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Food Supplies

Volume 478: debated on Monday 18 September 1950

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Commonwealth Producers (Contracts)


asked the Minister of Food how far it is his Department's practice when making bulk purchase contracts for butter, cheese and other foodstuffs to offer preferential prices to producers in the British Commonwealth and Empire.

I am always anxious to get as much as I can of these commodities from Commonwealth producers, and, in general, I am taking all that they can send. The question of giving any form of preference under these contracts to Commonwealth producers does not, however, arise because I am still bound to obtain as much as I can of these commodities at reasonable prices from all sources, and in any case bulk purchase contracts must be based primarily on commercial considerations.

Will the Minister give an assurance that he is willing to pay to the Dominions prices at least as good as those he pays to foreign countries, and that he is not trying to trade on the good will and loyalty of Dominion producers?

I am not trying to trade on the good will of anybody. I am trying to get prices that are favourable to us and to them in every circumstance.

Russian Crabmeat


asked the Minister of Food what losses were incurred by his Department on the shipment of Russian crabmeat from the United Kingdom to the United States of America, which American dockers recently refused to unload from the s.s. "Parthia."


asked the Minister of Food the total value of the Russian crabmeat shipped by his Department from the United Kingdom to the United States of America during the current year.

Can the Minister say how he reconciles this transaction, which, according to American papers, amounts to far more than that sum, with the Prime Minister's recent declaration that the machinery going to Russia was being used for the import into this country of valuable feedingstuffs and timber, whereas in point of fact it seems to be used for the shipment to America of crabmeat which is not wanted, and on which we shall have a loss?

The larger part of this trade took place a long time ago—long before the considerations the hon. Gentleman has in mind arose.

Is it not a fact that there have been three shipments of crabmeat to the United States in the last three or four weeks?


asked the Minister of Food how much crabmeat has been purchased by his Department from the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics during the past two years; and to whom it has been sold.

Two thousand four hundred and seventy tons. Some has been sold in this country and some has been re-exported, mainly to America.

How can the right hon. Gentleman reconcile the reply he has just given with his reply to an earlier supplementary question, when I understood him to say that this crabmeat transaction took place years and years ago, long before there was any question of orders from Russia?

In that case, when the right hon. Gentleman looks at his answer again he will find that he definitely misled his hearers in the House.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the attention of the United States' authorities has been drawn to the fact that this attempt to conduct foreign policy by strikes is doing harm to this country and none to the Soviet Union?

Was any of this crabmeat offered to the Kitchen Committee of the House of Commons?

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House how one can distinguish between Communist crab and capitalist crab?


asked the Minister of Food how often in August were shipments of Russian crabmeat made by his Department to the United States of America; in how many cases did the American dockers refuse to unload this cargo; what was the value of the shipments and the losses incurred; and, in view of the resentment caused in the United States of America, if he will give an assurance that no further shipments of this sort will be made.

Five shipments worth just over £95,000 were made during August. All have been or are being returned. I cannot say until the goods are sold what profit or loss will result. In reply to the last part of the Question, I can only say that I have no immediate intention of resuming shipment to America of this crabmeat.

Is it not particularly unfortunate that, during the war in Korea, American public opinion should be further disturbed by this abortive attempt on the part of the Ministry of Food to ship Russian goods to the United States in British disguise?

Can the Ministry say if these particular shipments of crabmeat were bought by American importers?

Imported Apples


asked the Minister of Food if, in view of the heavy home crop of apples, he has set any limit to the importation of eating apples from Italy and cider apples from France.

No arrangements have yet been made for imports of eating apples this season from any source, but, in considering what should be done, the position of the home crop will certainly be kept in mind. Cider apples are imported by private traders under licence, but no licences have so far been issued this season.

How, then, does it happen that Italian eating applies are being offered by greengrocers today at a time when there are ample supplies of good quality English eating applies?

Does my right hon. Friend realise that any limitation on the importation of eating apples would be strongly resented by consumers unless the distribution of home stocks can be made more effective, and their prices maintained at reasonable levels?

Will the Minister say why Italian apples are, in fact, being offered in the shops at the present time?

In considering his policy, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the mistakes made in previous years and the great losses suffered as a consequence?

There is no need for great excitement about this. We are working in close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, and are aware of the crops of apples from home producers. All the time we are endeavouring to arrive at arrangements which on balance, I think, are fair to both producers and consumers.

Would the Minister not agree that there would be less excitement had he not started this mystery by refusing to say why Italian apples are in the shops?


asked the Minister of Food what quantities of apples, apple pulp and apple juice have been imported during the last six months.

The figures are as follows: cider apples, none; other apples, 90,089 tons; unsweetened apple juice, 110 gallons concentrated, 9,215 gallons unconcentrated. There are no separate figures for apple pulp and sweetened apple juice.

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that in Devon we have been encouraged to plant cider apple trees over a long term of years; that this year apples are the one good crop we are able to harvest, and that owing to the Minister's importation policy we cannot sell any of them?

I cannot think—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is a cheap joke. I am just as capable of thinking as anyone on the other side. That is a silly joke to make. I repeat that I cannot think that the figure of 9,000 gallons of apple juice is really a considerable amount when we consider that 22 million gallons of cider were produced last year.

As, unfortunately, several thousand tons of good apples have been blown down recently throughout Kent, will the Minister not purchase those apples before they rot? Otherwise, in another week or two they will rot, and we shall lose those thousands of tons of apples.

There is another question down on that point. I am not sure whether it is down today, but I have notice of it, and will answer it.

Can the Minister say how much apple juice there was in the country at the beginning of this year?

As the Minister has said that he cannot afford to allow more sugar to go to cider manufacturers, what is the use of importing apple juice?

Does not my right hon. Friend think that the British farmer would be a little more successful in this free competition if he packed, graded and marketed his apples rather better?


asked the Minister of Food what regulations he has made with regard to the importing of French apple juice and the mixing of it with home-produced apple juice and the selling of the mixture as Devonshire cider.

Apple juice and raw cider may be imported from France under open general licence and there is no restriction on their use in making cider in this country. Whether cider made in Devonshire wholly or partly from imported apple juice can properly be described as Devonshire cider could only be decided by the courts.

Will the Minister take steps to see that cider made out of foreign apple juice is sold as made from foreign apple juice and not under a Devonshire name?

It is up to the private traders to be honest in their definitions and their trade marks.


asked the Minister of Food what steps he proposes to take to encourage the production and sale of cider apples in this country and to protect home producers against foreign imports.

I understand that the present production of cider apples is sufficient to meet the demand. Sales are not controlled in any way but the amount cider manufacturers can take up depends partly on the amount of sugar we can afford to let them have. No cider apples have been imported so far this season. I am afraid, however, that the limiting factor here is the falling off of public demand for cider. There are no steps I can take to alter that situation.

Will the Minister take steps to limit the amount of foreign imports of apples and cider apples?

Will the Minister now say why foreign apples are on the market in this country?

Can the Minister give an assurance that the allocation of sugar to manufacturers will not be conditional, as it has been in the past, upon their taking up some of these surplus and unwanted foreign imports?

Sugar for manufacturers is determined solely by the amount of sugar available.

Is the Minister aware of the great anxiety about this in some parts of the country, and does he propose to do anything about it at all?



asked the Minister of Food what was the cost of his advertising campaign to sell brislings; and what stocks now remain.

About £10,000. I do not think it would be in the public interest to disclose the stocks my Department holds.

Is the Minister aware that his Parliamentary Secretary told me by letter that the object of this advertising was so that the trade could be returned to private business as soon as possible? Will he give an assurance that he will carry out that policy on every possible occasion?

That may have been one part of the letter sent by the Parliamentary Secretary, but there were others, too. It is our desire in the case of all commodities of this kind, where supplies are adequate, to return them to private trade.

Are we to assume from the answer that the advertising has been useless, because the Minister has still got his original stocks of brislings?

On the contrary, the advertising has been very valuable to us and the private trade, so much so that I have had one letter from a firm of canners in the private trade who have taken the trouble to say that they hope we will continue the advertising.

Would it not be better to advertise the high nutritive value and good quality of the Cornish pilchard?

Meat Ration


asked the Minister of Food whether he can make any announcement about the level of the meat ration for the remainder of this year.

I generally prefer not to speculate about ration levels, but I think I can safely say that the meat ration will not vary very much over the next month or so.

Is there not an abundance of home-produced meat available, and would it not greatly benefit the consumer if this trade was largely freed from Government control?

There is a very large quantity of home-produced meat available now. Unfortunately, one of the limiting factors is the absence of slaughterhouse and labour capacity to take advantage of all the meat we have. On the whole, we are making available to the consumer all the home-killed meat, but I cannot speculate in advance of the next month or two in the light of the Argentine and other negotiations now taking place.

When will the right hon. Gentleman realise that if the Government attempt to break the law of supply and demand that law will break them and the country?

Dried Fruit


asked the Minister of Food if he will give an assurance that he is making arrangements to ensure an adequate supply of dried fruit so that housewives may make their Christmas puddings; and whether this year he will secure a fairer division as between the housewife and the manufacturer.

An allocation of currants and sultanas to the full extent of our available supplies will be made on 8th October, and should reach the shops in good time for Christmas. I do not think housewives have been unfairly treated in the past. Actually, more dried fruit is sold by retail for home consumption than before the war, whereas manufacturers as a whole receive only about 50 per cent. of their pre-war usage.

Will the Minister see if he can make a general statement about Christmas rations before the House rises, instead of making it to the newspapers when the House is not here?

Since my right hon. Friend is a Lancashire man sitting for a Yorkshire constituency, does not he realise that there is a difference between the North and the South in this matter, and that Northern housewives much prefer to make their own. Christmas cakes instead of buying them in the shops?

Yes, and I hope they will find adequate supplies of currants and sultanas, though not raisins, for their purpose.

Imports From Russia


asked the Minister of Food if he will give an assurance that there will be a continued supply of corn and foodstuffs in the event of supplies from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and from Russian-controlled countries being cut off.

Supplies would continue but they might not be so great, because, obviously, the field in which we purchase would be narrowed. But if the situation mentioned in the Question ever arose the Government would, naturally, use every endeavour to maintain adequate supplies of all necessary foods.

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the fullest use will be made of Empire and home-produced supplies?

Is it not now desirable that the home oat crop should be guaranteed in price beyond 1952, so that increased acreages may be planned?

Can the Minister tell us what percentage of feedingstuffs is coming from Russia at present?

Government Stocks


asked the Minister of Food why, when issuing permission for the sale of foods at home or abroad, he makes it a condition that a percentage of the foods sold shall include foods from stocks held by the Government at a price fixed by the Government even though it is higher than the market price.

I do not know exactly what sort of transaction the hon. Member has in mind, but I shall be pleased to look into any instance that he can quote.

Margarine Ration


asked the Minister of Food what representations he has received from local food committees that margarine need no longer be rationed; and what action he is taking.

However inactive food committees may have been, is not the fact that nothing like the full rationed quantity of margarine is being bought—people are so hard up—a pointer that margarine might be de-rationed?

The Question asked what representations I have received. I have received none.

Crops Damage


asked the Minister of Food what arrangements he proposes to make to counteract the bad harvest and the consequent loss in home-produced food.


asked the Minister of Food if he is making any special provision to obtain food from other countries to make up for the damage that our own crops have sustained due to recent storms.

It is too soon yet finally to assess the damage done to crops but we do not expect that the estimates of yields on which our import programme was based will need to be revised to any material extent.

Does the Minister realise that the stockpiling of food is one of the most essential factors in any policy of re-armament?

I am not dealing with the stockpiling of food. That is not the original Question.

Will the Minister give an assurance that he will not purchase goods from foreign countries in preference to those from the Empire to make up for what we have lost this year in England?

When we know the exact results of loss in harvest we shall decide on the necessary adjustments to our import programme.

But will the Minister give an assurance that he will not get the food from foreign countries but from the Empire or other friendly countries?

Holiday Resorts (Rationed Foods)


asked the Minister of Food on what system additional rationed foodstuffs are made available during the season at holiday resorts.

These extra supplies are based on the nearest corresponding period of the previous year. We issue supplementary permits to meet any current needs which arise.

Is the Minister aware that it was possible to buy half-a-dozen tins of salmon, and what was described as any amount of ham and tongue, at a shop in Torquay in August? Will he bear in mind there is much dissatisfaction in the north-west because there are not enough of these commodities to go round? Will he review the position?

It is the hon. Gentleman's duty to give me evidence of that transaction in Torquay so that the necessary legal action can be taken.