§ Again considered in Committee,
§ [COLONEL CLIFTON BROWN IN THE CHAIR.]
Question again 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.
§ Mr. Clement Davies
I was pointing out the difficulties that are confronting the Minister. They are even much greater than those which confronted Lord Rhondda and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) in the last war. There are 6,000,000 more mouths to feed, and the food that arrives here is concentrated in three main ports —the Clyde, the Mersey and the Bristol Channel. There is not that equal distribution that was possible during the years 1914–18, when the Channel and even the Eastern ports were available, so his task is an immense one. The way I look at it is that he has to make up his mind, with the aid of the advice given to him, as to what food is necessary to feed the millions who are here—the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, and the civil population.
I was very glad to hear, in the excellent maiden speech to which we have listened, a reference to the fourth volume of the Memoirs of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I would commend the reading of that volume once again to Members of this House. One has read it in the past, and at that time it was like reading history, but to read it to-day is to read a living story through which we are again passing. In it the author deals very vividly with the food situation when he took office as Prime Minister at the end of 1916, and points out that it was on food that Russia, Austria and ultimately Germany broke, with the warning that we nearly broke at the self-same time. That is the task confronting the Minister, and he has to make up his mind what he requires. He is in a position to direct what shall come overseas, and as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, he imports only the essentials and nothing more. When they do come in they are the property of the Minister for distribution. He has paid for them, and they are his as they arrive in port, at the price which he dictates.
516 Not so the other half, which is. produced in this country, and that is what I have asked for, in season and out of season in this House, namely, that a position of power should be taken by the Minister of Food over all food production in this country, and that the Minister of Agriculture should be in the position of his factory manager. He should be able to dictate to the Minister of Agriculture, and, when the quantities imported are becoming smaller or are unreliable, he should be able to ask for an expansion of home production. It should then be the duty of the Minister of Agriculture to consult with his experts on how to obtain that expansion. If he is not able to do so because of vested interests, they should not be allowed to stand in the way. If he cannot expand the production because of a lack of machinery, labour, manure or seeds, all these things should be made available to him with the backing of the Minister of Food, so that, as far as it is possible to make sure of anything, production would be forthcoming. Then I would ask that when the food is produced, and as it is produced, it should belong to the Minister of Food in exactly the same way as does that which comes in by the other channels, and at a fair price to the farmers.
All the time I feel, with regard to this Government, that we are carrying on this war as to about 50 percent. under peace rules and only as to the remaining 50 percent. under war rules. Surely it ought to be 100 percent. war rules at least by now, when we have reached about the 20th month of the war. The organisation should be perfected in order to know as precisely as human ingenuity allows what food is forthcoming, and then it will be possible to make a proper distribution. It is no wonder that inequalities exist to-day, no wonder that there are plenty of eggs in one place and a shortage in another, bacon in one place and none in another. There is a wrong distribution even of rationed articles, and we all know of the maldistribution of unrationed articles.
That brings me to my second point. Instead of rationing being a burden, rationing is the only fair thing for all of us. It ought to be universally applied to all foods, and it ought to be so framed that it would be vocational. Why should I, who, except in a most occasional way, never do manual labour, get exactly the 517 same ration as the people for whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting spoke, the quarrymen, striving all day in the heat and turmoil? There should be vocational rationing, for the sake of those doing heavy work, the miner, the quarryman, the factory worker, the farm labourer. This matter can be, and has been, worked out by the British Medical Association. I suggest that the Ministry call in the best experts, including, of course, Sir John Orr, to work out the proper rations for us all, according to our vocations; and that they should try to ensure that those rations are supplied. I ask for equity for every one of us, so that no man should be better treated than another, according to their just needs and their vocations, and that there should be a guarantee that that amount should be forthcoming. Then one will not go without while another gets plenty.
For that reason, I support the hon. Lady and others who have protested against non-rationing in restaurants. This has a very bad psychological effect. Speaking for myself—and I daresay other Members are similarly placed—I have not seen my ration card since it was issued to me. I have handed it in at my home, and I hope that the people at home, and the little evacuees there, get the benefit of my rations. But I have not gone short of a single thing; on no single day have I been without a meal.
§ Mr. Davies
That is what I am pointing out; it should stop. In the last war we had to carry these ration cards about with us, and we could not have more than our rations. That should be the position to-day. The rackets going on with regard to prices and supplies ought to be, and could be, stopped. If you had universal rationing, you would not get the position that you have to-day, that those working all day, who get free only late in the evening, find when they go to fetch their rationed, or unrationed, goods that the shop is empty. The harder people work and the longer hours they work, especially the women, the less chance they have of getting their rations, or of getting unrationed goods either. The less they do, the more time they have at home, the earlier they can be at the shop. The only way to abolish 518 queues and dissatisfaction and the lowering of morale is to treat all on a fair basis; to guarantee each of us that he will get no more than any other, except for vocational reasons; and to see that the food is bought by the Ministry of Food at a fair price, and distributed by the Ministry of Food at a fair price.
§ Mr. Mort (Swansea, East)
There is a particular point which I should like to stress, and it has been referred to by a number of hon. Members. It is the case of those men who perform very heavy manual labour. In my constituency there are three categories of men concerned: the tinplate workers, the steel workers, and the dockers. I am not suggesting that they are the only ones— I know that they are not—but, because they are in my constituency, I want to refer to them. I would make special reference to the steel smelters. I worked for 25 years in a steel works, including the period of the last war. I want to bring to the notice of the Committee and of the Minister some of the conditions that exist for steel workers. I realise that hon. Members who have not been engaged in the steel industry cannot appreciate the arduous tasks of these men and the difficult circumstances under which they labour at present.
In regard to cheese, the Minister has established a precedent. I put down a Question on that subject to-day, but I did not get much change. In allowing this extra portion of cheese for the agricultural worker and for the miner—and I have no quarrel with that—the Minister has admitted a very great principle, that certain grades of workers, because of the circumstances of their calling, are entitled to extra consideration above what is given to others. We in the House of Commons are very fond of precedents. He is a very brave man who will do anything here that nobody has done before. The working man has a great regard for precedent, too. If I could take the Minister on the stage of a smelting shop and introduce him to a first-hand steel smelter, he might be asked by the smelter, '' Having made a concession in favour of the agricultural worker and the miner, do you not think that I, working in these circumstances, am entitled to extra consideration, too?" The steel smelter is entitled to extra meat or bacon. It is imperative that he should get it. A man 519 who has to perform eight hours' hard physical labour, in dust and smoke— which is now aggravated by the black-out regulations—in sweltering heat, must have an extra allowance of such food, in order to retain his ability to do work which is so essential to the nation. The steel smelter expends more effort in eight hours than we do in eight years. Nobody disputes that. A lighter diet might do many of us much good. I cannot help comparing my experience during this war with my experience during the last war. The steel smelter is always bathed in perspiration. When he sits down to eat his food he is not in a well-aired canteen; he has to take his food on the stage, among the dust and the smoke.
There is another aspect that I would like the Minister to observe. These men really want what is described in the trade as "nice little bits." Men who have to work in these conditions require an appetite tickler, but in this strange social' system under which we are living, it is left to the first-class hotels to stimulate the jaded appetites of people who do not want the food. The provision of canteens is no solution for the steelworkers' difficulty. The steel smelter, like the soldier, cannot leave his job; he has to be there. I would like especially to make an appeal to the Minister. He said that he had consulted the trade unions of the agricultural labourers and the miners. I want him also to extend that consultation to the trade unions operating for the steel and the tinplate workers. They are well organised, and I can assure him that a case will not be presented to him for any extra special treatment. I am not making out a case as though the steel smelter is the only man who has to perform hard physical labour for eight hours a day, but the physical energy of these men becomes exhausted and must be remade and rebuilt, and it can only be done by the provision of these things. It would be no sacrifice to me, if I was told that I could not get any more bacon. I could do without bacon, but an extra allowance of bacon for the steel smelter would be a great thing. I appeal to the Minister not to dismiss this appeal on an arithmetical basis. I hope that the Minister will not obtain the figures of the steel and the tin-plate trades from another Department and say that there are too many of them. I 520 am not pleading for every man in the steel and tinplate trades, but for those men who work on what is described as the plant. If the Minister will do that, I am sure he will obtain sufficient evidence to prove that what I have endeavoured to present, perhaps in a faulty manner, is well-founded.
§ Mr. Muff (Hull, East)
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for East Swansea (Mr. Mort) has emphasised the matter of the extra ration of cheese, because one of the points I wish to make is to bring to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary the fact that another Department of State allows one ounce of cheese, one ounce of jam and one ounce of syrup per day to all internees. As one who has visited these internment camps and has seen that most of these internees are not occupied in arduous tasks, I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Food should readjust the ration here, without injustice even to the internees. Again, as one who habitually visits prisons, I would direct the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to another branch of His Majesty's services, and point out that the food scales for prisoners are the same to-day as they were seven or eight years ago. We provide cheese in prison and also other luxuries. With the exception of Dartmoor prisoners, some of whom are quarrymen, most of the prisoners in other prisons are engaged in sedentary occupations, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to see that a proper readjustment is made in the distribution of food.
The hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) mentioned a reserve of canned food. As one who has devoted some 20 years of his life to the distribution of canned food, I wish to bring to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary the great danger of profiteering in canned foods. So far his Ministry has done very little in regard to this matter. I do not wish to mention the name of a firm of canners in order possibly to give them a free advertisement, but their price this week for canned soup is 4s. 7½d. per dozen. The same kind of soup, with the same label, is quoted by another firm with a very high sounding name, within five minutes of this place, at 8s. 9d. Another firm quotes 94s. per dozen for gallon 521 tins of plums, in water. The quotation on the statement that the December standard should be accepted, and that there should be no advance on those prices, should be nearer 25s. than 94s. The Ministry of Food has cut off the supply of canned lobster. Therefore canned crayfish, or crawfish or misnamed spinny lobster, call it whatever you will, is 10d. to 1s. per tin. The price quoted by reputed firms in Liverpool was 50s. for four dozen tins, but a firm with the good old English name of Levi quotes 1s. 6d. or 72s. for four dozen tins. This is a temptation to the South African canners to put up their prices correspondingly, when the actual price should be nearer 50s. for four dozen tins. And so I could go on.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman allowed a licence for the importation of five-ounce tins of pilchards from California. The price of these was 3s. per dozen. He sends his detective force snooping around among the little shopkeepers to see whom they can catch profiteering. These little shopkeepers and some of the co-operative stores bought these five-ounce tins containing food, mind you, at 5s. per dozen, and now down comes the hon. and gallant Gentleman with his heavy foot and says that they must be sold at 4½d. per tin. Why does he allow notorious persons to buy salvage and other stocks indirectly? My friend with the good old English name can afford to send his agents to various places where he knows they have had deliveries in order to buy up stocks. I have given the instance of the South African crawfish, which is, indeed, the only canned fish anybody can buy. I could also mention other quotations, but I have already brought these actual quotations to the attention of the Minister, with, I must say, very little success. My hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) apparently objects to the use of the word "profit," and therefore to please him I will call it "the proper reward for services." I think that the hon. and gallant Member will have to reconsider the question of the reward for services in respect of the small shopkeeper. I say the "small shopkeeper" because he is voiceless. The multiple men are powerful; the co-operative societies, very properly, have their mouthpieces, and their case is put most ably 522 not only in this country but on the Floor of the House. I do, therefore, plead with the Parliamentary Secretary to devote more attention to the fountain head of distribution before actual distribution to the small shopkeeper takes place rather than sending his detectives snooping around to try and catch these people out. In every county and locality he has his committees, and if they hear of cases of profiteering, they should give them to the Ministry, chapter and verse.
I do not want to end on a too critical note, but I think the Ministry have made a mistake in allowing milk distributors to miss delivery on one day, as they are doing in certain parts of the country. It needs only a few days of warm weather for the Parliamentary Secretary to find himself, deservedly, in a row. I think with pride of what was done by his Ministry before the war broke out. I do not want to mention the name of any civil servant, but the gentleman who was seconded from the Board of Trade and who is now at the Ministry of Food did and has done a great job of work, and I wish the Parliamentary Secretary would give him his head more and allow him to have more executive authority, because there is an uneasy suspicion in the trade and in distributive circles that there are too many long waits before we get any proper decision.
I had a charming letter to-day from the Parliamentary Secretary about bird seed. It almost made me want to chirp. I do not wish to read the letter, because I promised the Committee that I would sit down after speaking for only a short time. But these people are rendering a service to the community, and I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will be able to do something as regards the bird seed they require. Then there is the question of tobacco. One distinguished Member of this House who spent some time in prison told me that one of the things he missed most was tobacco. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs."] No, it was not. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) does not, I think, smoke, whereas the gentleman I was referring to does smoke. As soon as we can find the shipping space for American tobacco, I hope the Ministry concerned will import it for its psychological value for those who, unfortunately, have not sufficient self-control 523 in order to forgo the habit of smoking. The Committee listened to a forceful speech from an hon. Member from across the border who represents a South country constituency, and I hope the points he made, and all the others which have been referred to, will be brought home to the Parliamentary Secretary and especially his Noble Friend. We only wish that we could have him on the Floor of the House, so that we could address to him a few words suitable to the occasion. However, I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will convey our kind regards to him and our hopes that he will "put a jerk into it."
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
I feel sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food will be highly satisfied with the Debate that has taken place. It has been one of the best on the work of one of the Ministries that we have had for some time. The criticisms that have been levelled against the hon. and gallant Gentleman have not been very sharp; let us hope that he will be able to deal with them. The House of Commons occasionally—and this is one of the occasions—comes up against what probably is one of the largest and most complicated problem in the life of our people, and that is, food distribution. In the Debate to-day comments have been made on various topics, such as rationing, evacuation, shortage of supplies, consumers, retailers and wholesalers, miners, steel smelters, quarrymen and engineers; but, strangely enough, nobody has yet mentioned the people who matter almost more than anybody else in this business. I refer to the men and women who work behind the counter. I should not be doing my duty if I did not say a word or two about the difficulties which they have to contend with in these days. It does not matter what Parliament or the Ministry of Food or the shopkeeper decides; the person who has to reduce all the regulations into actual practice is the counter-hand; he has to face the actual customer. I would like to say one or two words about that side of the food business.
I have always felt that this war may be settled in the end, in all the belligerent countries, at the shop counter. Once or twice recently I have stood at a shop counter to see the demeanour of the 524 women who come to buy the commodities they require. I would advise hon. Members sometimes to stand there to study the average woman customer when she orders what she needs and fails to get it. One thing however is certain. It has been mentioned in the Debate to-day, and I think it ought to be emphasised. Customers have no complaint in the shops provided all are treated alike, but once they gain the impression that one customer or a group of customers can get something that the others cannot, then the tiger comes to the surface. I have been rather struck by one point that has been mentioned to-day about restaurants and luxury meals. You can never prevent a person who has enough money in his pocket from getting something better than others who have not the means to pay for it. For instance, salmon is 7s. 6d. a lb. Nobody in this country can afford to buy salmon unless he is well-off. The same thing applies to other luxuries. One way to prevent this inequality is to introduce the extreme step of rationing incomes. Then we might reach the stage of equality. But as long as one man receives £10,000 a year, and another gets only £200, nothing the Minister's Department can do will prevent the first from buying the very best, and the other from going without.
It is, however, the man behind the counter who has to bring all these rules and regulations into actual practice. Napoleon once said that we were a nation of shopkeepers, but Hitler may some day tell us that we are a nation of shop assistants. It is true I think that every war which we wage is fought very largely by shop assistants, warehousemen and clerks. Fifty percent. of the shop assistants, warehousemen and clerks are already in the Forces. The Minister of Labour and National Service has already denuded the shops and offices of this country of male assistants, with the result that managers of branch shops are being harassed beyond bearing. In some cases they have no skilled men left except themselves. Everybody thinks, of course, that work behind a shop counter is unskilled, but that is not so. I want the Minister to press upon the Minister of Labour and National Service the fact that the task behind the shop counter is of as much national importance as work in a mine or on a farm. I know that people in general think those duties can be performed by 525 almost anyone. In a co-operative stores, with dividends, rationing, penny banks and share accounts, the work performed by the man or woman behind the counter is of considerable importance to the community.
Let me emphasise that point a little further. What makes the queue outside the shop? It is not entirely a shortage of supply. I have studied the queue problem a little, and I have found that a group of women inside or outside a shop will automatically form a queue themselves. The existence of the queue how ever is not entirely due to shortage or rationing. A branch manager in a shop I know had nine male assistants; they have all been called up, and he has 11 women to take their places. But, since he trained these young women assistants, the Ministry of National Service has compelled some of those to register and in the end they will go too. I want the Food Minister to tell the Ministry of National Service that if he wants to avoid irritation to customers we had better secure for the shops of this country skilled men and women who are capable of handing out the goods. I had a deputation, yesterday, from persons who are actually doing the job—grocers, milk roundsman and the rest. Parliament can talk as much as it likes about distribution, but to the milk roundsman, it means pushing seven days' milk into six days' bottles as it were. The Minister, sitting in his office, looks upon milk, sugar, butter and cheese just as inanimate things, but these men have to meet Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Jones, to talk to and argue with them; and all the regulations that are passed arc not of the slightest consequence unless they are workable on the doorstep.
I will read what one of these men tells me himself. That will be more important than anything that I can say. I asked one who deals with most of these problems in a grocery and provision shop to tell me what he thought of the food situation. He happens to be an Englishman, or he would not be quite so critical. Being a Welshman, of course, I must not be too critical of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Incidentally the modulation of his voice in some parts of his speech reminded one of his famous father. On the top notes the hon. Gentleman to-day was not unlike that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). If he 526 becomes as famous a politician as his father, he will indeed make wonderful strides. To return, however, to what was said to me by a man with practical experience. As far as butter, bacon and sugar are concerned, he says no difficulty arises. Margarine and cooking fats should be made a definite ration—three ounces of margarine and one ounce of cooking fat. Tea rationing should be every other week, and two weeks supplied, with definite registration, as in the case of sugar. The cheese arrangement is good, except that the time-table should be more strictly adhered to. If people neglect to register by the date laid down, they should forfeit their supplies. With regard to the grouping of jams, marmalades and syrups it is suggested that the hon. and gallant Gentleman might go a little further and group other commodities on the same plan. That is a suggestion which has been put to me on several occasions.
My informant gives a case to illustrate the human aspect to which I return once again. In his department there were over 700 males employed between 14 and 65. Of that number, about 360 have been called up. Everyone of military age, if fit for duty, has gone. The Committee may take it from me that, unless those behind the counter get a better deal from the Minister of National Service, the Food Ministry will know about it in due course. There is hardly any reservation at all from military service for the distributive trades; they are regarded merely as clay. However important other workers may be who are reserved, they are not performing more important tasks than shop assistants who are handling foodstuffs under Regulations. The farming and agricultural interests in this House have obviously made their mark on the list of reserved occupations. They are powerful enough to get agricultural workers reserved at 21, not because that is any more important than the work assistants are doing in shops, but because of political power. There are only a few of us here connected with the distributive trades, and I think I speak on their behalf when I say that the hon. and gallant Gentleman, if he wants the rationing system properly conducted, and milk equally distributed, without annoying the people who stand in queues, he should 527 call the attention of the Minister of Labour to the points that I have made.
On the whole, the Ministry of Food have a difficult task to perform and I should say that its work is fairly well done. I did not like one thing that the Noble Lord said recently. He boasted that he had had a 9d. lunch somewhere, but I would like to know what he had to pay for his dinner that evening. It is all right to have a 9d. lunch, provided you can pay for a good dinner the same evening. I am glad to think that communal feeding is being taken up so ardently. The point has been put to me, however, that anyone can walk into a communal centre, and that those who are accustomed to pay 2s. 6d. for lunch at an hotel go to the centre and get it for 6d. That is what they call economising for the national effort. It would be a good thing if communal feeding were extended, and I trust that local authorities will take it up in real earnest. Incidentally, I have a feeling that some of the Continental peoples know more about this communal food business than we do; they seem to be able to use vegetables and meat to greater advantage than we do in this country. Finally, whilst the hon. and gallant Gentleman will be very satisfied with the Debate to-day, I trust he will take particular note of one thing I have said and see that food and provision shops are kept fully manned by efficient and skilled hands and that shops will not be denuded of male assistants any further by any other Department of State.
Major Lloyd George
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) said, what I can assure him I feel, that I have no reason to be dissatisfied with the Debate to-day, and I think that will be generally accepted by the Committee. That does not mean to say that I or my Noble Friend or the Ministry are content to be satisfied with what has been done. We have had from many quarters of the Committee suggestions from Members with knowledge and experience, and while it will be impossible for me to deal with every one of them in the time at my disposal, they will receive the most careful consideration of my Department. It would be best, I think, if I dealt with three or four of the bigger points that have been put. Many hon. Gentlemen have spoken, including the hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. 528 Barnes), who has great knowledge of all these questions. As far as I can gather from the speeches, the general feeling— and I am certain it is a feeling that expresses the situation correctly—is that with regard to what we consider to be the staple foods there is not much cause for complaint. That in itself is a move in the right direction, because the staple foods are so chosen because, in the opinion of our advisers, they are the filings which are essential to the health and well-being of our people.
I would remind the House that we have had a speech to-day from the right hon. Member who did great service in the Ministry of Food in the last war. He fully appreciated our difficulties and would be the first to admit that they were not able to tackle the situation in the case of unrationed foodstuffs in the last war. The position is that while we at the Ministry are satisfied on the whole with the position concerning staple foods, we do appreciate that the question of unrationed foods is an extremely important one. It is not so much that they are in short supply compared with the pre-war situation as that they are in short supply compared with the increased demand for them owing to the limited amount of staple diet foods available. It is obvious that if, for instance, the allowances of meat and cheese are greatly reduced, people with means, and they include a very large number of people in this country at the present time, will look for an alternative, and that is why unrationed commodities appear to be in shorter supply than they really are.
The question arises, how are we to deal with the situation? Rationing and registering have been suggested. I ask the Committee to believe that we are not rejecting any suggestion out of hand, but I would put forward one or two objections which we have found in considering those suggestions. The Committee will agree that it is not an easy matter to register a commodity that will in no way go round the community. Registration has disadvantages as well as advantages. One disadvantage is that, possibly, registration will drive people, or rather they will be persuaded by their own ideas, to go to the larger shops, such as the chain stores, and that would not be to the advantage of what is known as "the little man." No doubt that could 529 be got over, but it is not an easy matter. Rationing means that every person in the country is entitled to a portion of the rationed article, and when things are in short supply it is an extremely difficult problem.
One of the methods which we are now trying out, and we are watching the experiment very carefully, is the rationing of groups. Where you cannot get a sufficient quantity of one particular commodity to give a ration to everybody you take a group of somewhat similar commodities—in this case we call them "sweet spreads"—and put them together, when we think we can manage a ration of two ounces per week all round. That system is being examined, and will continue to be examined, and it is possible that that group system could be extended. I will not mention any commodities, because for obvious reasons I do not think it is a good thing to do so, but it may be possible to extend that system to other commodities, and I can say that the position is under very active consideration. Reference was made by an hon. Member to the movement of population. He said we were trying to get out of our responsibilities by putting the whole onus on to the wholesaler. That is not the reason. It was really done to assist those people to find out where the population had moved to. I am aware that there are possible difficulties and weaknesses in that scheme, because it does leave it to them to decide, to a certain extent, and it may be that certain districts get more in spite of the movement of population away from those areas. We have only had this in operation since January, I think it was, when we got the first list of the altered population. We are examining it to see how that has affected the placing of goods in the various parts of the country.
Another question raised concerns milk. On this point I would extend my congratulations also to the hon. Member for Don-caster (Mr. E. Walkden) on his very able maiden speech. I am glad to be able to do so, because he and I have already met on this question of milk, and I know that he has great knowledge of it. Here again, we do not turn down the rationing of milk out of hand. It is vital, now that milk is coming into better supply, that we should get as much as possible of it to build up a reserve against the shorter supply of winter, and therefore to make as much 530 condensed milk and cheese as possible. The hon. Gentleman, and many other hon. Members, said that this would be done just as easily by rationing, but I think they will agree that rationing is not so easy in this connection. I know full well the difficulties of the roundsman, because they have been explained to me, but I do not think those difficulties would be any smaller under a rationing scheme. The roundsman would still have to deal with every lady of the house when he came to deliver the milk.
If you had an equal ration, it would by 2/5ths of a pint per day, but it is impossible for each house to have an equal ration for example, if there are children. You would need a different ration according to the type of person in each house, and according to whether there were children under or over a certain age, or invalids. The difficulties of the roundsman would not be very much less under a rationing scheme. This, however, is not a matter which can be very quickly decided. On the other hand, it is urgent that we should save as much as possible of the surplus milk at the present time, in order to safeguard our position when supplies are very much less.
I want to deal with the point regarding restaurants. The hon. Lady Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) —she is not here at the moment— seemed to think that we were eating too much. I do not think that that comment is justified. It is the duty of the Minister of Food to give as much food as possible to the people of this country, but, at the same time, to have an eye upon the supply position in relation to future requirements. I can assure the Committee that this is being done. She said that we ought to tighten our belts. We have certainly taken in a hole or two, and I am not saying that we cannot take in one or two more, but we have started, at any rate. As long as possible we shall give the people of this country what food we can, always having in view national safety. We always have that point in view.
On the question of the meals that you get in restaurants, I am anxious that a wrong impression shall not go out of this Committee. We are told about the 6s. or 7s. dinner; but you must not judge the amount of the food that is eaten by the size of the menu or by the amount that 531 you pay for the meal. Anybody who has been to a public dinner should know that to be true. I tell the Committee that when I have been to communal—or British, as they are now called—restaurants I have found that the food given to me was ample and often more than I could manage, because I had not done heavy work before I went there. From the point of view of food, I should think it would put in the shade many of the longer and more expensive menus that I have seen. But whether that is so or not, the fact remains that when you are talking of restaurants you must include catering establishments, the British Restaurants and all the canteens which supply workers—and I do not agree with the hon. Lady that these canteens are not essential; I think they are a vital part of our war effort and are doing a very great service to the country—and even if all those were swept away, as I have already said to-day, it would not be possible to increase the meat ration by more than one penny.
One hon. Gentleman did not seem to think much of our meat department, because we keep on changing the ration. I do not think that is a bad thing to do. Suppose that to-morrow morning we found we could increase the ration to 1s. 6d.? Should we not do it because we have already fixed it as Is.? Surely it is better to increase the ration when it is possible; I do not believe it would be a good thing to fix it definitely for, say, six months and not change it. It is far better that we should increase it if possible. I would remind the Committee that serious attacks upon this country did not develop until well into September of last year, and they had a very serious effect, as everybody knows, both in regard to the sinking of ships and also the attacks on our centres, which obviously include our storehouses, all of which has had a very great deal to do with the reductions which had to take place.
I now turn to another extremely important question which has been raised, namely, the price of fish. I have never made any attempt to hide my view that the price of fish is very much too high. There is, of course, an extremely complicated system of distribution, and the commodity itself is highly perishable, and I know from my own experience that cer- 532 tain of our ports, on occasion, have been entirely closed through enemy action, which increases the difficulty. Nevertheless, we are satisfied that something will have to be done about it, and something will be done. We were, however, anxious, in view of the complications, to make use of the existing system of distribution, which at any rate knows exactly where the stuff has to go, and I would remind the Committee that to control prices is only to deal with a very small part of the problem. On many occasions I have been told that when onions were controlled they disappeared. They did not disappear. They disappeared from certain places, because if a thing is in short supply, the tendency is for it to be sold nearest to the place where it is grown, and last year the onions that we produced were only about one-thirteenth of our total consumption. This year, by putting down 15,000 acres instead of 1,000 we hope to make a much bigger contribution to our own needs. The reason that they disappeared was that they went to the places nearest to where they were grown.
Fish at the present time is in very short supply. The hon. Gentleman referred to one particular fish being as expensive as salmon. Why is salmon expensive? Because, on the whole, it is a scarce commodity. That, of course, does not excuse the fact that present prices are out of all reason, and we had hoped to be able to utilise the existing method of distribution, in agreement with the trade, for a scheme in regard to cod, so that afterwards we could use the working of that scheme as a basis for extending and improving it where necessary. Unfortunately, just after the scheme was agreed to, certain things happened into the details of which I cannot go owing to considerations of the national interest, and it was not possible for the scheme to be pursued, so that we were not able to see how it worked. I can, however, say to the Committee that we are determined that if fish cannot be distributed at a reasonable price, the Ministry itself will have to take action. I can say without hesitation that action will be taken, and that has been made perfectly clear to the trade.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is speaking about representations being made to the trade, but the trade do not control the price, nor any of the factors causing the price of fish to 533 rise. I have already said to-day that the rise has been caused by the inexorable operation of the law of supply and demand. Because of the shortage of meat and other commodities, the public are clamouring for something to eat—including fish—and at the auctions the prices the buyers pay only reflect what the public are willing to give. It is no good asking the trade to do something; it is my hon. and gallant Friend's noble Friend who must come out into the open, as Lord Rhondda did in 1918, and control the prices. In regard to distribution, the problem which my hon. and gallant Friend finds so complex, does he not realise that transport is controlled by another Government Department, and that if his noble Friend wishes fish to go to any centre, he has only to send empty trucks which will go only to that centre? If fish is landed at Fleetwood, for instance, and he wants it to go to London, but not to Manchester, he can send it not to Manchester, but to London. It is a very simple problem.
Major Lloyd George
My hon. Friend is the only person I have discovered in this country who finds it simple.
Major Lloyd George
I know that fish prices in the last war were increased by 400 percent. My hon. Friend says that if you want trucks to go from Fleetwood to London, you have only to send them. Let him try to do so at the present time. Let him ask the Minister of Mines if he can do that after a blitz. What my noble Friend said was that he hoped that the scheme suggested by the trade would be worked. Through no fault of anyone inside this country, it could not be worked. It may be that the Ministry will have to be the purchasers of the fish at the port of landing. What we are determined to do, in this most difficult situation, is to see that no exploitation takes place. With the finest scheme in the world, it would not be possible to make up with fish what is short in other commodities. I do not know the figures, but I doubt whether 30 per cent. of what we had before the war is coming in today. That is, because our ships are doing other work, but we are determined to see that this matter is settled to the greatest advantage of this country.
Many other smaller points have been raised. I have taken a careful note of 534 them, and I will look into all of them. I am aware that, as the hon. Gentleman has said, there are inequalities. My Noble Friend has been twitted on many occasions with having said that it was not his job to put inequalities right. This is not a fair interpretation of what he said. He said that his task was to distribute the food. But we have removed practically all inequalities as far as staple commodities are concerned. We realise, however, that in regard to certain un-rationed commodities it is possible for people to obtain supplies in other places; and we are doing our best to get a fairer distribution throughout the country. No one wants to perpetuate inequality more than is necessary. But there are bound to be inequalities. There is for example, the inequality between people living in the country, who can catch a rabbit, and people living in the towns, who cannot. We are determined to remove all the inequalities we can. I, personally, am extremely grateful to the Members of the Committee for the far too kind things they have said about me to-day. I wish to thank them for the many valuable contributions that have been made in this Debate, and to assure them that every possible attention will be paid to what they have said.
§ Motion made, and Question "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to. — [Major Dugdale.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.