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Ministry Of Food

Volume 499: debated on Wednesday 30 April 1952

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Tea (Profit Margins)

15.

asked the Minister of Food what are the total margins of profit per lb. on tea between the import price at British docks and the price to the consumer.

In the year ended 31st March, 1952, the average gross margin between the import price as reduced by subsidy and the retail price was about one shilling. This margin has to provide for the working costs of the blenders, packers and wholesale and retail distributors.

Has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman considered the company reports of some of the leading tea importers, blenders and distributors? If so, does he agree that in many cases the profits which are being realised are unreasonable and in some cases fantastic, and is he satisfied that the present price of tea can be justified?

The hon. Member asked me what the profit per lb. was. I should say that the figure which I have given is a perfectly reasonable one when one considers that four different processes have to be covered by the shilling.

Canned Tomatoes And Ham

16.

asked the Minister of Food why he is increasing the tonnage of canned tomatoes and tomato juice imported into this country and reducing the tonnage of canned ham and bacon.

The hon. Member has overlooked the seasonal factor. Imports of canned tomatoes and tomato juice are being reduced as compared with last year.

Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that, with the constant withdrawal of sources of real meat for the British public, even a small reduction in the sources of canned meat which supplements the rations is a serious matter? Would he not agree that people would prefer to have even a little canned meat rather than tomato juice, which is largely consumed by the American Forces in this country?

I cannot accept the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. Tomato juice is an extremely popular commodity in this country. As regards meat, naturally we would rather be able to buy more, but I refuse to take any responsibility for that situation at any rate. The actual cuts in canned meat are much less extensive than in the case of the other commodities, which are about 50 per cent. in respect of canned tomatoes and 25 per cent. in respect of the juice.

Jam (Fruit Content)

17.

asked the Minister of Food which of his Regulations define the term full fruit standard used on jam pot labels; what sanctions he has laid down for the enforcement of such standards; and if he is satisfied that they are adequate.

The Food Standards (Presèrves) Order, 1944, as amended. The Order is administered by local food and drugs authorities; and the penalties that may be imposed for contraventions appear fully adequate.

20.

asked the Minister of Food what action he is taking on the recommendation of the Food Standards Committee to increase the fruit content of jam.

None at present. In accordance with normal practice I shall await a further report from the Committee in the light of any representations they may receive on their proposals from interested parties.

Is the Minister aware that the answer will be regarded as particularly sticky, and will he pay particular attention to the fact that both fruit growers and housewives would welcome this step as there would be a closer relation between the contents and the labels on the jam jars than there is at present?

The hon. and gallant Gentleman will appreciate that this is a sticky subject. The procedure here is perfectly normal. The report was received on 22nd April, and the trades concerned are allowed up to 10th May to make representations. This Committee will examine those representations and then the final report will be brought to me.

Food Imports (Standards)

18.

asked the Minister of Food what steps he takes to ensure that the foodstuffs and meat that he imports into this country are comparable with the pre-war standards.

My Department tries to ensure that imports are at least up to pre-war standards of quality, by specification when buying and through inspection on arrival.

Is the Minister satisfied that the meat is adequately inspected before shipment in order to ensure that the carcases are free from disease?

They are certainly inspected, and no carcase with disease would be distributed to the public in this country.

Argentine Meat Negotiations

19.

asked the Minister of Food what progress has been made on the Argentine meat negotiations; and if he will make a statement.

These negotiations are still in their preliminary stages. I shall make a statement at an appropriate time. Meanwhile, the House will be glad to know that, to counteract the adverse effects of last year's drought and to complete their shipments to us under the 1951 Protocol, the Argentine authorities have taken measures both to restrict the domestic consumption of meat and to prohibit sales to other countries.

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that according to "The Times," this is the first time that a big delay has occurred at the beginning of the negotiations, and is it not about time that the negotiations were begun in an effective sense?

The hon. Gentleman is the last one who should make an observation like that. As a matter of fact the last negotiations took over a year.

Leaving out of consideration last year, when it took one year and 10 days—and for that I was not responsible—the negotiations for this year are proceeding in a perfectly normal manner compared with other years.

Can the Minister confirm that the negotiations last year were held up for many months because the Socialist Government could not supply the tin, coal and petroleum at the prices the Argentine were prepared to pay, and that the same problems faced us this year, as they were left to us by the previous Government?

Was there not last year an unfortunate debate on meat which held up the negotiations, and for that the then Opposition were responsible?

De-Rationing

21.

asked the Minister of Food which rationed foodstuffs he intends to de-ration.

While being heartened by the Minister's generalisations, may I ask if he does not appreciate that the statements he is repeatedly making in the country about de-rationing are apt to be very misleading, in view of the present economic position?

I do not take responsibility for what appears in the Press. I have not made any statement other than of this character at any time.

What does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman mean by "eventually"? Does he not know that he will not be there eventually?

It is not so long ago since the right hon. Gentleman asked me a similar question about tea. He asked me what did I mean, and I showed him what I meant by quite recently giving him the date.

Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that he has made a good start as far as Scotland is concerned by de-controlling haggis last night?

Eggs

22.

asked the Minister of Food if he can now state whether eggs will be sold off the ration this year.

23.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that the poultry committee of the National Farmers' Union have recommended to his Department that unfertile eggs removed from incubators should be marketed through packing stations for sale as processed liquid; and what action he is taking on this recommendation.

Does the Minister realise that better methods of disposing of these eggs are now supported by the National Farmers' Union, the National Federation of Grocers and Provision Dealers and responsible people generally, and how long is he going to sit on this egg problem?

The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked me if I had received a recommendation. I have not received it yet, but I shall receive it, I gather, in a few days. I shall then examine the recommendation. Although I am not unsympathetic to the idea, I cannot do anything until I receive the recommendation.

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that incubated clears are all right for cake making if they are a week old, but if more than a week old they are of use only for political meetings?

Slaughtering Facilities, Norfolk

24.

asked the Minister of Food if he will give an assurance that the arrangements for slaughtering fat stock in Norfolk are now adequate to prevent the holding back of fat animals, particularly bacon pigs, on the farms in the event of serious outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease; and what steps he has taken to avoid a repetition of the serious hold-up which occurred in November last.

We are as anxious as the producers that delays should be reduced to a minimum and all possible emergency arrangements are made to increase slaughtering capacity in an infected area. But when normal movements of fat stock are interrupted, some delay may be inevitable.

Will the Minister bear in mind the great dislocation that is taking place in the whole of the pig industry in East Anglia because of the few bacon factories in that area, and as we hope to increase the number of pigs there will he try and improve the existing slaughterhouse facilities, some of which are extremely primitive, and will he include in his review the possibility of authorising the building of another bacon factory there?

My hon. Friend knows that the question of a bacon factory in East Anglia is under review at the moment. On the question of slaughterhouses, whilst some are being built at the moment, I am sure my hon. Friend will realise that in the case of a county like Norfolk, a great deal of slaughtering is done outside the county, in the Midlands, and when there are emergencies of this character it is almost impossible to deal with them adequately and completely. If that were to be done we should have to build more slaughterhouses in the country than we could possibly maintain. I might add that I fully appreciate all the considerations in this matter.

Potato Disposal (Loss)

25.

asked the Minister of Food what loss he estimates will be incurred by his Department in disposing of 460,000 tons of 1951 main crop potatoes for stock feeding.

Will the Minister give an assurance that this really substantial loss will not be recouped by a further cut in the subsidy on some other item of staple food?

This is a perfectly normal procedure under the guarantee of the 1947 Act, and it has been followed by previous Governments for some years.

Is it not a fact that this loss is very much smaller than the loss in 1948, when Polish potatoes were imported at £26 a ton and allowed to rot completely?

Home-Produced Meat (Freezing)

26.

asked the Minister of Food what steps he is taking to establish or increase refrigeration capacity in this country to store the increasing amount of home-produced meat fattened on grass.

Present restrictions on capital investment would prevent us from constructing new freezing plants for this purpose, but I have arranged to have some experimental work done with the limited facilities already available.

Now that we have a proper agricultural policy can we not expect more home produced meat? Is the Minister aware that farmers, appreciating the feedingstuffs supplies' position, are feeding and fattening their cattle off grass; that, therefore, more cattle are likely to be available in the seasons of the year when grass is growing; and that is a very important question for the future of agriculture?

I do not think that large-scale freezing has ever been done on a commercial basis in this country before, and it represents a very big capital expenditure item. However, other steps are being taken, such as the holding back of cattle at the height of the autumn flush, which I hope will have a very good effect.

Agricultural Prices Review (Cost Of Living)

27.

asked the Minister of Food how the new farm prices have affected the 1s. 6d. per week increase in food prices previously announced.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer given to the hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) on 29th April by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

29.

asked the Minister of Food if he will give a list of the foods that will increase in price resulting from the annual review of farm prices; and the amount of such increases in each case.

In making the price increases necessary to bring the food subsidy figure down to a rate of £250 million a year I have to take into account the cost of imported foods as well as the farm prices resulting from the annual review. In opening his Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer listed the foods to be increased in price, and I will announce the amounts of the increases at the appropriate time.

Is the Minister aware that most of the lower-paid population of this country are of the opinion that the policy of this Government is to bring about de-rationing by increasing prices to such an extent that the poor people will not be able to take their rations? Will he give an assurance that the Government will not de-ration at the expense of the poor people?

On the contrary, we have taken steps to alleviate some of the hardship. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]I am wondering whether the hon. Gentleman had the same views when prices were increased early last year.

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that with the continual rise in the cost of living and of rationed foodstuffs, and the increase in unemployment, many families cannot now afford to take the rations, and that the rich are getting more than they are entitled to? Is it not time that the Government did something about that situation?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I gave an answer last week to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), in which I said that the average increase over the whole weekly ration since last October was 2¼d. The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating slightly.

In view of the confusion which appears to have arisen on this subject, will my right hon. and gallant Friend take steps to see that the facts are made widely known throughout the country, quite apart from publication in HANSARD?

Bread (Flour Consumption)

28.

asked the Minister of Food what is the total weekly sackage of flour used throughout the country and the proportion of this used for the baking of bread.

The current weekly useage of flour in the United Kingdom is about 728,000 sacks of 280 lb. Approximately 62 per cent. is used for breadmaking.

Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that at the existing price and existing subsidy rates many small bakers are finding it increasingly difficult to carry on business, and will he give special attention to affording them some alleviation so that they can carry on with their task?

I am fully aware of the difficulties that small bakeries are experiencing, and certain steps have been taken to alleviate the position. I hope that the speeding up of the payment of the subsidy will help the small bakery trade.

Sugar

30.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will consider permitting sweet coupons to be used to obtain additional sugar in lieu of sweets.

Can my right hon. and gallant Friend hold out any hope of an increase in the sugar ration later in the year to enable housewives to make jam?

There would be no difficulty about getting sugar if we had the currency. The one source of supply from which we could get enough is entirely a dollar one.

Does that mean that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman does not intend to de-ration sugar, at any rate this year?

I cannot say whether it will be this year or not, but it will be done as soon as we have cleared up the mess left by right hon. Gentlemen opposite.

In view of the fact that it is possible to exchange sugar for sweets does not my right hon. and gallant Friend not think that it would be possible for us to give up our sweet ration for extra sugar?

In any circumstances that scheme would be bound to involve extra purchases of sugar and the administration of it would be extremely difficult. It would make the matter more complicated and cumbersome, and more difficult to get rid of eventually.