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Ministry Of Food

Volume 530: debated on Monday 12 July 1954

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Canned Fruits

2.

asked the Minister of Food his estimate of the consumption of canned fruits in the United Kingdom.

In 1951, 1952 and 1953 about 194,000, 137,000 and 195,000 tons, respectively.

While thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him to bear in mind that all these supplies can be produced within the Commonwealth or the United Kingdom? Therefore, would he be careful before accepting gifts from the United States of America under the Mutual Security Act, otherwise there may be unemployment in the canning industry in this country and Commonwealth relations may be strained?

I remind my hon. Friend that if the total programme supplies of canned fruit under the Mutual Security Act are received, they will amount to 3·9 per cent. of the total consumption of this country.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the housewife can do with more canned fruits if they are cheaper, and if there should be gifts, even from outside the Commonwealth, will he remember the housewife and accept them with thanks?

3.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware of the growth of the home packing of canned fruit salad from fruit imported in bulk from the Commonwealth and the threat to this industry constituted by the resumption of shipments from the United States of America; and what steps he will take to protect this industry.

The importation of canned fruit salad from the United States of America has not been resumed.

Will my hon. Friend give an undertaking that it will not be resumed without the fullest consultation both with the interests in this country and with those in Commonwealth countries?

I have already told my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) that if the total supplies under the M.S.A. programme are received they will amount to less than 4 per cent. of the total consumed.

Liquid Milk

4.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will take action to reduce the price of liquid milk to the consumer; and what means are available to prevent skimmed milk being wasted.

The answer to the first part of the Question is "No, Sir." No skimmed milk is being wasted now that the milk flush has passed.

Does the Parliamentary Secretary accept that if milk were cheaper the likelihood is that more would be consumed by the public, and that it would be for the benefit of the public if this were so?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern. He will, no doubt, rejoice in the fact that the average consumption before the war was 2¾ pints per head and that it is now 4½ pints per head. Among the poorest section of the community the amount of milk consumed has been almost trebled.

Is not it true that in other countries—the Scandinavian ones and especially Holland—consumption of liquid milk is much higher than that?

6.

asked the Minister of Food whether he estimates the present rate of liquid milk consumption as being the optimum; and what steps he intends to take so that the rate of consumption will increase.

The optimum rate of liquid milk consumption cannot be estimated in isolation from that of milk products, of the general national diet, or, more particularly, the diet of those whose need for milk is greater or less than the average.

All sections of the milk industry, acting jointly, have launched a publicity campaign to encourage the consumption of liquid milk.

That being so, what does the Ministry propose to do to assist? Does it propose to leave the matter purely to the industry or to give any specific assistance either by furthering the campaign or lowering the price of milk?

The hon. Gentleman will recall the transference of powers to the Milk Marketing Board that has taken place. The Ministry will give all the aid it can, though the responsibility now rests primarily on the Board.

Does the Parliamentary Secretary agree that the argument which he has previously advanced on this subject is valid, that because there was under-consumption of milk before the war we should be satisfied with the consumption today?

But the consumption of milk should be taken in relation to the consumption of other foods, and the consumption of other foods is. in many cases, up.

We had better not go into the biochemistry of food, but millk, important though it is, is not the only food which is of value to the human body.

30.

asked the Minister of Food what steps he is taking to improve the hygienic production and transport of milk following the recommendations made at the meeting recently held in Denmark on behalf of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation.

The Milk and Dairies Regulations, 1949, and 1953, and the Milk (Special Designations) Regulations, 1949, 1950 and 1953, already give broad effect to the general recommendations made at this meeting.

Is the Minister aware that that is the first satisfactory answer we have heard this afternoon?

Technical And Medical Officers (Retention)

5.

asked the Minister of Food how many of his technical and medical advisers he proposes to retain now that derationing is completed; and to which Ministry or Ministries the remainder will be transferred.

I assume that the hon. Member refers to the small group of technical and medical officers at headquarters concerned with food hygiene, meat inspection and such matters. The end of rationing has not made any of this group redundant.

Food Stocks

7.

asked the Minister of Food the details of stocks of food in the possession of his Department on 4th July, 1954, and their cost price, including storage and management.

Is my hon. Friend not aware that one of the main duties of a Member of Parliament is to be a guardian of the public purse? How can we do our duty if all Ministries are infected with the Crichel Down disease?

Subsidies (Cost)

8.

asked the Minister of Food the total loss to the taxpayer on the purchase and sales of food in the last 14 years since rationing began.

The total cost of food subsidies from September, 1939, to March, 1954, including subsidies administered by other Departments, was about £4,065 million.

Bulletin (Publication)

10.

asked the Minister of Food why he has decided to discontinue publication of his Department's bulletin.

The bulletin was no longer required as a medium of information for the Ministry's local staffs and the loss on publication could not be justified when rationing ended.

Has the hon. Gentleman's decision anything to do with the fact that the latest issue of the bulletin shows the general public that last year they consumed fewer calories, proteins and carbohydrates than when the present Government came into office and that they ate less meat, oils and fats and eggs than pre-war?

If there were any sinister purpose, we should continue the publication of the bulletin in order to show a vastly improved situation this year.

Is it not the hon. Gentleman's duty to protect the consumer, and is it not of value to us to know the effects of the Government's food policies on food consumption?

The information will still be available, but this publication, intended for the Ministry's regional and local offices, and losing £50 a week, has properly been brought to an end with the end of food rationing.

Is it not a fact that in a previous reincarnation the hon. Gentleman used to disseminate this kind of information on the radio. Since that has stopped, does he not think that it should be continued in this manner?

I admit that I disseminated information in a way which was freer from statistics than the Ministry bulletin.

Meat Prices

11.

asked the Minister of Food to what extent the wholesale selling price of meat imported under Government contract has increased since meat was decontrolled.

12.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will consider reimposing price control on meat, in view of the increases in the price which have occurred since derationing.

With permission, I will answer this Question and Question No. 12 together.

On a point of order. Question No. 12 is quite distinct from the previous Question. It relates to a different subject. Might I have a separate answer to my Question, Mr. Speaker?

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will wait to see whether the reply answers Question No. 12. I do not yet know whether it will or not.

The initial release of imported meat to the trade has been made at the same average prices as under control, with a wider range between choicer and other qualities. Meat prices have already fallen substantially from the levels reached under the naturally uncertain conditions prevailing in the first day or two of free trade and are still tending to fall, There is plenty of meat about and there are many signs that the shopping public and responsible traders are seeing to it that it is sold at reasonable prices It is not intended to re-impose control.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that there has been a lot of sharp practice in respect of imported meat? Will he make it clear to both butchers and housewives—[Interruption.]—if the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) will shut up for a minute he will hear what I have to say—that there has been no reason whatever for any increase in the selling price of imported meat since meat was decontrolled?

If the hon. and gallant Gentleman has any evidence of sharp practice I shall be glad to have it, but I can reassure him that we are carefully watching the position in relation to the price of imported meat.

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with the chaos, disorganisation and fluctuations in meat prices which occurred throughout last week? Is he aware of what happened at Smithfield market this morning? Can he assure housewives that there will shortly be some stability in meat prices?

It is inevitable, after 15 years of rigid control, that in the auctions and in Smithfield, there should be some confusion at the outset. For example, so many butchers went to Smithfield to buy meat last Monday that it was difficult to get the meat away, with the result that too many butchers were chasing too little meat. The position has now very considerably improved and prices are tending to settle.

Does all this mean that the result of the Government's action in removing price control has been to cause disorganisation and confusion and to hamper housewives?

No, Sir. It means a wider variety and a larger supply of meat available to the people. No one wants to return to prison after 15 years inside because of a few breezes blowing on his face on the first day of freedom.

Is my hon. Friend aware that British housewives are buying meat today at less than any country on the Continent, in some cases at half the price charged there? Is he aware that many meat exporting countries are charging their own consumers more for the meat than purchasers in this country are being charged?

Yes, Sir, and I am also aware that in some cases, such as with English mutton, chops and stewing steak, meat is now cheaper than it was under control.

In watching the present situation, will the Parliamentary Secretary make sure that some unscrupulous butchers, in order to meet the resistance of the housewives to the high prices which are being charged, do not attempt to sell the housewife imported meat in place of home-killed meat?

I believe that the freedom now given to the housewives through the exercise of shopping skill will be more important than all the statutory rules and orders could be.

If, contrary to the laws of supply and demand, increased supplies are going to cause increased prices, which is the Parliamentary Secretary's case—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—will the hon. Gentleman intervene and reimpose price control?

The law of supply and demand is speedily and satisfactorily asserting itself.

is the implication in these Questions that the Labour Party is in favour of returning to rationing?

23.

asked the Minister of Food if, in view of the increased price of meat, he will consider reimposing control.

Would the hon. Gentleman be surprised to know that this morning I was in discussion with knowledgeable people in the meat trade who said that there will be no hope of a return to the same prices as obtained under control prices except in the case of offal and scrag ends of meat? Does that mean that the cheaper cuts are the types which are to be available for the mass of the people, and, if so, will the Parliamentary Secretary explain how his Government came into power on promises to reduce the cost of living and not to see it increased?

The hon. Member's friends are entitled to their own forecast of what will happen. I do not share that forecast.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there has been very little increase in meat prices in some towns in the north of England, and that some cuts today are as cheap as they were before decontrol?

Food Hygiene

13.

asked the Minister of Food what changes have been proposed to him by the representative organisations to whom he circulated his revised draft of food hygiene regulations; and what action he has taken regarding them.

Only a few replies have so far come in. My right hon. Friend will consider them together with the replies from other organisations which are still outstanding.

So far, the changes have been made in favour of the trade. Will the Parliamentary Secretary on this occasion redress the balance and make such changes as he will in favour of the consumer?

Among those who have replied are the Public Health Laboratory Service and the Society of Medical Officers of Health, and their views will be given ample weight in the reconsideration.

14.

asked the Minister of Food what items have been omitted from the proposals for food hygiene regulations and do not appear in the revised draft of these proposals.

24.

asked the Minister of Food what items, which have been omitted from the proposals for food hygiene regulations, will now be incorporated in a code of practice not having legal force.

With permission, I am sending to the hon. Members a copy of the earlier draft marked to show what items have been omitted or transferred to a suggested Code of Practice. I am placing copies in the Library of the House.

We are much obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary for the information he will afford us, but does he appreciate that it would have been far better to have afforded the Bill a Second Reading months ago so that we could have discussed these matters in Standing Committee?

The hon. Gentleman heard last week what the Leader of the House said about the prospects of a Second Reading.

15.

asked the Minister of Food why the provision that a person handling food should wear a clean, washable overall, has been omitted from the proposals for food hygiene regulations.

Because there are many operations in the handling of food in which the wearing of an overall is not necessary to protect the food from contamination.

Does this not represent a complete surrender to the trading interests, and is not this one of the proposals which the hon. Gentleman supported until recently? Will he now tell the House why he has changed his mind?

The issue is whether this item should be included in the regulations. The hon. Member will appreciate that in the first form the requirement to wear overalls would have covered all waiters in hotels, and. secondly, would have compelled the wearing of a white overall by those like brine workers, whose overalls are to protect themselves and not the fish.

Does all this mean that the Tory Party prefers dirty food and high prices?

That kind of question makes me wonder whether there is genuine enthusiasm among hon. Gentlemen opposite for the Food and Drugs Bill.

Is not this purely a Committee point and precisely what we could have cleared up during a Committee stage?

This is a matter of regulations, which will not be dealt with in the course of the progress of the Food and Drugs Bill.

16.

asked the Minister of Food the staffing strength of the food hygiene division of his Department at 1st July, 1953, and 1st July, 1954, respectively.

I should have thought that the hon. Member would have rejoiced that there was no reduction in this division, but, on the other hand, an increase.

17.

asked the Minister of Food what provision his revised proposals for food hygiene regulations will contain for washhand basins being made available in rooms in which food is prepared, handled and stored.

That suitable and sufficient washhand basins shall be provided for the use of persons engaged in the handling of food employed on or about food premises.

I am obliged, but would the hon. Gentleman consider, in order to allay public apprehension, and after due consultation with all the bodies concerned and taking every relevant fact into consideration, making a statement that the Government are exploring every avenue and leaving no stone unturned to indicate their policy that, other things being equal, they are, on balance, inclined to be in favour of clean food?

18.

asked the Minister of Food what action he proposes to take to implement the recommendations regarding the cleaner handling of meat, made at the meeting of the World Health Organisation on meat hygiene held at Copenhagen.

The more important matters dealt with at this meeting are covered by existing law or by the Ministry's Manual on Meat Inspection.

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that there is already a good deal of disquiet about the way in which meat has been handled during the past week, and that it is incumbent on the Minister to see that the regulations are enforced and stiffened?

The hon. Gentleman's Question refers to a study circle at Copenhagen, and I have replied that what was suggested there is already covered in this country.

19.

asked the Minister of Food the functions of the food hygiene division of his Department.

To administer those parts of the Food and Drugs Acts, 1938 to 1950, which deal with the inspection of food and food premises and the conditions in which food is manufactured, processed, prepared, stored, distributed and sold.

Does the hon. Gentleman not think, in view of the conditions at Smithfield Market which he has just described, that an increase of two in this division is quite insufficient to deal with a situation in which, the hon. Gentleman tells us, there will be a great deal more meat?

The condition in Smithfield Market arose from a larger amount of meat and a larger number of buyers than usual. It had nothing to do with the Food and Drugs Act.

25.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will discontinue his discussions and consultations with outside bodies about the Food and Drugs Amendment Bill until that Bill becomes an Act of Parliament.

The consultations in progress are on proposals for regulations to be made under the Bill when it becomes an Act in accordance with the requirements of Section 92 of the Food and Drugs Act, 1938.

In view of the fact that

"There's no art To find the mind's construction in the face:" "
—that is "Macbeth"—will the hon. Gentleman tell us what is going on about the Food and Drugs Bill? Would it not have been better to have considered it in Committee and have had all these points cleared up?

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to other Questions and other answers, he would have had at least a dim idea of what is going on.

26.

asked the Minister of Food why the revised proposals for food hygiene regulations contain no provision that first-aid equipment shall be readily accessible.

Because, so far as food manufacturing premises to which the Factories Act, 1937, applies are concerned, first-aid equipment is required to be provided under Section 45 of that Act.

31.

asked the Minister of Food what use has been made of the portable exhibits on clean food which have been prepared by his Department.

Is the Minister aware that the excellence of this exhibition and the response of the public means that he should hurry on with carrying out the task, which we desire him to perform, of getting clean food in the country?

Is the Minister aware that a large number of visitors to this country express their surprise at the way in which the food is handled? Will he get on as quickly as possible with the task of ensuring the cleaner handling of food?

Conditions in this country are certainly of a lower standard than in a number of other countries, but the Question refers to the narrow issue of a food exhibition.

Does the Minister know why the previous Socialist Government did nothing about legislation for clean food during the six years of their administration?

Iced Lollies

20.

asked the Minister of Food whether, in his proposed food hygiene regulations, he will make provision in regard to iced lollies.

The general problem of lead contamination of food, including iced lollies, has been considered by the Food Standards Committee whose report will, I hope, shortly be published. Thereafter, there will be considered any necessary action, by regulation or otherwise.

Food And Drugs Act, 1938

21.

asked the Minister of Food what regulations made by virtue of the Food and Drugs Act, 1938, are now in force.

As the answer comprises a long list of Statutory Instruments, I will, with permission, circulate the information in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I am arranging for a set of the Regulations to be placed in the Library of the House.

Following is the information:

Regulations Now In Force Under The Food And Drugs Act, 1938

(i) The Public Health (Condensed Milk) Regulations, 1923 to 1953. (S.R. & O. 1923, No. 509; 1927 No. 1092; 1943 No, 896; S.I. 1949 No. 1122, S.I. 1953 No. 1609.)

(ii) The Public Health (Dried Milk) Regulations, 1923 to 1948. (S.R. & O. 1923 No. 1323; 1927 No. 1093; 1943 No. 896; S.I. 1948 No. 1123.)

(iii) The Public Health (Meat) Regulations, 1924 to 1952. (S.R. & O. 1924 No. 1432; 1935 No. 187; S.I. 1948 No, 1119 and S.I. 1952 No. 1481.)

(iv) The Public Health (Preservatives etc. in Food) Regulations, 1925 to 1953. (S.R. & O. 1925 No. 775; 1926 No. 1557; 1927 No. 557; 1940 No. 633; 1948 No. 1,118; S.F. 1953 No. 1610 and 1820.)

(v) The Public Health (Imported Milk) Regulations, 1926. (S.R. & O. 1926 No. 820.)

(vi) The Public Health (Imported Food) Regulations 1937 to 1948. (S.R. & O. 1937 No. 329 and S.I. 1948 Nos. 886 and 1121.)

(vii) The Public Health (Shell-Fish) Regulations, 1934 and 1948. (S.R. & O. 1934 No. 1324 and S.I. 1948 No. 1120.)

(viii) The Public Analysts Regulations, 1939, dated 1st August, 1939 made by the Minister of Health under Sections 66 (2) and 69 (3) of the Food and Drugs Act, 1938 (1 & 2 Geo. 6 c. 56). (S.R. & O. 1939 No. 840.)

(ix) The Ice-Cream (Heat Treatment etc.) Regulations, 1947 to 1952. (S.R. & O. 1947 No. 612; S.I. 1948 No. 819; 1951 No. 67 and S.I. 1952 No. 815.)

(x) The Food and Drugs (Whalemeat) Regulations. 1949 and 1950. (S.I. 1949 No. 404 and 1950 No. 189.)

Slaughterhouses (Regulations)

33.

asked the Minister of Food whether, in view of the Slaughterhouse Act, 1954, and the decontrol of meat, he will now make regulations under Section 8 of the Food and Drugs Act, 1938.

Is not the Minister aware that until the Government do take action the deplorable conditions which he knows exist in the Sittingbourne slaughterhouse and other slaughterhouses will continue indefinitely?

Under Section 13 of the Food and Drugs Act, 1938, under the meat regulations made under that Act and under the model byelaws adopted by practically every local authority, there is ample legislative force for the purpose.

Usa Fruit (Imports)

22.

asked the Minister of Food what types and quantities of fresh fruit are included in his recent purchase of butter and other foods from the United States of America.

What are the exchange conditions? Has American dollar exchange to be made available or are these commodities being furnished under the M.S.A.?

As has been previously stated, they are being purchased for sterling, that amount being set against defence expenditure.

Has the hon. Gentleman made any inquiries about the age of this American butter which he is now purchasing, because it has been offered to him for a year or two now, without any action being taken, except last week?

I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that no butter will be admitted to this country unless it is fresh and up to the statutory requirements in force here.

The programme quantities include fresh oranges to the value of 1½ million dollars and fresh grapefruit to the value of ½ million dollars.

Butter

27.

asked the Minister of Food by what amount the consumption of butter dropped in May and June of this year, when compared with a similar period in 1951.

Though there can be as yet no firm estimate of butter consumption during May and June this year the quantity released by the Ministry, which does not include the butter imported by the trade, shows no fall when compared with the same months in 1951.

How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile that reply with the official figures that for the first three months butter consumption went down by 16 per cent.? Is it not a fact that before long we shall be referring to the good old days of 1951?

The Question refers to the months of May and June, the supplementary question to some other months.

34.

asked the Minister of Food how the retail price of butter in this country compares with that in other Western European countries.

I will, with permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a list of retail butter prices in some West European countries. It shows that the present price range of 3s. 8d. to 4s. 2d. per lb. in this country compares favourably with prices ruling on the Continent.

In anticipation of the receipt of those figures, can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us the price of butter in France, for example?

When the Parliamentary Secretary circulates those figures will he also include a table of figures showing a comparison with October, 1951, to date?

If the hon. Gentleman will put a Question on the Order Paper I will do my best to satisfy him.

Is it the ambition of the Government to get butter up to 6s. 1½d. per lb.?

Is my hon. Friend aware that butter is sold cheaper in this country than in any other country in the world? Is it not a fact that the United States, who are sending us butter, have the surplus which enables them to do so only because they are charging their own people at the rate of 5s. 6d. a lb. for it?

Do the supplementary questions which we have heard from the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) mean that farmers are now asking for more?

Following is the information:

SOME RECENT RETAIL BUTTER PRICE QUOTATIONS
s.d.
France6
Austria43
West Germany4
Switzerland76
Netherlands310
Denmark36

Subsidised Bread (Consumption)

28.

asked the Minister of Food what percentage of the bread consumed in this country is subsidised.

At present, about 91 per cent., and in giving that information may I express the pleasure of all of us at seeing my hon. Friend back again after so long an absence.

Pig Marketing (Leaflet)

29.

asked the Minister of Food if in view of the monopolistic developments in the marketing of pigs he will withdraw his leaflet to the trade entitled, "Pigs—Farmers Guide to the Fatstock Guarantee Scheme, 1954–55."

No, Sir. The leaflet sets out the arrangements under which the guarantees on pigs are paid, and it is open to all to benefit from these arrangements.

Is the Minister aware that the first sentence of this leaflet says that on 1st July, 1954, one may sell pigs to anyone anywhere and in any way? In view of the fact that under the agreement between the Fatstock Marketing Corporation and the bacon curers there is now a virtual monopoly in the sale of bacon pigs, does he not think it time the matter was put right?

The hon. Gentleman's facts are not quite right. It is open to the producer to sell direct to the bacon curers outside the F.M.C. or to the F.M.C. as well as in the market.

Can the Minister tell me who is outside this agreement besides Messrs. Walls and the Co-operative Wholesale Society?

Food Processing (Coal Tar Dyes)

32.

asked the Minister of Food if he will take steps to impose restrictions upon food processors and manufacturers in relation to the use of dyestuffs derived from coal-tar, having regard to the evidence that the use of such dyestuffs is in some degree responsible for the increase in the number of cancer cases.

The use of certain coal tar dyes is already prohibited. The general question of the addition to foods of colouring matters is being considered by the Food Standards Committee.

Is it not a fact that the workers handling coal tar have to take special precautions against ill-effects on their health? Is it not a fact that this dye is used for colouring kippers and other coloured foods?

The first statement of the hon. Gentleman is true, but do not let us generalise and so arouse fears and suspicions unless and until there is scientific evidence on the subject.

Surplus Potatoes (Sale)

35.

asked the Minister of Food why he has purchased from farmers a large quantity of potatoes at around £14 a ton and is selling them as low as £2 a ton for stock food while at the same time he has imported from Cyprus and sold on the British market quantities of potatoes; if he is aware of the complaints of Ayrshire farmers about this action; and what action he is taking to rectify this anomaly.

The potatoes sold for stock-feeding are surplus old potatoes of the 1953 crop bought from farmers to carry out the guarantee under the Agriculture Act, 1947; they are not comparable to new potatoes. My Department has not imported any potatoes from Cyprus.

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Ayrshire potato farmers—who are nearly all Conservatives—are making frivolous complaints in this matter? Is he aware that there have been strong criticisms and that the farmers are denouncing the Government? What reply am I to make to the potato farmers of Ayrshire when I have to apologise for the hon. Gentleman?

The Ayrshire farmers producing Ayrshire earlies have no reason to fear competition from imported potatoes from Cyprus—grown, incidentally, from Scottish seed.

Is the Minister saying that these Conservative Ayrshire farmers are making purely frivolous complaints?

I am not concerned with the politics of the farmers, but it may be that the hon. Gentleman has a sensitive nose for criticism of the Government about any sort of thing.

In view of the completely unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall endeavour to raise the matter on the Adjournment.