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Food Supplies

Volume 480: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1950

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Warehouse, Grimsby (Building Licence)

51.

asked the Minister of Food why he is not prepared to support the application for a licence for the completion of the work on the warehouse in Abbey Road, Grimsby, to Messrs. T. Wilkinson and Sons, Builders, Cleethorpes, when the whole steel work and about half the brick work have been completed for about three years, and is deteriorating owing to long exposure, and since all the roofing materials required are already on the site and are paid for and no other materials are required, and in view of the considerable unemployment in the district, if he will reverse his decision.

I am arranging for this case to be re-examined and will let the hon. Member know the result as soon as possible.

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but will he explain why he has taken so long and why there has had to be so many Parliamentary Questions before we got this sensible decision?

Catering Establishments (Bacon)

52.

asked the Minister of Food whether, in the interests of increased food production, he will permit catering establishments which keep pigs fed on their own swill to retain the resulting bacon for their visitors.

As I explained in my reply to the hon. Member for Penrith (Mr. Scott) on 14th June, in deciding these matters I have to take into account the need to share our supplies of pork and bacon fairly over the whole population, and the interests of domestic consumers as well as catering establishments. At present I do not think that a change in the arrangements would be justified.

Will not the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to reconsider this matter, because the concession for which we are asking would contribute to food production and would do harm to nobody?

These people have a concession now. They have extra bacon which other people do not have. At a time when the bacon ration has had to be reduced, I do not feel that I would be justified in removing all the limitations on the serving of bacon in catering establishments.

Rations (Statistics)

53.

asked the Minister of Food what percentages of the total rations to which the public is entitled are actually purchased by the public in the various foodstuffs, respectively, which are still subject to rationing.

Our estimates are: meat, tea and sugar, 100 per cent.; bacon and butter, 98 per cent.; chocolate and sugar confectionery, 96 per cent.; cheese, 93 per cent.; cooking fats, 88 per cent.; and margarine 86 per cent.

Ewe Mutton

54.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that in a number of instances butchers refused to accept ewe mutton due to its unsatisfactory quality; that they thereby had to forego the value of this ration meat and cut down the ration of their customers; and if he will stop issuing ewe mutton for distribution on the ration.

I know that some butchers have occasionally refused imported ewe mutton, but this has not affected consumers' rations, since, if a butcher is unable to meet his customers' rations out of his stock, we can always arrange for them to be supplied by other butchers. I explained to the hon. Member on 25th October that if a butcher is dissatisfied with the quality of his meat and his appeal to the district meat agent is upheld, a replacement will be made; but the present supplies do not enable us to remove ewe mutton from the ration.

Would the Minister give an assurance that any butchers who refuse this ewe mutton in the future will be able to get other rations for their customers?

Why are there more ewes about now than there were in the days of Tory misrule?

Condemned Bacon

55.

asked the Minister of Food how much imported bacon has been condemned as unfit for human consumption in the last 12 months; how much has been sent to the soap-makers; and principally from what countries did it come.

During the year ending 31st October we distributed about 266,000 tons of imported bacon of which 119 tons eight cwts., or 0.05 per cent. was condemned as unfit for human consumption. Most of this condemned bacon was used for industrial manufacture, but I cannot say how much was used for soap making, nor from what particular countries it came.

Is the Minister satisfied that, although the quantity which is condemned is small, no deterioration of the bacon is taking place in the warehouses?

One can never be satisfied, but I should have thought that the figures that I have given were quite reassuring.

Exhibits, Smithfield Show (Price)

56.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that beef exhibited in the carcass competitions at Smithfield Show are paid for at casualty rate resulting in a loss to exhibitors of 1d. per lb.; and whether he will give instructions that this prime beef should be paid for at the full rate.

The hon. Member's information is not quite in line with the facts. Last year cattle entered for the carcass competition were paid for on the basis of their dead weight—in other words the actual rather than the estimated carcass weight. This procedure, which is the only practicable one in the circumstances, will. I believe, be adopted again next year.

Would the Minister check his information and make sure that he is accurate, because the information which I have from Smithfield is, in fact, that these carcasses, judged the best in the world, are paid for at casualty rates?

As the hon. Gentleman knows—he has spoken to me about this and I have gone into it in great detail—I am satisfied that my information is correct.

57.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that under the present regulations beef produced from animals exhibited at the Smithfield Show are paid for on the basis of live weight grade and not on actual dead weight, resulting in a loss to exhibitors at the 1949 show of about 2,000 lb. weight of meat, and whether he will alter these regulations so as to permit payment for actual carcass weight.

These cattle are graded and paid for in exactly the same way as those we buy at collecting centres throughout the country. Our top grade includes all animals with an estimated killing-out percentage of 59 per cent. and over. If we fixed separate prices for any higher grade it would tend to encourage the production of over-fat animals not suitable for the retail trade and I am not prepared to alter the existing arrangements. After all, our main purpose must be, at this stage to improve the quality of meat for eating.

Is the Minister aware that the exhibitors at this show are not asking to be paid for fat? They are quite prepared to have the fat trimmed. All that they are asking for is that they should be paid for prime beef at the right price and not be robbed of 2,000 lb. weight of meat which the Ministry of Food take from them.

I am aware of that fact. My advice is that if we altered the grade we would be encouraging the production of animals for fat and not for meat.

Has not the object of the Smithfield Show always been to raise the quality, and has not it done so most successfully, long before we had any Minister of Food?

Cattle (Slaughtering Arrangements)

58.

asked the Minister of Food whether in view of the increasing numbers of cattle awaiting slaughter and the congestion that results, with its consequent suffering to the animals, he will arrange for more slaughter houses to be built without delay.

I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) on Monday, 6th November.

While not having access to that answer, as no doubt the Minister has—which is something to which I have drawn attention before—may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that there are now only 600 slaughterhouses compared with 16,000 before the war? Therefore, how can there not be congestion and consequent suffering? Will he remove some of the restrictions that he has imposed?

There were not 16,000 slaughterhouses before the war, but 12,000, and some of these backyard slaughterhouses just did not bear examination.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that a great deal of suffering is caused to animals by their having to travel long distances? Will he do his best to alleviate the situation?

Before my right hon. Friend gives permission for the building of any more slaughterhouses, will he take a look at some of the slaughterhouses that were used prior to and in the early part of the war?

60.

asked the Minister of Food if he has considered particulars which have been sent to him concerning cruelty to animals and waste due to slaughtering of beasts under Government control; and if he will restore the right to butchers to do their own slaughtering.

I am having inquiries made about the information which the hon. Member has sent to me and will write to him as soon as possible, but I cannot accept the implication in his Question. On future slaughterhouse policy, I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D Marshall) on 6th November.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, due to Government control of a specialised industry, the waste of money and good food is appalling? Is he also aware that a butcher told me last week that he was no longer a butcher but a "cutter-up" of meat for the Government, and that he would like to get his knife into the Minister of Food?

Groundnut Scheme

59.

asked the Minister of Food if he is yet in a position to make a statement on the future of the groundnut scheme.

I expect to receive the revised plan from the Corporation shortly, and, as soon as the Government have considered it, I will publish a White Paper.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a very long time has elapsed since he came into office and took this matter in hand? Is he further aware that the public, who are most anxious about this point, should be informed about the Government's policy in regard to the groundnut scheme at a very early date?

I do not think I have been backward in giving information about the situation. I promised that a White Paper would be ready at about the end of November. We shall probably be about two weeks late, but I do not think that is too bad.

Is it not a fact that the groundnut scheme has no future, although, unfortunately, it has a past?

Meat Grading (Appeals)

61.

asked the Minister of Food to whom a butcher may appeal concerning the grading and quality of the meat supplied to him.

Is the Minister aware that many butchers have told me it is no good appealing because there is such a delay in getting a further supply, and that there is a danger of victimisation?

Milk (Delivery Charge)

62.

asked the Minister of Food if he will make a detailed statement as to the extent to which the Control and Maximum Prices Order permits the addition of a reasonable delivery charge to the price of milk delivered in thinly-populated areas; and, in particular, whether such provision covers milk sold under the National Milk Scheme.

Yes, Sir. The position is as follows: The appropriate order says that no person may make an unreasonable charge in connection with the sale of milk. By implication, therefore, a reasonable charge may be made to cover exceptional costs incurred in the retail delivery of milk in thinly-populated areas, whether the milk is provided under the Welfare Foods Service or otherwise. The question of what constitutes a "reasonable charge" is one for interpretation by the courts.

Does that mean that the Minister is prepared to pay a higher charge for milk supplied under the National Milk Scheme in the rural areas?

It means that I could not possibly fix the charge for delivery for every district in the country; but it is open for the person concerned to fix his own charge, if it is a reasonable one and comes within the order.

Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to consider paying a higher charge for the milk supplied under the National Milk Scheme?

Poultry And Game (Prices)

63.

asked the Minister of Food if he will state the price of poultry and game at Christmas, 1949, and for the present period.

The controlled maximum retail prices of dressed poultry at Christmas, 1949, were: 4s. a lb. for poultry other than turkeys and poussins, 5s. 3d. a lb. for home-produced turkeys, 4s. 4d. a lb. for imported turkeys and 4s. 9d. a bird for poussins. The price of game birds was not controlled. On a free market, there are now substantial variations in price, from day to day, in different parts of the country, and according to quality, so that it would be misleading to give any figures; but prices are generally higher than last year.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the bitter resentment on the part of a large number of consumers at the prices now being charged, and will he consider importing sufficient quantities in order to break the racket in which home producers are now indulging?

I am aware of that dissatisfaction and disquiet. As I said a day or two ago, I am looking into the question of the possibility of further importations.

In view of the fact that the increase is largely caused by scarcity, will the Minister explain what he meant at his Press conference the other day when he said that turkeys were not to be imported from Hungary for political reasons? What are these political reasons?

Christmas Allowances

64.

asked the Minister of Food whether, in making his statement about food bonuses for Christmas, he will take into account the need of housewives for extra eggs, or egg powder, for use for Christmas puddings and cakes.

I should very much like to be able to do this, but I am afraid it is not possible.

While recognising that it is not perhaps possible to have the tinned eggs, is it not possible to have a distribution to housewives of the egg powder used by confectioners and bakers?

That is an interesting question, and we have looked into it. I am afraid that the powder would be of such poor quality and would cause so many Questions in the House that we dare not face it.

Gambian Poultry And Eggs

65.

asked the Minister of Food what are the number of cases of eggs which have been received from Gambia during the last six months; the number of laying hens in Gambia; and the number of dead poultry that have been imported from that source.

We have received 107 cases of eggs, but have no information about the present number of laying hens in Gambia. Dead poultry from Gambia is imported, privately, under licence. Since 1st June my Department has supported one application for a licence to import 30 tons.

Is the Minister aware that an import of 107 cases is not a very large large amount to contribute towards the weekly egg ration?

We have undertaken and contracted to buy the export surplus of eggs from Gambia for three years, as from 1st July. It is up to them, and up to the hens to lay them.

Bacon Exports

66.

asked the Minister of Food why he has decided to export bacon to the United States of America, when there is not sufficient bacon in this country to meet our own needs.

We export only speciality products of high dollar-earning value; and the quantity is quite negligible in relation to our ration needs. Export licences issued so far have covered only 48 cwt. of canned ham.

Can the Minister tell us why, on 18th September, he sent a letter to the Shaftesbury Rural District Council asking them to appoint Lieut.-Colonel Green to be the meat inspector at the Dorset Bacon Company factory where about 300 pigs are killed a week?

I have not the foggiest idea what that is all about. Perhaps the hon. Member will write to me.

Cattle And Sheep (Grading)

67.

asked the Minister of Food what is the number of Grade A and Grade B fat cattle and sheep purchased at grading centres in the last six months; and the number of Grade A and Grade B beef and mutton carcasses sold during the last six months.

During the six months ended 30th September, 725,640 cattle were purchased at collecting centres in Great Britain in the grades "Special" and "A," whilst 199,364 were purchased in the live grades "B." In the same period 224,744 tons of beef representing approximately 899,096 cattle (including those received alive or in the form of fresh meat from Eire and Northern Ireland) were sold as "A" quality and 58,987 tons representing approximately 245,948 cattle were sold as "B" quality. Similar figures are not available for sheep which are not purchased alive in the grades "Special," "A" or "B."

All classes of cattle purchased at collecting centres can qualify for the appropriate live grade "A" but, clearly, a grade "A" cow would not be expected to produce the same quality carcass as a grade "A" steer or heifer. Similarly, a ewe graded in its highest category would tot be expected to provide the same quality carcass as a lamb similarly graded. The qualifying killing out percentage for the same grade varies with the class of animal, e.g., a cow qualifies for the live grade "A" at a lower killing out percentage than a heifer. Rates of payment per live hundredweight for a cow graded "A" are suitably less than for a heifer graded "A." Sheep fall into a great number of live grades, the current price schedule shows. During the six months ended 29th September. 47,339 tons of home-killed mutton and lamb were issued as first quality and 10,431 tons as second quality.

Festival Of Britain (Extra Rations)

68.

asked the Minister of Food what extra rations, and subject to what conditions, he intends to issue to persons entertaining in their homes visitors to the Festival of Britain.

Householders in London who provide accommodation, approved by the British Travel and Holidays Association, during the Festival of Britain will be enabled to provide meals, in the same way as hotels for guests who stay for short periods. Guests who stay five nights or more will have to bring their own ration cards in the usual way. For those staying for shorter periods, householders will get ration cards in proportion to the number of meals served.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how this concession will be restricted to visitors to this particular festival?

One of the restrictions for the moment is that the plan applies only to London. The plan has been worked out in consultation with Sir Alexander Maxwell, and we are satisfied that we have made a very helpful arrangement in the circumstances.

Why should not this scheme be extended over the rest of the country where the Festival of Britain is taking place?

We are satisfied that in most areas the hotel accommodation will be ample, but, if it is not, we shall consider extending the scheme.

What happens if the visitors give the Festival a miss after their arrival and go to cricket matches?

The same as happens to the hon. and gallant Member and myself when we go to cricket matches; they will get an extra meal on the side.

Can the right hon. Gentleman remember what are the numbers of the existing staff?