HC Deb 08 July 1941 vol 373 cc138-42

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Major Dugdale.]

Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)

I want to raise a question connected with agricultural policy. It is a small point, but it seems to need clarification concerning the attitude of the Department. It refers to the increased cultivation of vegetables in private gardens and allotments. It appears that my right hon. Friend has changed the policy of the Department during recent months. In July, 1940, under the joint auspices of the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture, the Women's Institutes were asked to cooperate in organising a campaign for the production of vegetables in allotments and private gardens. Further, it was stated that the arrangements proposed would provide for the collection and marketing of vegetables through the ordinary channels. As a result, the Federation of Women's Institutes started a campaign to increase the production of non-perishable vegetables to help replace those formerly imported. The circular issued to the Institutes went on to say: The Ministry's scheme includes the production, collection at convenient points, and marketing of such vegetables. I would like to draw the attention of the House to one phrase in the circular, "the production of non-perishable vegetables." It is quite understood that the scheme was not to apply to an increased production of easily perishable vegetables, although I would say that there is an opportunity for an increase in production of perishable vegetables if only Army canteens would do as they did in the last war, and buy direct from the producers in the neighbourhood. I will, however, put on one side the whole question of perishable vegetables; and confine myself to the non-perishable vegetables— carrots and so on. That was the position in July, 1940, when the great campaign to get more non-perishable vegetables from allotments and gardens was inaugurated. Then there was a change, apparently, in the attitude of the Ministry, because the Ministry of Food abandoned the scheme— or retired from the scheme, shall I say?— and it was left to the Ministry of Agriculture, and on 8th March, 1941, the Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture wrote as follows to the county committee in Oxfordshire: It has been decided that the responsibility for the work of the county garden produce committees shall be transferred from the Ministry of Food to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. The Minister wishes to invoke the assistance of these Committees chiefly to carry out a propaganda campaign to ensure the orderly cropping of gardens and allotments, with the cropping so planned that a succession of vegetables is obtained all the year round, That is quite a different policy. The original policy of my right hon. Friend was to produce more non-perishable vegetables in allotments and gardens; collection and marketing would be arranged. Now, a few months later, the policy is to produce from allotments and gardens sufficient vegetables just for the owners of the allotments or for the village. But all country villages that I have known are a ready self-sufficing in peace-time, and there is therefore no need for any scheme. But they are capable of producing a lot more non-perishable foodstuff, and I feel there is a discrepancy of policy there which demands some explanation. The Minister also wrote as follows on 19th April, 1941: It is not the Minister's policy to stimulate the production in private gardens and allotments of surplus vegetables for sale. Surely that is a contradiction of the policy of July, 1940. I take it that applies to the non-perishable vegetables, and the Minister will no doubt refer me to an answer he gave on 14th March last, where he said that his policy was not to increase the production of vegetables generally but only the production of non-perishables which could be stored for use during the winter. To sum up, it appeared to be the policy of 1940 to produce extra vegetables on all allotments and all gardens in view of the food situation, while the Ministry would arrange to collect and market them through the various county institutes. The policy now seems to be: Do not produce any surplus vegetables of any kind in allotments or private gardens for sale. I do ask the Minister if we can have some explanation of this apparent reversion of policy,

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. R. S. Hudson)

The hon. Member referred to what happened last year. He is suffering under some slight misapprehension as to what exactly took place. The county garden produce committees were originally set up by the Minister of Food last summer to deal with surpluses, which, it was anticipated, would arise, of storable vegetables. In fact, only very few cases of that kind of surplus did arise. What we did have was a considerable surplus last summer of perishable vegetables, and there were public demands that steps should be taken to collect these perishable vegetables and obviate what the public thought was a waste. When we came to consider the matter this year— I would like in passing to disabuse my hon. friend of any ideas he might entertain that because we did something last year we must repeat it this year; I should have thought he would be glad if we took advantage of any mistakes there might have been to rectify them— we decided that the important thing was to ensure a supply of vegetables in this coming winter. There is nearly always a surplus of perishable vegetables in the summer because people plant too many cabbages and lettuces, and the ordinary private garden is not large enough to provide a family with a surplus of perishable vegetables and also to provide them with sufficient storable vegetables for the winter, and, above all, with sufficient green vegetables— brussels sprouts, kale and so on, in January, February and March, when they are particularly needed. Therefore we asked the Women's Institutes and the county produce committees to do all in their power to try to explain to people that the ordinary garden was not large enough to provide a family with vegetables throughout the year unless carefully cropped, and that it was much more important to grow vegetables for winter and the early spring than to have a surplus in summer. That accounts for the change which has been made this year.

As the Minister of Agriculture is responsible for production and the Minister of Food for distribution, the obvious good and administrative pro- cedure was to put this matter under the Minister of Agriculture and not under the Minister of Food, because we hope, and I still believe it to be right, that the best way to deal with a surplus is to avoid it. It is possible we may find that there is a surplus of storable vegetables this autumn. We have a central committee under the chairmanship of Lord Bingley keeping a careful eye on the position. If that state of affairs arises, and there is a surplus from private gardens and allotments beyond what we think will be needed for the maintenance of the families of the owners in the winter and spring months, my hon. Friend can be sure that this Committee will take that matter into consideration and advise what steps should be taken to deal with it.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.