§ 51. Mr. LOUGH
asked whether a Committee of the Cabinet was appointed in January this year to report on the stock of commodities in the country, it being understood that their recommendations would form the basis of the Prime Minister's prohibitions of imports afterwards made on the 24th February; and, if so, what this Committee reported to be the stock of tea in the country on the date of their report?
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)
The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. The Committee referred to. however, was not a Cabinet Committee. but an Inter-departmental Committee. As regards the last part of the question, no figure was given of the stocks of tea in this country on the actual date that the Committee reported. It was stated, however, that on the 31st of December, 1916, there was between 56,000 and 58,000 tons of tea stocked in this country.
§ Mr. LOUGH
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether it was stated by a Member of the Committee that there was a nine months stock of tea in the country whereas there was only four months stock, and whether it was that statement which was the cause of the Government prohibition of tea imports that brought about the tea famine?
§ 52. Mr. LOUGH
asked the Prime Minister whether he has noticed that the Food Controller has announced his intention of buying up all the stocks of tea in India and Ceylon and selling them at cost price; whether the Army and the Navy are also making large purchases of tea in these two countries in advance of their requirements and of shipping facilities; whether any of these Departments are equipped with the necessary knowledge and machinery for buying, importing, and distributing teas; whether they will compete with one another in the purchase; whether he is aware that other Departments of the Government bought large quantities of potatoes in Holland and in Spain, allowing them to rot in those countries before they were shipped, and 1334 that the Shipping Controller afterwards provided freight to bring these diseased potatoes, instead of useful commodities, into this country, where they were immediately destroyed; whether he is aware that wheat, valued at over £20,000,000, paid for by the Government, is now lying in Australia, in bad or doubtful condition, for which transit cannot be arranged; and whether, with a view of stopping these proceedings, he will give instructions that no Department of the Government shall be allowed to purchase any, commodity abroad except through the ordinary channels of business in London or other trade centres throughout the Kingdom?
§ Mr. CLYNES
The Food Controller proposes to buy in India and Ceylon such quantites of tea as are required for the civilian population of the United Kingdom, and for the Army and Navy, having regard to the amount of tonnage which it is estimated will be available, and to sell to the trade at such prices as will cover the expenses involved. Lord Rhondda is satisfied that he has at his disposal the necessary knowledge and machinery for buying, importing, and distributing tea. The Ministry of Food and the Army and Navy will not compete with one another in making these purchases.
The explanation already given with reference to Spanish and Dutch potatoes will be within the recollection of my right hon. Friend; the circumstances attending the purchase of Australian wheat are reviewed in the first Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure.
The answer to the last part of the question is in the negative.