural District Councils; and if he will ensure that a reasonable proportion is made available in the future.

I have not the detailed figures for these particular places but the counties from which they draw supplies, Gloucester and Somerset, received about 21 per cent. of their allocations in home-killed beef during the four weeks ended 9th June, 1950. We try to see that all areas receive a reasonable proportion of the available home-killed beef.

Butcher, Mallaig (Licence)


asked the Minister of Food why Mr. Burnett Stevenson, who has been a butcher for 20 years in Mallaig, was recently refused permission to open up a butcher's shop of his own there: and whether he will now see that Mr. Stevenson is given the necessary permit.

A licence was refused because it was considered that there were already enough butchers' shops in Mallaig to meet the needs of the public there. As I have already said, I do not want to keep these licensing restrictions any longer than is necessary, but as long as I have to do so I am satisfied that I cannot relax them exceptionally in this case.

Would the right hon. Gentleman review this matter again? Is it not a fact that he stated recently that he was all in favour of the small man?

I have reviewed this case, but I must take account of overriding considerations. As long as the restriction is there I am bound to say that this case has not established any right to exceptional treatment.

Canned Ham


asked the Minister of Food what restrictions are imposed upon the method of curing meat for sale as ration-free British canned ham.

If, owing to restrictions or present conditions, it is not possible to cure ham by the lengthy process which was needed in pre-war days, is not the commodity at present sold as British canned ham more appropriately described as "gammon"?

I did not hear all that supplementary question. The hon. Member had better discuss this matter outside with me.

Unsold Bacon


asked the Minister of Food upon what conditions grocers art permitted to cook gammon remaining unsold at the end of a week.

Local food offices will authorise this only if there is a risk of the bacon going bad if kept till the following week.

Does it not follow that there must be a reduction in their supply in the following week, and is the Minister satisfied that this arrangement can be carried out?

We recently altered the arrangements which, I think, are already working much better.



asked the Minister of Food what quantity of chickens he has in stock; and how much profit or loss he has made on his poultry dealings since 1st January, 1950.

I do not think it would be either prudent or in the public interest to disclose our present stocks of chickens; and until we have cleared our stocks of poultry, I cannot say what our profit or loss will be.

Will the Minister call for a special report on this transaction from the Comptroller and Auditor-General? May I ask him why he is able to gamble in the nation's food and money and not give an account? Will he restore this trade as soon as possible to the people who know the business?

Will the Minister say whether this total includes the chickens belonging to the Labour Party which are now coming home to roost?

In view of the rumour in the country today that there are very large numbers of chickens in store, and the uncertainty which is thus caused to the poultry producer, will the right hon. Gentleman consider issuing some statement, if only to reassure the poultry producer?

If there is any need for such a statement—I do not think there is—I will make it.