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Ministry Of Food

Volume 523: debated on Monday 1 February 1954

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Tinned Salmon (Distribution)


asked the Minister of Food, as tinned salmon has been scarce for a considerable period, when the next distribution is likely to take place.

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman make sure that on this occasion less goes to catering establishments and more to housewives?

:The hon. Member can rest assured that it will be fairly distributed.

:Can my right hon. and gallant Friend estimate how much is to be imported from British Columbia during the current year?

:Of the allocation which I have just announced, I should think that 72 per cent. will be Canadian.

Flour (Improvers)


asked the Minister of Food if a suitable substitute has yet been found for agene in flour for human or animal consumption.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) on 25th January.

:Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say when a decision on this long awaited matter is likely to be made?

:We shall come to a decision as soon as possible. I am sure the hon. Member appreciates that some very complicated and important questions have to be dealt with in this matter, which is why it is taking a long time. Experiments are involved, the results of which have to be watched with great care. I can assure the hon. Member that we are doing everything we can to expedite the matter.

Meat Ration (Value)


asked the Minister of Food the value of the present meat ration in terms of 1948 prices.

:In view of the figure which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has given, and the likelihood of another increase in the not too distant future, is not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman a little concerned about this matter, in view of the undertakings about reducing the cost of living?

I have been rather kind to the hon. Gentleman, because in 1948, which he chose, the meat ration varied between 1s. and 6d. I would also point out—and I am sure that he can confirm this figure through the wholesale societies—that 10 lb. more meat was consumed per person in 1953 than in the year referred to.

Food Prices


asked the Minister of Food if he is now able to give an estimate of the amount by which the price of rationed foods will rise when these are derationed and decontrolled later in the year.

I cannot add to the reply which I gave the hon. Member on 9th November last.

:That was no reply at all, neither is that which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has just given. Are we to understand that the Minister has no idea just how high these prices will rise? Are we to take it that old age pensioners and those with low incomes are to be deprived of their rations when prices rise astronomically, as has been prophesied? May I have an answer?


asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that, compared with November, 1951, in November, 1953, the price of bacon was up 1s. 1½d. per lb., bread up 3d. on a 3½-lb. loaf, meat up 4d. per lb., milk up 2d. a quart, butter up 10d. per lb., cheese 1s., margarine and cooking fat, 4d. per lb., and, since November, 1953, tea has risen in price, coffee has risen by 1s. 10d. per lb. and sugar by 2½d. per lb.; and whether he will reintroduce price control and take such further action which will ensure the restoration of these food prices to their November, 1951, level.

As I said in the House on 9th November last, Her Majesty's Government believe that decontrol will enable efficient private trading and effective competition to serve the best interests of all consumers in respect of quantity, quality and price. I would draw the attention of the hon. Member to the stability of the Food Section of the Retail Price Index during the past year as compared with the year 1951.

:Is the Minister aware that the prices of basic foodstuffs are continually rising and that the index to which he refers takes account of items which are bought only very occasionally? If these prices have risen by these amounts, are we to take it that when the remaining commodities are derationed they will rise in price by the same amount?

As I must repeat, there is only one possible method of judging food prices, and that is the index. I notice that the hon. Member does not disregard the index because he has a Question down to the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, No. 47, in which he accepts the cost-of-living index. The only figures we can possibly give are those from the Food Section of the cost-of-living index, which is common both to the previous Administration and to this Administration. The fact is that it has remained steady for the whole of this year and has dropped four points since last June.

:Is it not a fact that in the case of bacon and cheese, 10d. of this rise should have been imposed before the General Election but that hon. Members opposite did not put it on because of the Election?

:As my hon. and gallant Friend has said, there should have been an increase of 10d. on cheese and 10d. on bacon, but it was not convenient at the time to impose it.

:In addition to looking at the Retail Price Index, has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman ever looked at a grocery order book of a housewife in order to check up the price increases which have taken place?

:It is very simple, as more than one hon. Member has discovered, to select any item which has increased in price. For instance, cheese is such an item. But when we are considering the cost of living, proper weight is given in the index to necessary foods. This system was devised by hon. Members opposite. All we have done is to adopt what I assume they found to be a good thing. The figures which I am giving to the House, and which I will continue to give, are on a comparable basis; and, on a comparable basis, they have remained steady this year and they have dropped four points since last June.

Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that exaggeration of the cost of living is now practically the only thing left in the Labour Party's armoury?

:Would the right hon. and gallant Gentieman say specifically, yes or no, whether the price increases set out one by one in the Question are correctly or incorrectly set out?

:I have not worked through them all, although I am prepared to accept them, but it has nothing whatever to do with what I am saying. I assume that hon. Members opposite took some interest in the lower paid working-class when they were in office, and I assume, therefore, that they would not have introduced an index which did not fairly reflect the cost of living. Having done so then, they cannot now complain because I follow the same practice.


asked the Minister of Food if he can give an estimate of the probable increase or decrease in the price of basic foodstuffs during the next 3, 6 and 12 months, respectively; and to what extent his anticipation a year ago of the then prospective price of basic foodstuffs has been fulfilled.

I am not prepared to speculate on future price movements, but I have no reason to think that they will all be in one direction.

As regards the second part of the Question I do not know to what anticipation of mine the hon. Member refers, but the Food section of the Retail Price Index rose by only a fraction of one point during 1953, which reflects a very satisfactory degree of price stability as compared with any period since the end of the war.

:While that may be so, are we to take it that the Minister has in his Department no estimates of possible fluctuations in prices in forthcoming months? Do I understand that a year ago there were no such assumptions as to the future?

:We have to be careful about these assumptions, because I remember assumptions from hon. Members opposite about a 10d. egg which have hardly been sustained.

:That has nothing to do with my question. I asked whether the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has any information such as that which I sought. Will he be kind enough to answer the Question?

I have answered the Question. I am not prepared to speculate on future price movements because so much depends on the cost of raw materials—on whether the price of raw materials goes up or down. Some prices may go up, other prices may come down, which is what has happened in the last year.

Strawberries (Vitamins)


asked the Minister of Food how much vitamin C is present in fresh strawberries; and how muchis left in strawberry jam of the full fruit standard after the pulp has been impregnated with sulphur dioxide and stored until the mash is boiled to remove brown discolouration.

:The average vitamin C content of fresh strawberries is 256 milligrams per lb. That of mashed, sulphited, stored pulp depends largely on factors other than the addition of sulphur dioxide, which helps to preserve vitamin C. The vitamin C content of jam made from such pulp cannot, therefore, be stated precisely.

:The Minister is not being fair to the House in that answer. He has not taken into account the prolonged boiling to which the mash has to be subjected in order to get rid of the sulphur discolouration. Cannot he show in what way this pulp deteriorates in vitamin C? When shall we get back to pre-war practice and forbid this preservative altogether?

:The hon. Member has me on very weak ground in this matter, which is a very technical one, but I understand that sulphur dioxide helps to preserve vitamin C, and that all cooking processes result in a loss of from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent. of vitamin C.

In view of that reply, in which the Minister stated that from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent. of vitamin C disappears in boiling, will he not put a stop to this fraud on the public?

I do not think that jam is a very good source of vitamin C. The best source is the fresh fruit which is available.

Bread Making (Fats)


asked the Minister of Food if he will give an estimate of the saving of natural fat which is no longer used in bread making as a result of the modern use of chemical fat savers; and which are the principal chemicals used for this purpose.

The principal substance of this kind used by bakers is glycerinated fat. I regret that I cannot estimate the resultant saving in natural fat.

:Could not the Minister help us by making a guess at it? Is he not aware that in America, some years ago, the figure reached approximately 115 million lb.? Taking account of the difference in population, would it not be reasonable to say that our figure would be about one-third of that amount?

I should not care to state a figure without notice. It is, of course, in periods of shortages that these kinds of substitutes are encouraged. As we are, I hope, practically approaching the time when we shall have no more shortage of fat, it will be all right.



asked the Minister of Food whether he will institute an inquiry into the operation of the system of the payment of cash allowances to egg packing stations.

I do not want to be unduly critical of the Minister's failure, but ought he not to explain to his own back benchers how he has abolished food subsidy on eggs by doubling it? He ought to explain how the cash payment to the wholesalers, which was 3s. in September, became 13s. in December. He ought to explain how this cash allowance is still being paid when the profit margins of the wholesalers are bigger than they have ever been before.

:The hon. Gentleman, as usual, is slightly exaggerating the case. The costs to the packing stations of collection and delivery and the like come to ⅛d., and the wholesalers' margin is just under ¼d.

:Has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman considered what the grocers have had to say about how the wholesalers' margins have increased, and how they get the cash allowance, while the grocers' margins have been squeezed?


asked the Minister of Food if he has considered details, which have been sent to him, about the retailing of eggs; and when he will take off all restrictions.

Yes, Sir, and no doubt my hon. Friend has now received the letter which I have sent him. Current regulations affecting the retailing of eggs are among the matters now under discussion between the Government and the National Farmers' Unions. I cannot anticipate the form of the permanent arrangements for the marketing of eggs which will emerge from these discussions.

:How much longer will my right hon. and gallant Friend continue to try to do the impossible by trying to overcome the law of supply and demand?


asked the Minister of Food the number of eggs imported in long hundreds, during the last six months of 1952 and 1953; how many were Empire produced: and how many foreign.

:The total numbers of eggs imported during the last six months of 1952 and 1953 were 5,842,700 and 6,708,300 long hundreds respectively. Of these 2,099,300 and 2,078,700 long hundreds, respectively, were Commonwealth produced and 3,743,400 and 4,629,600 long hundreds were foreign.

Have all the eggs which we have been importing been sold, or has the Department some in reserve?

:Would the Minister explain this for our guidance? We are familiar with the Old Hundredth, but what are "long hundreds"?


asked the Minister of Food if he will give an estimate of how many million dozen shell eggs were produced in the United Kingdom in the months of October, November and December, 1953; and the proportion which went through the licensed packing stations each month.

:Through packing stations in this period 93·6 million dozen eggs were sold. But I regret information is not available as to home-produced eggs disposed of otherwise.


asked the Minister of Food what the guaranteed price for eggs cost his Department during each month, October, November and December, 1953.

Approximately £0·8 million in October, £0·6 million in November, and £2·5 million in December, 1953.

:In view of the likelihood of an increasing proportion going to the packing stations this year, would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman use his influence with the Ministry of Agriculture to see that the guaranteed price is progressively lowered?

:The prices are decided at reviews which are held annually, and all these things are taken into consideration. The next review is to take place very shortly.

Grain Sales (Trading Deficit)


asked the Minister of Food the trading deficit to the latest available date on the sale of grain by his Department during the financial year 1953–54.

Up to 31st December, 1953, the trading deficit is estimated at £8·1 million.

:Does the Minister realise that his losses on grains are making chicken feed of the expenditure on groundnuts?



asked the Minister of Food if he will publish the Interim. Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Slaughtering.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) and to him on Friday, 29th January, 1954.

:What consultations have there been between my right hon. and gallant Friend and the local authorities? Can he give an assurance that he will, give the maximum assistance to the local authorities in the discharge of what is a very heavy burden of responsibility?


asked the Minister of Food how many slaughterhouses will be required when meat is derationed later this year; and what arrangements are being made to ensure that adequate facilities will then be available.

:It is not possible, to make a firm estimate. It will be for local authorities and other interests concerned to survey the position in their own areas in the light of the recently published Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Slaughterhouses. I hope shortly to meet representatives of the authorities and other interests.

:While appreciating the complexity of this problem, may I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend whether he is reasonably confident that adequate premises will be available when the day comes for the derationing of meat, because this is a vital matter?

:That was the purpose of getting the interim Report that we might be assured that we should have sufficient accommodation.

:Will my right hon. and gallant Friend give as much latitude as possible to the local authorities in making these arrangements, and not keep too much responsibility in his Department?

:This is largely, if not entirely, a responsibility of the local authorities.

Has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman considered the chaos that will arise when the derationing of meat comes about, so far as the slaughterhouses are concerned? What will be the position of the large centres? Are they to supply the surrounding towns, or are they to have their own slaughterhouses? Will the big wholesale butchers start again, having regard to the fact that this work is being done by contract?

:There are two problems here. The long-term problem is that of moderate concentration, and that has been accepted by both sides of the House. The short-term problem is that of getting sufficient slaughterhouses so that when decontrol of meat takes place this year adequate space will be available.

Family Diets


asked the Minister of Food what action he proposes to take, following the findings of the recent national food survey that the diet of families where there are four or more children has fallen below the national average, to ensure that such families are adequately fed.

:As young children have smaller needs than adults for certain foods, the consumption of households with four or more children naturally tends to fall below the national average. The figures to which the hon. Member refers relate to 1951. I am watching the position with care.

Has there not recently been an investigation by the British Medical Association into this matter? Is not the Minister aware that because of the rising prices of foods a number of people are falling below—[Hon. Members: "No."] Yes, the prices of necessary foods have risen. Is the Minister aware that, in consequence, some families are living below what is considered to be the requisite nutritional standard?

:I am watching this position very carefully. It is not a matter that can be treated otherwise than seriously. In view of what he said about the rising prices, and as his Question refers to 1951, I would remind the hon. Member that that was a time when his right hon. Friends were in complete charge of the situation.

Would not the Minister agree that the consumption of milk has fallen during the last two years? As the amount of milk a family consumes increases proportionately with the number of children, what does he propose to do about it?

:The welfare scheme is not affected in any way. The drop in the consumption of milk is far too small to have any serious effects.

Coffee Prices


asked the Minister of Food whether he will reimpose controls on the retail price of coffee.

Why not? Comparing the highest price of coffee now with the highest price before controls were removed, does not the Minister think that something could be done to allow people to purchase their commodities at reasonable prices?

The hon. Gentleman must not lose his sense of proportion in this matter. The amount of coffee drunk in this country is 1lb. per head of the population per annum. It may be that the consumption of coffee has fallen because of the decontrol of tea. Whether we had control or not the price would have had to go up, because the price of coffee in Brazil, for instance, rose between 1952 and 1954 by over £6 10s. cwt. Whether hon. Members like it or not, they must realise that if people want this commodity they have to pay the price for it.



asked the Minister of Food the minimum and maximum prices of margarine when this is taken off the ration book.

:On the removal of price control and the reintroduction of brands, margarine will be sold competitively at prices varying according to type and quality and the movement of world prices for oils and oilseeds.

:Cannot the right hon. and gallant Gentleman indicate the minimum or the maximum, or does he not intend to impose a maximum?

There will be no minimum and there will be no maximum when decontrol takes place, which, if I may say so, is a very good thing. There will be a margarine available at about the present price and of the present quality.


asked the Minister of Food what are the main oils used in the manufacture of margarine; their respective food values; to what extent vitamins are added in the course of manufacture; and if he will publish the respective nutritional merits of 1 lb. of standard margarine and butter, respectively.

:As the reply is necessarily rather technical and contains a number of figures, I will, with permission, circulate the information in the Official Report.

:Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say what is likely to be the standard form of margarine available? Would he consider placing on the labels of these margarines some indication of their nutritional value, so that people may know exactly what they are buying?

:It is generally accepted that the fat and energy content of butter and margarine are about the same. After derationing, better quality margarine will be available and there will also be a margarine exactly the same as that used today, which is called the standard margarine. I have not considered the question of putting anything on the labels, but I will look into that matter.

:Are we to assume from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's answer that he intends margarine for the less well-to-do and butter for the more well-to-do, if the food values are the same?

Following is the information:

The main oils used in the manufacture of margarine are coconut, palm kernel, palm and groundnut oils, which are of similar food value. Margarine sold for domestic purposes contains 450–550 internationalunits of vitamin A, and 90 international units of vitamin D per ounce. Vitamins are not added to margarine used for manufacture.

The fat content and energy value of butter and margarine are almost the same. The vitamin content of butter varies with place of origin and season of production. An average vitamin A value is 14,000 international units per lb. compared with 8,000 in special margarine, and an average vitamin D value is 270 international units per lb. compared with 1,440 in special margarine.



asked the Minister of Food if he will give an assurance that the supplies of butter will be adequate to meet the demand when derationed; and if he can state the price.

On present forecasts increased supplies of butter will be available this year, but butter cannot be considered in isolation. The total supply of fats will, I am satisfied, be ample when rationing ends.

> As regards the last part of the Question, like my predecessors, I cannot forecast price changes.

:Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that I am not asking about the overall quantity of fats? I am asking about butter. Is it that he neither knows nor cares?


:Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman realise how grossly unfair he is in taking off this subsidy, because in December last, at the old price, 1½ million rations were not taken up? Under the Labour Government we reached a ration of 5 oz., which has never been reached under this Government. Is it not clear that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is decontrolling at the expense of the housewife who will not be able to afford butter?

:That is not in accordance with the facts for, as the hon. Member knows as well as I do, among old-age pensioners, of whom hon. Members opposite talk a great deal, the whole of the butter ration is taken up.

:Does my right hon. and gallant Friend appreciate, as I am sure he does, that it takes 3½ gallons of milk to make 1 lb. of butter and that milk is more than 3s. a gallon?

In view of what his right hon. Friend has just said, will the Minister reconsider his decision and retain the subsidy?

:Even with the subsidy off there are very few countries where butter will be as cheap as it is in this country. The hon. Member always chooses figures which suit his case, but even without the subsidy butter will be very much cheaper here than in most other countries.

:May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker? How can the Table accept so many Questions which suggest that the cost of living has gone up and, at the same time, accept Question No. 47, which suggests that the cost of living has gone down? In one case this has been done by the same hon. Member.

:Before you reply, Mr. Speaker, may I say it is because I am aware that prices have not gone down in the Kitchen Committee's Department and that they do not accept the figures in the way I do, that I put that Question down; and knowing that we must take the official figures, whether we believe in them or not, I had to put the official figures in the Question.

Departmental Officials


asked the Minister of Food the number of personnel under his jurisdiction on 31st December, 1951, and 1952, and at the latest available date, respectively.

The number was 17,254 on 1st January, 1954, as compared with 22,771 on 31st December, 1952, and 26,232 on 31st December, 1951.

:Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that I am glad to hear that the number of people who are producing nothing is being reduced, so that they can be returned to productive employment?

Fish Prices


asked the Minister of Food, in view of the high price of fish now prevailing, what action he proposes to take to prevent the incidence of scarcity through bad fishing conditions being aggravated by monopoly; and, in view of the fact that the price of cod is higher this year as compared with similar seasonal conditions prevailing last year, if he will reimpose control.

The recent scarcity and high price of fish are due to bad weather conditions on the fishing grounds.

The answer to the second part of the Question is "No, Sir."

:Am I to take it that the Minister attributes the increase in the price of fish entirely to bad weather conditions? Is it not also true that one of the factors operating here is the monopolistic power of certain traders?

:There is no such question in the month of January. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the reason for the high price of fish today is the adverse weather which is always experienced in this country during particular months, and that January was one of the worst months we have had. There were 145 gale warnings during January compared with 91 in January last year. I do not think that anyone who knows the North Sea at this time of the year will think that the fishermen are being overpaid.

Does not my right hon. and gallant Friend agree that it is evident from all these Questions on food prices that there are by-elections pending?

:If it is any help in the next by-election, I am glad to say that prices this morning have dropped compared with last week, in respect of cod, from 10s. to 12s. 10d. to 6s. 6d. to 8s. 6d.; and haddock from 11s. to 16s. 4d. to 6s. to 11s. 3d. There is a drop; and there is no doubt that the high prices were due practically entirely to the bad weather in the last few weeks.