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Commons Chamber

Volume 486: debated on Monday 16 April 1951

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House Of Commons

Monday, 16th April, 1951

The House met at Half past Two o'Clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Death Of A Member

I regret to have to inform the House of the death of the right honourable Ernest Bevin, Member for Woolwich, East, and I desire on behalf of the House to express our sense of the loss we have sustained and our sympathy with the relatives of the right honourable Member.

Oral Answers To Questions

"Labour's Southern Voice" (Article)

1.

asked the Attorney-General whether he has considered taking action, under the Incitement to Disaffection Act, 1934, against the journal, "Labour's Southern Voice," in respect of an article which appeared in the February-March issue entitled, "Cutting the Coddle at Catterick."

Yes, Sir. I have read the article in question. However, irresponsible and offensive it may be, I do not think that it constitutes an offence for which it would be appropriate to take action under the Incitement to Disaffection Act, 1934.

Does the Minister not agree that this is a most disgraceful article to appear in a Socialist paper at a time when the Government are trying to encourage men to join the Armed Services?

Yes, Sir. I think it is a most deplorable article, but if I were to institute proceedings in respect of every deplorable, irresponsible and false statement made in publications of one political complexion or another which might constitute a criminal offence, the time of the courts would be fully occupied.

Are not certain statements in this article—that discipline is based on fear and class distinction, and, secondly, that courts-martial are a negation of the elementary principles of justice—an incitement to disaffection?

I do not think that, taken in their context, it would be at all appropriate to give further publicity to these statements by prosecution under the Incitement to Disaffection Act. I regard the statements as wholly false.

Commissioners (Divorce Cases)

2.

asked the Attorney-General how many Commissioners other than county court judges were appointed in 1950 to try cases for dissolution of marriage; and how much was paid to them by way of remuneration in that period.

Six Commissioners other than county court judges were appointed to sit in London and received remuneration amounting to £8,442: four Commissioners were appointed to sit in the provinces and received £504.

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that the time has come to review this temporary system in favour of a more permanent one, in view of the fact that the amount to which he has referred would provide the salaries of at least two more permanent judges?

It may be—I do not know—that this is one of the matters which might come within the terms of reference of the Royal Commission which it is proposed to appoint on the marriage laws. I am not saying that it will be, but it may be. The whole matter of this jurisdiction is under consideration.

Coronation Stone

4.

asked the Attorney-General if he has any further statement to make on the case of the Coronation Stone.

Not yet, Sir. Difficult considerations of law are involved. I have the matter under consideration, and hope to make a statement in the course of the week.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that a letter addressed to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was laid on the steps of Arbroath Abbey and has not yet been delivered to the General Assembly? It may be that it is necessary to keep it for police purposes, but will he, at any rate, see that a copy is sent to the Secretary of the General Assembly?

I am not responsible for the delivery of letters that are laid on steps, whether of Arbroath Abbey or anywhere else, either in Scotland or in this country.

Is the Attorney-General aware that this matter should not be treated as an ordinary police theft, because, rightly or wrongly, some patriotic emotion has been aroused? Would it not be a good thing to leave well alone?

Has the attention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman been drawn to the article in a Sunday newspaper, the rough gist of which was "How I Did It," by the person who stole the Stone? If so, does he not think that article entirely improper?

I have not read the article in question, but I have a good deal of evidence as to how people did it, apart from newspaper articles.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman take the opportunity of expressing the deep distress of the people of England at this incident, at finding so much anti-English feeling on the part of the Scots, whom they have always regarded as brothers, and their distress at the sacrilege involved?

The incident is no doubt a distressing one to many people on both sides of the Border. I have to consider whether it is one in which it would be appropriate to bring criminal proceedings.

May I assume that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be in no way influenced by political considerations in enforcing the criminal law?

Food Supplies

Meat And Poultry

5.

asked the Minister of Food what is the transport cost per pound of importing reindeer meat by air.

These imports are entirely in the hands of private traders, for whom I cannot answer.

6.

asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that the import of Irish cattle under present price regulations is becoming increasingly difficult because of the rapid growth of Irish exports of carcases to the United States of America at prices with which British cattle buyers cannot compete; and whether he will amend the price scale accordingly.

My information is that the export of carcase beef from the Irish Republic to the United States of America is likely to have a negligible effect on the steadily increasing exports of live cattle and beef to this country. In any event, even if the numbers of carcases were added to the number of live animals exported elsewhere than to the United Kingdom, they would still not exceed the 10 per cent. of total trade which may be reserved for other markets under the Anglo-Irish Cattle agreement.

Is the Minister aware that the experience of buyers of Irish cattle is entirely different from that indicated in the first part of his answer, and will he therefore look into this matter again in order to remove the differential between Irish and English meat in this country?

As I have said, I am, of course, bound by the agreement. I am satisfied that the extent of the exports to the United States of America is really quite negligible, and certainly within the bounds of the agreement.

13.

asked the Minister of Food what steps he proposes to take to prevent substantial increases in the price of poultry now that imports, in the main, are prohibited.

The ban on imports recently announced by my right hon. Friend will mean a drop in our total poultry supplies of about 6 per cent., but we hope that this will, to a large extent, be offset by increased home production.

15.

asked the Minister of Food how much meat and poultry, both canned and uncanned, respectively, have been exported from Britain since 1st January, 1950; and to which countries.

There are no official figures available in the form for which the hon. Member asks, but I will write to him as soon as possible and let him have what information I can.

Why is the Minister afraid of giving the export figures for meat, canned and uncanned, in the House? Is he aware that I am told that a great deal was exported? Why export meat from this country when we are on an 8½d. ration?

I am not afraid at all. I very much welcome publicity for these figures, but they are rather involved and complicated. I undertake, when I send a reply to the hon. Gentleman, to place it in the Library of the House.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the whole of this trade is in the hands of private traders?

23.

asked the Minister of Food what quantities of reindeer meat have been imported to the latest convenient date; the countries of origin; the controlled retail price specified by his Department; the effect of these supplies upon the size of the current meat ration; and whether he can advise housewives as to the special hanging period for reindeer steak prior to human consumption.

Reindeer meat is imported from Sweden and Norway by private traders under open general licence and is not shown separately in the official trade returns. It is not subject to price control and does not form part of the meat ration. Advice on preparation is included among the recipes available to anyone who applies to my Department, but since this meat is entirely in the hands of the private trade my Department can assume no responsibility for its handling.

24.

asked the Minister of Food whether any part of the current meat ration of 10d. per person per week comprises whale, or beaver or reindeer or horse meat; and the controlled retail prices of each of these four types of meat.

No, Sir; none of these meats forms part of the ration and none is price controlled. These classes of meat are entirely in the hands of private, or free, enterprise.

In consideration of the fact that none of these meats is included in the standard 10d. meat ration we have at present, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us why the meat available is so very tough and gristly?

Bacon Pigs

18.

asked the Minister of Food how many pigs, or alternatively how many tons of pig meat have been either withdrawn or diverted from bacon factories, during the last two months for distribution to butchers as pork; and if he will give an estimate of the addition to the bacon ration this would have represented.

About 150,000 pigs in the eight weeks ended 14th April, representing three-fifths of an ounce of bacon per head weekly during that period.

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that this means that the meat ration has been retained at the present very small level by prejudicing the bacon ration in the time to come? Does not that mean that the reduction in animal protein is considerably larger than we have been led to believe?

I would not agree by any means with the implications of that question. The amount of bacon would not be adequate to increase the bacon ration, but it was adequate to help us increase what are admittedly—it is admitted 6y all parties—the limited supplies of meat available at this time. I think that the general public and members of the trade are quite happy to have these pigs.

Is not the Minister aware that the butchers are thoroughly dissatisfied and that waste is bound to arise from the amount of fat on the bacon pig? Surely the wastage in protein at the moment is very considerable owing to this foolish scheme?

If the right hon. Gentleman tried to handle some of this stuff himself he would know.

Tea

8.

asked the Minister of Food what are his intentions with regard to the future purchase of tea; and if he will allow this to be done by private traders.

Government purchase of tea will cease when present contracts for last year's crop are completed. The London Tea Market has now re-opened, and all supplies will soon be privately imported.

Now that the right hon. Gentleman is on the right road, would he apply this method to the purchase of other foodstuffs as well?

Is the Minister aware that it was announced this morning that he had said that the freeing of this market would result in securing more and better tea? Why does not he apply that principle to all food markets, and get rid of bulk purchasing?

Rations

9.

asked the Minister of Food on which rationed foods and upon what quantity of each, he bases his estimate that the cost of weekly rations per person will not be increased by more than 8½d. during 1951.

The estimate was based on the latest available information about price trends and the supplies available. But to disclose details of this calculation might prejudice my Department's commercial transactions. In view of the increases in retail food prices which will be necessary to offset rising procurement costs, I felt it my duty to take the first available opportunity of informing the housewife about the likely effect on her weekly expenditure.

Does the Minister agree that if ration increases are made his calculation then becomes quite worthless?

The calculation was based on our assumption of possible increases in supplies, and, in some cases, of possible decreases. On that assumption I arrived at that figure, and on that I stand.

11.

asked the Minister of Food what nourishing food he will make available to compensate for the shortage of meat and cheese.

The rations of those basic foods which are controlled by my Department will be increased whenever available supplies permit.

Does the Minister contend that the present ration is entirely satisfactory?

I do not suppose that any Minister of Food would contend that the present ration was satisfactory. I would never agree that our food supplies were satisfactory until we were able to get rid of rationing.

Was the Minister's estimate of an increase of 8½d. on the amount to be paid for the weekly rations made on the assumption that the meat ration would be kept at 10d.?

Does not the protein content in milk, peas and beans replace, to a large extent, the proteins in cheese and meat?

Does the Minister's answer include the eggs available for purchase by his Ministry?

There is another Question down about eggs, on which I shall be making a statement later.

Soap Powder (Cost)

10.

asked the Minister of Food what factors he took into account when authorising the recent increase in the maximum price of soap powders.

The factors taken into account were the increased cost of ingredients, and certain increases in manufacturing, packing and distributive expenses, offset by certain savings from increased production.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of the largest manufacturers of soap powders are issuing free purchase vouchers to householders which enable them to buy two packets of their powders for just over the price of one? In view of the enormous sums being spent on this and other advertising devices, is my right hon. Friend really satisfied that this increase was necessary?

Any extra cost incurred by manufacturers in making such offers is not, in fact, allowed for in calculating approved prices. I am quite satisfied that the calculation we made was a fair one and quite accurate.

Is there any real harm in people buying more soap if they really need it?

Is my right hon. Friend also aware of the fantastic amount that is being spent on advertising in film programmes and in the trade Press, particularly of three brands of soap powders which are almost indistinguishable from one another, and that the consumer is having to bear this cost?

Does the right hon. Gentleman hope to be as successful in keeping down prices as his colleagues have been in keeping down railway fares and the price of coal?

Would the right hon. Gentleman have any objection to the hon. Lady putting down a Prayer on this matter?

Does the Minister agree that if this kind of fatless soap and other similar commodities were not advertised they would not be known, that, consequently, they would not be used, and, therefore, could not be manufactured at a reasonable price?

Dried Milk (Tins)

12.

asked the Minister of Food why his Department does not ask for the tins in which the national dried milk is issued to be returned, having regard to the present shortage of tinplate.

Returned tins are difficult to clean thoroughly, and to use them again for National Dried Milk would involve an obvious danger to infant health. Their use for other purposes is very limited, and would not justify the heavy costs involved in their collection and transport.

Temporary Ration Card

14.

asked the Minister of Food why a Cambridge undergraduate, details of whom have been sent to him, was not able to get his meat ration on an emergency card in the Bournemouth area, about 17th March; and what orders he has issued to butchers as to the supply of meat on these cards.

The letter which the hon. Member sent me contains no more information than is given in his Question. But there are various reasons why a particular retailer may not be able to accept a temporary ration card and, since it is valid anywhere, it can be presented to another retailer.

Is the Minister aware that I have now received his reply, which contains no more than his answer? Does he not realise that, even under his policy of State control of rationing, the law of supply and demand will always operate?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not like me to use the methods of the police State, about which he so often complains, and compel a butcher to supply meat to people whom he does not want to supply.

North American Apples

16.

asked the Minister of Food what arrangement has been made with the National Federation of Fruit and Potato Trades for the distribution of Canadian and United States apples imported by his Department; and if he is satisfied that the agreement has been honoured by the Federation.

Agreements for the handling of North American apples imported into this country were made by my Department with individual firms of first hand salesmen and not with the Federation. These agreements have been honoured by the contracting parties.

Has my right hon. Friend seen a statement in a recent issue of the "Fruit Trades Journal" about a body of importers, not licensed to handle these apples, complaining that those importers who have been selected to handle them have not honoured an agreement to share the commission fairly? Can he say whether there is any truth in that statement?

I have seen the statement. This is really a squabble in the private trade and I have enough trouble of my own without getting involved in it.

Sugar

17.

asked the Minister of Food whether his undertaking of 7th June, 1950, on behalf of His Majesty's Government that United Kingdom sugar consumption would be reviewed in 1953 in order to ascertain whether additional quantities of Colonial sugar could be purchased by his Department under guarantee, is still regarded by him as valid, in view of the current negotiations for increased purchases of sugar from Cuba.

Yes, Sir, I can give the hon. Gentleman an unqualified assurance on this point.

Is it not a fact that the agreement with Cuba, if concluded, will not add to the total amount of sugar available to the British public? Could not the Minister negotiate an agreement which would add to the total supplies available and which would thus reassure the interests in the West Indies and also enable sugar rationing to be abolished?

I think the interests in the West Indies are quite happy to accept the agreement mentioned in the Question. So long as they are quite certain that that agreement will be carried out they are quite happy and I do not propose to add to that statement at this moment.

21.

asked the Minister of Food what percentage of the pre-war allocation of sugar is now made available to the cider-making trade; and how this compares with that at the service of the soft drinks trade.

The percentage for cider is 75 per cent. and that for soft drinks 59 per cent.

Has my right hon. Friend, in making these allocations, noted that the consumption of soft drinks has nearly doubled in this country compared with pre-war?

Yes. Although I myself am not always addicted to soft drinks I think that that is a very desirable thing to have happened.

Sausages

19.

asked the Minister of Food, in view of the fact that the minimum meat content required in beef sausages by Statutory Instrument, 1951, No. 314, is 4 2/5 ounces per pound, upon what calculation he stated in the explanatory note that the actual meat content may not be reduced below 40 per cent.

For the purpose of this Order manufacturers may use six parts of milk powder as the equivalent of ten parts of meat. This means that if 6 per cent. of milk powder is added, the actual meat content of a beef sausage may be reduced by 10 per cent. The explanatory note is correct, therefore, in saying that it may be reduced in this way from 50 per cent. to 40 per cent.; it does not cover the provision about vegetable fat, which was not newly introduced by this Order.

Does the Minister agree that the Order includes the provision with regard to vegetable fat, which it re-enacts? Surely the explanatory note ought to take that into account. As the minimum meat content is 27½ per cent., is it not very misleading for the Order to say that the actual meat content may not be reduced in this way below 40 per cent.?

I do not think so. In the end what matters is the practical test of how far, in the situation in which we are working, we can make sausages as palatable as possible. I took the advice of the trade. What better advice could I take?

Can the Minister say how much milk powder can be put into a sausage before it ceases to be a sausage and becomes a cream bun?

22.

asked the Minister of Food what steps he is taking to secure an early improvement in the quality and quantity of sausages available to consumers in the United Kingdom.

When more meat is available manufacturers will have a proportionate extra share.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the present supplies amount to an average of only two sausages per person per week, both of which are anaemic and very debilitated? What is he doing to alleviate this hardship, in view of the general shortage of meat, bacon, eggs and sausages?

The distribution of manufacturing meat must take account of the amount of meat we send to the housewife for home consumption. We have taken very fair action to ensure that manufacturers have as much meat as is available. The whole thing turns on our ability to get more meat.

Does not the Minister agree that two sausages per person per week is quite ridiculous?

Mission, Buenos Aires (Cost)

20.

asked the Minister of Food what expenditure has been incurred during the past two years in respect of the salaries, travelling and hotel expenses, etc., of the expert staff attached to the British Embassy and of the British Food Mission temporarily or permanently stationed in Buenos Aires and concerned with negotiations for the supply of meat by the Argentine Government.

The expenses of Ministry staff in Buenos Aires negotiating for the supply of meat cannot be separately assessed. During the financial years 1949–50 and 1950–51 the costs of the British Food Mission in Buenos Aires were £12,950 and £10,240 respectively. But the Mission deals with all the foodstuffs bought from Argentina and with shipments as well as the negotiation of purchases. Apart from expenditure on the Mission, about £2,000 was spent during 1949–50 on the travelling and other expenses of Ministry staff attached to the Embassy.

Cheese

25.

asked the Minister of Food what action he is now taking to secure an increase in supplies of cheese.

I would refer the hon. Member to the statement I made in the House on Wednesday, 11th April.

Has the right hon. Gentleman consulted the precedents as to the position of a Minister who feels unable to carry out the expressed wish of the House?

There are other Questions on the Paper on this subject on which I shall make a full statement later.

Has the Minister made full inquiries and taken full consideration of the fact that there are 25 million lb. of cheese in store in Canada? Could he say what efforts he has made to secure some of that for our ration?

32.

asked the Minister of Food whether the cheese ration was treated by him as being two ounces or three ounces during the week ending 14th April; and whether he has taken any proceedings against those traders who supplied three ounces of rationed cheese to consumers.

If, as I assume, the Question means, did I take steps to enforce a two ounce or a three ounce ration, the answer is that I did neither. No proceedings have been or will be taken against any trader who supplied three ounces during the three days between the Resolution of the House praying for annulment of the order, and the coming into operation of the new order, again fixing the ration at two ounces.

In view of that answer, may I ask why, on Wednesday last, according to column 1041 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, the right hon. Gentleman disputed my suggestion that traders were perfectly free to sell three ounces of cheese?

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the whole matter could safely be left to the patriotism and common sense of the grocers, who are not influenced by petty party stunts in this House?

Does not the right hon. Gentleman recall that during the debate on the Statutory Instruments Bill five years ago the Solicitor-General stated that the effect of a successful Prayer would be to bring the order to an end? As the Minister employs hundreds of people to enforce the law, should he not set a good example himself?

In view of the inconsistency of the right hon. Gentleman's answer with his statement on Wednesday last, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

36.

asked the Minister of Food who are the members of the cheese buying mission he is sending to Canada; and how long each member has been engaged in the cheese trade.

The negotiations for the purchase of Canadian cheese will be conducted by Sir Andrew Jones and Mr. J. W. Rodden. Sir Andrew is my Department's representative in Canada. Mr. Rodden is the Director of the Milk Products Division and has been engaged in the cheese trade for 27 years.

Would not the right hon. Gentleman consider sending over for this job some private traders who are at present in the cheese trade rather than sending his own officials?

Would the Minister instruct them to go first to the Department of Agriculture of Canada House, in Trafalgar Square, where they will be informed, as I was that there are 25 million tons of cheese in store in Canada?

Both these officials will, no doubt, read HANSARD and will have their attention directed to that.

At the end of Questions—

On a point of order. May I remind you, Mr. Speaker, that in reply to Question No. 25 the Minister of Food said he would be answering other Questions on cheese later, and that he gave a similar answer to my supplementary on Question No. 32. In those circumstances, would you give the Minister of Food an opportunity to redeem that promise?

With great respect, Sir, might it not be pointed out to the Minister of Food that the Questions to which he promised a later statement are legal and constitutional in implication, and that there is, therefore, a certain urgent public importance in having an answer?

What redress has an hon. Member got if his Question is not answered on the ground that a subsequent Question is to be answered, Sir? Are we not reasonably entitled to an answer to the original Question? What redress has an hon. Member at anybody's hands for Ministerial replies of that kind?

After the hour for Questions nobody is entitled to an answer. That is the answer to that. All I can say is that had there not been so many supplementary questions we might have got on to these later Questions.

With great respect, Sir, the point I was making is not that it is after Question Time and that the hon. Member cannot get an answer now. I was trying to elucidate what remedy an hon. Member has got at the time when he puts the Question and is told that it will be answered subsequently.

That is a question I cannot answer, because I do not know the answer to it.

With great respect, Sir, the Minister was quite distinct in saying that he intended to make a statement, and thereby got away without supplementary questions which otherwise would have been asked.

I have already said that that has nothing to do with me. What a Minister says is nothing to do with me, and I think it is a little unfortunate that we should have this wrangle now.

Meat Ration

26.

asked the Minister of Food if he will make a statement about the future of the meat ration.

As has already been announced, the 10d. meat ration for this week and next will consist entirely of carcase meat.

Is that the only forecast that can be given of the summer ration or next winter's ration? May we hope that we shall be better fed before this year is out?

Yes, Sir. I cannot make a detailed estimate of the increase in the meat ration in the immediate future until we know the result of current negotiations, but it is quite certain that the country's meat ration will be at least 1s. 8d. by about August onwards.

Is the Minister aware that in my constituency, in the North-West of England, last weekend, a lot of meat was so bad that it could not be issued? Would he look into that?

When the right hon. Gentleman said that he hoped for a 1s. 8d. meat ration, had he taken into account his statement that the rise in the ration would be 8½d.?

Yes. All these factors have been taken into account. We took into account the cost of the subsidy to the home farmers for their production, and in calculating that we arrived at the conclusion that the overall cost would be about 8½d. for each ration book per week for the current fiscal year.

Would the Minister mind putting in the OFFICIAL REPORT a statement showing how he arrives at this 8½d.?

Is that increase from 10d. to a 1s. 8d. ration induced by a rise in prices or by the increased quantity which will be available?

It is the expected result of an increase in home production at that time of the year.

Polish Geese

28.

asked the Minister of Food what date was agreed for delivering the Polish geese ordered under the contract of May, 1949.

Does the Minister appreciate that the inefficiency of his Department has cost the British housewife £119,000 and that she does not like having her Polish geese stored for so long?

Canned Meat

29.

asked the Minister of Food what were the total quantities of tinned meat shipped from the United Kingdom to Canada between 5th April, 1950, and 5th April, 1951; and to what extent this meat was suitable to augment the existing ration of this country.

According to my Department's records, about 880 tons of canned meats and meat products were exported to Canada during this period. The amount of meat in these products is negligible in relation to our ration requirements.

Is not the Minister aware that Canada is one of the best friends this country has ever had? Would it not be better to buy Canadian cheese which is available than to send them meat which is not really needed in Canada? They are good friends of ours; why not buy from them?

Private traders producing very high quality canned meat in this country have been anxious for many years to maintain token exports to Canada, and we have continued that agreement.

Can my right hon. Friend say if the whole of this trade is in private hands?

33.

asked the Minister of Food when the Mexican beef in gravy recently purchased by his Department was tinned.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) on 4th April.

Is the Minister quite sure that this tinned meat is of such a quality that it will commend itself to British housewives and that it will not have to be used at considerable loss for manufacturing purposes?

I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman might read the answer to which I have referred him.

34.

asked the Minister of Food the price at which tinned Mexican beef in gravy will be made available to the public.

If the Minister is able to give the price at which he has bought this meat, should he not be able to give some idea of the price at which it will be sold to the public—or are people again to be held up to ransom with rotten stuff?

Glucose And Sugar Exports (Jamaica)

30.

asked the Minister of Food why he allows exports of sweets and jams made of glucose and sugar to Jamaica, in view of the shortage of sugar and glucose in this country.

This is done to enable British manufacturers to keep their connections in this important colonial market. The amounts of glucose and sugar used in these exports are insignificant.

Does the Minister not appreciate that the resale of sugar glucose sweets outside the country is considerable, and that he will never increase the ration while he imports with one hand and exports with the other, deceiving the housewife for months?

I must say that I was shocked, when I saw this Question, to find such a cynical attitude to a Colony of this country—a Colony which, in fact, is responsible for producing the largest part of our own sugar.

Eggs

31.

asked the Minister of Food why he refused an offer of fresh eggs from France on 9th and 10th April at a time when eggs are scarce to the consumer in this country.

In view of the Minister's statement at Blackburn, on 10th March, that in two or three weeks there would be a free, unrationed supply of eggs, and the fact that this month the supply to the public is 50 per cent. lower than it was a year ago, why did he make no counter offer to the French offer of eight million eggs, since the price asked per egg was less than that which the home consumer is paying for eggs today?

First of all, I do not agree with the last submission. Secondly, the total amount, even if we could have been certain of it, would have provided one-thirteenth of an egg per head of the total population. The reason for the delay in the freeing of eggs from the ration, I should have thought, would be apparent to everybody, but if not it will be announced in answer to a later Question.

Would it not have been worth making a counter offer of some description to this offer of eight million eggs, which is the point of my Question?

The Minister turned down the French offer without making a counter offer, which the French asked him to do.

That is not true. The price was negotiated, and in the end we could not arrive at an agreeable price.

37.

asked the Minister of Food why it is still necessary to ration eggs and why they still appear to be scarce in certain areas when they are usually more plentiful at this time of the year.

Eggs have been less plentiful so far this year mainly because of the bad weather both here and in our principal supplying countries. This has delayed our plans for freeing eggs from rationing, as we did in spring last year, but I am hopeful that supplies will shortly permit us to have free sales again, at least for a time.

I am not Clerk of the Weather but, on present estimates, it looks as if in two or three weeks' time it will be possible to free eggs from the ration.

Is it not a fact that during the last 12 months the supply of eggs from Ireland has decreased by 50 per cent. in spite of the fact that the Irish are willing to sell us all the eggs we want?

39.

asked the Minister of Food when he proposes to permit unrationed supplies of eggs to the public; and how many rationed eggs have been supplied to the public on each ration book since 1st January, 1951.

As soon as supplies are sufficiently plentiful I intend to permit the free sale of eggs, but bad weather has seriously delayed the usual spring increase. So far this year there has been an average of 34 eggs per ration book.

Does the right hon. Gentleman contend that he was misreported when he was reported as having said at Blackburn, on 10th March, that in one or two weeks' time a supply of unrationed eggs would be available, particularly in view of the fact that the report appeared in the "Daily Herald"?

I do not complain about being misreported. If I said that, I was wrong. The weather has beaten me; that is all.

41.

asked the Minister of Food why the egg trade in the London area have been informed by his Department that after 19th April no second quality English eggs will be made available for sale to the public in shell form.

I think my hon. Friend has been misinformed. My Department has issued no such statement to the egg trade in London or anywhere else.

May we take it, then, that the Minister will not proceed with any scheme of breaking down English eggs into powder form until the public have had every opportunity of buying them in shell form?

43.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will buy fresh eggs abroad this month to supplement the present egg supply to the consumer in this country.

In view of the fact that the Minister said earlier that he had negotiated for eggs from France on 9th and 10th April, would he tell the House what offer he made? Is it not a fact that he made no offer? If he made no offer how can he claim to have negotiated?

But the offer was made to us. I am quite prepared to consider offers and to make a counter-suggestion.

Is it not a fact that the Minister made no counter-suggestion and that he turned the offer down completely on 13th April?

In view of the fact that the Minister of Food has 40 Oral Questions to answer today, does he not realise that the basic reason for them is the principle that if one restricts consumption, one also restricts production?

As the Minister's statement does not appear to correspond with the facts, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Slaughterhouses

38.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that suffering is being caused to animals by the Government's decision to close the smaller slaughterhouses; and whether he is now prepared to reconsider it.

I cannot agree that the closing of small slaughterhouses—which took place early in the war under the then Minister of Food—and the use of the larger and more efficient ones has caused more suffering to animals. On the contrary, it has meant many improvements. Many of the small pre-war slaughterhouses not now in use were quite inadequate, unhealthy and would be unsuitable for use now without costly repair and reconstruction. We are building two experimental slaughterhouses at Guildford and Fareham, and I hope soon to make a statement about the building of other new slaughterhouses.

Despite what the Minister said about the larger slaughterhouses, would he institute a more searching inquiry into this matter as very disturbing reports are reaching hon. Members about the cruelty which is practised in slaughterhouses today?

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider an alteration to the present rules about slaughtering casualty animals—animals which have broken legs, for instance—which have to be taken miles to slaughterhouses authorised by his Department?

That matter has been brought to my notice and we have looked into it. I should like further evidence. If evidence could be given on that subject we might be able to do something about it.

As the number of slaughterhouses has been cut down from 14,000 before the war to about 600 now, would the right hon. Gentleman not call a halt to the closing of further slaughterhouses—even though experimental slaughterhouses are being built—in view of the congestion of animals which is inevitable at present?

We are not closing any more. Last year we opened some and this year we are opening more. We are reversing the recent tendency.

Potato Stocks

40.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is satisfied that the existing stocks of last season's potatoes kept for human consumption are sufficient to last until adequate supplies of the new crop become available in view of the adverse weather conditions delaying planting for this year's crop.

The latest figures suggest that there should be enough old potatoes to keep markets supplied, but there is always the possibility of stocks not keeping. A good deal depends on the weather we get.

Will the Minister bear in mind that the keeping qualities of potatoes from last year is not very high and that he should take that into account?

Bread Deliveries (Cost)

42.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that the small margin permitted to bakers for country deliveries is insufficient to cover the cost, with the result that the retailing of bread in remote districts is likely to cease; and what steps are proposed to overcome this difficulty.

My Department has been making an inquiry into the cost of retail deliveries of bread and I expect to receive a report later in the month.

Wheat Imports

44.

asked the Minister of Food what provision he is making for the safeguarding of bread grain supplies in the light of the reduced acreage sown in the winter and early spring.

I can assure the hon. Member that, in determining the volume of wheat imports needed to maintain flour supplies, we shall take full account of any loss caused by the reduced acreage under crop, but it is too early, as yet, to form final conclusions.

Would the right hon. Gentleman say what proportion of home-produced flour he was relying upon for the bread ration in the coming year and what he should now be able to rely upon?

Council For Wales

45.

asked the Prime Minister if he will indicate the scope of his forthcoming discussions with the Council for Wales.

I have been asked to reply. The Council has asked Ministers to discuss administrative devolution in Wales.

Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to allow this discussion to include the larger question of devolution as well as the merely administrative question he has already mentioned?

I do not think we should seek to impose fetters on the questions which the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire may wish to raise. Provisional arrangements have been made for the meeting to take place on 25th April.

Would the right hon. Gentleman say what is meant by "administrative devolution"?

That is what has been asked for. I think that question should be put not to me, but to the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire.

If there were complete Home Rule for Wales would that not eliminate the present Minister of Labour?

British Industries (Nationalisation)

47.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will publish all the protests received by His Majesty's Government since July, 1945, from foreign Powers, against the nationalisation of British industries either individually of generally, together with the Government's replies.

No, Sir. No protests from foreign Powers against the nationalisation of British industries, either individually or generally, have to my knowledge been received by His Majesty's Government.

Does not that make all the more difficult the preparation of protests to the Persian, Iraq and Egyptian Governments about the nationalisation of British industries?

If the hon. Gentleman had read carefully HANSARD of a short time ago, or had read the Note which has been sent to the Persian Government, he would see it was not a protest.

Saar Territory (Status)

48.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in view of the negotiations at present in progress between the French and German Governments with regard to the future status of the Saar territory, whether he is in a position to state the policy of the British Government in this matter.

His Majesty's Government are unaware of any current negotiations regarding the future status of the Saar territory. As stated on previous occasions, His Majesty's Government accept, pending a final peace settlement with Germany, the provisional political separation of the Saar from Germany and its economic integration with France.

Does the hon. Gentleman not realise with what impatience a decision of the Government is awaited by both the French and the Germans? Considering that this question was raised by the French five years ago, have the Government not had time to make up their minds?

I think that the Government position in this matter has been made clear on a number of occasions in the House. The last occasion, I think, was only a few months ago. We consider that this cannot be finally determined until there is a treaty.

Middle East (Angloamerican Discussions)

49.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what matters were discussed during his recent talks with Mr. George McGhee, the United States Assistant Secretary to the State Department, whilst he was in London, on his way home from the Middle East; and what decisions have since been taken, in so far as British troops in Egypt are concerned, as a result of these talks.

Mr. McGhee was in London for only two days: the discussions with him were, therefore, necessarily short. Advantage was taken of this opportunity to discuss the general situation in the Middle East in the light of Mr. McGhee's experience gained during his tour of that area. No decision was taken regarding British troops in Egypt as a result of the talks, nor is there any question of the United States Government being directly involved in the formulation of such a decision.

Hostels, Leeds And Manchester (Closing)

50.

asked the Secretary of State for Foregin Affairs whether he is aware that British Council hostels for university students in Manchester and Leeds are to be closed as an economy measure; and whether, in view of the difficulties for colonial students which are likely to result, he will make funds available to the Council for the purpose of maintaining these hostels.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply given on 11th April by my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary.

Is my hon. Friend not aware that that reply still leaves the colonial students concerned, in considerable difficulty and in danger of real embarrassment? Would it not be possible to reverse the original decision?

I think there may be a slight misunderstanding here. So far as the colonial students are concerned, money is available from the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund, and my right hon. Friend explained to the House the other day that alternative arrangements can be made for the use of the Fund satisfactorily to the students themselves.

Falkland Island Dependencies

51.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Argentine Embassy in London issues a bulletin which includes maps showing the Falkland Island Dependencies as part of Argentina; and whether he will protest to the Argentine Government.

Yes, Sir. His Majesty's Government have, on a number of occasions, formally protested to the Argentine Government against their infringements of British sovereignty in the Falkland Island Dependencies, and have refuted Argentine claims to sovereignty over any part of British Antarctic territory. As was stated in the House on 4th April, His Majesty's Government will once more lodge a formal protest if the reported establishment of a new Argentine base in the Dependencies is confirmed. With regard to the Embassy bulletin, His Majesty's Government consider that, since the major question of sovereignty has been a matter for protest, such minor acts do not justify a separate protest and are better ignored.

Does the hon. Gentleman's reply mean that after five years of this Government, the power and prestige of Britain have fallen so low that we can no longer preserve the integrity of our own territories?

Refugees, Relief (Jordan)

52.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in what ways the money contributed by His Majesty's Government for the relief of Arab refugees in Jordan has been spent.

The £3.2 million contributed by His Majesty's Government to the relief of the Palestine refugees during the period January, 1950, to June, 1951, includes the £1 million interest-free loan to Jordan. The latter is being spent directly by the Jordan Government on road construction, agricultural development, surveys, re-afforestation and housing. The balance of £2.2 million is being spent by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. It contributes to the cost of feeding and giving employment to refugees in Jordan and elsewhere, and of proving resettlement possibilities on the land in Jordan. Feeding the refugees in Jordan alone during the 18 months period costs about £6 million. Employment projects undertaken by the Agency in Jordan include road construction, reafforestation, housing and workshops for refugee artisans.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when the matter was recently debated in the House several very disturbing complaints were forthcoming from hon. Members in different parts of the House about the energy of the United Nations not being put into their task? As his reply has by no means reassured the House, would he see whether we can be reassured that these activities are being carried out with appropriate energy?

I tried to explain in that debate, which was very brief, some of the difficulties the Agency has been meeting, which have been both financial and political. I think I can give the House the assurance that the Agency is showing a great deal of energy. Since the principle of resettlement has been accepted—I think in November last year—by all the Middle Eastern States, in the relevant resolution of the United Nations, we hope that the political difficulties are largely out of the way.