§ [FIFTH ALLOTTED DAY.]
§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]
§ CIVIL ESTIMATES, 1941.
§ UNCLASSIFIED SERVICES.
§ MINISTRY OF FOOD.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "That a sum, not exceeding £90, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1942, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Food."—[Note.—£10 has been voted on account.]
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Major Lloyd George)
When my predecessor spoke last year he craved the indulgence of the Committee because he was making his maiden speech as Minister. I am afraid that I cannot ask that indulgence, but I can. at least ask it to the extent that it will not be possible for me, during the time at my disposal, to deal with the work of the Ministry in all its aspects. I will try to deal with some of the more important aspects in the course of my remarks.
The Ministry of Food has been referred to as the largest trading organisation in the world. I believe the Committee will appreciate better the significance of what that means and the magnitude of our task when I say that our trading accounts amount to about £600,000,000 in a year. The Ministry is a little more than a trading organisation. It is concerned with social and economic problems far greater than those about which any trading organisation has to think. On the one hand it is a very great monopoly, and on the other hand it has a responsibility for feeding the whole population of these Islands. I am fully aware that a Ministry dealing with such a matter as food is bound to be criticised. After all, it is dealing with a very sensitive part of the human anatomy. If you have to restrict your supplies, you may put off buying a new suit or a new dress, but to put off the taking of food is not possible for any length of time—except possibly in a circus.
456 One does not have to wait very long after difficulties arise before complaints reach us, for the simple reason that such difficulties will probably be felt by many households all over the country. I would therefore like to remind the Committee, when criticism is being leveled—and nobody objects to it; certainly I do not— that the Ministry of Food can distribute only such food as it can acquire. In appreciating the problems with which we are faced, it is important that we should realise how this country was fed before the war. I should say that rather more than half the food upon which we depended in this country came from overseas, and, of the other, rather less than half, a great proportion, could be produced only through imported feeding-stuffs and fertilisers.
Then you come to what are known as calory values. I warn hon. Members that this is a very dangerous subject to get into until you are used to it. On the whole I have found it better to leave vitamins and carbohydrates alone and to stick to calories, which, I am informed, are the reckoning of the amount of human energy that food produces. This is safer and simpler. On the whole, only about one-third of our requirements was produced at home, and that is a very serious position. There is no shortage of food in the world; the difficulty is to get it here. The enormous importation on which we have depended for so many years has, in its turn, depended upon shipping. Most of it would have to be carried over very long distances, for example, from Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina, as well as other places, remote from our country. Other supplies were derived from places like the Netherlands and Scandinavia. Those of us who remember the last war, and those who have since studied its history, will realise what appalling difficulties had to be overcome in ensuring the food supply of this country. How much greater are the difficulties to-day than in the last war. Last time we had not German bases in the English Channel or on the Western Atlantic coast. Holland and Scandinavia were free and able to supply us with a large amount of food and what is much more important in relation to shipping was the very small distances comparatively that these supplies had to be transported.
457 I sometimes wonder whether hon. Members fully realise to what an extent we were dependent upon the countries of Scandinavia and the Netherlands for our imports of the commodities which are in such short supply to-day. Of our imports of dairy produce, 46 percent. came from those countries which are now denied to us by enemy occupation. Of dairy produce, something like 70,000 tons of butter came from Holland and about 200,000 tons of cheese. In addition 70 percent. of our eggs, of condensed milk—which is very short to-day—up to about 76 percent., potatoes and fresh vegetables 60 percent, and canned and bottled over 60 percent., pulses 40 percent, and—dare I mention them?—onions 50 percent., all came from the Netherlands.
With the shortage of shipping tonnage it is important that, so far as practicable, we should obtain food supplies with only the shortest haul. We have therefore welcomed the decision of the United States of America to extend to food supplies the scope of the Lease and Lend Act. As hon. Members know, we have sent a food mission to the United States, at the head of which is Mr. R. H. Brand. He has gone to Washington to facilitate the despatch to the United Kingdom of supplies under that Act. The shipping position has made it necessary for us to curtail imports from more distant sources of supply, including Australia and New Zealand, and a revision of our import programme has had to be made, in close consultation with representatives of those Empire sources of supply. Another difficulty which we have in this war and had not in the last is the bombing of our shipping, as well as of the houses of our people, with the consequent difficulties of distribution. Another feature which is quite new is the immense transfer of population from some parts of the country to others, with the attendant disturbance of the machinery of distribution. The diversion of shipping to the Middle East was common to both wars, and therefore is not an addition to our burdens in that sense.
As I said just now, the supplies are there, but they have to be got Here. Therefore, we decided that imports would have to be confined to those commodities which were regarded as essential to the nation's health and well-being, and we found it necessary, at a very early stage, 458 to cut out non-essential imports in order to make room for as much as possible of essentials such as meat, sugar, tea, oils and fats.
To ensure the equitable distribution of these staple commodities, rationing was introduced soon after the war commenced. Sugars, meats and fats are, on the whole, foodstuffs the consumption of which per head is fairly constant and uniform, and they naturally lent themselves more readily to rationing than other commodities. The Ministry took the view, at least in the earlier stages of rationing, that it was not possible to ration successfully unless the sources of supply could be brought under control. Consequently, the Ministry embarked first upon the control of imports. All the imported commodities to which I have referred, together with cereals and pulses, animal feeding-stuffs, condensed milk, milk powders, eggs, tea, dried fruits and fruit pulp are now purchased by the Ministry.
When consideration is given to the supply and distribution of food, it is necessary to differentiate between what is imported from overseas and what is supplied at home. The distinction is very important because the problems and difficulties are quite different in the two cases. In the case of imported food, the Ministry has, without question, been extremely successful in making purchases overseas at reasonable prices. There is no comparison between the price level of foodstuffs to-day and that in the last war. Let me take as one example, the price of wheat. I think the price to-day of No. 1 Northern Manitoba f.o.b. Montreal, is about 92 cents a bushel. In the last war it went up to 240. None of our purchases has approached that figure and this is true of many other commodities as well. If prices had risen or had been allowed to rise as they did at certain periods in the last war, an immensely increased burden would have been placed on the Exchequer. The reason why that has not happened up to date and why I do not think it will happen, is that from the beginning of the war all private buying of wheat and other commodities from overseas ceased. When imported foodstuffs arrive here they come through the bottleneck of the ports and of course that makes it much simpler to apply control. I think, on the whole, that the system of control is achieving the purpose for which it was 459 instituted, that is, of making possible equitable distribution at reasonable prices. I would remind the Committee, with regard to the question of keeping down prices, that we are spending in this country to-day at the rate of about £90,000,000 a year in subsidising food in order to keep prices at a reasonable level.
Let us take the position with regard to home supplies. I do not want to pursue the question of home production, not because I do not think it important—on the contrary, I think it of vital importance— but only because we have had within a very few days a very full Debate on food production. But may I say a few words on the distribution of home supplies? Obviously, it is not as easy to maintain control of home-produced supplies as of the imported supplies, because on the whole they do not come—except in such cases as those of wheat and meat—through the same kind of bottleneck. In the case of some commodities you have tens of thousands of suppliers scattered all over the country. These commodities, naturally, except as I say in some cases, do not come through a bottleneck which you can control. That is one of the reasons why we have found it extremely difficult up to now to devise means, for instance, of making possible a fair distribution of eggs. The production of eggs is in the hands of probably about 50,000 people. That is true of a good many other home-produced commodities and the result is that we get criticism occasionally of our distribution of these commodities.
Those are problems on which I ask the Committee to believe we are working every day. I am sure the Committee appreciates the fact that the difficulties involved are enormous. The main difficulty is that these commodities are in short supply, and I would remind hon. Members that they are in short supply because we deliberately made them so. I mentioned at the beginning of my speech that we had decided that certain commodities, such as meat and wheat and so on, were essential for the life and well-being of the country, and that we had decided to sacrifice some of these other commodities and to utilise the space in order to get as many essential commodities as possible into the country. Therefore, on the whole supplies are 460 short because we have concentrated on things which those who know informed us were essential to the life of this country. However great the difficulties thus presented, I am confident that they will be overcome. At any rate, we are working at them all the time.
Not only does the Ministry control the purchase and imports of these commodities, but it exercises control over the various stages of distribution from the place of import to the consumer. In many instances we exercise supervision over the processing of foodstuffs through controlling the allocation of raw materials for manufacturing purposes, and the process of food manufacture itself. The Ministry is at present engaged in extending control over the prices and distribution of a wide range of manufactured foodstuffs in agreement with and through the instrumentality of the manufacturers. As far as retail distribution is concerned, the Ministry controls it in the case of a great many commodities by means of retail margins, mainly by maximum price orders, and by rationing and such control as is so far exercised over the allocation to retailers of non-rationed foodstuffs. This latter method is in process of development by the Ministry at the moment. Recently an experiment has been made, the institution of the minimum share scheme for a group of commodities—that is, the preserves group, syrup, treacle and so forth. This scheme is not the ordinary form of rationing, but the retailer is under an obligation to distribute the minimum share to customers who have registered with him, and arrangements have been made for him to obtain the necessary supplies. In extending this scheme to other groups of commodities, it is extremely important that those foods which are sold in substantially the same kind of retail shop, and which serve an identical purpose, should be grouped together.
I want to mention here one other extension of the rationing system which has interested hon. Members of this House a great deal, and that is the question of the cheese ration. There is no doubt at ail that certain sections of the community depend far more than others upon cheese, and while we appreciate the claims of others to this ration, we had of necessity to have regard to the supply position. After consultation with the workers' 461 organisations, it was decided that the supplementary issue should be confined to underground mine workers and to agricultural labourers. I want to make this perfectly clear—it has been said before, but it does not seem to me to be altogether appreciated—that this ration of cheese was not given to these two particular classes of workers because we thought they needed more by reason of the nature of their work but simply because they are the two principal classes—there are others, it is true—which on the whole have to consume their food far away from their home. The catering establishments which have been set up all over the country would have been of no avail to them at all.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and my Noble Friend are taking every possible step they can to ensure the development, all over the country, of these canteens for workers in which cheap and nourishing food will be supplied. We appreciate, of course, that a decision of this sort, which confines a ration to particular sections, is open to some criticism, but you have to draw the line somewhere, and when you draw a line, whether it is of age or anything else, you are bound to get inequality on either side of it. You cannot even draw a frontier which will put all the races on one or other side of the line—I think we have discovered that by now. We have done our best to make the best division possible, but it is not really possible without some hardship on one side or the other. But the scheme is constantly under review, and, of course, we shall be quite prepared to amend it as a result of experience.
I now turn to a question which has created a great deal of excitement, and that is the question of what is known as luxury feeding in restaurants. There has been a certain amount of criticism of the policy which allows meals to be taken in these establishments without the surrender of a coupon. I say quite frankly to the Committee that this subject has been given a prominence out of all relation to its importance, because of, among other things, rather sensational publicity in one or two organs of the Press. As a matter of fact it is out of all proportion to the problem with which we are dealing. Some people, remembering the last war, think it would be better if we made 462 people surrender a coupon whenever they took a meat meal in a catering establishment, the idea being that because they do not surrender a coupon they are allowed to have unlimited supplies—
Major Lloyd George
Or generous portions—and then go home and have full rations, which others cannot do. It would be possible to go back to the system of the last war, but conditions are absolutely different to-day from what they then were. More and more are the people of this country dependent upon having a meal out at some time during the day. I am told that 25 years ago it was quite a common practice, even in offices, for workers to bring their lunch with them, but go out to-day in Whitehall when the offices are emptying at lunch time, and you will find hundreds of people going to the cheaper restaurants in the district. That did not obtain to anything like the same extent 25 years ago. There is also another thing which did not obtain to anything like the same extent in the last war. Millions of workers all over the country are now being fed in canteens, and let me make it clear that a canteen is a restaurant for this purpose. Works canteens are guaranteed a certain amount of meat per head of the people using them, and had it not been for a drastic curtailment of other types of restaurant, there was a period when we could not have fulfilled that particular guarantee. To ask workers in canteens, to ask the lorry driver who stops at a pull-up, to surrender a coupon every time they have a meal, would place an enormous burden upon working men's wives, among other people, who would never know what they would have left at the end of the week. Let me also make another point. If all the meat meals in every restaurant, canteen, and every kind of communal feeding centre in the country were stopped, it would only, be possible to raise the meat ration from 1s. to 1s. 1d. That puts the matter in its true proportions, and I hope that people will leave it at that for the time being.
§ Miss Eleanor Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
May I ask for an explanation? Is the implication of that statement that only 1/13th of the meat 463 consumed is consumed in public eating houses, and that the whole of the rest is consumed at home?
Major Lloyd George
Yes, that is the position. Canteens, eating houses and communal feeding centres which are entitled to meat rations take about 8 percent. Let us get a proper sense of proportion about this matter, because people have gained the impression that if only this luxury feeding were stopped, it would be possible to increase the meat raton by a considerable amount, whereas the' true position is that if the whole lot were taken away, it would only add 1d. to the present ration. What we have in fact done, of course, has been to reduce the meat allocation to restaurants very drastically indeed, and, what is more, we have made an order which makes it an offence to consume more than one main dish at any single meal. Of course, it is far easier for us when we know the aggregate amount of meat required, because we know exactly what our commitments are.
Another complaint which I have received recently is in relation to the shortage of unrationed commodities. On examination of many of the complaints that have come forward, we have found that while there is a real shortage, the particular town from which the complaint came has received its fair share of the commodity which is admittedly in very short supply. I have constantly heard people say that they cannot get anything at all in one particular place while someone who lives somewhere else ran get everything required, but I have never been fortunate enough to go into that particular shop myself. I am not saying that there are not some places if the kind, but on examination a great number of the complaints are based, it is found, on the fact that people have not quite appreciated that there is a general shortage of these unrationed commodities. Unquestionably supplies have become very much tighter recently. Let us be quite clear about that, because we have to face up to these things. Supplies are very much tighter than they were in the earlier stages. The amount of rations has been reduced, many non-rationed foodstuffs are in short supply, and I would like to point out again; that the reason they are in short supply is be- 464 cause we want all the space we can afford in order to get the things we consider more essential for the welfare of the nation. Where the unrationed commodity is one over which the Ministry has some measure of control, complaints of maldistribution are nothing like so frequent. As a general principle, distribution in these cases is on the basis of the pre-war supplies of the particular firm or customer.
But in cases where the Ministry have no control over distribution, the manufacturers and wholesalers have been furnished with figures of the populations of the various types in the country. These are very accurate figures, because they are taken from the figures of ration books issued, which is obviously as accurate an indication as we can have. But, as I said at Question Time to-day, we cannot make absolutely certain that as the population of London, say, is reduced and that of other places is increased, a reduction in supplies will be made for London, in order to meet the increased demand in other places. I think that people who live in areas liable to bombardment are entitled to a little more than their proportion of the supplies, and that it will be agreed that people living in areas of comparative peace are having the best of the bargain; I am certain that they would not complain. We cannot make distribution absolutely pro rata. It is a matter of great pride to us all to see how our people are facing these great difficulties. We get very few complaints really. A lot of the complaints are about small things, which I suppose often cause more trouble than the bigger things. It is amazing how our people are standing up to their difficulties, and it is very comforting to think that that is the case. This is largely, I think, because the policy of the Ministry has been to take the people into our confidence at all times, provided that doing so does not conflict with the national interest.
There is one other aspect of the Ministry's work with which I want to deal. It is something quite different from the acquisition and distribution of food. We have developed a new function recently, in the provision of meals. Problems of food supply and distribution are immensely aggravated by air attack. The incidence of this attack frequently means diversion of shipping and upsets loading 465 facilities and transport. The food distribution system may be damaged or destroyed. Concentrated attack on a town, therefore, may well mean that large numbers of people have to be fed by emergency methods. May I say, in no boastful spirit at all, that much of the arrangements for this were made before the first attacks on this country? To meet this situation, emergency feeding centres have been set up for the provision of hot meals for men, women and children whose homes have been so damaged that either they have to leave them or they cannot cook in them These centres are established in schools, halls, and other suitable buildings. We are providing equipment and food supplies to centres which have been chosen and established by local authorities. Up to the present, applications have been received by the Ministry from 114 towns, with a total population of over 16,000,000. We have ordered to be sent to them 3,500 boilers and 500,000 mugs, plates and spoons. There has been a quickening-up in the response in the last few weeks. Not long ago the number of towns was only 70, and it is now 114. That is because local authorities are learning that it is better to be prepared than to try to divise something after the damage is done.
Local authorities have been urged to co-operate with catering establishments and so on. In addition, powers have been conferred upon local authorities to direct the service by caterers of meals, as required. Over and above what is required day by day, towns of a population of 50,000 and upwards have been invited to arrange for the feeding of no less than 10 percent. of their population in the event of emergency. A very considerable organisation has been set up to enable towns which have been bombed to take immediate action. While the ordinary work of the Ministry is done by the food control committees, this emergency work is done by the local authorities—and very well they are doing it In places that I have had to visit—and also by voluntary organisations, such as the Women's Voluntary Service, the Y.M.C.A., the Salvation Army and so on. I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that our organisation for meeting this emergency has stood the test very well. Even in the towns where the attacks have been heaviest, there has been 466 no shortage of foodstuffs. I would like to pay this tribute to the food trade organisation and to individual traders and to the local authorities which have cooperated magnificently.
Without these arrangements, in the very badly bombed towns the morale of the people would not, in my judgment, have been as good as it has been. May I give one or two examples? In Coventry, on the second day after the attack, there was more milk than usual. In Plymouth, after last week's heavy raids, there was no complaint of shortage of supplies, but I understand that retailers were having difficulty in obtaining scales and bacon cutters. I do not regard that as a very serious thing in the middle of an attack. This morning I had a telegram from the Lord Mayor of Plymouth, which I would like to read to the Committee:I want to thank you for the help that your Ministry has given. It has been magnificent and I am most grateful to you.I know that no thanks are looked for. If the organisation is set up and functioning, that is really the best thanks that can be given to anybody. We have had similar expressions of appreciation from other parts of the country. In Glasgow, appreciation took solid form in a contribution towards providing further mobile canteens. Those who know the Clydebank district well know the work that was done there recently.
Major Lloyd George
Yes; the mobile canteens for the supply of foodstuffs and hot drinks. Of course, it is not possible always to get the emergency arrangements working immediately after bombardment. Dispersal is important. But you may have occasions when cooking facilities are out of commission. For that purpose, we have organised the special convoys, known as Queen Messengers, capable of going into every part of the country. We are hoping to have 18 of them before long. They will go everywhere, and do that which is very important—provide hot meals immediately after the attack. That is far more important than being efficient two days later.
§ Mr. Lindsay
Who does the Ministry regard as the responsible officer under the various local authorities organising this 467 Work? Does this vary with each authority? Is it sometimes under the director of education, or is there some specific officer responsible for the organisation?
Major Lloyd George
We deal with the local authority; as far as I know, we do not deal with any special section of it.
Major Lloyd George
Yes, Sir. There is one other point with which I want to deal, namely, that of communal restaurants. We are anxious that these restaurants should be developed all over the country, and I am glad to say that the response is becoming better and better. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Coventry (Capt. Strickland) will be very interested in this. They have been brought into operation, not for the emergency alone, but to enable people to get a decent meal at a reasonable price. So far 299 such restaurants in 156 towns have been approved by the Ministry, in addition to 170 London meals centres operated by the London County Council, and 280 evacuee centres taken over by the Ministry of Health and now being operated as British restaurants open to the general public. This makes a total of 749, and the average number of meals served per day is over 82,000. I can speak from personal experience of the wonderful service that these restaurants render. I have been to several of them, particularly in London, and I really understand why they are appreciated. Many of these men who are taking their meals there would have no prospect of any hot meal at all unless they cooked it themselves at the end of a very heavy-day's work, because their families have been evacuated elsewhere. Everywhere I have heard admiration of the work that these restaurants are doing.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
It is very important that Members of the Committee should be aware of the places where these restaurants have been set up, or of the places where they have not been set up, in order that they may use their influence to see that additional restaurants are set up as soon as possible. Will my hon. and gallant Friend consider putting in the OFFICIAL REPORT a list of areas where these restaurants have been set up, or a 468 list of areas where they have not been set up, so that Members can be informed?
Major Lloyd George
I will certainly consider that request, I think some time ago I had a list circulated but it will be out of date now.
Major Lloyd George
I am prepared to consider that. We are doing everything we can to educate people in the various branches of cooking by practical demonstration, wireless, Press advertising and so forth, so as to enable people to make the best of a substitute for an article they cannot get and to do something with an article which perhaps they have never used before. We have found this very successful, and I hope more will be done all over the country.
There is another subject with which I would like to deal before I sit down, and it is something of which hon. Members may have heard, namely, the new milk scheme. I gather that they will probably have heard more of that than of anything else in the last week or so. May I explain why it has occurred. During the last year the consumption of liquid milk has risen by 14 percent. That demand is one that we can meet during the summer, but we cannot meet it during the winter. We also want to make provision for the manufacture of cheese and condensed milk which normally we imported, and, therefore, we thought that this was the time, when milk was just coming into fuller production, to build up our reserves, and do it by cutting down the consumption to the level at which it was last year. There has been a lot of trouble, I gather, more trouble than the scheme deserved. We are distributing the same amount of milk as 12 months ago but certain difficulties have come before us and we are always prepared to consider them. Rationing means a tremendous amount of work and could not be done in time. Differential rationing is a different thing. If we had not differential rationing it would enable everybody to have two-fifths of a pint of milk a day. Some of us have not possibly acquired the milk drinking habit. In fact some do not want the milk, but it is a funny thing that, if you give a ration, you can depend upon it that people will take it. Therefore, there is a good deal to be said against rationing, apart from the time it would 469 take. So we called together the Central Milk Distribution Committee and asked them to help us to devise a workable scheme and ensure a saving of 15 percent. consumption of milk.
The scheme arrived at is flexible, and after seeing its working for the first fortnight we have laid down several conditions, which I will let the Committee know. First, we expect the distributors to continue distributing the milk for seven days a week where that has been the practice. In some cases it is not the practice, in rural districts, for instance. I do not think that there would have been any trouble arising over the cut if some genius had not discovered that 15 percent, is very near to one-seventh and that there are seven days in a week. If we had stuck to the 15 percent., it would have been much simpler. Secondly, the Minister has decided from now on that there shall be no cuts in the milk supplies to people who take one pint or less per day. Customers needs are bound to vary by reason of illness or movement of population, and we have instructed dairymen to do their best to respect these needs and apply to the regional officers for a revised allocation of their supplies. This scheme does not affect the national priority classes, such as schools, hospitals, invalids and people suffering from certain illnesses, and, in addition, we have laid it down in allocating remaining supplies that they should give domestic needs preference over the demands of catering establishments.
I have practically come to the end of what I have to say, and I apologise for detaining the Committee for so long. I think I can say, without being accused of any boastful spirit, that the organisation of the Ministry of Food has accomplished much. I certainly do not claim perfection for it. Frankly, mistakes have been made. I am glad that they have been made, because if you make mistakes, it is because you are doing something, and if you are experimenting, as we are, on many things, you are bound to make mistakes. My noble Friend and I are prepared to acknowledge them and to try and put things right. It is said sometimes that difficulties only exist to be got over. I do not disagree with that view. It is also said that to know, all is to forgive all. I am not really asking for forgiveness, but I hope that the Committee and everybody 470 else know more perhaps now, because I sometimes feel that with a little more understanding of the problems with which we are faced some of the criticisms we get would not come to us. In any case, I hope that this discussion will help in some way to clear it up. In common with all our fellow countrymen and women, our thoughts at the Ministry of Food frequently go to the Middle East, where such tremendous events are happening, but I am sure that the Committee will not misunderstand me when I say that inevitably our thoughts come back to the West, where, as the Prime Minister reminded us in his broadcast last Sunday, the attack upon our lifeline, as he called it, ceased neither by day nor by night. It is an attack that is being countered by all the courage and resource of the men of the Royal Navy, Air Force and Mercantile Marine. But this attack is not confined to the seas; it extends to our estuaries, our harbours, our wharves, our storehouses, along our transport system and, indeed, into the very homes of our people, where it is being countered with exactly the same courage as is being displayed by the men of our Services out on the high seas. It is the determination of the Ministry of Food, which I have the privilege of representing in this House, to extend to those people all the support that it is humanly possible for us to, give them.
§ Mr. Barnes (East Ham, South)
I should like to congratulate the parliamentary Secretary on the very practical and businesslike way in which he has presented the Estimates for his Department. I rather feel that Members in all parts of the Committee will appreciate his unconscious humour just as much as we have often appreciated the brilliant wit of his father, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). The general atmosphere in which he has submitted his case will, I think, enable the Committee to engage in a rather useful discussion on a very important part of the work of the State. Quite frankly, I intend to adopt a critical attitude to the Ministry of Food to-day, because over a period of 18 months I have generally found myself in disagreement with their policy. I do not adopt that attitude in an arbitrary manner, but more in a suggestive manner, because from my own 471 experience of food distribution I should be the first to admit that under the prevailing circumstances in this country it is impossible to devise a system of food distribution that will give general satisfaction.
My first note of criticism is that although this problem must be examined always on an individual commodity basis, there should be a general principle governing the approach of the Ministry to all these commodities and a general principle which should govern the approach of the Department to goods in short supply. When we face the position of any commodity being in short supply, either through actual damage, breakdown or maldistribution, or through the movement of population which the Parliamentary Secretary himself has admitted —and which has caused substantial difficulty to his Department—the Ministry should seriously consider and carry out to the best of their ability a system of registration and rationing. Judging by the work of the Ministry during the past 18 months, they have not followed that policy. So far as my personal knowledge goes, they never introduce the rationing of any commodity until they have been practically compelled to do so by public opinion of the trade and sometimes of the country. After 18 months this is a rather serious indictment which one can level at the Ministry, and while we appreciate the standard of accomplishment of this Department as a Department of State—and no one wishes to minimise what has been done—I do not think they should escape criticism at the moment because of the lack of following a policy of that kind.
In support of my position, let me recall to the Committee the history of the policy as approved. In the autumn of 1939 we were confronting widespread public irritation amounting to anger over the maldistribution of butter, sugar, tea, bacon and meat at that period. The Committee will recall how the Ministry of Food then resisted the pressure and evidence of public opinion until, in the early days of 1940, they did introduce the registration and rationing of butter, bacon, sugar and tea and, later, meat. To-day the Parliamentary Secretary himself admits that while these goods are relatively the most important of our foodstuffs, public dis- 472 satisfaction is almost nil compared with the public dissatisfaction over the question of non-rationed goods in short supply. That is the first point I make on behalf of the value of registration and rationing. As I indicated earlier, I am not unaware that different problems arise with different commodities, and at the moment I am contenting myself with making the broad case that registration and rationing meet a sense of inequity and of difficulties, both in the trade and among the public. When the Committee reviews the state of mind of the public and the trade as regards the wide range of foodstuffs in short supply, to which the principle of rationing has not been applied, it will immediately be aware that there is widespread dissatisfaction. Perhaps the major dissatisfaction arises because of the substantial movement of the population from evacuation areas to reception areas.
Let us examine how the Ministry have so far endeavoured to deal with this problem. In my view this method is not practical, and it has not been fair. They have rather shifted their responsibility as a Ministry, first of all, on to the wholesalers, requesting them to adopt a rough and ready method of so distributing their supplies to the retailers that they will be able to carry out adjustments to meet the problem of the transfer of the population. Now I claim that that, in practice, is not working satisfactorily. In the first place, there was no compulsion upon the wholesaler to continue to distribute to his retailers their proportionate supplies. Secondly, many wholesalers do not cover the whole of the country. The majority of them probably cover a limited area of the country. Hon. Members will appreciate at once that if a wholesaler is in the position of supplying retailers in an area from which there has been considerable evacuation, he will not withdraw his supplies and pass them on to wholesalers in a reception area. The irregular responsibilities and areas of the wholesalers, while they might be all right in peace conditions, make it utterly impossible to meet a wartime problem of this character. The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the statistics which the Ministry of Food are now supplying to wholesalers. That is a recent development, and although the statistics in the aggregate may be accurate, Sometimes they lump together the populations of towns and rural districts, and in some of the 473 towns there may be evacuation areas and in some of the surrounding rural districts there may be reception areas. Therefore, although the Ministry have gone some way towards giving the information which wholesalers require, hon. Members must not run away with the idea that they have found a solution to this problem.
The voluntary scheme of rationing through wholesalers and retailers, on which the Ministry have so far relied, is not working equitably and satisfactorily. The point I want to make is that where there is a foundation position of that sort, it starts a flow of irregularities which eventually develop into abuses. It is because of this fundamental weakness in the administration of the Ministry of Food that the development of what is known as the "black market" in foodstuffs has steadily crept into the food affairs of the country, and already represents considerable abuses which, if they are not dealt with by a different policy, may become much more substantial than they are at present. Let me indicate what happens under the voluntary system. Wholesalers are able to favour retailers. It must be remembered that there is intertwined in the system all the private and personal interests of trade which prevailed before the war and which the traders think are likely to occur again after the war. All kinds of abuses and favouritism can creep in. From experience with regard to canned foods and other commodities, we see how the food racketeer has been able: to fasten himself on to the system. It is no use the Noble Lord the Minister of Food getting publicity in the Press and crowing about certain speculators having burnt their fingers, when the trade generally knows that those speculators have already got their loot and cleared out, and have left the abuses as a residue in the administration. We cannot understand Ministers of the Crown claiming credit for belated actions when their responsibility is to anticipate abuses and prevent them from occurring or developing.
The system of refusing to deal adequately with short supplies has caused the development of a very undesirable practice with regard to existing registrations for butter, sugar, meat, tea, and so on. I refer to split registrations. When the retailer is faced with a shortage of commodities, in his effort to minimise his 474 difficulties he voluntarily imposes a system of rationing and endeavours to keep his limited supplies for his own registered customers. This has led families to split their registrations over a number of retailers, and so have a call on the supplies of two, three or four retailers for commodities in short supply. I cannot understand how these practices help to solve the problem of a shortage of supplies. The system adds to the difficulties of the Ministry, and it adds to the difficulties of the retail trade. When I think of the strain on man-power, the expenses of business, and the irritation and trouble to customers which the system causes, I cannot see any advantage in the Ministry allowing this state of affairs steadily to develop. I do not take an unreasonable view of this. I admit that when one is experimenting with a difficult problem of this character, a certain period must elapse before the difficulties show themselves, but there has been a period of 18 months now, and experienced people in the trade know the position and claim that the Ministry ought to accept generally a policy of registration and rationing, and experimenting with group rationing as a modification of the main principle. The consumers, the retailers, the wholesalers and the manufacturers have not any great conflicting interest in the matter. I think the Minister will admit that there is a great pool of good will and co-operation, and that no one has any desire to pull the Ministry to bits. Everybody recognises that its functions cannot be carried out by the trade. I hope that following this Debate hon. Members will endeavour to reach as much agreement as possible on the policy to be pursued, and that the Minister will follow it in future.
Further to emphasise my point, I want to recall to the Committee the experience we have had with specific commodities. From time to time, nothing less than scandals have developed, and continue to exist, concerning fish supplies and commodities. Here we have a very difficult industry to deal with, but the point is that we are no nearer a solution than we were at the beginning of the trouble. At the present time, the prices of fish are exorbitant, indefensible and a scandal, and hon. Members ought to make it quite plain that in their view this cannot be permitted. Over the whole range of white fish, some steps ought to be taken to 475 bring about reasonable prices. Anybody who has some idea of the dangers which fishermen have to face in catching the fish will not begrudge a very substantial financial reward to those who brave these dangers, but it will take a lot to convince the public that the excessive prices they pay all go into the pockets of the men who catch the fish.
Canned fruits represented a first-class scandal in the matter of speculation and manipulation at a certain period in the administration of the Ministry. One discovered that firms and dealers who, in the ordinary way, never handled these goods were suddenly flushed with supplies, and that ordinary provisions dealers, to whom the public usually looked for supplies of this sort, often had none. We had the same experience with regard to onions; at a certain point the Minister controlled prices, and onions disappeared from the market. There was also the muddle over turkeys and chickens last Christmas. With regard to the rationing of preserves and cheese, again the Ministry resisted the pressure both of the public and the trade as long as they could. It is true that the system is not by any means working satisfactorily. The private distribution of these supplies was very unfair, and those of us connected with the industry told the Minister that he would find himself in this position. Nevetheless one can begin to see signs of equity in that particular section of the trade.
I now wish to refer to a question of policy which does not come directly within the administration of the Ministry of Food, but which I think will have some impact on the Department in the near future. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, when introducing his Budget, referred to the Government's scheme for subsidising basic foodstuffs. The Minister admitted that it was now costing £90,000,000 a year. It has been a very successful scheme, and is a remarkable example which the Government ought to have followed sternly at the outbreak of the war; it would then have been possible to have maintained a proper control over the whole range of basic priced goods. The Chancellor indicated that the Government were now proposing to extend that policy. Can the Minister indicate in his reply whether it will cover food supplies, and, if so, whether it will be applied to the 476 present level of prices, or whether efforts will be made to cut the present level, which in my view is undoubtedly too high? These prices are increasing daily. I do not propose to delay the time of the Committee in reading a series of daily advice notes on food prices which I have brought with me for the purposes of this Debate, but they indicate advances of an extra penny here, a halfpenny there, or twopence somewhere else on commodities. There is a continuous and steady rise in prices on a vast range of food products which go into the ordinary grocer's store. Already they have reached a high level, and unless the Government take action prices will get out of control in the near future. I should like to know whether the Government are going to stabilise prices at the present level, or whether an effort will be made to reduce them.
The Minister has indicated to-day that the problem which faced the Ministry in regard to milk was to cut consumption to what it was some time ago. There has been an increase of 14 percent. in the consumption of milk, and therefore the Government propose a cut of one-seventh to bring us back to normal. No one can quarrel with that policy or purpose. The Minister went on to mention that those who came under the cheap milk scheme were excluded, and that other classes were being given special consideration. In view of all these difficulties, I want to put a straight question to the Parliamentary Secretary. He has detailed to the Committee the troubles and difficulties of the Ministry of Food. Is it fair that he should shift these difficulties on to the wholesalers or Milk Marketing Board, and that they in their turn should shift them on to the dairies, and the dairies should eventually shift them on to the roundsman, and that the roundsman therefore should have the problem of dealing with the rationing of customers? Is that a position which this Committee can defend? The roundsman's ultimate position depends on his maintaining the output of his round. He has to meet all the difficulties of his customers. Therefore does it not stand to reason that the roundsman should not be the person to meet all this accumulated resentment which passes through all these stages of responsibility? It has nothing to do with him, and one can easily understand his disinclination to offend his good customers. I think the Ministry should 477 have faced up to this problem. If the Ministry wanted to cut the supply, it is no use saying that they had no time. It has been known for a long time in the trade that we might meet a period when the consumption of milk might have to be cut. The Ministry should have known that, and they should have anticipated it. Last autumn it was recognised that there might be a period when we should have to ration or cut down the consumption of milk, and the Ministry should have faced up to the problem then, instead of waiting until they were forced to come to this decision.
Then there is the problem of eggs. I understood the Minister to refer to 50,000 poultry keepers in this country. I think that was a slip of the tongue, and I should like to clear up that point. I was under the impression that under the Poultry Feeding-Stuffs Rationing Scheme there were something like 750,000 poultry keepers who have been registered.
§ Mr. Barnes
I raised the point to get the figures corrected. The experience of the trade, ever since the Minister introduced controlled prices, is that the quantity of eggs passing through the normal trade has steadily declined. No one is arguing about the shortage, because that is a fact. But there is a diversion of supplies, and that arises again from a very simple human motive, that is, that the producer can obtain the retail price if he sells direct to a customer. Therefore, as a result of the Ministry's policy, there is an inducement not to send eggs through the normal channels of trade distribution. My complaint, which runs all through this Debate, is that the Ministry's policy initiates in the first instance the commencement of many of these abuses—abuses which are developing. If there is a system of rationing of poultry foods, there should be some quid pro quo arrangement whereby poultry keepers divert—I am not taking an arbitrary view, and saying it should be a major part or half—a proportion of the eggs into the general market for the general public.
Then there is the question of tea. Can- 478 not tea be placed on a full registration and rationing basis, like butter, sugar and bacon—that is, tied to a particular retailer or dealer? I wish again to refer to my original statement. If goods are in short supply, whether it be as a result of an actual shortage, maldistribution, or the movement of population, I urge the Minister to accept the policy of applying registration and rationing in every case where it is humanly possible. Experience shows that when this is done you at once locate the demand. The problem of whether or not people consume it is rapidly dispensed with, because, if they do not take up their ration, it is released and it may be increased. It solves the distribution problems, because those who have to handle supplies—wholesalers, manufacturers and so on—are immediately able, when the retailer registers with them, to know exactly where the demand is and to arrange their distribution accordingly. I agree that it does not increase supplies, but in my view it definitely makes supplies go further. The legitimate trader and the public generally want this policy, and I ask the Minister to depart from the haphazard method which has characterised the administration in the past and state that they are prepared to accept it as a general principle to guide the administration of the Department, and welcome in every way possible the co-operation of the public and the trade for the purpose of putting it into operation. If he does that, while it will not solve the Department's difficulties, it will find a great measure of good will in the public mind.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
The hon. Member speaks with considerable knowledge and experience on matters of food distribution, and he has given a very good send-off to the discussion arising out of the Minister's statement. He has been practical, and I hope his really pertinent questions will receive the consideration of the Ministry. I find myself in general agreement with much that he has said, particularly with regard to an extension of rationing, or at least of registering. The Prime Minister the other day, dealing with recent events in the Mediterranean, told us that we should view them with a sense of proportion. I think he was right, and it is only fair to the Ministry of Food that we should approach its work in the same attitude. If we do that, I think the Ministry comes 479 out of its very responsible and difficult job with very great credit. It has done the big things well. It has, in the first instance, to a very considerable extent delivered the goods. Although we have had here and there criticisms of shortage of this or that, it has provided the great mass of the people with the essential articles of food, and I think that after 18 months of war the people are still very well fed and no one is hungrier. Secondly, it has succeeded in doing this with a reasonable price level. Those are big achievements, and I think, when we are criticising the Ministry, we ought to give them full credit for what they have done. The Parliamentary Secretary's speech will have increased the confidence which the House, in my opinion rightly, has in him and in his noble Friend. We have listened with pleasure to the way in which he has answered questions from time to time, and his speech to-day has been a model of what the House wanted in discussing a matter of this kind.
The Food Ministry is bound to be important, because, as Napoleon said, "An army marches on its stomach." In this war the people are in the front line, therefore the supply of adequate food is a matter of very vital importance as far as the war effort is concerned. It also plays a very important part in the preservation of public morale. Some of these problems which bear on unfair distribution may be small in themselves as far as the amount of food is concerned—the amount of food consumed in restaurants and other places, for instance—but their effect on the public morale is very important. The people expect to be on somewhat short supply during war, but what they say of the Food Minister is that, if he must be a beast, let him be a just beast—that is to say, let all be treated fairly. As far as rationed foods are concerned, everyone is treated alike, rich and poor, the leisured and those who are employed, but it is not true of non-rationed food, and therefore I would ask my hon. and gallant Friend whether he would not give further consideration to the plea that has been addressed to him to extend rationing and to have registration for articles which he cannot ration. In my opinion his difficulties will be lessened if he will adopt a policy of this kind.
We hear a great deal from time to time about the shortage of certain things, such 480 as tobacco, but the Minister says there are adequate supplies. That may be true, but under present conditions a man, or for that matter a woman, does not know whether, if he can get tobacco this week, he will be able to get it next week, and there is a tendency to go from shop to shop and take more than is normal as a kind of insurance. If he were registered at one place and could only buy there, I think that would cease, and any sense of unfairness that exists at present would be removed. It is possible at present for a leisured person to scrounge for food and to have an advantage over those who are employed during the day. He has time to go from shop to shop and succeeds in picking up a bit here and a bit there. That creates a sense of injustice, and if anything will break down the work of the Ministry, it will be that sense of unfair treatment as between one section of the community and another. Registering or rationing will remove some of these difficulties.
In particular, in allocating supplies we must have regard to the children and see that they are the last to go short. In the consignment of oranges which recently came here I think the Ministry missed an opportunity. They should have been reserved for the children. We are told that some more are to come. Will the Minister take the matter into consideration and see that that is done? Another opportunity for feeding children is through the school canteens. I have discovered in my own area that it is increasingly difficult for those who have to provide the food for school canteens to get it. We are proposng an extension of school canteens because we believe that it is in the interests of the children and of the food position that we should encourage them. We cannot, however, get the food we require for the children who come at present, and such food as we can get can be obtained only after considerable effort. I have suggested before, and I repeat, that it ought to be possible for those responsible for administering school canteens, where they cannot get supplies from the local shops, to get the help of the food office in buying direct. That is the method by which food is obtained for the British Restaurants, and if it is considered the best for them, I do not see why it should not also apply to school canteens. I know from corre- 481 spondence that I have had that the difficulty of obtaining food for school canteens is not confined to any one district but extends throughout the country.
The Minister gave some figures about the number of British Restaurants that have been opened, and he praised local authorities for what they have done. Can he tell me why, if his Ministry are so keen on having these British Restaurants opened, they are so long in giving permission to local authorities to go on with the work? I will give an instance from the borough which I have the honour to represent. We applied some time ago for permission to open seven British Restaurants in various parts of the town. We have obtained permission so far to open only two, and I cannot understand why there should be this delay in regard to the other five. Some of them are in parts of the town where they are badly needed. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will see that these matters are speeded up, because it is very disappointing to local authorities, when they are told to get on with the job, to be held up after they have sent up their plans and arrangements. When they get the permission there is sometimes a difficulty in obtaining equipment. One understands that there are competing demands for the material from which the equipment is made, but may I make a suggestion? In certain towns that have suffered from enemy action some of the restaurants and catering establishments have been put out of action. In those instances the local food officer should have the power to buy up the equipment. I have heard that in many instances they have been put up for auction and gone to private purchasers. It would help considerably if, when any catering establishment is for one reason or another compelled to go out of business, the Ministry got hold of the equipment and passed it on to local authorities which require it for their restaurants.
Can my hon. and gallant Friend tell me what one has to do to obtain the standard bread which has been sponsored by his Ministry? In my constituency, as far as I can find out, it is unobtainable. If the Minister thinks that it is desirable that it should be widely used, I would ask him to consider whether it should not be exclusively used and whether steps ought not to be taken to see that this is the only bread obtainable. Even if he does not want to go as far as that, 482 he ought to take steps to see that it is easily obtainable by those who require it. If I have ventured to make one or two criticisms it is not because I do not realise that in the main the Ministry has done extremely well and, in particular, that the Committee and the country can have every confidence in the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
I am afraid that the criticisms I may have to offer may be set aside by suggestions that the administration was set up by those about whom the least said the easiest mended, and that it would be unfair to blame the Noble Lord and the Parliamentary Secretary for the mistakes in the initial stages of rationing. May I suggest, if it is not too late, that any new rationing should take place apart altogether from the National Registration scheme? Endless confusion has been caused among people living away from home in the initial stages when the National Register was made up. There were 100,000 people away from the city in which I live, and when rationing came into operation they were back in Glasgow, but there were no records and it caused considerable confusion. I understand that there is a possibility of complete re-rationing, and I suggest that it should take place on the basis of the persons who normally live at particular places instead of having anything to do with the National Registration scheme.
I have here one or two notes of actual experience of administration, and I am afraid that the rosy picture which the Parliamentary Secretary has painted was painted more according to what the Minister desired to do than to what has actually taken place. The Noble Lord the Minister for Aircraft Production talks about boys in the back room. I am satisfied that there is a number of boys in the back room at Colwyn Bay who do things that cause endless confusion, who set impossible time-tables for local food executive committees, and who ask for complete registration for certain items to take place within ten days without regard to the difficulties. Those instructions come pouring in week after week and month after month. I am almost convinced that as long as there is a sufficient number of numerals to go round those circulars will continue to emerge from Colwyn Bay, even supposing in their own 483 language a committee is instructed to deal with the circular as what they term ''confidential wastage." Valuable paper has been wasted and instructions have been given where there is no hope of carrying them into effect, and the back room boys at Colwyn Bay say to the food executive officer, "Will you kindly destroy the evidence and treat this as confidential wastage?" I have had considerable experience of local government work and I have nosed about in administration from one end of the country to the other, but I have to confess that the term "confidential wastage" is a new one on me. I can quote, if need be, from a document which was received from Colwyn Bay telling the Glasgow food executive officer to treat this matter as confidential wastage.
There was the change of retailers scheme, with Form R.G.23A. Of all the glorious imbecilities that ever emerged from Colwyn Bay this new scheme of changing retailers was the prize-taker. My executive officer refers to it as "the famous Form R.G.23A." It disorganised the work of changing retailers. The butcher who was displaced was getting allocations of meat for persons who were no longer on his register, and the new butcher selected by them was asked to supply meat for which he had received no authorisation. There was a glorious muddle. A form from Colwyn Bay, which was printed on both sides, whereas a single leaflet would have served as a folder and could have been posted as such, made no reference to whether the registered customer was an adult or a juvenile. As a consequence, where allocations were dropped it was on the basis of adults all the time. Communications were sent to Colwyn Bay for guidance in clearing up the matter, and then another new method was adopted of getting out of the difficulty. I believe it is a method well known to public men —that if you keep a letter long enough it usually answers itself. Colwyn Bay maintained a discreet silence. The thing was allowed to go on and, so far as I am aware, it is still going on. Not only were the wholesalers and the retailers disgruntled, but the consumers were placed in an absolutely impossible position.
Owing to the amount of meat available during the latter part of 1940, many 484 butchers supplied anyone with meat. This was particularly the case with Group I manufacturers, who, as far as can be ascertained, did not use all their meat for manufacturing purposes. I have been asking the Minister questions about Group I manufacturers, and to-day he indicated that he does not propose to make Group I manufacturers responsible to food executive officers. With all due respect to the Minister, there is no method of checking whether the supplies issued to Group I manufacturers have been used for manufacturing purposes or not. The manufacturers can do what they like, and it is nobody's responsibility to check them, because the finished product is not subject to rationing and not subject to check by any person. If he likes, a Group I manufacturer can sell all the meat allocated to him for manufacturing purposes across the counter as fresh meat, and he does it, in that way supplementing the rations of his registered customers, more especially when it is getting near the time when customers can change their butchers.
I have had Questions on the Order Paper dealing with Messrs. Lewis's Stores. I do not want to be misunderstood. I cannot explain to all the public outside that it is only a coincidence that the Noble Lord who presides over the Ministry was at one time connected with Lewis's. The man in the street does not give "two hoots" for the niceties of what was or what might be. Over a period of 13 weeks in 1938–39 this firm sold 8 cwts. of boiled beef ham. In a similar period of 10 weeks in 1940–41 they sold six tons. Where did they get it? They got it from one Group I manufacturer. It was manufactured from what is known as silverside, I admit boneless beef, but boneless beef of such a quality that it was deliberately intended for that purpose and not boneless as we understand for the manufacture of sausages and the cheaper commodities consumed by the working class. A peculiar thing about this business is that during the period when this firm were selling six tons of beef ham their supplier was restricted to 30 percent. of his 1938–39 requirements. Where did he get the raw material? The Minister has given me the assurance that he received only his allocation on the basis upon which allocations were made.
There is only one other explanation—and this is the crux of the question. The 485 firm who supplied the meat had on their books at one time approximately 47 customers, and during this period the number of customers dropped to 17. This firm was getting supplies diverted. Hon. Members will say, I am sure, "One firm's money is as good as another's." I know, but possibly it is not so plentiful with the others as in the case of the single individual. The result was that supplies of cooked meat were being diverted from working-class districts throughout the West of Scotland. I would add that this is only one illustration which I am-bringing to the notice of the Committee. What was the effect of this diversion? On Saturday forenoon the Glasgow transport system was in a state of chaos through people going to Lewis's Stores for the purpose of collecting beef ham. It cluttered up the transport, and it created discontent far beyond the boundaries of Glasgow, because it became the common talk that in any district where Lewis's did not operate there were no cooked meats to be got. No mention has been made of bringing tinned foods within the category of controlled foods. This same firm had tens of thousands of tins of cooked casserole stew. I am not exaggerating. It was purchased at 1s. 4d. per tin and was retailed to the public at 2s. When the management were called to book, they tried to justify 33 percent. profit as a reasonable selling profit. It is not lingerie they were trading in, but foodstuffs; and if the sale of foodstuffs was an ancillary to their principle business before the war it has now become one of the most important branches of the business—of that and other firms. They claimed at that time that 33 percent. profit was not an excess profit.
For some obscure reason, while those who were indulging in this practice were known, the public Press soft-pedalled. The reasons for that were not very far to seek. I have checked up on the matter, and it is strange that in every industrial part of Britain where these multiple stores operate, it is common talk that if you want anything in the food line you should go to Lewis's or to Marks and Spencer's. I am not suggesting that there is anything significant in the fact that the noble Lord was associated with the firm, but I am definitely stating that there is no control over the prices paid to manufacturers by persons who desire to secure almost a monopoly of their goods. When 486 I left Glasgow, cooked sausage was being sold at 2s. 6d. per lb. It must be a wonderful sausage. If the Ministry does not regulate such practices it will create more trouble than enough, and not only for itself as a national body but for food control committees.
We have protested times without number. It may be unusual for the chairman of a food control committee to be so inquisitive as to inquire from his food executive officers what is going on and to demand explanations, but, for good or for ill, I have made a practice of so doing since the Glasgow Food Committee was set up. We have protested to the Ministry in regard to the switching of the sugar ration. We have protested against the supply of sugar for manufacturing purposes. Sugar is supplied to ice-cream manufacturers who do not manufacture ice-cream. Any Italian who is left with a shop can draw sugar for the purpose of manufacturing ice-cream although he does not manufacture ice-cream. We have protested about the underworld of egg distribution. The Minister has asked me to give him the evidence about egg distributors who are charging 7s. a case over the invoice price. If he will give me a guarantee that the shopkeepers will get their normal supplies, all the evidence needed can be forthcoming.
There is no wholesale price for eggs in the West of Scotland. The Minister may say that there is a wholesale price and a retail price, but the retailers are faced with the position that, unless they are prepared to become parties to an illegal action they will be deprived of their supply of eggs and their customers, registered for other commodities, will buy their unrationed goods in establishments whose proprietors are not so particular. That kind of thing is going on all over the country. Why should people be compelled to queue up for eggs? The only queue you will see in any industrial city is the queue for eggs. I have five books deposited with the local co-operative society, and I have received three eggs in four weeks. Fishmongers will not tell you what they pay for eggs but they will tell you what they sell them for. They sell them for the controlled price. People do not like to go to a fishmonger's shop to ask for eggs but they will go for fish, in the hope that me man will unbend and let them have eggs as well. If we prosecute, as we sometimes 487 do—perhaps I ought not to mention this, as the Law Officers for Scotland are not here—you find that firms make £5,000 or £6,000 in one deal after they have paid their fines. You find a firm, with 19 previous convictions for violations of the Order, making a twentieth appearance, when they are fined £1. That sort of thing ought not to be permitted.
There are many difficulties confronting local food offices and first in importance are those imposed upon them by the boys in the back room at Colwyn Bay. If the Minister of Labour were here, I would suggest that he might, with advantage to the country, have a comb-out at Colwyn Bay. There is an issue of circulars and instructions by the hundred, as well as the cancellations that arrive at the food offices before the arrival of the circulars which they are designed to cancel. There are 86,000 forms lying in Glasgow food office and nobody will tell the committee what to do with them. I suppose they will be part of the confidential wastage. On the other hand, when you indent to have the windows of the office cleaned at a cost of 15s., you have to wait four and a half months—and even then there is no answer. There should be closer co-operation between Colwyn Bay and food executive officers. I suggest that the Minister might release some of the boys at Colwyn Bay and send them to the industrial areas to study the difficulties for the creation of which they are responsible.
Please bear in mind that food control staffs have been hastily got together and are not part of the Civil Service in the accepted sense of having been trained in the Civil Service. They have been asked to perform a very difficult job. I say, more in sorrow than in anger, that the cooperation expected from Colwyn Bay is not forthcoming. I make the final plea to the Minister that he should convey this message to his Noble Friend. However important it is that he should make weighty pronouncements on the wireless about what a magnificent administration can give to people by way of extra rations, he should be good enough to inform food executive officers about the matter beforehand, and give the date on which the concession is likely to come into operation. That is better than indicating to people by wireless that they can get extra rations of this, that or the other commodity and 488 having food offices besieged and retailers almost put out of business because the goods are not there to be supplied. We ask that Colwyn Bay should, at least, give us the co-operation to which we are entitled. We think that the question of cooked meat constitutes now a major problem. We cannot see any reason why Group I manufacturers should not be brought within control, and we cannot see how retailers who desire to play the game can do so if the wholesalers, who stand outside the scheme of control and with whom they are dealing, do not play the game by them. I hope that there will be closer relationship between food control committees and the powers-that-be at Colwyn Bay, but I am satisfied that if that closer co-operation is not forthcoming the confusion which has existed from time to time in big industrial areas will become worse as the food situation worsens.
§ Sir Ernest Graham-Little (London University)
I understand that this Debate is to be concerned largely with the distribution of food, but I hope that reference to another and closely allied subject, will be permissible. I consider that one of the most important questions of the present time, is the provision of bread which contains the wheat germ and the salts of the wheat germ. In the Debate on the Ministry of Food Estimates in July, 1940, a very large part of the time was occupied by discussion of the national loaf, and it will be remembered that the then Parliamentary Secretary announced that the Ministry contemplated the provision of a loaf which I think he called the "fortified loaf". A very eminent scientist has called it the "faked loaf" and some others have called it the "doctored loaf"—a name which I am inclined to think is an insult to my profession. At all events, it has been much debated, and 1 submit that it is a very much discredited loaf at the present time.
What is the pertinence of this problem at the present moment? I think it has two aspects. One is the shipping problem. As the Parliamentary Secretary had said to-day, there has been a "great tightening of the shipping position." The Minister without Portfolio told the House last November that the shipping position then very closely resembled that of April, 1917, which was the time of the most critical 489 position that had ever arisen in the food supply of this nation. What are the facts in regard to shipping? A very conservative estimate would place the saving to be effected by the introduction of a universal, compulsory whole wheat loaf at not less than 500,000 tons in a year, so there is ample evidence in support of the statement that shipping space would be materially saved by its compulsory introduction.
From the medical point of view, on which I, of course, can speak with more knowledge, the question becomes a very important one. There is now a shortage of many foodstuffs, notably milk, vegetables, and fruit—the staple provision of what are called vitamins, salts and other things necessary for nutrition. All those items are now practically unobtainable or are very difficult to obtain by the poorer classes of the community. If those supplies are removed, the importance of the remaining sources becomes correspondingly increased, and it is not too much to say that bread will be the principal, if not the sole, source of energy and vitamins for the population generally. The proposal to substitute, or to provide simultaneously, what has been called the reinforced loaf is, I submit, a very dangerous expedient, because people will be led to suppose that the reinforced loaf is, in fact, a proper substitute for the whole wheat loaf, which is entirely and absolutely a mistaken proposition.
How much this proposition has been contested will, I think, be obvious to anyone who has studied the Press or scientific journals in the last few months. All that is proposed to be done with the reinforced loaf is do add a totally inadequate quantity of one of the constituents, known as Vitamin B1. That is only one of a very important group of substances which are contained in the. wheat germ and which are excluded in the process of milling. Not only is that a matter of observation; it has also been a matter of experiment. A very important and authoritative experiment was carried out a few months ago, in which the flour contemplated by the Ministry for the making of the reinforced loaf was tested against wholemeal flour. The result of that experiment was absolutely crushing in favour of the whole wheat flour. It was carried out on rats—a very common means of testing such things— 490 and there is no question at all that the whole wheat loaf was enormously superior and that the official loaf "fell down" at once on trial.
The position I take up is that the whole wheat loaf is a natural product and that it has the constituents that are necessary. How far that is the opinion of scientists was admitted by the Noble Lord in the speech he made six or seven weeks ago, when he said that he was convinced by the unanimity of scientific opinion that the whole wheat loaf was very much more nutritious than any substitute. As a matter of fact, the Noble Lord has shown some symptoms of a welcome conversion from the position taken up by the Parliamentary Secretary in July, 1940. Then it was said that nobody would eat the loaf and that it was not worth providing. The Noble Lord, on the contrary, said that he was convinced that the whole wheat loaf was a very much better loaf, and that he trusted that those responsible for advising the public would press its claims. Everyone in the House will no doubt have seen the spate of advertisements from the Ministry of Food, in which the greatest possible praise is given to the whole wheat loaf.
That is quite a different position from that which was assumed in the Debate in 1940. We are told in these advertisements that it is the "plus" loaf; that everybody who has tried it likes it better than anything they have ever eaten before. Everybody is urged to ask for it, and, incidentally, I may say that if you do ask for it, as often as not you will not get it. That is because there is a repugnance, possibly natural, on the part of the millers and the bakers to supply that particular kind of loaf, one reason being that the processes of manufacture of whole wheat flour are much simpler than in the case of white flour, and much of their machinery lies idle in the course of its production, with consequent waste of capital. I, personally, have had difficulty in getting the loaf, and when I have had it it has been so badly baked and so utterly distasteful— simply full of salt—that it has been almost uneatable. I think we must, unfortunately, reckon with a certain tendency on the part of those who supply the loaf, which the Ministry is trying to induce the public to buy, to make it unpalatable.
The Minister's reason for not making this loaf compulsory has been a very un- 491 fortunate one. He seems to think that there will be difficulty in persuading the public to eat it, but surely, in the state of our country at the present time, we all gladly welcome compulsion if it is for the benefit of the nation as a whole. I do not think there would be any difficulty such as he anticipates. My right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) who was in charge of the Ministry of Food in the last war will, I think, bear out my statement that there was extremely little difficulty in getting that loaf accepted by the public. That reform was undertaken at perhaps the most critical period of the Great War in 1917 and 1918. The loaf was introduced in the summer of 1917. At the end of the war, that is at the end of two years after its introduction, comparison was made of health statistics before and after the use of the loaf, and a very important and valuable report was made sponsored by Professor Gowland Hopkins, who is the principal authority on vitamins, and Professor Ernest Starling, one of the greatest physiologists this country has ever produced. A very important and authoritative committee of the Royal Society examined the question and pronounced absolutely in favour of the whole wheat loaf, supporting the contention that the health of the nation had greatly improved by reason of its provision.
What is the obstacle to introducing this loaf at the present time? I confess I am unable to explain it. We have had in the last few days an announcement that the Union of South Africa, facing very much the same difficulties in the shortage of wheat, and desiring to provide the most nutritive loaf possible, have decreed that from 1st May this year white flour will not be sold in the Union on any terms. It may be asked, "What are you going to do with the reinforced loaf?" We have had very contradictory statements about the progress made in providing that loaf. Questions in Parliament have shown that the advent of that loaf has been postponed again and again. I, personally, have asked questions as to one of the important additions, the addition of calcium, which is regarded by a large number of qualified scientists as being undesirable. I have here a paper by some half-dozen chemists who have shown that calcium added to bread must be regarded as an adulteration, and that it 492 is highly undesirable from a health point of view. The clinical evidence—and, after all, this is a clinical matter—is contradictory, but, on the whole, it is against the addition of calcium. We are faced with the position that no action has yet been taken either as to the nature of the salt or as to the quantity to be added to bread.
The argument for the provision of the whole wheat loaf becomes progressively greater. I believe that there is a rule in banking, known as Gresham's Law, that if you have two currencies, one authentic and the other counterfeit, the counterfeit generally wins in the long run. I hope that the Minister will decide to abolish the counterfeit loaf, as I must describe it; and that he will bank upon the whole wheat loaf as an immediate and compulsory provision, without wasting any more time on persuasion. If there were no hurry and we could afford to pursue the very slow course of advertisements and so forth, I would say nothing. But that ought not to be our procedure at the present time. I urge the Minister to take courage and to proceed at once with the provision of a whole wheat loaf, on the lines, I am perfectly prepared to say, which were suggested in his last pronouncement. That is not a complete whole wheat loaf, but a loaf of approximately 85 percent. extraction. That is a very usual British compromise. Some of us would like 100 percent.; others say, "Let us be satisfied with the present 70 percent. extraction of the flour." Eighty-five percent. is a happy medium between those two extremes. A loaf of 85 percent. extraction, as a universal and compulsory provision, would, I think, satisfy all parties, and would, I am sure, be to the benefit of the nation.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
In seeking the indulgence of the Committee, I feel sure that it will be accorded to me in the customary manner. I wish to offer the Parliamentary Secretary my congratulations on handling, in such a skilful manner, what appeared to be a very difficult brief. I know that had the noble Lord, his chief, been in the hon. and gallant Member's place, different remarks would probably have been offered in the subsequent Debate. Up to a point, there is reason to believe that the business ability and wide business experience of the noble Lord the Minister have been 493 applied in his Department, in the execution of his duties, in a most satisfactory manner. But not all our hopes have been fulfilled. The noble Lord's speeches have often been loaded with promise, and we have had rosy pictures painted by him. But I believe that when deputations, of which I understand he has received many, have dared to challenge his judgment or his decisions, he has repeatedly said—in fact, I have heard him say so myself— that it is not his duty to rectify inequalities which have stood for years among groups and classes. That only means the perpetuation and intensification of injustices and unnecessary distinctions between rich and poor.
I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will forgive me if I remind him of the Industrial Commission which sat in 1917, during the last war. It was set up to inquire into the genuine causes of uneasiness and unrest in the country at that time. I believe it reported in July of that year. According to the report, it was agreed by the Commissioners that among causes of unrest the most serious appeared to be the prevailing high level of prices in relation to wages, and the unequal distribution of food. It is true that to-day we have a somewhat different position, although the present system is not altogether satisfactory. Unrationed foods are, almost invariably, either very scarce or prohibitive in price. We contend that no man, woman or child should go short of necessary foodstuffs while the better-off are able to purchase unlimited supplies at higher prices.
The Parliamentary Secretary spent some time to-day in justifying the big dinners served in restaurants and hotels. In first-class hotels and restaurants 6s. dinners and 5s. suppers can still be obtained. One often finds on the menus roast duck or roast fowl, boiled pigeon, and various other similar foodstuffs. None of these meals calls for the surrender of a single coupon, and there is usually on the plate a good shillings worth, the equivalent of a normal week's ration. The selling price of ducks and fowls has increased amazingly in the last few months. Boiling fowls that could have been purchased at 3s. 6d. a few months ago are now fetching at least 9s. 6d. or 10s. 6d. Apart from a few herrings and bloaters, the average housewife has difficulty in buying even a portion of fish, to augment 494 the very short ration of meat. That, it is fairly obvious, is the reason for the increase in the selling prices of these particular fowls. These restaurateurs and hotel proprietors are prepared to pay very high prices indeed to satisfy their wealthy clients. If the housewife wishes to augment her meagre shillings worth of meat each week, all that she can find in the butcher's shop is probably a few sausages, a cow heel or two, or maybe, a few animal lights. That is a subject of much comment at the present time in my division. Despite the Parliamentary Secretary's explanation, I cannot believe that he will allow this system to continue throughout the war. There is a ready-made opportunity awaiting him, if he wishes to use it. I do not know whether it is his intention to ask that those who partake of these big meals should surrender half a meat coupon. I believe that, if such an order were immediately introduced, we should soon regulate the demand, and the rabbits, poultry, ducks and fish would find their way back into the shops, and housewives would be able to purchase them at more reasonable prices than they can do to-day.
I am not unmindful of the ready-made contrast, which I have often heard mentioned, and which was referred to by the Parliamentary Secretary, that the workers have their own canteens. That is true in many cases, but there are many employers who ought to be encouraged considerably more than they have been in the past to provide facilities, which, up to now, they have not deemed it necessary to do. Where those canteens have been provided, they have been for workers who deserve extra rations. It is very necessary that the munition and factory workers should have a good hot meal during the day. In my boyhood days I can recall taking my small meal in a little basket or a red handkerchief to the workshop where I went each morning, but I am very glad to notice the change in industrial life to-day. If we could transfer some of these necessary foodstuffs back to the shops and make them more available to the housewives, these hotel and restaurant loungers would be given the kind of opportunity, which I would like to see them have, of having to queue up with the rest of us, because they seem to have plenty of time on their hands.
495 Several months ago the Noble Lord, in his messages to the housewives, suggested that they should go easy on the can-opener. I well remember the broadcast. I hope that he did not mean that in relation to canned vegetables. I took particular notice of what the Parliamentary Secretary said to-day when he referred to his visit probably to the corner grocery shop. I presume that, like me, he does a little shopping occasionally to help his wife. I am sure that he knows that, in our grocers' and greengrocers' shops to-day, there are considerable stocks of every known line of canned vegetables, but in recent months it has been very noticeable also that the selling prices of these canned vegetables have risen in most cases by about 100 percent. The housewife has naturally had to go slow with the can-opener, because she cannot afford to buy the canned vegetables.
There is also the price of fresh salads, which are almost a daily feature of the "Kitchen Front" talks just after the news each morning. They have been emphasising the need for using more fresh salads, but the majority of the housewives are asking who determines the prices for these fresh salads. Lettuces, which a little more than a year ago were costing 4d. and 5d., cannot be obtained to-day under 9d. or 10d., and housewives, naturally, ask who determines or fixes the prices of these fresh salads, causing them, unfortunately, to have to go without them. Mention has been made of the supply of oranges. The wireless communiqué told us of the valiant work that the Noble Lord had done in arranging the equitable distribution of these oranges and how he had been able to get them into different parts of the country. That is all very nice, and perhaps very juicy too, but I submit that the orange purchase, combined with the statement over the radio, was glorified window-dressing. His publicity department gave the signal to housewives last week-end to queue up on Monday morning to participate in their share of the Food Minister's Spanish raffle. That some housewives obtained a few oranges I have no doubt, but I wonder how many oranges went to the esquires and to the friends of the distributors. I have heard of some of them going into different quarters other than hospitals. The Par 496 liamentary Secretary may ask whether we do not agree with the importing of oranges in war time. We do not object to the importation of oranges in war-time if we can afford the shipping space, but when we have gathered the oranges into the harbour, I am sure that Members of this Committee would far rather see them go to the children, the clinics, nurseries, hospitals and particularly needy cases. Adults do not need oranges in war-time. Children should have first consideration.
The Ministers have possibly received various protests about the jam rationing scheme, to which the Parliamentary Secretary has referred. At best, it is only a partial rationing scheme. It fixes the minimum ration of a half-pound per head per month. It says that you may have, or that you are guaranteed your half-pound by the retailer. If he should have a surplus, then he may sell to whom he favours any surplus he may have in stock. I have already heard of one retailer buying over £8,000 worth of salvage stock from what is called the catch-as-catch-can wholesaler—I believe that that is the term used in the trade—and he is permitted to engage in a transaction such as that and to sell unlimited quantities to his registered customers.
I saw a resolution only last night passed by a local food committee a few miles outside London, and they themselves regarded the scheme as a hotch-potch system of rationing. The main weakness of the jam and marmalade scheme lies in the one fact that it does not guarantee to the retailer that he shall have enough jam to go round or to satisfy his customers, because there is no real co-ordination between the producer and the retailer. They have to rely in the main upon middlemen for supplies, and I would suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary should recommend to his Noble Friend an amendment of that particular weakness in the scheme. A few days ago I asked Questions in the House on the Milk Restriction Order, and afterwards I and others received an invitation to meet the Minister of Food and the Parliamentary Secretary to discuss this particular Order. Despite protests from all parts of the country and the explanation which the Parliamentary Secretary has given to-day, I cannot understand why the Minister of Food continues to say that the scheme is working up to expectations.
I will give an example which I believe is also a contradiction The Parliament- 497 ary Secretary said to-day that there was no intention of reducing or cutting the milk supply of customers who took only one pint of milk a day. Yet in almost the same sentence he said that if we were to have equitable rationing of milk, it would provide only two-fifths of a pint per day for each person in the country. If there art: two in a family and they take and continue to receive a pint, without suffering any cut, they will, according to his new interpretation of the Order, certainly get more than two-fifths of a pint per day. The Parliamentary Secretary admits that they would have only two-fifths of a pint each if everybody was rationed. On Monday I spent a little time studying newspapers, and I found that 42 weekly or daily papers had in the last nine days denounced the milk rationing scheme as a fiasco. They cannot all be wrong. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Well, no doubt many are not authoritative on the subject of milk, but the trade union membership which handles milk warned the Minister beforehand of the consequences of his scheme. Roundsmen at their conferences and meetings are protesting daily at this grotesque scheme and the tasks which have been imposed upon them. Roundsmen in Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester and London—I believe there was a deputation of them yesterday to interview Members of the House—have expressed their determination to get some alteration in this scheme as early as possible because they believe it is unsound.
When we met the Minister of Food he said—and I would like to remind the Committee of his words—"It is not my job to rectify all the inequalities that have existed for years." That was the only answer he gave to us; he certainly listened, but he did not give us any real undertaking that he would endeavour to introduce equality of sacrifice. We want to help the Minister to secure reserve stocks of cheese and canned and dried milk for the winter months, but we suggest that there must be equality of sacrifice by everyone. If the Minister still believes that a full scheme of rationing is unworkable, I would like to remind him of an offer suggested to me by fellow trade unionists. We will provide three competent dairy managers and two trade union officials, who will in a few days work out a simple scheme of rationing which they will put into operation within 498 a fortnight, which will ensure registration with one retailer and an equitable maximum daily unit of supplies for every consumer in the land, based upon the number of ration books held in each household. I make that offer in the name of the people who are willing to help the Minister.
I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary needs reminding of the wonderful book written after the last war by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). In it he said that the food problem in the last war was directly responsible for the collapse of Russia and that it was the final element which led to the collapse of Austria and Germany. Unquestionably, food is a munition of war, and inequitable distribution may mean the difference between solidarity and disunity in the country as a whole. Finally, I submit that if vision and imagination are applied by experts and advisers at the Ministry, if a more rigid rationing system is enforced and more equitable distribution is applied to all classes, it will do much to remove the uneasiness and unrest which are being expressed in all parts of the country to-day. We are not mentioning the words "uneasiness" and "unrest" because we like doing so, but because we feel we must. All-round efficiency at the top is essential if we are to pull through on this job. If we are to march shoulder to shoulder to that glorious victory which British workers believe in, then we must have the full co-operation of everybody, from the top to the bottom.
§ Miss Eleanor Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
I am sure all Members present would wish to congratulate the hon. Member who has just spoken on the success of his maiden effort. It was quite evident that he was speaking about a subject on which he has not only thoroughly strong feelings but about which he has considerable inside knowledge. To speeches of that kind the House of Commons always listens gladly, and I feel that we shall listen gladly when he addresses us again. I am able to pay that customary tribute with all the more sincerity because I found myself, so far as I was able to judge, in agreement with nearly everything he said.
When I listened to the extremely interesting speech of my hon. and gallant 499 Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, I was struck by one thing. He seemed to be under a misapprehension in thinking that what most of us were anxious about was that we were being rationed too strictly and that our one idea was that certain classes of people should get rather more than other classes. I share the anxieties about the inequality of distribution of foodstuffs, but to me the major anxiety is whether the community as a whole is not being allowed to eat much too freely. We are told day by day that the Battle of the Atlantic is a battle on which victory or defeat in this war will depend, and that it is more important than what happens in Greece, the Middle East, the Far East, or the Suez Canal. If that means anything, it means that there is a danger, if the Battle of the Atlantic goes awry, that we shall be starved of food and starved of munitions. Every meal unnecessarily consumed, whether it has been produced at home or has come from abroad—for one is a substitute for the other—means that more space in ships is taken by food and less space is available for munitions. Every unnecessary ounce of food that is consumed will contribute possibly to a defeat in the Battle of the Atlantic. I do not believe my hon. and gallant Friend can disagree with that proposition. If that be the state of things when the war has been going on for 18 months and the Battle of the Atlantic is at a very anxious stage, can it be right that people should be able to eat and drink as much as they please, the only limit being their spending capacity? For that is the situation.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has assured us that, with regard to meat, what happens in the restaurants does not so much matter because only about 8 percent. of the meat consumed in this country is consumed in public eating places. It seems to me rather curious that he should have told us that, and that in another part of his speech he should have said that the reason he was not extending to meat the rationing system that prevailed in the last war was that so many more people are eating in public eating places now than in the last war. I should have thought that argument cut exactly the other way. The more people are encouraged to eat in public eating places—and the whole process of calling into existence canteens and 500 communal dining rooms is an encouragement to people to eat in public eating places—the more the proportion of food consumed there will grow. That being so, how can it be safe to put no limits to the amount of food so consumed? I ask my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary: Suppose that he resumed his old profession and was the commander of the army of a beleagured city, and knew that the fate not only of that city but of the whole country of which the city formed a part would depend on how long his army could hold out, and that this, in turn, depended on how long the food held out, would he distribute the food in the kind of way he is allowing food to be distributed in this country? Would he exert no more control over it than he is exerting to-day?
We are practically not being asked to tighten our belts one bit. I am afraid the only result of this will be that the day may come when we shall have to tighten our belts to starvation point. There has been gross extravagance in the past in the whole of food expenditure. There is a tightening now, as the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out, because the pressure at sea has become greater. Does that tightening go far enough? In the matter of canned foods, the hon. and gallant Gentleman refused to give any reply to my Question, or to the Questions of other hon. Members, as to what is the position about canned foods. I cannot understand why he refused to do so. How could it help the enemy to know whether we are or are not restricting the consumption of canned foods? How could it help the trade to profiteer in them? The trade knows whether there is or is not a restriction. Have not hon. Members a right to know whether precious canned foods which will be far more needed in winter than in summer are being bought up and consumed as freely as spending power allows? The Parliamentary Secretary ought to be able to reassure us a little on that matter.
I come now to the question of relative distribution. Some people seem to think they have met my case when they point out that to-day the people who eat in hotels and restaurants are not only rich people. I never thought they were. If it were only a question of the rich, the rich in this country at the present time 501 are so few that, although it would be psychologically worse, it would be actually much better if only the rich were able to eat in restaurants. It is the better-paid section of the working-class population who are eating in restaurants and other public eating places. The proportion will grow as more public eating places are opened. But I do not think that movement will ever go so far—unless my hon. and gallant Friend and the Noble Lord change their system— that it will be true that the present system does not every day and in every way favour the relatively well-to-do' as compared with the really poor. Who arc the people who do not now, and probably never will be able to, feed in communal eating places? They are the mothers at home, with young children, and the children who go to school, hardly any of whom, relatively speaking, get school dinners now. They cannot afford to eat even in the cheapest of public restaurants. Tell a woman whose husband is earning £3 10s., or even £4 a week, to take her children to Lyons every day and get them a good dinner there, and she will laugh in your face and ask you how she could possibly afford to do any such thing. Therefore, the system of limited rationing, plus free eating in public eating places, is a disadvantage to the poorest class of the community and those whose health matters most—the rising generation, the young children.
What does a very poor woman feed her children on? What are the principal constituents of their daily meals? It is not meat. The rationing of meat does not matter so much to her, because she cannot afford meat. Nor can she afford butter. Perhaps she does not even get very much milk, because she can afford precious little for that, as a liquid drink. There is tea, with a liberal dose of milk in it and plenty of sugar; bread, and margarine and jam—all of them rationed foods, all of them foods which the woman can supply to her children only so far as her ration lasts. If my jam ration does not last, I can buy honey, which is far too expensive for the working-class mother. If my tea ration gives out, coffee is available, and if my sugar does not last, there is saccharine. Meat can be supplemented with poultry 502 and fish. All those supplementary things are far too expensive for the poor.
I think it was my hon. and gallant Friend who said that it was not the duty of those engaged in the Ministry to change all the fundamental inequalities of society. I know that is not their duty, but I will tell my hon. and gallant Friend one fundamental inequality which it is his duty to rectify, and that is, inequality of sacrifice which arises out of the war situation. He cannot change those monstrous inequalities between rich and poor which are a blot upon any community that calls itself Christian. We must wait for such a change, which can come only by gradual improvements that will bring us nearer to a sort of equality, at any rate an equality of opportunity. But when an inequality arises directly out of the war, it ought to be possible, and it is possible, to see that there is equality of sacrifice. Food distribution is a difficulty that arises out of the war, and it is monstrous that there should be such gross inequalities as there are at present. My hon. and gallant Friend said that the 8 percent. of meat consumed in public restaurants does not matter so much. I should like to know what proportion of all rationed foodstuffs, and not only meat, is consumed in public eating places. I shall try to extract that information from the hon. and gallant Gentleman by a Parliamentary Question if I do not get it to-day.
I can tell the Ministers that, psychologically, this question is by no means negligible. The people of this country, as the Minister has boasted, are standing up to the war miraculously, and are showing plenty of that spirit of pluck and self-sacrifice, about which the Prime Minister has justly boasted. Hitler will not get them down, but there is one thing that might, and that is the carking, nagging feeling that "It is all very well; they praise us and throw bouquets to us, but all the time it is we who have to bear the greater part of the sacrifice." If that feeling is allowed to spread, and if there is justification for it in the public mind, then beware. That may break down the morale of our people. If it is necessary for us to endure far greater sacrifices, even if we have to eat acorns, as some of the people in Spain are doing, as a temporary sacrifice, so long as we can keep going, what is that compared 503 with the sacrifice of the men in the Services who are risking their lives? We are willing to bear all that, but let us make quite sure that there is justice at the bottom of it. I do not think that the Ministry of Food is being conducted with anything like due regard to that principle of justice and equality of sacrifice.
§ Mr. Clynes (Manchester, Platting)
I was prevented from attending the Committee in time to listen to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. I have heard, however, from many sources such warm and appreciative compliments that I would like to join with others in congratulating him, adding my ardent wish for his continued and complete success in the arduous duties he has undertaken. Let me also say that I listened with the greatest interest to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Don-caster (Mr. E. Walkden), which, in form and substance, was a helpful contribution to the solution of an important problem. I trust the Parliamentary Secretary was not disappointed with it. I wish to offer a few observations on some aspects of the problem, and to cite one or two particular cases, which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will take note of with a view to their reconsideration. I am certain that whoever addresses the Committee on this subject will be mindful of the enormous difficulties of the Ministry of Food in seeking to satisfy the appetites of millions of people several times a day, and to do the just thing as between groups and classes. If we allow for all these difficulties, we are entitled to ask whether these problems have been satisfactorily handled within the powers of the Ministry, and whether they have always been skilfully thought out by those personally responsible. The Minister is faced nearly every day with new problems. Conditions are constantly changing. When ships are sunk the food goes down with them, and we suffer a loss. The disappointment must often have been bitter when news of sinkings has reached the Ministry.
We must ask, however, what has caused food to disappear from the market when prices and supplies have been fixed by the Ministry? We have had no explanation of how that occurs. It has occurred so frequently that it has become common knowledge, and the Ministry 504 must accept responsibility for the evasion of its services, its decisions and its duties. The Government is the buyer of food, the owner of food, the price-fixer and the distributor. They have unlimited powers to do all that must needs be done to make the best use of the food which comes to these shores. They must work under conditions of shortage, if actual shortage there be. Let us pay those who are working in food distribution fairly for their services, but let us make them pay if they try to evade that duty. There are very severe penalties imposed upon a workman who evades his duty. A number of workmen have been fined and some imprisoned for failing to turn up for their work. If workmen are to be punished for evading their duties in time of war, the food traders who fail to fulfil their functions, whether they are retailers or wholesalers, should be compelled, as others are, to discharge their duties.
I submit that there are three minimum requirements to be sought after and achieved. In the first place the duty of the Minister of Food is to bring about complete suppression of profiteering, because high prices mean a prohibitive barrier has been erected against the poor as a particular class, and that they are thereby greatly handicapped. Secondly, there should be complete prevention of extortionate prices. I have been puzzled and startled, on making inquiries recently, by the prices of poultry and fish, which are, of course, unrationed food. We are told that these commodities can be bought by the rich, and that there is a considerable artisan population in this country who are earning fairly good money for their work. But I am told, in my own household, that fish, which could be bought for 6d. two or three years ago, now costs 3s., and that the position is even worse in the case of poultry. These increased prices are an extortion and ought to be prevented. The third object which we must regard as a minimum achievement by the Ministry of Food, is equitable distribution from the source to the shop. I do not believe that in all circumstances, and in respect of all foods, those conditions have been established.
These, then, are minimum requirements. They should not merely be the aim or the object. They should be presented to us in the form of actual achievements. It is clear that some food traders 505 are evading their duty. If food traders or shopkeepers are deliberately refusing to serve the public, they should not escape punishment. If the Ministry at present has not sufficient power to pursue any offending class in the right direction, Parliament would readily grant any further powers that may be required. My own feeling, based upon personal experience that I have had and upon a general knowledge of the British public, is that only a minority commit these wrongs and act unfairly to their fellows. But a minority can work much mischief and be the cause of: very great uneasiness and discontent. My view is that the vast majority of both traders and customers are honourable and fair in their dealings, and those who are not must be helped to resist temptation by State action which would make it impossible for them to do wrong. That, indeed, is the main purpose of most, if not all, law. I read the other night a most informing and interesting article in the "Star" which came from the pen of Wilson Midgley, an example of what was done in old England some 600 years ago by Kings and rulers who sought to prevent injustice to the people. King John took certain action with regard to offences committed by London bakers, and the record, as given to us by Mr. Midgley, was expressed in these words:The bakers were all alike watched and pursued by the magistrates, who put them in the pillory and had them dragged in the streets on a hurdle with the offending loaves tied round their neck when the loaves were short weight.For myself I should be a little more considerate. I do not want exhibitions or demonstrations to be carried so far, but it is essential that these offenders should be set up as examples in order that others shall not follow their evil courses. One means of preventing a good deal of this trouble was discovered and applied in the Food Ministry during the last war, and it operated through what we called a Consumers' Council. With the consent of my chief at that time, the late Lord Rhondda, I was able to bring together some 20 or more persons of great experience representing different classes of the public. They sat and worked within the Ministry and in close touch with various officials at the head of the different Departments. They formed a critical and constructive body. They felt their responsibility and they brought every week within the Min- 506 istry the experience of the prior week and the knowledge gained from the contacts which they had with the numerous classes which make up the British public. There is no Consumers' Council in the present Ministry. If there is anything like an equivalent body, I should be glad to hear of it. I am told that there are periodical consultations with some body which has not, as far as I know, been clearly defined. If there is any regular consultation of this kind, some such body equivalent to what the Consumers' Council was, ought to be created.
May I quote one or two particular cases to illustrate inequalities which are preventable and ought to be stopped? An endeavour has been made to do the right thing by those who are working exceptionally hard. There are sections of railway workers whose work is rather irregular and keeps them from home throughout the day, and very often a large part of the night. They require more than those who live a normal life and enjoy regular hours. I have received letters from sections of railwaymen justly expressing their grievances. I communicated with the Minister some time ago regarding groups of quarry-workers. I have had close contact with quarry-workers in my more active days as a trade union officer and I know something of the arduousness of their work. It is a much exposed job. They have heavy loads to carry, to lift, and to break, and I cannot imagine any section of the working-class more entitled to additional food, if any section is to have additional food. The Noble Lord's answer was that as far as there had been selection for additional food, the selections had been made after fair discussion with certain Labour representatives—I think that was the right form —and the truth of the matter was that selection was very difficult after all.
That is quite true, but what is the good of doing an easy job? The difficult jobs are made to be taken in hand by administrators and it is not enough to say it is difficult to do a thing. All those who accept onerous positions must make themselves equal to' such positions and overcome the difficulties if it is humanly possible to do so. I saw a letter in the "Daily Herald" some days ago from a quarry-worker who had fought throughout the last war. His son, aged 16, is work- 507 ing on the land and, because of the class of work that he is doing, is receiving an additional ration of food. The son of 16, doing a lighter job, receives an additional ration but the father still must go without. I think these are cases for reconsideration. No decision can be so perfect as never to need further consideration by those in authority. Despite the suffering of the public, they exhibit the greatest fortitude and the greatest confidence in those who are guiding the affairs of the country. The Minister must double the skill and courage that war time demands, if the good will of the public is to be retained. With a combination of statesmanship and with the continued confidence of the British public we need not fear the end of the war.
Mr. Robertson (Streatham)
It gives me much pleasure to follow my old chief, who was head of the Ministry of Food in the last war, and I only regret that the pangs of hunger drove me out of the House and prevented my hearing the whole of his speech. The Parliamentary Secretary said that if his Department had made mistakes, they frankly admitted them. I have some points in regard to them, and I hope that if I am right, the same kind of mistakes will not occur again, because they are of major importance. The meat ration was introduced on 16th March, 1940, at 1s. 10d. per head. It continued until 27th September at that rate. On the following day it became 2s. 2d., and on the 7th December it became 1s. 10d. On 1st January it was reduced to 1s. 6d. and on 4th January to 1s. 2d. Within a period of two calendar months the meat ration, the basic food ration of the country, was reduced by almost one-half. Yet the Parliamentary Secretary told us to-day that if the meat consumed in all the restaurants, hotels, canteens and other catering enterprises were taken from them and added to the household ration, it would amount to only one-thirteenth. In a period of two months, however, the Ministry of Food reduced the national ration of meat by one-half. What is the reason? What kind of accounts can this Department keep? What kind of stock account can they keep? Have they no idea of what is in store, of what they have purchased from the Argentine and elsewhere? Do they not know what is coming to them? 508 They cannot, or this situation would never have occurred.
I remember that about that time of the year—it happens every year. —cattle and sheep were coming in from the hills at the end of the summer season, and they were being tendered for sale at the auction marts throughout the country but sent back to the farmers because the Ministry of Food could not deal with them. The Ministry had to break their agreements, and the farmers had to take their beasts back and lose money, because in the winter the beasts lose weight and cost more in keep. Why were they not killed and put into cold storage? I am in the cold storage business when I am in anything but politics, and I can tell the Minister that there was plenty of room in the cold stores at that date. There was no need to bring in panic legislation to increase the ration to 2s. 2d. to deal with the surplus and then to reduce it. At that time frozen meat which might have been kept in store was being lashed out every week. The result is that we have trifled with the manual workers, who are our sacred trust, the heavy workers in coal mining and other industries, who have to do a heavy week's work on 1s. worth of meat. This country will work on no meat at all if necessary, but it will not put up with ministerial bungling of that kind.
The basis of the meat ration during the past months has been home-produced cattle and sheep. I am particularly interested in that question, because in the absence of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Peebles and Southern (Captain Ramsay) I have been meeting farmers there recently—farmers who cannot get a livelihood because of the ridiculously low prices which they are paid for their mutton. Their light-weight hill sheep have been the basis of the ration and have kept the country going during the winter. The State, through the Ministry of Food, says to them, "You produce the best mutton in the world, but you produce the worst wool, so we are going to give you a flat rate for mutton and the lowest price for wool." That is not a fair equation, and my hon. and gallant Friend will have to put it right if he wishes the sheep farmers to continue. In one estate on the border of Peebles there are 48 hill-sheep farms unlet. These farms should not be unlet in war- 509 time, and they would be quickly occupied if the Ministry paid a decent return to the farmer. It is not within the Ministry's terms of reference to keep the great hill-sheep farming industry in a state of suspended bankruptcy. If it was represented by a powerful trade union that would not happen. The industry consists of little individual fellows in the West Highlands, Wales and Cumberland. They are not very articulate and have not a very strong organisation to support them, but there are Members of this House who will support them, and I am one of them.
I mentioned that I was interested in the cold-storage industry, and I said that because to a minute extent I am interested in the profits. In September, when enemy attacks became heavy, the Ministry of Food properly decided to take over the whole of the cold storage industry. The purpose, I imagine, was to ensure that in any circumstances every cold store would be kept working whether it was possible to do it economically or not. Many of the stores were in a position to receive fat cattle and sheep, the comparatively empty state I have already mentioned. This scheme was introduced, and it will interest the Committee to know that it cut right across two major measures, the Excess Profits Tax and Income Tax. The industry was called to a meeting at Colwyn Bay where they met what my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) called "the boys in the back room." They were told that it was all wrong that excess profits should be taken out of the industry and that it was all wrong what Parliament had done. Parliament decided that the Excess Profits Tax should be levied and how the money was to be spent, but the Colwyn Bay boys said, "It is all wrong." The industry did not mind because they were losing the money anyway. This was a national risk, a risk of cold stores being damaged, and it was right to keep them open, but improper to keep them open by expenditure not directly controlled by this House.
Cold Storage Companies were being deprived of their pre-war standard of profits. I know a company whose two years' pre-war standard of profits of £11,000 would have been reduced to £400. When the trade woke up to the fact that they were having to pay an insurance premium for this national risk, they asked the Min- 510 istry to receive them so that they could negotiate with them. The trade were invited to Colwyn Bay to negotiate about the scheme, which was a complex one and surrounded by all the papers which my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton- shire mentioned. It was difficult for the people in the trade to understand all its complexities. When they went to Colwyn Bay they were handed an Order promulgated on the previous day under the Emergency Powers Act, and this made it impossible for them to negotiate, for it laid down the terms under which cold stores were to be taken over. They were not told that the Order was subject to the approval of this House. If they had been they would have got into touch with Members of Parliament. I only accidentally learned of it and was able to go to my hon. and gallant Friend. I thank him for the way in which, at the eleventh hour, within a minute of the Order becoming law, he realised that the reports which I put to him were correct. He increased the basic gross revenue by 150 percent. and the maximum gross revenue by 50 percent. If I had not intervened, and if he had not received me in a sympathetic manner, the Order would have been law, and the industry, because of their lack of representation, would have been treated in a most unfair way. The cold-storage industry, like all others, is anxious to co-operate with the Ministry, you can have everything if the country needs it in an emergency, but you have no right to invent special regulations to give them less than a bare livelihood. That has never been authorised by this House. I earnestly hope that the Committee will take notice of the dangerous situation which arises when officials can, under emergency powers which were given to enable us to face the enemy at the gates, promulgate an Order which makes futile the legislation of the Finance Act which we had examined here Clause by Clause.
I have a point to make in regard to the fishing industry. There have been a good many references to this vital industry. Many months before the war broke out I went to the Food Defence Plans Department. In the last war there was no Food Defence Plans Department working for some 18 months before war broke out. The Ministry of Food started at that time in 1916, and Lord Rhondda and others improvised as they went along, yet they 511 made a good job of it. I went to the Food Defence Plans Department with my 20 years' experience in the fishing industry as a director of trawling companies and distributing companies, and I told them that fish would become scarce in war, because I felt certain that the Admiralty would call up vessels. I was told, "Fish is not an essential." The Parliamentary Secretary has repeated that to-day. But it becomes very essential when people have only 1s. worth of meat per week.
Major Lloyd George
I cannot let that statement pass. I did not at any time say that, in my speech or anywhere else.
My hon. and gallant Friend said that in regard to essential matters his Ministry had done a good job of work and obviously —
Major Lloyd George
I really must correct my hon. Friend. The point was that certain essential foods imported into this country were regarded as staple commodities and they were controlled because they came to the ports, and therefore the Ministry had complete control from the time they were landed.
That reply is most unconvincing. I was told at the Ministry of Food, and it is my deep impression, that fish has not been controlled because it was regarded as a non-essential article of food. I wonder what people are expected to live on. Fish is very important when the food supply is so much reduced. I grant the Ministry of Food full measure of praise for what they have succeeded in doing, and I think that on the whole they have done a good job, but when they have done a bad job, as in the case of fish, I hope they will listen to representations and put their house in order even after the lapse of two years. We are faced with a situation in which fish prices have risen to unheard of levels. I telephoned one of the leading companies the other day to get their prices, and I found that during the last four weeks the middle cut of cod had made 3s. per lb. Salmon seldom makes that price at this time of the year. Fresh haddocks were 2s. 3d. per lb. —with the heads on, and with the bone and the skin. Smoked haddocks were 3s. per lb., middle cut of hake 3s. 6d. per lb., plaice 3s., lemon soles 3s. 3d., Dover soles 5s., whiting 2s. 3d. —whiting, normally sold at about 3d. a lb. —and skinned skate 2s. per 512 lb. Those prices are beyond the reach of ordinary people. When I asked a Question on the subject I was told that this was one of the most difficult problems the Ministry have had to face. Is there anything more incredible? In February, 1918, an order was brought in to put an end to high prices, and fish was brought within the reach of every member of the public. My Noble Friend the Minister of Food, speaking in another place, said as part of his defence for taking no action in regard to fish:The moment we say that the price shall be the same everywhere the trader tends to sell his goods at the place where he will make the most profit. If he lauds his fish at Fleet-wood it is no advantage for him to pay for the transport to Birmingham if he can sell it in Manchester or elsewhere.The trader does not land fish anywhere. The trawler-owner lands fish and puts it up for sale by auction at the port. The high price of fish is due to the working of the inexorable law of supply and demand. It is on account of the shortage of other kinds of food that fish prices are soaring—because people must eat if they are to live. Surely it is within the compass of the Ministry of Food to arrange for the fish to be sold on a free-on-rail basis, so that the trader pays the carriage whether he lives in Louth or Manchester, or at Land's End. What is the good of quibbling? In the whole of Great Britain the difference in carriage, even from the most distant ports, does not account for more than 1d. per lb., and I have given prices which show that fish is selling up to 3s. per lb. What is the incidence of 1d. on 3s.? Here is another of the Noble Lord's portentous sayings—
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)
The hon. Member is, I think, quoting from the Official Report of the proceedings of another place, and that is not allowed according to our Rules.
I ask the Committee to accept my apologies. I am a comparatively new Member and am still unfamiliar with all the Rules of Procedure.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
On a point of Order. Am I right in assuming that an hon. Member may quote from memory?
The statement to which I was about to refer had the suggestion behind it that the fish trade should put its 513 house in order and that, if it failed to do so, the Government would come in and control it. That is what this House has been asking the Minister to do for months past. When on the 16th March, 1940, meat rationing was brought into force, a Maximum Prices Order for fish should have been introduced. Who is getting this money? It is not the fish trade which is getting the money. The trawler-owners, after years of adversity, have no pre-war standard of profits. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the profiteer, and the Ministry of Food have put him into that position by their failure to control. In his Budget speech my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said: "We are eliminating profiteers." The Ministry of Food have made the Chancellor the profiteer. The trawlers are earning on the average 200 percent., but with the exception of a few pickings which they get every penny goes back to the State, because they have no pre-war standard of profit. The Government, while subsidising food to the extent of £2,000,000 a week in order to keep down the cost of living, are forcing up the price of fish by refusing to control it, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is getting the money. I say, and I hope the Committee will support me, that we must compel the Ministry of Food to control the price of fish, so that people can afford to buy it, and I earnestly hope that will come to pass.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I am sure that the Committee has listened with the greatest interest to the very forceful speech which we have just heard. I am certain that the Committee will give the hon. Member a full measure of support for all the points that he has put to us. I would join with other hon. Members in congratulating the Minister upon his comprehensive, cogent and very fair survey of the position. He showed a mastery of fact which some of us associate not only with him, but, by tradition, with his right hon. father. Lord Woolton, with the conception that he has of his position, has done his task fairly satisfactorily. One cannot put it any higher than that, and one has to qualify it by saying "with the conception that he has of his task." There seems to have been, and I am afraid there still is, in the minds of certain members of the Government the 514 idea that the Government should not interfere more than in peace-time, unless absolutely necessary, with ordinary routine. The Minister of Food should equitably distribute among all the people the fair and just ration for each person; that is his primary duty. His second duty is to try to use every measure to ensure that that ration is forthcoming.
It was interesting to hear the Parliamentary Secretary himself point out the weakness of the position of the Ministry of Food. He rightly drew a very careful distinction between imported food and food produced in this country. The position that was established, I think by the first Minister of Food, was that you had to buy at the cheapest prices the food which came into the country, and then to distribute it; but we have gone beyond that position. The Minister of Food knows where he can get his imported food and when he can buy it, and he fixes the price at which he gets it. The only thing which limits him is the very essential factor of shipping space. From time to time, shipping space is allotted to him, and he does his best to fill it. Sometimes there are unfortunate discrepancies between the shipping space allotted and his ability to get the goods to fill it. Un fortunately, the amount of food that is coming in is narrowing. The other leg on which the Minister relies, the food produced in this country, ought to be expanding as the other supply narrows, but over home-produced food he has no control whatsoever. How he carries out his work even as well as he does is almost a miracle and —