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Ministry Of Food

Volume 526: debated on Wednesday 14 April 1954

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Ration Books


asked the Minister of Food what classes of persons will still require ration books after June, 1954, upon the final ending of food rationing; and whether he will give authority for holders of ration books, which are no longer required, to destroy them.

Until next autumn the present ration books will be the basis of title to welfare milk, and the books must therefore be kept for expectant mothers, children under five and handicapped children. Other ration books may be destroyed when rationing is over.

Can my hon. Friend say whether it will be legal when rationing ends for ration books to form the subject of a demonstration of public joy? For instance, will it be in order for my constituents, or others, to use ration books to roast an ox on the village green?

Apart from the beneficiaries to whom I have referred, I have no suggestions to offer as to what people should do with their ration books.

Will the Minister see that adequate paper money goes to the poorer sections of the community so that they can buy the things of which they have been short on their ration books up-to-date?

Recommissioned Mills


asked the Minister of Food whether he is now in a position to say what arrangements he has made for the future operation of Recommissioned Mills Limited.

Not yet, for the arrangements are not yet completed under which Recommissioned Mills will operate next year.

Is my hon. Friend aware that to deal with the modern type of harvesting, it is very important that someone should know who will be in charge of the Recommissioned Mills early next autumn?

My hon. Friend will recall the announcement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture that the Ministry of Food will operate the Recommissioned Mills in the year 1954–55. Some differences exist as to the detailed methods to be adopted, and they are now the subject of consultation.

Livestock Marketing


asked the Minister of Food whether he can now announce the details of the arrangements for marketing of livestock after decontrol in July.

Some information was given in the Appendix to the White Paper (Cmd. 9104) issued on 19th March. The consultations on the further details are almost, but not quite, complete. When they are there will be issued leaflets on cattle, sheep and pigs, giving the full details for the information of farmers and the trade.

Has the hon. Gentleman any idea how many of the auction marts will be re-opened on 1st July?

Argentine Meat


asked the Minister of Food what arrangements are being made for further negotiations on food matters with the Argentine Government.

With the decontrol of meat in July no new contracts for the Government purchase of this or other foods in Argentina will be undertaken.

Tea (Prices)


asked the Minister of Food whether, in view of the announcement of a further increase in price, he will now reintroduce price controls of tea.

I have nothing to add to the reply which my right hop. and gallant Friend gave on 7th April to the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann).

In view of the fact that the price was increased by 4d. per lb. only a month ago and a further price increase has just been announced, does the Minister not agree that there is a case for intervention now by his Department?

The hon. Gentleman will realise that in the year up to last month the Calcutta prices were up by Is. l½d. per lb., a price increase which saved the tea gardens from disaster. We cannot escape the consequences of that change.

Is it not a fact that these increased prices are largely the result of a steadily improving standard of living among the workers in the tea gardens of the East? That should be welcomed rather than criticised.

It is a fact that the main factors in the increased cost are freight, storage and labour costs.

While we admit that perhaps from the point of view of the producers of tea there has to be an increase, and has been an increase, will hon. Members opposite now cease from stating that the cost of living is not rising?

The index of the cost of living is the index which was statistically virtuous under the last Administration. The same index is being used today.

Butter And Margarine


asked the Minister of Food whether he will postpone the pro posed decontrol of the prices of butter until after the decontrol of margarine, in order to give an opportunity to study the effect of decontrol of one commodity before proceeding to others.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary pay closer regard to the views of the grocers about this, because they have made representations to him that this course should be followed? Is it a fact that the Ministry are to continue allocations to grocers in any case and that there will not be freedom; and if that is the case, would it not be proper also to continue price control?

The Ministry will, of course, continue the issue of butter while its stocks last, but, on the general issue, the hon. Member should realise that arrangements are now being made for the private import of butter, and to continue price control would do what, I am sure, he would regard as undesirable—encourage a black market.

Food And Drugs Bill (Catering Establishments)


asked the Minister of Food what representations he has received from the National Caterers' Federation relating to the Food and Drugs (Amendment) Bill; and what reply he has sent.

The Department received a letter and memorandum from the Federation on 16th March expressing certain views about the new legislation and suggesting further consultation with trade interests about the form of public food hygiene regulations. They attended a conference on 5th April and made a number of points which will be carefully considered.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary bear in mind that there are still far too many filthy eating places in this country and that it cannot be left to certain elements in the catering industry to put their own houses ox kitchens in order? Is he aware that whatever steps he takes towards improving standards in this regard will meet with widespread support in all quarters of the House and outside?

I am very much alive, as are hon. Members on both sides of the House, to the need for improving the standards of food hygiene. What is happening now is that preliminary consultations are taking place on the first draft of regulations which might subsequently be introduced.

Is my hon. Friend aware that caterers are not complaining about the Bill so much as about the possible effect of the regulations being unrealistic? Will he consult the trade before the regulations are formally adopted?

The first draft regulations were issued as long ago as 26th January. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that widespread consultation is taking place on the precise point with the body named in the Question. That body expressed itself as dissatisfied with the idea of any legislation to amend the Act of 1938.

Will not the Parliamentary Secretary agree that the health of the public is more important than the susceptibilities of the National Caterers' Federation?

Of course, I do so agree. At the same time, we must see to it that the regulations introduced are reasonable and are capable of application in a reasonable time and at reasonable cost.

Ministerial Functions


asked the Minister of Food what responsibilities and duties will remain with his Department after food rationing ends this summer; and what steps he is taking to divest himself of such responsibilities and duties.

In reply to the first part of the Question, I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT a list of the main functions of Government now discharged by the Ministry and which will still have to be carried out after the end of rationing in July. As regards the second part of the Question, I cannot at present add to the reply given on 6th April by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd).

Would my hon. Friend resist any temptations or blandishments from hon. Members opposite to retain the fabric of administration of his Ministry or even its nomenclature after rationing ends, and will it be his policy to expunge this unwanted Department at the earliest possible moment?

I think that when my hon. Friend has read the list of residual functions which remain to be discharged by the Government he will appreciate that there is a problem to be solved as to their future destination; and, as the Prime Minister has said, that is a matter upon which there cannot yet be a pronouncement.

In the event of derationing of food proving to be too expensive for the lowest income groups, what does the hon. Gentleman propose to do?

I do not propose to engage in forecasting future price levels, and I suggest to the party opposite that they should similarly desist, bearing in mind their forecasts of the cost of eggs.

Following is the list:
  • (i) Implementation with the Agricultural Departments of the farm price guarantees in free market conditions.
  • (ii) Administration of deficiency payments schemes for the four main cereal crops and for livestock; support prices for eggs and potatoes.
  • (iii) Administration of subsidies totalling £285 million a year, including subsidies on bread and milk and welfare subsidies.
  • (iv) Various responsibilities under continuing long-term contracts, e.g. for bacon, meat (with Australia), coffee, copra, orange juice. Continuing purchase of sugar to implement Commonwealth Sugar Agreement.
  • (v) Oversight of import programmes for balance of payments reasons.
  • (vi) Questions arising under International Sugar Agreement, Commonwealth Sugar Agreement and the International Wheat Agreement and in connection with such bodies-as F.A.O., O.E.E.C., N.A.T.O., E.P.U.
  • (vii) Defence plans—Civil Defence organisation—stockpiling.
  • (viii) Food standards, Food and Drugs legislation, Slaughterhouse legislation.
  • (ix) Welfare foods and nutritional policy.
  • (x) Disposal of stocks; winding up of accounts, etc.