HC Deb 02 February 1939 vol 343 cc361-3
40. Mr. Mander

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether it is the desire of the Government that householders should store food and water for an emergency, in accordance with the statement made by his adviser, Sir Auckland Geddes?

55. Mr. Lewis

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether if he will consider the advisability of issuing an appeal to all manufacturers, merchants, retailers, and housewives gradually to increase the stocks of those raw materials and articles of food which they are in the habit of using and which can be stored for a considerable period without deterioration, in order that the reserve stocks of these commodities in the country may thereby be maintained at a higher level while the international situation remains of so threatening a character?

92. Mr. Anstruther-Gray

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether there is any objection to private householders accumulating reserves of suitable foodstuffs as a precautionary measure?

94. Mr. Leonard

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will make clear to the country that all food in the possession of private persons over their normal requirements for one week, will be deemed as being available for national needs in the event of war?

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Oliver Stanley)

I have been asked to reply. I see no objection to the accumulation by householders in peace time of small reserves of suitable foodstuffs, equivalent to about one week's normal requirements. Household reserves of this kind would constitute a useful addition to the total stocks in this country, and they would not be taken into account in carrying out the Government's policy of ensuring that adequate supplies of food will be available in time of war for all classes of the population. I must, however, make it clear that in an emergency, household reserves might be requisitioned if the Government of the day considered it necessary in the public interest. The House will recognise that there is a clear distinction between the accumulation of small household reserves in peace time and food-hoarding in time of war. There are, of course, grave objections to private purchases of food in excess of normal household requirements during a national emergency or in a critical period preceding an emergency.

I feel sure that all manufacturers and traders will bear in mind the desirability, so far as their individual circumstances permit, of maintaining, and if possible increasing, their stocks of those materials and foodstuffs which will be necessary for the country in time of emergency.

As regards water, I understand from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, that special measures are being taken to secure the continuity of water supplies in an emergency which, if account is taken of the storage capacity of household tanks, should obviate any necessity for individual householders to store water.

Mr. Mander

In view of the diversity of views that we have heard from Government Departments on this subject, would it not be possible to arrange for a consistent, coherent and non-contradictory advice to be given?

Mr. Stanley

There is no inconsistency whatsoever except in the mind of the hon. Gentleman and one newspaper. What I say now is a fuller elaboration of a very similar statement which was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, who was then Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, in a Debate in this House during the summer.

Mr. Lewis

Why does the right hon. Gentleman want to discourage private individuals from helping themselves and so helping the country by accumulating supplies now; and, in particular, why does he suggest that it is undesirable that private people now should acquire more than one week's supply of food?

Mr. Stanley

Because it is quite obvious that if people in large numbers were to acquire very large supplies of food it might upset the food market entirely and cause a quite unnecessary rise in prices. I have made inquiries in the food market, and I am satisfied that reserves of a more modest kind can be acquired by the householder without any upset of the normal market, and without causing any increase of prices, which might bring hardship to many people.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is the intention of the Government to assist those people to buy and store food who can hardly afford to buy it in normal times?

Mr. Stanley

It is an addition by private means to the normal policy of the Government. Where the Government spend money or make arrangements it is clearly better that reserves should be in bulk, and not distributed.

Mr. MacMillan

Is it not the position that only people who can afford to do so can make this provision?